For young women sex industry offers safety net the government doesn’t

February 26th, 2014 by Philip Brasor & Masako Tsubuku

A sign teases sexual services.

A sign teases sexual services.

One of the pillars of Abenomics is getting more women to join the workforce, but since last fall, when a young woman in Osaka was found in her apartment starved to death, the media has been reporting dire statistics about poverty among women. According to government statistics, one-third of females who are productively employable and living alone make less than ¥1.14 million a year, which demarcates the government’s poverty line.

The peak year of employment in Japan was 1997, when 38.92 million men had jobs and 26.65 million women. In 2012, the number of male workers had dropped to 36 million, while that of females had declined less, to 26.5 million. In 2012, women made up 42.3 percent of the workforce, a three percentage point increase since 1980. However, the stability of that work seems to be going in the opposite direction. The number of non-regular and part-time workers is on the increase, but the number of women in this group is disproportionately larger: 57.5 percent for females to 22.1 percent for males. Without regular employment and the opportunity for periodic pay raises, these women invariably fall into a cycle of poverty from which they can never escape. The situation for single mothers is even worse: 80 percent of those who work fall below the poverty line, even with government assistance factored in.

NHK’s evening in-depth news program, “Closeup Gendai,” has aired a series of reports on poor young women. One program broadcast in late January profiled several. There was a teenage girl working at a convenience store to support her sick mother and three siblings while taking a high school equivalency course that she hopes will lead to a night school program that will earn her a license to teach nursery school, but the program will cost her ¥80,000 a month, which means she’ll have to take out a loan that will be paid back when — and if — she gets a job. There’s a woman from Aomori Prefecture who worked three jobs but still couldn’t make enough to support herself since the minimum wage in the prefecture is only ¥650, so she came to Tokyo, where the minimum wage is higher, but so are living expenses.

Experts interviewed by NHK point out that women have traditionally taken low-paying service jobs because they weren’t expected to stay on, eventually marrying and having children. But now young women don’t have as many marriage prospects due to lower incomes for marriageable men. More of them have to support themselves, but there are only these low-paying service jobs which aren’t enough to live off of. The cycle of poverty is already in gear, because these women’s parents are themselves poor, which is why they no longer live with them. When a reporter asks one woman if she hopes to have children one day, she looks at him as if he were crazy. She can’t even feed herself. How could she feed a child?

But there are women trying to do just that. One 28-year-old single mother in Hiroshima is raising a 2-year-old and a 4-year-old. She makes ¥100,000 a month and receives a child allowance of ¥40,000 from the government. She herself grew up in a poor family and had to start working when she graduated from junior high school.

But according to one program in the series there is an area of hope for such women: the sex industry (fuzokuten). Massage parlors and escort services offer not only dormitories for staff, but also daycare if the workers have young children. Want ads indicating such benefits are common, but the NHK director could only find one company that would agree to coverage. The camera shows the manager of the business talking on the phone, telling a customer that the fee is “¥19,000 for 90 minutes, if you don’t state a preference for a worker.” At this company, 40 percent of the fee goes to the company and the rest is kept by the worker. The manager says they get a lot of applicants, especially from single mothers because of the daycare. Though some businesses run their own daycare, most contract with outside services. The dorm is also a big draw, though the manager points out that “sometimes there are more staff than there are available rooms.”

One of the employees interviewed by NHK says she is 21 and has an 18-month-old daughter. She had to start working right after the girl was born, but there are no daycare facilities that accept infants. She had no choice but to work here, and in six months she has managed to save ¥700,000. She makes ¥300,000 a month. “When I’m 25 I’ll probably have to quit, and my parents don’t know I work here,” she tells the director, but by that time she hopes to have a lot of money saved. Another interviewee is in her 30s, also a single mother. She is here to look for a job. She once worked in the sex industry but quit when she got another job. Then she fell ill and applied for welfare, but was told it would take two months to check her background and than another month to process her application. She can’t wait three months.

During the seven days that NHK covered the business, it hired 15 new employees. Though the information reported on the program is sobering, several Internet commentators have pointed out that these conditions have always been the norm in the sex industry, but it’s only now that people are paying attention because of the economic situation.

Image via furibond

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3 Responses

  1. “will earn her a license to teach nursery school”

    ouch, not a demographically wise career choice . . .

    Funny how this cruddy economy doesn’t square with Japan being the world richest nation when measured by accumulated trade surplus / NIIP, the latter up from 1% of GDP in 1980 to 60% in 2012.

    Japan’s population of age 10-25 people is down 30% since 1994, and this demographic drainage just kills domestic demand, and also since 1994 Japanese labor and exporters have had to increasingly compete with E Asia for export wins.

    Japan’s population transition is essentially turning young people age 20-40 into old people age 60+, and the former have a lot more demand than the latter.

    Theoretically, an economy that can house, feed, heat, entertain itself is a wealthy one, and by Japan’s rough trade balance, it is still succeeding (though recent trade deficits are troubling in this area).

    The government simply has to do a lot more in making people’s lives have more opportunity.

    The BOJ is going to print $500B/yr for asset-buying, $4000 per capita. There’s no reason any Japanese person has to be underemployed when the system has moved so far away from historical hard-money limitations!

    Japan’s Gini is getting worse and a lot closer to the US’s 0.37 than Sweden’s 0.26.

    Economically, Japan arguably won the 20th century, and while Tokyo’s skyline and build-out comports with this assertion fine, the economic pain Japanese face — compared to other successful economies like Norway, Sweden, Denmark, and Germany — does not.

  2. hmm, looking at the numbers, maybe youth care isn’t such a demographically doomed sector.

    The ratio of 20-35 yos vs. 3-8 yos peaked at 4.6X in the late 1990s and is now down to 3.7X, what it was during the 1960s and will remain in this range for the remainder of the decade, only rising to 4.2X in the 2030s.

    Japan’s demographic change is really, really weird. This is not how economies have historically functioned.

    If Japan didn’t have that damn quadrillion yen national debt, I’d be really bullish on it. It’s kinda neither here nor there, but since it’s also everyone’s yen savings/pensions, actually monetizing it is going to be the tricky bit for the system.

  3. nice informative blog…


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