The Presence of the Past
Controversies over Sex Work Since 1956
When soldiers, sailors, and airmen from several nations arrived in Japan, the people they encountered were in a state of shock. The once-mighty Japanese empire had been resoundingly defeated, and millions of colonists and troops were fleeing to safety. In a world in which the imposition of impossibly large reparations or even relegation to a pastoral state was a real possibility for defeated nations, regaining sovereignty would have seemed like a distant dream.
A farmer in Niigata, a shopkeeper in Kyoto, or a veteran in Kure—warned to expect the worst—would have found it difficult to imagine that Japan would so quickly create a two-party system, raise a new army, and be accepted into the United Nations. For a sex worker in Tokyo, on the other hand, it would have been impossible to believe that—ten years after the government recruited her to perform patriotic service in the Recreational Amusement Association—her profession would be criminalized. At the time, all this was deemed necessary for Japan to regain its place in the world, and passing the Prostitution Prevention Law might seem to be the least of it. But looking back, we can see that it was emblematic of the larger process that brought the end of the postwar era, even as it showed how a state of compromised sovereignty and socialinequity could persist to the present day.