Japan (50 Years Ago): Sex crimes mounting with ban on brothels


Saturday, Sept. 27, 1958

Japan’s outlawing of brothels on April 1 has given rise to two expected headaches — the growth of undercover prostitution and mounting sexual crimes.

According to the Police Agency, most of the registered brothel operators, totaling some 50,000 in the country on April 1, have switched to new businesses — hotels, restaurants, tea parlors, cafes, bars and cabarets.

Only a small number have succeeded in more sedate work as barbering, chicken farming, fishing, scrap collecting and operating student boarding houses.

Figures for brothel operators vary widely because many closed down their houses too fast for adequate recording during or after the one-year grace period before the law was enforced and those in the border-line or “semi-red light districts” were often not counted.

However, many former brothel operators have been increasingly reverting to their old professions in camouflaged forms. They complained of difficulties in gaining a living in new trades due to lack of experiences.

They have been opening hotel or drinking and eating establishments of dubious character where former prostitutes can easily solicit customers.

In three months since April 1, 135 cases of violation of the new law at such places were listed in Tokyo alone. The situation was similar in Kyoto, Fukuoka, Chiba, Nagano, Shizuoka and Kanagawa prefectures.

Increasingly clever and complex methods of utilizing the loopholes in the law or fooling the police are being adopted. The Western-style call-girl system is now quite popular in urban areas. Gangsterism naturally quite frequently goes hand in hand with such secret operations.

As of the prostitutes themselves, about half the estimated total of 158,000 have simply “disappeared” from police eyes by officially reporting they had “gone home.”

(The number of women in full-fledged houses was estimated at 55,000 and the gross total of those working in all houses of prostitution registered or not, at some 158,000.)

A large majority are apparently back at their original trade at the so-called “hotels” and “bars” of their former employers. Those taking to the streets themselves are naturally “protected” by hoodlums who sometimes blackmail the girls’ customers.

Although still in the minority, some former prostitutes have made news by their unusually successful rehabilitation in new honest occupations or in marriages. A team of 15 such women are now gaining popularity as tourist guides at Nagaoka, on the Izu Peninsula. One woman in Tochigi Prefecture is now a junior high school teacher while another is making a tidy sum as a florist in Kochi.

But the over-all picture is growing darker. As of the end of July, the Police Agency counted 6,828 cases of violation of the law in the country. All police forces were ordered to be on the alert against a further increase, especially cases involving gangsters.

More than 9 percent of prostitutes arrested so far had venereal diseases, posing a serious national health problem. Juvenile victims of such diseases are on the rise, it is noted.

Sexual crimes, naturally expected to rise following the outlawing of prostitution, have shot up surprisingly. In Tokyo alone, there have been 265 known cases between April and August. This is more than double the 118 for the corresponding 1957 period.



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