Japanese sex and sex industry explained

Why are the Japanese so matter of fact about abortion?

It’s certainly not just the Japanese and the acceptance or not of abortion seems to be a social trend just like the trends in different kinds of suicide. There is also a theory that the practice of offering to a Jizo statue and other fixed ways of marking the death of a baby or foetus are a comforting factor.

Why are there so many love hotels with the Statue of Liberty on top?Just the right shape to attract attention?? Liberty to make love?? This one makes slightly more sense than Santa Claus (on a love hotel near Enoshima beach) but less than Venus di Milo.Why does Japan have such a huge and obvious sex industry? 

Why the traditional Japanese erotic focus on necks?


It makes them look vunerable?? Because the breasts were so flattened in the kimono for them to get much attention??

Why would anyone pay so much just to go to a hostess bar?

Conversation is such hard work they need a professional to get it flowing or take their attention off the fact that it is not.

 Why enjo kosai?

Why is the pill not more used in Japan?

It was only legalized for contraceptive use in 1998 and continues to get mainly negative publicity. The official reason is that condoms are better for AIDS protection. The conspiracy theory is that it’s social control, or even to guarantee doctors’ income from abortions

Why aren’t your knickers safe on your washing line?

The same was true in 1950’s Britain, a classic time for peeping toms, flashers etc. I guess some Japanese have still not gone through the 60’s.

Why aren’t construction workers and drunken all male groups more lecherous? 

This is entirely my own theory, but I reckon the testosterone level of Japanese males in just lower, as evidenced by less body hair, less balding with age etc. There’s probably something cultural going on as well, but can’t work it out.

Why do blonde gaijin women get so much more attention?

If you are going to go for Western women, you are going to be looking for something really different from the Japanese.

Why is the sex business called the “water business” (水商売 みずしょうばい mizushoubai)?

In the Edo era, there were bars where men would quite happily pay through the nose just to drink water as long as the women who were serving them it were particularly alluring. (According to a guide at the Edo Tokyo Museum). Alternatively, according to Being a Broad in Japan, it is because those bars were by the water front (the Sumida river).

Why are there guys in dodgy suits hanging round the station and hitting on girls?

They are trying to recruit them for hostess bars

Why are areas of temples and red light districts so often close to each other?

Both are often in the Northeast of the city. This was considered the direction that bad luck, ghosts and demons come from so respectable people wanted to live there and temples were built to protect the rest of the city. Another reason is that temples were often built near main roads and pilgramage routes, where the travellers would often be wanting ‘entertainment’ in the evenings.

Why is shunga (sexual ukiyo-e Edo period woodblock prints) so famous in the West but so little seen in Japan?

They are so sexually explicit that it is possibly illegal to display them in Japan, although people have occasionally got away with small exhibitions of them.

Why did tentacle sex appear in Japanese anime?

Although there are examples of ukiyo-e prints involving octopuses, in anime it was basically a way to avoid censorship of showing certain private parts.

Why do government censors still scratch out the pubes in foreign porno mags?

I’m guessing the department that deals with it didn’t want to lose their budget, so once they started they were pretty much trapped into doing it forever.

Why do love hotels only exist in Japan?

For one thing, the sex industry has a long and illustrious history in Japan, the famous ukiyo-e prints being set in the world of prostitutes that the Edo authorities allowed as a vent for people’s frustration at all the other controls in their lives and so they could enjoy it themselves. The same is probably true of the ruling classes now, although they won’t stand on their lack of principles if the only way to get votes is from a little crackdown. Add in the yakuza links to the LDP, a philosophy of continuous improvement of whatever business you are in and the Japanese skill at ignoring anything they don’t want to see, and there you have it.


  1. crella said,

    October 11, 2008 at 1:17 pm

    ‘Mizushoubai’ is hostess clubs and bars, not sex. Sex can be involved (but any top hostess worth her salt doesn’t sleep with customers) but the sex business and ‘mizushoubai’ are not the same. DH says the name comes from never serving alcohol straight, but putting as much water as you can get away with into it! Who knows?

  2. alexcase said,

    October 12, 2008 at 10:12 am

    I’d always assumed that soaplands and such like could be included when people were talking about mizu shobai, especially if they are someone prone to euphemisms, but it might well have been my misinterpretation of what they were saying. Not that it is a subject I often talk about in Japanese anyway… I wonder if there is an expression that would include fuzoku and mizu shobai, i.e. is a real translation for the “entertainment business” (that special meaning when it includes the quotation marks) in English

    Like your idea for the origin of the expression. Have managed to track down some more:

    It’s because the “entertainment trade” and hot spring resorts usually went together:


    (from Boye La Fayette De Mente- a person who writes like number of words and books written is more important than accuracy, but all theories are welcome here!)

    Or alternatively it’s from the same metaphor as the floating world (ukiyoe’s ukiyo), or from an expression meaning doing that kind of business is like predicting flowing waters, or from the Japanese version of “where’s there’s muck there’s brass” or “mizuchaya”- a name for the teahouses where such flirtatiousness for money first started. All from Wikipedia


  3. alexcase said,

    October 12, 2008 at 10:19 am

    Wikipedia editors are also debating whether mizu shobai includes the whole sex industry:


  4. crella said,

    October 12, 2008 at 2:17 pm

    Interesting….as long as I’ve been here , mizushoubai has always been explained as bars, hostess clubs etc, described as distinct from fuzoku. My husband is Japanese and I ask him everything :-) and he says that despite the probable origins (Edo period onsen/sex links) it now refers to bars. There could be differences in terminology due to region…we’re in Kobe, and so our point of view is Kansai-oriented. Due to business contacts he has a lot of settai at hostess bars and so is pretty well-informed.

    Now, when you get into lower-tier drinking establishments like ‘cabarets’ and ‘snacks’ , cheaper places with hostesses, from what I hear hanky-panky is definitely an option.

    At least in Kansai, the sex industry doesn’t seem to be included in the term ‘mizushoubai’. If I find out anything different, I’ll post it.

  5. alexcase said,

    October 13, 2008 at 9:47 am

    Thanks crella. If anyone knows if there is a joint term for fuzoku and mizushobia, please tell!

  6. Joe K said,

    April 15, 2009 at 9:11 pm

    “Why aren’t construction workers and drunken all male groups more lecherous?

    This is entirely my own theory, but I reckon the testosterone level of Japanese males in just lower, as evidenced by less body hair, less balding with age etc. There’s probably something cultural going on as well, but can’t work it out.”

    This is the dumbest response I have ever heard. How racist can you be? Can it be that societal norms dont allow this kind of behavior though other kinds of sexist behavior are condoned? Use your brain people.

  7. alexcase said,

    April 18, 2009 at 2:10 am

    It could be indeed, which is why I mentioned that “there’s probably something cultural going on” in my post. I don’t see how talking about differences in testosterone levels is racist, though. Maybe saying that black people are more prone to sickle cell anemia would be racist too? Anyway, what’s so positive about having high levels of testosterone, especially if it is associated with the baldness, hairiness etc that I said?

    • Michael said,

      May 26, 2009 at 1:28 pm

      The testosterone theory is interesting. I noticed it going the other way. I have commented elsewhere how a lot of Israeli guys seem to be bald and they are very aggressive culturally and quite a bit more masculine than your average Japanese guy.

  8. John Doe said,

    October 13, 2009 at 8:10 pm

    This is entirely my own theory, but I reckon the testosterone level of Japanese males in just lower, as evidenced by less body hair, less balding with age etc. There’s probably something cultural going on as well, but can’t work it out.

    Really? Low testosterone? They were ferocious fighters during WW2 you know…

  9. alexcase said,

    October 14, 2009 at 5:44 am

    I can’t see any connection between the two, I must say

  10. Cherry Miako said,

    December 1, 2009 at 10:23 am

    to alexcase: may i please ask how long have you or did you live in japan? and are you japanese? or is this simply a case study of interest that one has done.

    It’s not meaning to be rude. I am just curious?

    as for my resonse with the testosterone levels and heckling at women… i do find that a tad funny. I have a personal belief that its about culture… and if you have read anything you have written, you would have alittle bit more of an understanding about how a generalised population in japan are orientated with in cultural standards and boundries.
    japanese have always been very open to the practices and notiions of sex and sexuality, but unless your in the red light district its all in closed doors as such, meaning its something you do in your privacy.
    Ever wounder why there’s a code of silence to giesha’s? and how they do not show and tell.
    with public heckling amoungst builders/ blue collar workers i believe it to be matter of cultural restraint and having alot of pride with one’s self, showing/ doing public heckling even at very actractive women is shown as a lower standard of behavior. And if youve have read anything you yourself have written alex then you would realise and know about stature. even the poor or lower class would like to be seen as having dignity.

    p.s. if you are wondering yes I am kawaii and i was born and rised in japan. but also travelled different parts of the world and yes i have studied japanese/ asian cultures/ history.

  11. Cherry Miako said,

    December 1, 2009 at 10:29 am

    also i forgot to mention… as for for testosterone levels, japanese men and korean men are considered to be hairist of most of the other asian ethnicities. and many half* japanese mix men come out very hairy.

    and i dont know if alex has had sex with any japanese but when it comes to testosterone levels and vigor trust me japanese men are very horny. hahaha

  12. sonia said,

    January 27, 2010 at 9:08 am

    i have a query about bar hostess in japan. i believe her job also requires her to go out for supper with the clients sometimes to earn more commission. in your opinion, do the hostess has the right to reject any sexual offers or advances from her clients? or do all bar hostesses actually also offer sex?

  13. alexcase said,

    January 31, 2010 at 9:02 am


    Thanks for your contributions. I said in my post that there is a cultural contribution, but as I couldn’t work it out I didn’t explain any further. I’m not sure restraint is a full explanation, as the Italian concept of “mala figura” is very similar to the Japanese shame culture but there is no compunction at making your feelings publically clear to good looking women in southern Italy!


    No practical experience of this (!) but I believe that in the better places there is no need to sleep with clients. In fact, I imagine that playing hard to get is a good way of getting to the top of the earning charts that some magazines are so obsessed about

  14. David said,

    January 31, 2010 at 10:47 pm

    Regarding the last question, it’s not at all accurate that love motels only exist in Japan. I’ve been living in Korea for the past three and a half years, and let me assure you that they are just as prevalent here as in Japan. I’ve also heard (though not verified, mind you) that love motels can be found in southeast Asia as well. So it’s not just a Japan thing. I’d say love motels or an equivalent will probably be found wherever 1) large families tend to live together in small apartments, 2) society has a fairly conservative attitude toward sexual relationships and 3) there is a well established and flourishing sex industry.

  15. alexcase said,

    January 31, 2010 at 11:45 pm

    True, the ones here in Korea are pretty much the same as Japan. In fact, I could swear that some are the same chain- not surprising perhaps as many love hotel areas in Tokyo are big Korean areas. Therefore I think it might be a direct import from Japan. The only difference we found in Korea is that they asked me and my (Japanese) wife how many days we were staying. We thought “Wow, Koreans have some stamina”, but turned out that lots of people use them just as normal hotels

    Nothing similar in Bangkok, as far as I know. Which SE Asian countries are you thinking of?

  16. Aijan said,

    January 31, 2012 at 3:40 pm

    Japanese sex is a culture attack to other countries.

  17. satkomuni said,

    April 19, 2012 at 2:32 am

    As to the hairiness/testosterone question, check out by Ashley Montagu, which details some research on the subject. Though Ms. Miako’s tip-of-the-iceberg empirical evidence has appeared to convince you that your theory was immature—the reduced pruriency you had perceived among gangs of men is not a physiological ineluctability but a cultural effect—your observations are not entirely without meaning.

  18. satkomuni said,

    April 21, 2012 at 2:22 am

    …Oddly, the book title seems to have disappeared. _Growing Young_, I had there.

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