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1980s Sex Business Explosion

Why Japan Needed Prostitution

The Antiprostitution Law of 1957 did not exactly kill the Japanese sex business. Most brothels and girly bars just decided to “re-conceptualize” and take their activities underground. Law enforcement tacitly tolerated the existence of “Turkish baths” and “massage parlors” for the next twenty-five years, as long as these businesses did not become too brazen or make a conspicuous move into mainstream society.

In the 1980s, however, the sex business went overground for the first time in the post-war era, becoming a significant part of the pop cultural zeitgeist. Not only did the greater media attention make more men into sex busness patrons, the news about high salaries paid to sex workers ended up attracting a large number of young women into the field.

As with all Japanese pop-cultural historiography, the changes and fads in the sex industry can be charted almost perfectly by year. The following timeline of the 1980s sex business development is translated from one of the greatest analytical works on Japanese pop cultural history: 『サブカルチャー神話解体:少女・音楽・マンガ・性の30年とコミュニケーションの現在』 (Subcultural Myth Busting: Thirty Years and the Current State of Girls, Music, Manga, and Sex). Originally published by PARCO in 1993, the book contains post-modern critique on the development of Japanese pop culture from authors Miyadai Shinji, Ishihara Hideki, and Ootsuka Meiko. (A newer version came out in paperback last year.)

Note: the main form of prostitution before the early 1980s sex boom was the “Turkish bath” (トルコ風呂). In Japanese, “Turkish” is toruko, and many new forms of prostitution took the “toru” as a suffix. In 1984, all Turkish baths officially were renamed “soapland” after complaints from the Turkish embassy.

1981 will eternally be recorded as the year of the “Big Bang” in the sex industry. The 1980 opening of the very first “no-panties tearoom” (ノーパン喫茶) in Kyoto launched a huge boom in Osaka at the beginning of 1981, and later, the sparks spread to Tokyo. In the later half of 1981, however, you already started to see the decline of the no-panties tearoom. The excitement shifted to the first-ever “peep room” (のぞき部屋) that opened in Shibuya. At the end of the year, mantoru [“mansion Turkish Bath,” underground apartment-based prostitution] grew rapidly, inviting a crackdown by the authorities. By the next year, however, the service changed to hotetoru [call girls who come to patrons’ hotel rooms] and “date tearooms.” The “girls of the new sex industry” produced by the sex boom became the core customers of “host clubs,” which rapidly opened one after the other and ushered in a “Gigolo Boom.” As sex businesses rapidly spread in Kabukicho, adult shops also concentrated in the area, which turned into the “binibon (books/magazines rapped in plastic) boom.” After that, urabon and ura-bideo (uncensored and illegal pornographic books and videos) started to be distributed and (porn actress) Aizome Kyōko became popular.

1982 was the year of “individual rooms” and “full service” (本番). After the no-panties tearoom boom ended, there was an influx of the “new sex business girls” into the newly-emerging businesses “fashion massage” and “private-room nudes.” Hotetoru was born out of the strict regulation on mantoru, even to a point of creating “delivery prostitute boys” (出張トルコボーイ). The crackdown on mantoru ended up flaming the fires, causing the appearance of date tearooms even in residential areas. During this era, there existed an incredible segregation in the staffing of the services: the girls who worked at fashion massage were trade school students (専門校学生), the girls at date tearooms were Asian immigrants, and the girls at mantoru and hotetoru were college students and OLs who did not want their faces known.

In 1983, the “new sex biz” reaches its peak. According to the “White Paper on the Sex Business” from the same year, the number of sex businesses doubled from the previous year to a total of 1,406 establishments. Mantoru went from 145 to 234 locations, private-room massage went from 146 to 279, date tearooms went from 61 to 153, and date clubs went from 182 to 379. There was also a new arrival on the scene: the “mistress bank” [clubs that brought together men who wanted mistresses and women who wanted money], with 106 locations. The sex business entered a new period of intense competition. Ideas became the make or break for companies. New “pornography buildings” 5 Doors and Wanderer opened in Kabukicho. Inside the building was Tokyo Lucky Hole — which later became the name of a photo-book from Araki Nobuyoshi. The building also had what can be said to be the precursor to terekura [telephone clubs]: “phone play” (電話遊び). That year, sex biz gals who did not care at all about revealing their faces started to appear on TV, shifting the “co-ed hooker boom” to a “hooker idol boom.” 1983 saw the debut of “no-panties queen Eve” as a mainstream celebrity. The opening of mistress bank “Evening Tribe” (夕ぐれ族) became talk of the town and led to openings of like-minded establishments all over the country.

