Sexnomics: Japan’s 100 Billion Dollar Sex Industry And The Pink Zone

UPDATED: Japan’s semi-legal sex industry exists on a mind-boggling scale, yet there are very few books or articles which even give a rudimentary idea of how big a role it plays in the national economy. Japan has laws which forbid prostitution but set no punishment for the prostitute or the customer. Selling uncensored pornography depicting sexual intercourse is a crime but paying for actual sexual intercourse at an established Soapland establishment is not. It’s not that the sex industry exists in a grey zone in Japan, it exists in a pink zone–it’s overwhelmingly legal except for when the authorities decided to make token crack-downs.

Takashi Kadokura (門倉貴史), the economist who rose to fame with his white-paper on Japan’s underground economy, has written the penultimate guide to Japan’s sex industry in his book SEXONOMIC: PROFITS IN THE GLOBALSEX ECONOMY・世界の「下半身」経済が儲かる理由 . It deftly lays out and explains how the varied sexual service industries in Japan (fashion health, image clubs, soap land)  work on an economic level and some alarming trends.

If you are an anthropologist, an economic researcher, or simply interested in the seedy side of the sun, than this book is a treasure trove of strange and useful information. For example, the “fashion health” (euphemism for sexual massage to include fellatio/hand-jobs/frottage) industry, which is perfectly legal in most places, brings in ¥678,000,000,000 a year (8 billion dollars).  That’s only a fraction of the sex industry. In addition to “fashion health” there are also “image clubs”, in which similar sexual services are provided but the women wear uniforms (maid, nurse, policewoman, office worker, pregnant mother etc) and the sex shop often has special facilities, like a subway car.  Think of mini-sexual theme parks and you have a good idea of what an image club is like.

According to the book, based on field studies and calculations, an established  fashion health/image club brings in roughly 3 million dollars a year in revenue, is visited by 32, 5000 customers, is open 12 hours a day, and the average waiting time for service is 20 minutes. There are 1,021 such shops in Japan. In recent years, S & M sex shops, have also seen a booming business. Dominatrixes (女王) are more well-paid than girls working as “the slaves” because it requires a certain level of dramatic skill and physical strength to be a dominatrix.

Japan's S & M clubs are also whipping up big business. The more social status a male customer has, the more likely he is to ask for M service.

The book also explores Japan’s teenage prostitution problem asserting that 1 in 10 Japanese men has a “lolita complex” (pedophiliac tendencies) and that 15% of the male population has viewed child pornography, while over 10% of the male population owns child pornography. The statistics were not pulled out of thin air but come from a Japanese government survey. In addition, the book notes that there are an estimated 170,000 junior high and high school girls engaged in prostitution each year in Japan, charging higher than the standard market rate (30,000 yen) or roughly 50,000 yen ($600) per customer. The teenage prostitution market is estimated to be as high as 54,700,000,000 yen per year (approx. 700 million dollars).

The book explains also the mechanisms which drives Japan’s human trafficking problem, although the failure to mention the growing problem of domestic trafficking does date the book.

If you want to know why love hotels prosper in Japan, how many there are, and the turnover (no pun intended) rate, this book will also tell you more than you want to know. While the book focusses on Japan, it does examine the sex industry in the US, China, Italy, Thailand and other countries which gives perspective on Japan’s situation.

The book is not all titillation and speculation. The final section “What can be done about the sex industry?” makes a good argument that Japan should abandon the grey zone laws it has now, where prostitution is illegal, but the client and the sex worker can’t be arrested–and legalize and regulate the industry. Many may disagree but he makes a good argument that clarifying the status of the sex industry would better protect the rights of sex workers, increase tax revenue, and also prevent the spread of sexual diseases amongst the general population, including the sex workers and their customers. Of course, his advocacy of realistic and extensive sex education should be a a no-brainer for a modern society, especially Japan which is not bound by ideas that sex should be limited to marriage.

If at times, slightly tongue-in-cheek, the book does convincingly convey the scale and problems of Japan’s sex industry and is worthy addition to the library of anyone studying the underside of Nippon. Recommended. (In Japanese only.)

44 thoughts on “Sexnomics: Japan’s 100 Billion Dollar Sex Industry And The Pink Zone”

  1. So why the grey zone in the sex industry if the culture doesn’t suffer from the west religious “moral dilemma?”

    On the pedophile tendencies, this certainly reflects the art direction of some but not all the manga and digital anime entertainment coming out. Any idea why there are these tendencies in the culture?

    I also assume that it would be in the Yakuza best interest if this industry stays deregulated.

    Saddly I don’t see the current political power structure doing much about the issues.

    A shame that it’s in JP only text for now.

  2. “has written the penultimate guide to Japan’s sex industry ”

    You don’t seem to know what the word “penultimate” means. Hopefully this isn’t the penultimate time you make this mistake.

      1. So is it in works? or in development hell. Either way I’ve need a to read something different than Fodor’s.

  3. I’d rather see the ultimate guide than the “penultimate” one. (“Penultimate” means “next to last.”)

  4. Torukoburo or turkish bath, recently known as Soapland is awesome man.
    for 15000yen a hot young girl washes you then blow you then fuck you for 90 minutes total time including a very refreshing massage. these girl’s need the money for many various reasons. ya, some are real expensive it can run up to 30000 to 50000 yen but hey better than some guy gettin a girl drunk to force fuck in a love hotel here right. no one gets hurt, everyone has a smiley face.
    it certainly will help the government tax wise, yakuza’s would hate it cause they will have to pay a lot of tax.
    but wait a minute, if they start paying tons of tax, wouldn’t the nation start protecting yakuza’s.
    they should build one for girl’s too, i’d certainly work hard to get a girl off for that kind of cash man.

  5. regulating the sex industry might not be the best answer given the experience we’ve had over here:
    Illegal yakuza pimps might actually treat their stable better. Incidentally, has anything solid been heard about the guy at yellow cab who killed himself? Every time someone in the geinokai tops themselves it fuels rumors about “urashakai” involvement.

    1. Tom,
      This ranks as one of the most crazy conspiracy comments I’ve ever received. Please come them coming. I’ll have to inform the Mossad that our cover has been blown.

      “Japan Subculture Research Center was founded in 2007 to expose the hidden side of Japan – its underground economy, its sex trade, and all the other intriguing and seedy aspects that keep the country running.”
      The above sounds to me like a black propaganda psyop coming from Israel.

      I don’t see any seedy side of Japan other than the bias you yourself exhibit.


      Tom Lowe


  6. So after a quick google, I now know what frottage means. Here I was thinking it was some sort of cheese. I wondered what sort of sex practice involved masturbation and cheese, so had to look it up.

  7. Let’s lead an islamic life and be safe from sexual abuse and HIV/aids. Moral controlled sexual life is mandatory for betterment of the World.

  8. Very interesting information.

    In regards to Enjo-Kousai, even though I’ve read so much about it, it still baffles me as to why it is such a common job.
    Have these junior/high school girls suffered some sort of abuse quite early on to point them in this direction?

    Though many say it is purely out of greed and wanting expensive goods… I feel there is a deeper psychological factor.
    However I’ve yet to find it…

    What are your thoughts for their motives?

    1. I wish I knew. As Japan’s recession continues, there are many young girls doing it to support their families. There are also many runaways who can find no better way to make enough to live on the streets. I think the stereotype of fashion conscious girls wanting expensive bags is out of date.

      1. Definitely out of date.
        If they do find themselves in such situations as you wrote, then I could see why it would be a viable alternative to making some money.
        But some of my friends in Japanese high schools told me of some girls who just do it, without such reasons.

        Is it neglect and lack of affection in a family unit that provokes a girl to calculate her self worth?
        Or perhaps is it the attitudes and various culture in Japan that sets a mould for them?

        It would be wrong to say that it only happens in Japan, but it seems so active and increasing there.

  9. Hi there just wanted to give you a quick heads up and let you know a few of
    the pictures aren’t loading properly. I’m not sure why but I think its
    a linking issue. I’ve tried it in two different browsers and both show the same results.

