In the wee hours of the morning, distraught over the fact that I was less than two months away from leaving Japan, a prioritised bucket list began forming in my head.
These buckets have become easy to predict. Once you work as an English teacher for long enough, you begin to see patterns in the way foreigners return home.
Some people head to Okinawa for an extended weekend. Others pick up an expensive camera and head to Kyoto with the ambition of snapping amazing photos of geishas. And then there are those who make a last ditch attempt at picking up some Japanese skill, like shodo (Japanese calligraphy), playing the shamisen, lovaor forcefully falling in love with a Japanese person, lest they return to their home country admitting that they spent the entirety of their time here in an English-speaking bubble.
The only thing I wanted to do was talk to people who worked for Herusu, or “Health,” synonymous with the Japanese sex industry.
I guess my list was pretty short.
As our loyal readers know, I’ve covered the Japanese Sex Industry several times at TravelSexLife before, and our site has established a great connection with several amazing human rights groups. Between our contributors, who have come forward with confessions of paying for sex, the comments, that have really run the gamut in terms of opinions, we only really have one blaring, noticeable blind spot – actual conversations with the service workers, or sex workers, or prostitutes, themselves.
At 7AM, lost in Shibuya, Tokyo, freezing my ass off, preparing to be rejected, I stepped into a Herusu. Thirty seconds later, the grumpy staff having rejected my mere presence (he just shouted, “Busy, busy!” and crossed his arms in an “X” to signify no service for me), I was in the next building over. And the next one. And the next. After a while, I didn’t even bother entering. I found the phone number on the outside of the buildings (printed over images of scantily-clad, overly-breasty Japanese women), then called them and asked if I could even come inside.
I got as far as explaining to the young, bald man that I didn’t want sexual favors – “Moshiyokattara, web site no tame ni, staffu to mensetsu shitai desu. Watashi ga haraimasu” [or “If it’s okay, for my website, I want to have an interview with one of the staff. I will pay”] – before he called another, younger guy from the next room. The two of them mumbled for a minute, and then the second man spoke to me in English.
“You want a girl?”
“I want an interview with a girl.”
“No. Just talk.”
“They don’t speak English.”
“Japanese is okay. I won’t touch her. No sex. Talking only. I want an interview for my website.”
The two men mumbled some more, and threw some archaic equipment on the counter. When I say archaic, I mean it – they had no electronic credit card system; instead, it was that device that slides over your card and imprints the information onto a piece of paper.
And imprinted my card they did: about $200 poorer, and the assurance that I wouldn’t say the name of their business or girl on the site later, a young, gangly third man walked me to one of the love hotels in the area, where I would pay for three hours, and the girl would arrive (another $30). I checked in, got my key, told the young, gangly dude my room number, went up to the fourth floor, and waited in the room.
Ten minutes later, I received a phone call from the front desk, asking me if I was expecting a visitor. I confirmed, and they hung up the phone.
Soon after, I heard the elevator ding, and then a knock at the door. A short, bright-eyed woman with a face mask entered the room. She took off her mask, we introduced ourselves, and I explained the point of the interview. She pulled a timer out of her bag and set it to 40 minutes; soon after, she picked up the hotel room phone and made a quick call to reception.
The following is the conversation we had, translated from Japanese into English.
(M) – Here we are.
J – So can I do this?
*She straddles my lap*
M – Whoa.
J – Is this okay?
M – Your boss told you –
J – No problem, no problem! It’s a joke.
M – I’m sorry. I was surprised.
J – I’m good at surprising people!
*She kisses me on the cheek, gets off my lap, and sits next to me*
M – Shall we do the interview?
J – Of course.
M – First of all, thank you. My Japanese ability is the same as a child’s. I’ll try to do my best.
J – No problem.
M – First of all, how are you?
J – The weather is very cold, so I’m disappointed. I wanted to go shopping today.
M – You can still go shopping in this weather, can’t you?
J – Yeah. But yesterday it was so warm!
M – Right.
J – So I’m disappointed. But we are inside, so it’s okay.
M – Do you usually work at this time?
J – Almost always. Nighttime is impossible. I have a daughter.
Japanese Sex Worker:
I almost always [ work in the daytime]. Nighttime is impossible. I have a daughter.
M – You do? That’s great. She must be with her grandmother now?
J – She’s in school – she’s ten.
M – You’re kidding.
J – I look young, right?
M – Yeah, you look so young.
J – How old are you?
M – 29.
J – Guess how old I am.
M – 26?
J – Thank you. Higher.
M – 27?
J – Thank you. Higher.
M – 35?
J – You asshole. *She laughs* 34.
M – That is unbelievable.
J – She’s a good girl, too. Her teachers love her. She never causes any trouble.
M – What’s her name?
J – Her name’s _____. Do you want to see a picture?
M – I’d love to.
*She searches through her phone for a few moments*
J – Here.
M – *I laugh* This is a snowman.
J – Yeah, _____ and I made it together. Isn’t that cute?
M – It is. That’s a pretty cute snowman.
J – How do you say, “Yukigassen?”
M – Snowball fight. You two had a snowball fight?
J – My daughter – here she is – she is so fast. The…
M – Snowball fight.
J – Snowball fight. We had a snowball fight right after we made the snowman.
M – She’s so adorable.
J – Thank you.
M – Really. What a gorgeous little girl.
J – Yeah. She is great.
M – Are you and the father…?
J – Oh, no. He left when she was three. It’s just the two of us.
M – What does she want to be when she grows up?
J – I don’t know yet. She’s really friendly, though. I hope it’s something that makes her happy.
M – Are you happy?
J – Me? Very happy.
M – With your job?
J – Yes. Very, very happy.
M – Why?
J – I can meet lots of interesting people.
M – Your coworkers?
J – My coworkers are really nice, but also, my customers. Some of my customers and I have a special relationship. I’m happy to meet with them.
M – You have repeat customers?
J – Of course! I look young!
M – What’s the longest repeat customer you have – two or three years?
J – Oh no, much longer than that. Maybe seven or eight years. Some of them followed me from my previous job. I worked at another Herusu before.
Japanese Sex Worker:
[I’ve had some repeat customers for] maybe seven or eight years. Some of them followed me from my previous job.
M – And he calls you to a hotel, and you perform services on him?
J – It’s not always like that. Sometimes we just meet and talk. Sometimes he just hugs me. Sometimes he cries. Sometimes we have sex.
M – I’m sorry to ask – maybe it’s my Japanese – but isn’t sex against the law?
J – He pays me for my time and a few services. For example… Sorry, this sounds funny.
M – Go on.
J – Blowjob, vibrator, cumshot, sometimes a tittyfuck. My company rules don’t let me have sex. But I can give him sex if I want to. I don’t always give sex away. I would give it to you, though.
M – *I laugh* Well, thank you very much. Does he always pay, even if he comes in and cries?
Japanese Sex Worker:
My company rules don’t let me have sex. But I can give him sex if I want to. I don’t always give sex away.
J – Same as you today. You paid up front to have this time for me. It’s his choice what he wants to do with his time. If he wants to cry, I will listen.
M – Why do you think they cry?
J – They spend a lot of time with me. They trust me.
M – Do they want to be with you?
J – I don’t think so. They cry because of various reasons. They are unhappy with their work. Their wife doesn’t give them sex. They are getting old.
M – How old do your customers get?
J – I have really, really, really old customers. Sometimes they pay for five or six hours. That is pretty difficult.
M – Difficult in what way?
J – Five or six hours! *She laughs* Five or six hours with anybody and I feel exhausted!
M – Do you have to perform sexual services the whole time if they want it?
J – Having a smart pace is important. I don’t want to have sex for five hours. It’s only happened a few times (five hour sex). But I’ll lead up to it, little by little, if I can.
Japanese Sex Worker:
Having a smart pace is important. I don’t want to have sex for five hours.
M – What is a usual session like?
J – After they pay, I receive information about where to go – which hotel. When I arrive, I try to have some small talk. I have my phone with me; if the staff desk at the hotel doesn’t get a call from me in five minutes, they know to come up, because something is wrong.
M – That seems really smart.
J – It is. It’s very safe.
M – What if you go to an apartment?
J – Then my coworkers are waiting outside for the first ten minutes. If they don’t get my call, they will come up.
M – That makes sense.
J – It’s very thorough. If everything is okay, I start my timer. Then we have a shower to check everything. I wash their body, look under their arms, wash their penis, testicles, vagina, breasts, feet, everything.
M – Did you say vagina?
J – Sometimes I work with women too. I go in the shower with all customers. If I see something that looks wrong, or sick, then I don’t continue.
M – Is that often?
J – Not at all. It’s only happened a few times. So, we wash. Then we go to the bed. I do what they like, make them cum, and then the rest of the time we usually talk.
M – Or cry?
J – *She laughs* Sometimes, yes.
M – If it’s a longer session with, let’s say, an old, old, old man?
J – Long, long, long massage. Maybe they’ll fall asleep for half of the time.
M – Really? You must get lonely.
J – Sometimes, yeah! I like to talk to them! Talking is fun, and I like to learn about them. There are so many interesting people.
M – Who’s the most interesting person you’ve met?
J – Today? You.
M – *I laugh* And repeat customers?
