TOKYO – In JK Special Café, customers can live out their dream date with one of 60 high school-aged girls, be it sharing a homemade meal, singing karaoke, or a heart-to-heart chat – so long as they do not touch her.
Yet despite this strict no-hands-on rule, 15-year-old Hano told Channel NewsAsia’s investigative programme Get Rea! that she had been molested by customers, while other girls have had their skirts lifted.
Still, by offering wages of US$13 an hour – twice more than what other part-time jobs offer – businesses like JK Special are able to lure teens under the age of 18 to fuel a booming business.
The JK entertainment industry (JK being short for Joshi Kousei, or female high school students) sells access to these girls through a bizarre range of services that include consultation sessions, dates, the chance to smell or tickle a school girl – and, increasingly, prostitution.
A girl in school uniform hands out flyers in a popular JK district.
In Tokyo alone, police figures show that there are more than 170 JK businesses, with many concentrated in the Akihabara district, a mecca for fans of electronic goods, anime and maid cafés
In an episode airing Tuesday (Jan 17) at 8pm, Get Rea! goes behind this craze for schoolgirl-themed entertainment that springs from Japanese men’s fascination with teenage school girls.
‘I WANT TO BE A SCHOOL BOY AGAIN’
“For many people, it is a complex that they have about their own high school days, such as the feeling of unrequited love,” said Mr Yuki Aoyama, who has published five sold-out photo books featuring high school girls in uniform. He does not think that JK businesses are exploitative.
Mr Tetsuya Shibui, a journalist who has written about the JK industry for more than two decades, explained: “As long as there is a desire to meet and interact with high school girls, I think there is no end to generating new (business) ideas.”
And thus, businesses like JK Special have sprung up as places where JK girls can mingle with their fans, a large proportion of whom are middle-aged men.
“This is one way to reduce the stress I experience at work,” said one such café customer. “I get to talk to teenagers about unusual topics, like make-up products.”
A JK Special café employee entertaining a male customer.
Another customer said that it was a chance to make up for a youth spent in an all-boys school. “There were not many opportunities to meet high school girls,” he said. “So I want to become a high school boy again, like I was 20 years ago.”
‘FOR GIRLS WHO CAN’T DO ANYTHING ELSE’
The café’s profits have doubled in the last five years. Its CEO Hideki Yamanaka makes almost US$500,000 annually.
To protect his valuable staff, he has installed security cameras around the café, and steps in when employees are harassed by customers – he showed Get Rea! CCTV footage of himself forcefully throwing rowdy men out of JK Special on multiple occasions.
WATCH: More about the JK industry (3:44)
For the girls, the lucrative pay, as well as seemingly easy and interesting work, is a large draw.
Yumi (not her real name), who works at a JK business offering reflexology, said: “For me, JK reflexology shops are where girls who can’t do anything else work. You don’t want to do boring jobs like being a cashier or sit behind a computer.”
While there are businesses like JK Special that takes pains to protect their female staff, others pander to the desires of those who want more than just casual socialising.
According to Norio, a freelance journalist investigating the industry, one JK reflexology shop offers massages as a cover for other, less innocent, services.
“The moment I entered the room and was alone with the girl, she immediately explained the ‘secret options’ while touching between my legs,” he said.
Although there were notices in the room saying that sexual acts were prohibited, the girl pleaded with him to pick those options, saying that otherwise she would only receive the same pay as for other part-time jobs.
Products like this claim to bottle the intimate scents of school girls, from their armpits and feet to private parts.
Similarly, the JK reflexology business which Yumi works for allows the girls to negotiate for sexual services – but instead of customers having to visit a shop, the girls are “delivered” to the customer’s place of choice.
At another JK business that Norio visited, men could sit in private booths and order girls in uniform to dance provocatively behind one-way mirrors while they watched. “That would really make men excited,” said Norio.
Such businesses exploit loopholes in Japan’s regulations on underage sex, which while stating that the minimum age of prostitution is 18, retain an archaic law that allows girls above 13 to consent to sex.
Lawyer Tohru Okumura explained that during Japan’s Meiji era (1868-1912), girls were thought to be mature enough to make decisions on their own, and some were married at the age of 13.
Also, while there are JK businesses that technically violate the Child Welfare Act, which prohibits inducing someone under 18 years to practise obscene acts – they offer other innocent services as a front, or get the girls to provide sexual services off-site.
“If a girl finds the customer, and the customer finds her… and decide to go out and do their thing, the police has no way to punish them,” said Mr Okumura.
Referencing a headline case where men paid to look up the skirts of school girls as they folded paper cranes, Mr Okumura said that JK businesses keep inventing new ways to bypass existing laws.
“The Japanese way of thinking is that, if prostitution is forbidden, everything that is not prostitution is allowed,” he said. “They are doing something that verges on but does not qualify as prostitution.”
STEPS TOWARDS CHANGE?
With increasing pressure to stop the exploitation of young girls – in 2015, a United Nations investigation on child exploitation in Japan singled out JK businesses – the country is taking steps towards curbing the industry.
In July 2015, Aichi became the first prefecture to ban the hiring of girls under 18 in any JK businesses. It also named six types of services teenaged girls must not perform, which include massages, wearing provocative clothing and walking dates.
Mr Okumura does not believe that the ban will prove effective. “If businesses change their model just a little (outside of the six activities listed), they will still be able to operate,” he said.
This year, according to a Japan Times report, Japan’s National Police Agency plans to carry out a nationwide investigation into JK businesses, while Tokyo works to introduce a ban similar to Aichi’s.
Catch the episode on the JK industry on Get Rea!, on Jan 17, 8pm SG/HK.