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Japan’s Sex Industry Is Becoming Less Sexual

IN THE 17th century Yoshiwara, in north-eastern Tokyo (then known as Edo), was one of a number of red-light districts. Both female and male prostitutes walked the streets, offering a full range of services. Four hundred years later Yoshiwara remains a centre of the sex trade, but customers’ desires are becoming less explicit. Scores of “soaplands” such as “Female Emperor” offer men a scrub by a lingerie-clad woman, for around ¥10,000 yen ($94).

Yoshiwara’s transformation reflects broader changes in Japan’s sex industry. Reliable data are difficult to come by, but softer services seem to be gaining popularity at the expense of harder ones such as vaginal sex (which is illegal but widely available) or oral sex (which is legal). The sex trade in Japan has long been about not only intercourse, but also the yearning for intimacy and romance, says Masahiro Yamada, a sociologist, and these are the services that are growing.

There are, for example, more kyabakura, places where men go to be served drinks and fawned over by women, and “image clubs”, where men act out fantasies (minus the climax, at least in theory) in mock doctor’s surgeries or train carriages. Onakura shops allow men to masturbate, while female employees watch. The pornography industry is in rude health, too.

The shift to less carnal services started after the second world war, when the prudish American occupiers urged the Japanese authorities, against their better judgment, to outlaw payment for vaginal sex in 1958. More recently, however, demographic and economic factors have accelerated the change. Some 28% of the population is over 65, the highest proportion in the world. The old stay healthy for longer, but are after “softer, less explicit services”, says Katsuhito Matsushima of Yano Research Institute in Tokyo.

Originally published by The Economist.

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