An Introduction to Japanese society

Page 273

Popular Culture and Everyday Life


women workers, and students. It may not be wide of the mark to speculate that the mass culture of karaoke has established itself, like pachinko, as an avenue by which ordinary people can escape the stringent realities of Japanese work and community life.18 (d) The Love Industry Japan’s sex industry reflects the underside of Japanese society. For instance, the ‘love hotels’ that thrive in Japanese cities reflect the resourcefulness of pragmatic hotel operators. These hotels openly provide rooms to couples wishing to have sex. Some spend a few hours and pay hourly rates. Others stay overnight, generally at a reasonable rate. These hotels do not have a lobby, a restaurant, or even a coffee room. For obvious reasons, lodgers are not required to register their names and addresses. Establishments of this kind flourish, partly because of the high frequency of premarital sex and adultery, and partly because of the unfavorable housing conditions in Japanese cities. The prostitution industry prospers despite the Prostitution Prevention Law implemented in 1965. Illicit underground groups arrange ‘lovers’ banks’ and ‘date clubs’ and play cat-and-mouse with police. ‘Soap land’ joints, which offer private rooms, each with a bath, are virtually brothels where ‘massage girls’ work as sex workers. Called ‘Turkish baths’ in the past, these houses of ill repute, which exist in almost all cities, testify to the uninhibited flourishing of the sex industry.19 While the sexual revolution has enabled and empowered young women to have active sex lives and to choose their sexual partners freely, some have been trapped into exploitative sexual situations, as observed in the growing cases of enjo k¯osai (paid dating), a practice in which teenage girls typically offer sexual services to middle-aged men in return for monetary compensation. Online dating sites provide opportunities for strangers to meet and explore sexual encounters, a system which sometimes leads to tragic criminal cases. On the other side of the equation, the marriage industry has played up images of romantic love and luxurious wedding receptions to manipulate the aspirations of the prosperity and global generations. As a result, marriage ceremonies and receptions of young, upper-middle class Japanese have become so lavish that their cost often exceeds their participants’ 18 19

See Mitsui and Hosokawa 2001 for the influence of karaoke in different parts of the world. At the beginning of the 1990s, there were over 1,400 Japanese ‘soap lands’ where some 15,000 ‘soap girls’ worked. Kadowaki 2002 estimates that the illegal incomes of the sex industry amounts to 1.2 trillion yen, more than 1 percent of the national budget.

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