Enjo kosai: compensated dating (or child prostitution) in Japan

I’m interested in the great variety of sex-money exchanges all over the world, and Japan is home to many. These cards advertising sexy dating and talking services are pasted all over public telephone kiosks there.

The Japanese term enjo kôsai (援助交際, subsidized companionship) describes women who meet male strangers for dates that may involve sex in exchange for money or gifts. Some campaigners simply call it child prostitution, since nowadays the term mostly signifies teenage girls who go out with older men, often, in Laura Miller’s words, to

a karaoke box for several hours and are paid for their time. They essentially replace the much more expensive bar hostess, who likewise puts up with fumbled gropes and juvenile utterances but for a much higher price. What the media finds most irritating about the phenomenon is that the young women involved feel no shame or remorse at all. According to a 1996 police report on more than 5,000 girls involved in subsidized dating, 39 percent gave “monetary gain” and 34 percent offered “curiosity” as their motivations (Iwao 1997:45). The young women themselves often express disdain, pity, or contempt for the men they see themselves as exploiting, rather than the other way around. [The girls] like to have sex with boyfriends their own age, but if they have sex as part of enjo kõsai, they say that they “lie there like a fish” (maguro ni naru, literally ‘become a tuna’).

The subsidized dating trend is supported by several related industries, including terekura “telephone clubs”). These clubs provide a space for men who have paid a fee to sit and wait for phone calls from girls who want to arrange dates. Because the girls are able to call at no charge, this is the most common way that enjo kôsai operates. *

Rey Elbo notes that websites now allow men to contact many offering enjo kosai, as all a man has to do ‘is to put up an ad that he’s willing to spend 40,000 yen for dinner and sex.’ [295 euros]

You can read one rather detailed account of enjo kosai behaviour here. One kind of karaoke connexion is discussed here.  

* ‘Those Naughty Teenage Girls: Japanese Kogals, Slang, and Media Assessments.’ Journal of Linguistic Anthropology, Vol. 14, Issue 2, 2004, p. 225-47.

17 thoughts on “Enjo kosai: compensated dating (or child prostitution) in Japan

  1. Ted Cheng

    around the late 1990s, the internet became popular in Taiwan, it was almost when the public regarded enjo kosai as a trend and the internet became the access for enjo kosai. in response to the emergence of enjo kosai through internet, at the end of 1990s, the government enacted a statue of prevention of children and juvenile sex transaction, one article of which penalizes any public messages of sex-money exchange, even though these messages only concern the sex-money exchange among adults. The anti-prostitution NGOs which lobbied the legislation argued that, because you do not know who will access the web page and see the message, so even the message that is among adults is not acceptable in order to “protect children”. The police even pretended as who offered enjo kosai or punters and hooked other people. What is worse, the penalty of the statue for sex-money exchange information is heavier than the one for sex-money exchange, because the aim of the legislation is to address the severe crime of children sex transaction.

  2. Caty Simon

    Sometimes it’s hard for me to condemn child prostitution wholeheartedly when I witness the agency and control these girls exercise.

  3. Laura Agustin

    Most activists are eager to condemn and exclude ‘children’ from their demands, but childhood means different things to different people and in different places. And younger people who make their own decisions need to be respected. This is why blanket declarations against some activities based on age are questionable. I know it’s a fraught topic, but I think we should be thinking about it.

  4. Ted Cheng

    Culturally Taiwan media had imported Japanese comics, dramas and tv programs into Taiwan, especially in the 1990s. Media also tended to appropriate certain new terms from Japan to describe Taiwan’s local and similar phenomenon.
    In the late 1980s the public concerned the underage sex victims in sex business and tended to see these underage sex workers as victims. However, in the late 1990s the news report found that there were juveniles (also mainly high school students) and adults who were not sex workers but voluntarily did part-time sex-money exchange activity. However, I am not sure if the Japanese enjo kosai pratice had great influence on Taiwan, because i do not have enough information or researches (yes, Taiwanese might know enjo kosai from media). I also think that it did have certain influences, but enjo kosai in Taiwan also resulted from certain Taiwan’s local cultures (I also need more researches). But, when the term “Enjo Kosai” became popular in Japan, Taiwan media also appropriated the term to described such kind sex-money exchange and the online sex-money exchange messages in Taiwan (usually internet is a convenient access for individual part-timers; in Japan, the mobile-phone culture are the major inter-personal network). At the beginning the term Enjo-Kosai was used to describe the social phenomenon and later the anti-prostitution NGOs transformed it into child prostitution/child sex exploitation.

