Read part 1 here: The business of Japan’s high school girls for hire
SINGAPORE - While working for a reflexology company, 17-year-old Yumi (not her real name) was repeatedly dunked in a bathtub until she blacked out, cut, had her blood licked, and burnt with a lighter, in just the span of a few hours.
For these ‘services’, Yumi told Channel NewsAsia’s investigative programme Get Rea! that she was paid US$3,000.
The male client who contacted her company had asked for a girl who could not swim. JK Reflexology, which claims to specialise in “massage services” by high school girls, had sent Yumi alone to his doorstep, where four of his friends also waited.
Yumi’s customer later told her that had he gone to a brothel with this request, he would have been banned. “In actual brothels, the women have pride,” said Yumi.
Yumi works in Japan’s booming Joshi Kousei, or JK, entertainment industry, which sells access to high school girls in a variety of services.
There are an estimated 5,000 girls aged 18 and younger who work as JK girls each year, according to activist Ms Yumeno Nito who revealed her findings about the industry in 2015. They range from seemingly harmless “walking dates”, and shops where customers pay to smell or tickle a schoolgirl, to extreme ones like Yumi’s, where sexual services are illicitly offered.
The Bond Project, an NGO that reaches out to young girls in trouble, on night patrol in Tokyo's Shibuya district.
The JK industry is a concern for non-governmental organisation Bond Project, which was started when its founder Jun Tachibana noticed more girls falling prey to the sex industry. “Many are unconscious to the fact that the service they are providing is part of prostitution,” said Ms Tachibana.
The minimum legal age of prostitution in Japan is 18. But an archaic law that allows girls above 13 to consent to sex opens up loopholes for exploitation. Experts warn that JK girls are likely to eventually wind up in the adult sex industry.
GIRLS WITH HISTORY OF FAMILY PROBLEMS
According to Yumi, her male clients are drawn to the JK girls’ youth and inexperience. “Everyone is young,” she said. “And that’s what customers like about the girls - their naivety. These are girls who are not used to the sex industry, so they are willing to do more.”
And the girls at risk tend to be those with family problems, like Yumi, who came from a single-parent family.
Social worker Ms Jun Tachibana said: “There are not that many girls who join the JK business purely for the purpose of money. It’s really not that simple.”
Yumi told Get Rea! that she did not want to be at home when her mother started bringing her boyfriend back, and so she started working at a maid-themed café, before joining the JK reflexology shop.
Likewise, 15-year-old Hano (not her real name) - who works at a JK café in Kabukicho, Tokyo’s largest red light district - has dropped out of high school, and intends to continue entertaining men for the next three years.
“Rather than my parents, it’s my customers who were worried, and they advised me to go back to school,” she said.
WATCH: 15-year-old Hano has to fend off male customers who paw at her
THE KAWAII (CUTE) BAIT
But there are now more JK girls coming from stable families, as well as starting from a younger age, according to Ms Nito’s findings.
This is because recruiters are increasingly using social media tools that are popular among young girls, and they dress up the advertisements with kawaii (cute) designs to entice the unsuspecting.
Describing one such recruitment website, Bond Project staff Ms Natsuko Takeshita said: “The appearance itself has gotten very cute – using pink, the heart and sparkly stars. Girls think it is cute, which make them more easily reeled in.”
The online recruitment ad for a "magic mirror" shop.
One of them was 16-year-old Nanami (not her real name).
Drawn by a recruitment website that featured sweet-faced female high school models, she thought it was a dream job; she would be paid twice more than the average part-timer to do anything she liked – snack, study, or use her phone.
Having just run away from home, Nanami needed the money and decided to join a “magic mirror” shop.
‘LIKE HAVING SEX THROUGH THE MIRROR’
Together with other girls in uniforms, she would chat and play games in a room with a one-way mirror until a customer arrived.
The customer would be handed an iPad, which he could use to pick a girl he wanted to “model” on the other side of the mirror, according to a freelance journalist that Get Rea! sent undercover into the shop that Nanami worked at.
“The girl came immediately to the front and started dancing provocatively,” he said. “(The girls) were moving their hips to and fro as if they were having sex with me through the magic mirror.”
The supposedly one-way mirrors were supposed to shield the girls from what their male customers did in the privacy of their cubicles. But Nanami revealed that she always had a clear view of who was on the other side of the mirror. “It’s like seeing eye to eye,” she said. “I felt disgusted when I see them.”
She eventually sought shelter at a dormitory run by Bond Project.
Social workers there spent months convincing Nanami, now 19, to quit her job, but could not get her to return home. Asked why she has not thought about going back to her family, Nanami said: “The goal I had was to live alone.”
‘THEY DON’T FEEL LIKE THEY’RE PROTECTED BY ADULTS’
In order to better support girls like Nanami, Ms Tachibana said that adults need to have a greater understanding of the teenagers’ backgrounds.
“These girls need to be protected, but they do not feel like they are protected by adults. Rather, they are being picked out and shamed,” said Ms Tachibana.
Aside from raising funds so that Bond Project can expand its dormitories, which currently only house four girls, Bond Project’s staff patrols Tokyo’s streets at night to find and help more teenage runaways.
They also run a hotline to offer a listening ear, in the hope that it will turn girls away from the JK industry or, in extreme cases, from thoughts of suicide.
One of Bond Project's dormitory rooms for teenage runaways.
But Ms Tachibana believes that the hotline is merely a temporary measure. She is concerned about what JK girls would do even if they leave the industry, as Japan has yet to start rehabilitation programmes for them.
“Many of the girls lack confidence and find it hard to visualise their future, and therefore they tend to be exploited in this industry,” she said.
Through Bond Project, she intends to help JK girl, such as Nanami, Hano and Yumi become independent by eventually providing longer term support.
She said: “These girls really don’t have anywhere to escape to, and so I want us to create a space for them to do so, and be adults who are willing to listen to them.”
Watch the Get Rea! episode on the JK industry here: