For 300 years, sex work in Japan was highly regulated and even ritualized. All of that changed in 1945, when Japanese men and women, struggling for survival, suddenly had to make their own rules. One reason the panpan phenomenon was so disturbing was that it appeared to mean that any woman— even an educated, middle-class mother or daughter—could find a place in the sex industry. More disturbing still was that so many other people stood by, or even profited from the trade. In the areas surrounding military bases, moneylenders, letter writers, taxi drivers, rickshaw pullers, barkeeps, and black marketers all took their cut. Some policemen also owned brothels, and many politicians were patrons. Major corporations such as Morinaga, Meiji, and Sankyō found it profitable to market penicillin to sex workers. Early in the Occupation, the Japanese government itself had established brothels for servicemen, reimporting a practice once reserved for Japan’s overseas empire. It seemed that everyone and everything—perhaps even Japan itself—was up for grabs.
And yet, when a national debate began over sex work, it was treated as a women’s issue. It was not obvious why it should have been, nor was it inevitable. After all, some sex workers were men, and so were almost all the cli