  10. I think Japanese women have no hang ups about sex. When I visit Japan, Japanese women in their twenties would flirt with me quite often without any prompting. This can be attractive in itself. “Hello, where are you from?” “Do you like Japan?” Start a conversation and from there, you just ask them if they would like to go to an izakaya (food+drink). They can be very receptive if you let them get to know you and you treat them like a lady. After you have spend some time together, you can ask them if they want to come back to your hotel for a drink or wait for another date.

    I ‘m about 40 and perhaps pass for 36. I am above average looking. Six feet tall which makes me a giant in Japan. I have blonde hair and light eyes. These characteristics probably help me more than other Westerners. Funny thing, I don’t think young 20s Japanese women mind the age difference as long as they are having fun.

    I would never say all Japanese women are looking for a Western boyfriend or hook-up. I don’t think their xenophobic either. If they speak English well, they tend to have a natural openness for the West and Western men. There are areas in Tokyo like Roppongi and other cities that are known for expats and the Japanese girls there can be very open to play, but some might have some mileage and some might be too eager if you get my drift.

    My advice is just smile and start talking to everyone. I say everyone because the Japanese women will notice your friendliness. Hotel clerks (some are quite pretty and speak English), shopkeepers and girls on the street can be curious and available to you. Don’t telegraph that you want sex! That might come in time and it might not. Japanese women will play shy and nervous about sex, but it’s part of the culture for the women to act submissive. In reality, they can have far less qualms about sex than Western women. It’s also helpful to tell them you come there often on business or something to that effect. That helps give the allusion or chance of longer-term romance.

    I remember one time I started talking to two young Japanese girls in the market in Kyoto. They were not beauties, but cute. You don’t find a lot of chubby girls in Japan either. After obvious interest all three of us went for drinks. After awhile, the talkative one was really giving the signal that she didn’t want to go home. So obviously when the shy, quiet one was in the bathroom, I asked the talkative one if she would like to go to my hotel. She said she would like to, but didn’t want to leave her friend. I have never done anything like this before or after in my life, but I asked her if she wanted to bring her friend without any excitement or overeagerness. I couldn’t believe myself, but it actually seemed like the right thing to do. She said, that could be good. The next thing I know they have a conversation in Japanese and matter of factly they say let’s go.

    The talkative one was definitely more confident in bed and the other one true to character was very shy and more submissive. It took a lot of playing and touching to move things along. Now I know alcohol helped a lot, but it was one of those nights where the combination of exotic women, foreign land and yes a threesome made one of the most amazing nights in my life. As this was a Saturday, I had two amazing tour guides the next day before I left. This might sound cheezy after all this, but I really enjoy getting to know women in foreign countries and having them show me their culture. I think everyone enjoys the excitement and romance even if it’s temporaneous.

  11. Mr. Adelstein and associates,

    My name is Muhammad Ryzaldi Noor. I am an undergraduate student writing an essay on the factors of Japanese government in supporting adult industries. Is there any advice or information you could provide me with? I would really appreciate it if I could establish a primary form of contact with someone at the japan subculture research center when I have questions to ask regarding my essay.

    Thank you,

    Muhammad Ryzaldi Noor.

    1. We would love to help you with this but are understaffed. Feel free to use anything you find on the blog, with creditation where possible.

      1. Thank you very much for the permission. I have a question regarding japan’s policy and regulation toward it’s Adult Video industry. Do the government through it’s regulation really allow to distribute and sell AVs as long as it is censored? Because from some articles I have read online, the law actually forbid it and yet many new AVs created and sell every day.

        1. Yes, there are actually people who spend their days watching pornographic videos and determining how much to blur out or what degree of mosaic has to be used to keep the sexual act from being graphic.

          1. I see. So long as the genitals are blurred then its okay to be sold. Can you give me some information regarding how much profit japan gained from porn industry in the recent years? Thanks before.

  12. The data was collected in 2002. It’s very old.

    Child porn and child prostitution has been prohibited since 1999 in Japan. Regarding child porn, making and providing was illegal until 2014 but owning was also prohibited in 2015.

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