  5. Ted Cheng

    One more thing, the literal meaning of Enjo Kosai, at least in Chinese, is assistance and social intercourse. As Taiwan sex liberationist Josephine Ho pointed out, “enjo kosai” is less about sex than about the “exchange”. That is to say, given that sex and money is the important aim, different tactics of exchange are more important method to reach the aim. In this sense,enjo kosai did not concern sex exploitation at all. On the other hand, since enjo kosai concerns exchange, the sex work in this sense is a part time work, or even not a “work” at all. It does not have to fulfill the professionalism of sex “work” as sex worker rights movement argued. In my friend’s field research about high school girls’ enjo kosai in Taiwan, these girls expressed enjo kosai is just a part time work and they do not understand why what they do should be regarded as a profession or work. The meaning of enjo kosai–exchange and social intercourse–enriches the meaning of prostitution that wa–the binary paradigm that only concerns sex morality and money making, exploitation and working rights.

  6. Laura Agustin

    Thanks, Ted, personally I don’t think the ‘work’ concept is very useful for understanding lots of sex-industry phenomena. I understand why and how activists who claim rights use ‘work’ to normalise these activities, but we don’t have to impose that idea when trying to understand culture.

    There are all sorts of money/sex relationships that this applies to, not only enjo kosai.

  7. Kris

    I can bet that in the Netherlands if you visit a prostitute younger than 18 there is a very serious chance that she is coerced to do that.

    It think moral relativism doesn’t work here. Ages ago it was normal and acceptable for men to have sex with 8-year olds. Slavery was totally acceptable. Now it is clearly not.

    Pimps are very good any manipulating women to enter the sex industry. If the woman is very young, like 14, it becomes easier. Surely she will say it was her own choice to make money for her own and her boyfriend’s future. I think that you enter very dangerous territory here.

    But, I made myself totally incredible here as a heavy porn consumer and my latest visit to a prostitute.

  8. Ted Cheng

    Of course there is forced child prostitution. However, in the enjo kosai phenomenon, as far as i know, these underage girls are not controlled by any one, and sometimes these girls organized themselves as a group. They just want to have some money by having sex, and that is all. For anti-prostitution campaign and the government, they just think this is morally wrong and they even appropriated the exploitation discourses and typical child prostitution model (victimization) to impose their own moral value on enjo kosai: they declared the phenomenon as child prostitution. In this case, coercion is never a problem, because the underage has already been regarded as victims. That is why child prostitution and paedophile is a fraught topic–do child have the ability to make consent (but on the other hand, do adult can make a consent themselves?), should the adult and the underage should have different standard of exploitation? It is a hard question especially when the phenomenon is complex and diversified, but the legislation and policy (the related discourses) could only have one answer.

  9. Kris

    Are enjo Kosai prostitutes really so independent? It should be further researched. But prostitution research is really difficult, I know it first hand. Many smoke screens. A really hidden world.

    Also that the girls organize themselves doesn’t rule out coercion. There could be also group coercion. I read about cases in the Netherlands where teenage girls coerced other teenage girls to work in prostitution. Also women and girls who work for pimps recruite other women and girls to work in prostitution.

  10. elijah

    I don’t think this is a real problem in Japan, although I don’t claim to know how other countries are experiencing this phenomina. The fact that some of the girls state that they are doing it out of curiosity and others because they are bored show that it is not causing them emotional damage. Lets face the truth, if we are not concerned over the damage it causes to the girls than we are not addressing the issue but rather are simply stating our own bias. Children in Japan carry a much more adult like role than we find in thier counterparts in western civilization, we should expect them to act in a more adult like fashion.

    In my oppinion it is the men who pay such large sums of money who are being exploited. Google quickly translated the prices I heard quoted in articles and these highschool girls are making $450 per client with only 46% of dates leading to sex. Furthermore the girl has the ability to screen who they date, who they have sex with, and what they do. If this were made illegal in Japan it would only strip power from the girls who could no longer go to the police if someone did hurt them or force them into something that they did not volantarily enter into.

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