Japan upholds a “Kawaii” or “cuteness” culture that has become a prominent aspect of Japanese modern culture, from fashion styles to entertainment to toys and food. However, the Japanese fixation on “cuteness” is extending far beyond simple comic books. VICE News released a documentary entitled “Schoolgirls For Sale in Japan” which exposes Japan’s JK business and its links to sexual exploitation. JK stands for “joshi kosei,” meaning high school girl and describes an entertainment subculture whose celebrities are young girls dressed in school uniforms.
In this documentary, reporter Simon Ostrovsky traveled to Tokyo to investigate the JK business first-hand. He explains, “it was probably one of the most awkward experiences for me,” describing his time spent in one of the cafes there. He was given a pair of Hello Kitty slippers to put on upon entering and was seated opposite of a young girl in a school uniform. They made casual small talk, she read his fortune, and served him lemon tea. While there was nothing outwardly sexual about this encounter, the concept is rather odd considering an older man is paying for a conversation with a teen girl.
The JK business ranges in the specific activities—some girls form bands and perform concerts, mainly for older men who become dedicated “fans” while other girls engage in dates that include conversation, fortune-telling, and even sexual favors. One girl who was previously involved in the JK business explained that while JK may seem like an innocent means of escape, it is much more than that. Soon her bosses negotiated “extra options” with her clients without her knowledge.
Even though much of the advertisement for the JK businesses occurs right out in the street, specifically in the Akihabara district, which is known as “ground zero for JK,” the sexual nature of it remains hidden behind closed doors. Even with heightened police watch, the owners and traffickers in the JK world simply changed their tactics to make their businesses seem more innocent. Generally, these men go into the cafes or concerts to meet the girls in person in order to exchange contact information so that they can later meet elsewhere and negotiate for sex.
With all of these potential harmful effects, it is questionable as to why thousands of girls remain in the industry. However, there are several reasons as to why these girls choose this lifestyle, such as isolation, need for money, and poor relationships with peers and family. One girl notes:
“My dad is rarely at home, always busy with his work. And he doesn’t seem to notice me. So I thought, if I got into some trouble by engaging in this sort of shady business — like being taken into police custody or something — then he will finally begin to pay attention to me.”
Furthermore, girls often see JK as their only option. Japan has a shame-based culture and a widely recognized fear of letting one’s family down. Thus, these girls blame themselves most of the time and do not generally tell others about the exploitation they experience. The stigma attached to JK girls remains much more salient than that of any other prostituted or exploited girl in another part of the world.
The US State Department’s human rights report labeled Japan as an “international hub for the production and trafficking of child pornography.” Evidently, all of this injustice has been hidden from the public eye for quite some time. Now that it is finally being exposed, individuals from all over the world must work together to protect the victims of sexual exploitation in Japan as well as mitigate the growing pornification of their culture.
You can watch the documentary here: