I’ve realized lately that most people only talk about all the cool parts and positive things in Japanese culture and not the negatives. So today I want to talk about the huge schoolgirl exploitation issue. I simply want to educate on this issue and reiterate that Japan is not always the utopia it is often portrayed as.
Japan is still one of the most misogynistic and sexist cultures in today’s developed world. It’s not as if America is in a position to judge, since we are too (to an alarming extent, based on the fact we've had three huge feminist movements that have made way for major progress but still not enough), but the degree to which this is problematic in Japan compared to the U.S. is significant. Although schoolgirl fetishization has also spread to the U.S., it is a small subculture. It is most popular in Japan.
In a nutshell, actual, underage schoolgirls stand in Akihabara (a part of Tokyo) handing out fliers offering platonic services to the public, such as fortune telling, walking around the block or simply having a chat while in their school uniforms. But it goes much further than this. It would not be inaccurate to say that much of the business is actual human trafficking. Especially in red light districts (places where there's a lot of prostitution), girls will be offered a little extra money to perform sexual acts on clients. They usually won’t (a more accurate word would be can’t) decline in order to keep their street reputation as a good JK girl that people will keep coming back to.
It is called the “JK business” colloquially, JK standing for the Japanese word for “high school girl” (女子高生 ー じょしこうせい – Joshikousei).
Of course, these things also happen in the U.S., but it’s usually an underground service. In Japan, these girls literally stand in the streets of Akihabara handing out fliers in the open. Or they work at a “JK cafe,” a more formal and tame place of employment where you basically just have conversations with high school girls (in their uniform) for about $30 an hour (which is better than forced sex, but is still super creepy nonetheless).
While law enforcement has made several attempts to shut down the JK business, they've either been very halfhearted attempts or never really tackled the actual problems, which are not the girls. While there have been raids, arrests of "pimps" and the like, no action has ever been taken on the adults actually buying these services. The raids are mostly for show, and many times law enforcement and the public just turn a blind eye based on the idea that the girls "put themselves in the situation" and should hold themselves accountable.What makes getting out of the JK business so hard is that Japan is a “shame-based” culture. Basically, this means that an individual values the reputation of their family over anything for themselves. In the case of schoolgirls selling services, the women are shamed and blamed for going into the business when
Technically, girls are not literally being forced against their will to exploit themselves, but in a shame-based culture, they vehemently decline help because of the fear of dishonoring those close to them. So, really, they're pretty much forced into the JK business, and once they’re in, they can’t get out.
However, there is a silver lining: There are a few (and I mean few) activists who really try to make a difference in stopping the JK business and helping girls get off the street. I find it extremely brave of the current activists in Tokyo to try to stop the culture of fetishizing underage girls and take JK girls off the street and take care of them, since oftentimes they don't have a home to go to. Without these activists, there would be no one to help, since the majority of the population is either indifferent or against helping.
In addition, I really think it’s an example to the U.S. to keep fighting against these issues even when the majority is against you. I actually have several friends in San Diego who do similar services for money. Nothing ever turns sexual as far as I know, but one example is a 17-year-old girl (who started at age 15) who gets paid lots of money to hang out with much older men who are probably semi-fulfilling a sexual fantasy to be with a young girl.This is just one example of how we have our own underage exploitation; there are plenty more. The most looked-up term on pornography websites in the U.S. is "teen." Legally, these are (barely) adult girls acting the role of a teenager rather than actual teenagers, but where does fantasy end and acting out begin?