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Modern Japan - From Our Archives

Enjo Kosai, Anyone?
J T Brown on 'compensation dating' in Tokyo

In early 1995, a Japanese friend and colleague of mine invited me to come along with him to a club in Tokyo’s youth mecca, the Shibuya district. I just had to go, after hearing him describe what this ‘club’ was all about.

It was a ‘telekura’ club (‘tele’ from telephone, ‘kura’ from ‘kurabu’, or club.) The experience was a revelation, to say the least. Just what is the common interest shared by such ‘club’ members, you may ask? Answer: sex

For the most part, between married, older Japanese men, and younger, often teenage, Japanese girls.
For the record, nothing of the sort took place with yours truly. I wanted to see for myself what my friend described because it was so incredible. And admittedly I even gave the telephone a few disbelieving tries. But my morals never got to be tested because the females at the other end of the line were too surprised and intimidated to be talking with a foreigner to follow the conversations through to their customary conclusion. That, being an ensuing rendevous at a hotel for anonymous, paid-for, sex.

You don’t hear very much about this face of the Japanese. I have spied an occasional mention of it in the western press, but for the majority of outsiders, what I will report herein just doesn’t jibe with the popular image of a conservative and upright Japan. Please read on.

The eupehmistic term in Japanese for this avocation is "enjo kosai". I mention this Japanese appellation because it has been adopted without translation by those who have written on it in English before me. The standard (and equally euphemistic) English translation is "compensated dating". Let’s be clear, though. What we’re talking about amateur whoring. Back in the 1980’s, Japanese ‘dating clubs’ started popping up, providing a medium for those wishing to enjoin in enjo kosai to meet. In their earliest incarnation, and one which is still in healthy existence today, there were the above mentioned ‘telekura’ venues. Of late, internet-enabled cellphones have taken over the scene though. More on this development below.

First, the telekura. It is a physical establishment, usually located in a centralized commercial district where ‘love hotels’ (hotels that rent rooms by the hour for the understood purpose of carnal encounters) are in close proximity. Invariably, it is the male club members who actually enter the premises. They present a membership card at the entrance and pay in advance for the desired number of hours they wish to spend in one of the private rooms –no bigger than a office cubicle- inside the club. Inside a room is a tv, a vhs player, a box of tissues (porn videos are free for the borrowing up at the front desk…..), and a telephone. The video watching is just a time-killing expedient. The men pay good money –3,000 yen per hour (about US $26) when I went there- for something else. They are waiting for incoming phone calls.

Females on the outside can dial a toll free number to the club, and the front desk then patches them through to the men inside the little rooms. From there, it’s up to the male and female to ‘make conversation’.

In reality, the overwhelming majority of conversations are about meeting up for sex. Male and female feel each other out over the phone and decide after about five or ten minutes of discussion whether or not they they are going to meet each other. Loss of interest by one party can mean abrupt and brutal disconnection –in mid-sentence- for the other party. (I speak from humiliating experience). Men that participate in this little mating game, come in all shapes and sizes; college students, working men, elderly men -many of them married. The ‘women’ tend to be young, though many a housewife up through their mid-thirties also participate. The preponderance of females, however, are school girls: high school, and sometimes even junior high school. And the preponderance of females also happen to demand that aforementioned ‘compensation’ in return for the ‘dating’. Rates are all over the place, but most fall in the range of 40,000 to 60,000 yen for a two hour tryst.

Alternative forms of payment can be directly taking a girl to a department store and paying for the designer shoes or jacket she picks out, or bringing along such a gift to the time and place of an appointment.

With smartphones now ubiquitous and even in the hands elementary school children, virtual dating clubs have become all the rage. They cost the male members less money, and both male and female users have the freedom and convenience of accessing the service anytime, anywhere. Even in the classroom when the teacher isn’t looking.

Internet match-making services exist in many countries. But they don’t quite shape up like this one. Read the following quotations and facts found in a English language report on virtual dating sites, compiled and written this year by Japan’s National Police Agency.
Some typical messages posted in solicitation of sex, (by males):
"Will pay 50,000 yen maximum for Enjo Kosai."
"Awaiting messages from high school girls short in pocket money."
(by females): "Send me a mail if you can meet me Sunday for 30,000 yen."
"Buy my virginity. I’m an innocent 15 year old."
"I want to try real sex! I’m bored with playing with myself. Somebody with lots of money please make me feel good."

Some facts found in the report:
"93.8% cases of which the solicitation method is known, were initiated by female child."
"97 percent of cases with child prostitutes now involve cell phone dating services."
"83.1% of high school students, 23.1% of junior high own cellular phones" *1

An immediate question which must spring to mind is, "Just how widespread is all this? The above report also states that of all Japanese female high school students, 22% have used ‘dating services’ and that 43.2% of those have actually ‘met’ their date. How truthfully the girls answered either the first or the second part of the survey is anybody’s guess.

According to another survey taken by the Ministry of Health and Welfare in 1999, "87.3 percent of girls denied having taken part(in enjo kosai)" *2.

That’s typical Japanese circumlocution, but I’m sure you can make the conspicuously omitted calculation.
And when I talk to the actual people engaged in this, I get the unmistakable sense that the police and the surveys are significantly underreporting. My friend who first exposed me to this scene back in 1995, swears that over half of all Japanese high school girls in the Tokyo area are "doing it". He would know. He patronized them all over Tokyo at the pace of about twice a week until steroid therapy for a health condition of his rendered him impotent (ha!ha!).

Once, when helping an acquaitance I knew on her homework with a short story she had to write in English for her college course, I asked her about enjo kosai. She flabbergasted me. Not only did she confess that she herself had partaken in it, but she also went on to say, "I think just about all of my friends, and probably all girls in my generation have at least tried it." She was a very bright college freshmen and a good student too.
Of course, both my friend, and this college co-ed, were giving estimations skewed by their own personal experience. The Health Ministry’s survey which allows us to deduce that roughly 13% of high
school girls have participated in enjo kosai is probably closer to the truth. But whatever the actual number may be, can you say ‘Big Trouble in Little Tokyo’?

A second question that begs the asking is, what kind of high school girl (or housewife, or twenties-something woman, for that matter) would turn to amateur prostitution in a country where everyone has food in their bellies and ample material toys to play with already? The answer is as surprising as it is baffling: all kinds.

As you might expect, a lot of delinquent teenage girls from troubled homes are involved in this. But plenty of girls and women from very ordinary circumstances and upstanding families have been found doing this as well. Like the co-ed I knew. Major reasons given to numerous interviewers and researchers are: because its thrilling, because the girls seek (older)male affection, because everyone seems to be doing it, and because the money is easy. *3

Love Hotels in Japan
Low brow TV discussions and profiles of the problem reached a crescendo in the late 1990’s. But most of that was titillation oriented tabloid fare, replete with lots of the obligatory video footage of racy-looking high school girls out and about in the streets, and interviews with the girls, many of them speaking of having multiple sexual encounters in a given day with complete strangers, and earning more on a busy day than their fathers could in a month.

In 1999, The Child Prostitution and Pornography Act was passed. Contained in this law was a provision that makes paying for sex with an under 18 year-old a punishable crime. And the Child Welfare Law, updated that same year, made it the law of the land for it to be illegal to have sex with an under 18 years old. Until 1999, it actually remained legal in both metropolitan Tokyo and the prefecture of Nagano, to have consensual sex with anyone over the age of thirteen.

Now, for my own personal two cents. The belated updating of the criminal code was not a bad thing. But enforcement of the laws on the books by Japan’s finest has always been a joke anyway. Besides, cracking down on the johns, while a step in the right direction, is like putting a bandaid on a mere symtom of a larger problem.

Yes, the adult males have to restrain themselves. That’s part of the job description of being an ‘adult’. To exercise judgement and act responsibly, especially in the presence of minors. When men act on their fantasies and abet in the delinquency of minors, society is in decay (Oh Japan? Call your office……)
That men ‘desire’ young female bodies though, is not even an issue. Puritans that say this is ‘sick’ and ‘depraved’ aren’t helping the problem –they are part of it. Healthy males will lust after young girls and that’s a fact. Healthy males in healthy societies, however, will usually act responsibly and keep their fantasies as just that, fantasies.

But as in Japan, if the streets are flooded with sexy young school girls who sell their bodies with alacrity, what the hell do we THINK is going to happen? Chaperoned ballroom dancing?? What I want to know is, where are the parents in all this? Actually, I do know. They’re AWOL. They’re derelict. They’re the root of all the evil in this.
What kind of parent could possibly be so self-absorbed, or so weak and ineffectual that they turn a blind eye to all the exorbitantly expensive clothing and fashion accessories that their young daughters start bringing home? To that and the fact that their daughters stay out until the middle of the night, or don’t come home at all?

I have a seven year-old daughter. As a man, I KNOW how many a male out there will start undressing her with their eyes before much longer. It makes me sick with anxiety as a father. Some day, she will be an adult woman and will make adult decisions for herself.

Until then, it is my job as a father to shepherd her through adolescence, to protect her, to be a pain in the ass sometimes, to let go of her only slowly, making sure each step of the way that she is gaining the wisdom and the self-possession to take care of herself. My parents did that with me, and with every fiber in my body, I’m going to do it for her, and my son as well.
Japanese youths have been abandoned by their parents. I’m not a religious person, but Japan needs a moral compass and a moral purpose. It’s going down fast. I’ll spare you anymore derogatory adjectives about Japanese parents, and Japanese society. In another essay, I promised not to Japan-bash. Besides, I’m sure that you can think of plenty of adjectives yourself.
© J T Brown September 19, 2003

(For those of you disbelieving what you have just read, here are some other reports on the situation, this first one written by a college student at Japan’s Chuo University. The writing is in non-native English, but is very readable and offers a better insight into the mentality of the girls involved than I can provide.)
For more mainstream coverage of the issue, please see:
rReferences in text:
4: Academic link re: compensation dating
(Links to all previous articles on Japan by JT Brown can be found at

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