J – There was one salary man. He was very funny. He said he was single for years. One day, we saw each other on the [train]. He was with his family. When he saw me, he panicked. I didn’t say anything.
M – What did you feel?
J – Disappointed. He didn’t have to lie. To his wife, maybe, but not to me. He came one more time, and apologised to me. I never saw him again.
Japanese Sex Worker:
There was one salary man. He was very funny. He said he was single for years. One day, we saw each other on the [train]. He was with his family. When he saw me, he panicked. I didn’t say anything… He didn’t have to lie. To his wife, maybe, but not to me. He came one more time, and apologised to me. I never saw him again… I wish he didn’t see me [on the train.] I liked him.
M – Why do you think he stopped?
J – He was embarrassed. He made a whole new world.
M – And then when you saw him, that world –
J – Ended. It was gone. He was embarrassed. I wish he didn’t see me. I liked him.
M – How long have you been doing this?
J – About 14 or 15 years.
M – Oh. So, is the father…?
J – No, no, no. How do you say, “Rikkon?”
M – Divorce. You got a divorce?
J – Yeah. He was a coworker.
M – Did he get jealous?
J – It wasn’t like that. He was just not a good match for me. We didn’t like the same things.
M – What do you mean? Sexually?
J – Hobbies. I love music. What kind of music do you like?
M – Japanese of American?
J – Japanese.
M – I really love Imawano Kiyoshiro.
J – Imawano Kiyoshiro! He died. How sad.
M – Yeah, actually, I had really wanted to see him in concert before I came to Japan. I came to Japan four years ago. After I came here, he died.
J – He’s great. I love the song that goes, “Shiawase ni naritai kedo gambaritakunai.” [lit. meaning – “I want to be happy, but I don’t want to work hard for it”] What’s that song?
M – “Rakku ni ikou ze!” It’s a fantastic song.
J – Yeah.
M – Is he your favourite singer?
J – No, I love “Goruden Bonbaa.”
M – *I laugh* I have never heard that.
J – Yes you have. *She sings, and I laugh*
M – Okay, I’ve heard that. Are they the group that wears lots of makeup?
J – Yeah.
M – And they do crazy stunts, like the batsu games, like silent library?
J – Yeah. I love them.
M – How funny. Yeah, I saw them on TV once.
*The phone rings, and J picks it up. She speaks into the phone for a minute to the receptionist of the hotel. She checks her timer, which says eight minutes. She turns it off*
J – We have ten minutes left.
M – Okay. What do you usually do at this time?
J – At this time, if the customer hasn’t orgasmed yet, I try to help that quickly. Otherwise, we take a shower, and I wash everything again.
M – Why another shower?
J – If he has a wife, it’s better if he doesn’t smell like me.
M – Of course.
J – “What’s this smell? What’s this smell on your penis?”
M – “Why does your penis smell good today?”
J – Some penises really don’t smell good.
M – I would think so, too.
J – It’s kind of a ritual, too. We begin with a shower. We end with a shower. Clean, dirty, clean.
M – That’s like a poem.
J – *She laughs* Clean, dirty, clean.
Japanese Sex Worker:
We begin with a shower. We end with a shower. Clean, dirty, clean.
M – How many showers are you taking every day?
J – You mean, how many customers do I have? It depends on the day. The most is three or four. Some days only one.
M – And your coworkers?
J – Sometimes they go much longer. Sometimes take a small vacation or date with their customers. Hakone, Osaka, Kyoyo, even Hokkaido. Disneyland.
M – Have you gone to Disneyland with a customer?
J – I love Disneyland. It’s really so fun. But I would not, because my daughter loves it so much.
M – Would you go there with a customer and your daughter?
J – No. That is only for me and my daughter. I don’t want to confuse _____. My time with her is before school, after school, and while she sleeps. There is no other time with customers.
M – And what if you saw a repeat customer while you were with your daughter?
J – I would say to my daughter, “This is my good friend.” And then I would say goodbye to them.
M – Is there anything else you can tell me that we haven’t talked about today?
J – Do you have any more questions?
M – I want to thank you. This was fun. You must be a good mom.
J – Thank you. That makes me happy.
M – Almost every time, if I approach Herusu [sex industry], they say, “No foreigners.” I was really surprised that they let me talk to you today.
J – I was very happy to talk to you. It was fun. You can come again, anytime.
M – To cry?
J – If you want to cry, you can cry.
M – Can you answer one more thing, please?
J – Yes.
M – There are people who think paying for sex is bad. What do you think?
J – As for me, paying for sex is not a problem. I am happy. I make good money. I am safe. Customers are sometimes bad, but usually good people. Sex is fun. Everybody should relax.
Also in our Undercover Look series: We interview a human rights organization in The Daily Realities of Human Trafficking.