In 1984, as the “New Sex Business Law” brought stronger regulation, the sex sector started to bifurcate in an environment of increased competition. On January 30, National Police Agency announced a large-scale revision to the Entertainment Business Control Law. On February 1, they established the Department to Promote Clean-Up of the Fuzoku Environment. Later on the 20th of that month, they fired the first shot of a heavy barrage. Merchants worried about possible crackdown went ahead and self-censored. Customers stopped being interested as the general amateurism lost its charm. This lead to an emphasis on service and quality, and also, the bifurcation of remaining businesses: businesses that could be proud of rich, professional services and those that were strong in showmanship. Private-room nudes completely died out, but the kyabakura [cabaret-club, cheaper version of hostess club] was born. In August, the “New Sex Business Law” was enacted. In September, the city of Tokyo cracked down on 50 businesses in a mass sweep. Meanwhile everyone gossiped about the existence of a date tearoom where a bunch of 16 year-old Takenokozoku girls would hang out. The Diet saw legislators started to bash magazines Popteen and Girls Life.

1985 was the year that gave birth to terekura [telephone clubs], a drop in customers following the enactment of the New Sex Business Law, and a vicious circle of rip-off joints. The explanation for that first item has been insufficient. “Telephone clubs” — abbreviated, terekura — quickly spread as a way to deal with the New Sex Business Law. The “telephone sex services” that grew out of terekura dragged in low teens. The NTT Message Dial and Q2 Two Shot boom [party lines where men would pay ¥100 a minute to talk to girls, who talked for free] led to today’s “underground two” (裏ツー) [underground party lines], pre-paid two-shot, Q2 message, and sexy message faxes.

W. David MARX
November 27, 2008

W. David Marx (Marxy) — Tokyo-based writer and musician — is the founder and chief editor of Néojaponisme.

8 Responses

  1. Don Says:

    >After that, urabon and ura-bideo (uncensored and illegal pornographic books and videos) started to be distributed and (porn actress) Aizen Kyōko became popular.

    Did you mean Aizome Kyoko?

  2. Mulboyne Says:

    1985 was also the year of changes to the Entertainment Law which had the side effect of de-stigmatizing love hotels.

  3. W. David MARX Says:

    I think I mean Aizome, but I will check the text later. For some reason, I couldn’t find her name when I searched for it originally.

  4. W. David MARX Says:

    I want to add that the Onyanko Club’s lyrics make much more sense within the ’80s sexed-up environment than in say, the ’70s or the late ’90s.

  5. eve sex | Says:

    […] 1980s Sex Business Explosion That year, sex biz gals who did not care at all about revealing their faces started to appear on TV, shifting the “co-ed hooker boom” to a “hooker idol boom.” 1983 saw the debut of “no-panties queen Eve” as a mainstream celebrity. … […]

  6. greg starr Says:

    The early 80s was a jaw-dropping time. Your piece made me think back to the late-night TV shows (and I mean late night around midnight not early morning) that were all trying desperately to outdo themselves. One, uh, favorite was “Tissue Time,” when they’d have a naked model writhing around masturbating–in bubbles, or on a sofa, or whatever–and the whole gallery of geinojin would count along with the seconds showing on the screen down to the moment of her orgasm. This was all to allow the home viewer to match his to hers. At “0” the whole cast would run around the studio pulling tissues out of their boxes and throwing them into the air yelling “Tissue Time!, Tissue Time.”
    It was all done with the innocence of a 15-year-old’s birthday party, and it was hardly the wildest of the bunch.

  7. The Rising Sun’s ’80s Sex Trade Expansion « (F+S) Says:

    […] Read NeoJaponisme’s “1980s Sex Business Explosion” [Here] […]

  8. W. David MARX Says:

    Interesting parallel article here: