The Push for a Prostitution Prevention Law
In 1956, Socialist Fujiwara Michiko, a licensed nurse and a Christian, stood before the Upper House of the Diet and declared that debate was coming to a close on a measure that would, according to Fujiwara, “end the many centuries—long tragic history of Japanese women.” After eighty-five years of struggle against prostitution, “their dearest wishes are finally about to see the light of day.”1 But unlike Fujiwara and her supporters, the state’s intention was not to eradicate prostitution. Instead the Prostitution Prevention Law aimed to prevent a climate of prostitution, “in view of the fact that it harms human dignity, is against sexual morality, and disturbs virtuous social manners and customs.”2 But for those opposed to prostitution, any legislation was better than none. Japan’s first national anti-prostitution law passed the Diet in 1956.
The fight to pass a national law against prostitution reveals both the potential and the disappointing reality of female politicians’ power in the early postwar period. The American-written Japanese constitution granted women new freedoms, including the right to vote and hold office.3 In April 1946, 67 percent of eligible women went to the polls, electing 39 women out of 466 members in the Lower House of the Diet.4 Yet this power had its