On a damp Wednesday evening the streets of Kabukicho, Tokyo’s most well-known pink mild district, hum with folks. Some are vacationers, right here to gawp and take selfies, however others are clients. Adverts for golf equipment flash and sing and women dressed as maids maintain indicators providing offers for native bars.

In a grubby shopfront a perky cartoon that includes a cute Mr Males-style creature provides part-time work. The advert, which has an alarmingly catchy jingle, doesn’t specify what the work is, however it doesn’t have to: the reply is throughout us on the brightly lit billboards promoting the charms of female and male bar hosts.

Tokyo is legendary for its pretty wild pink mild scene. Yow will discover something from a good-looking man to make you cry and wipe away your tears to a maid to pour your drinks and giggle at your jokes and an encounter in one of many infamous “soapland” brothels.

You may as well pay to spend time with a schoolgirl. Providers would possibly embrace a chat over a cup of tea, a stroll within the park or maybe {a photograph} – with some locations providing relatively extra intimate choices.

Or not less than, you may for now – until the folks contained in the garish pink bus have their means.

Colabo’s pink bus, part of the the charity’s effort to reach out to vulnerable school-age girls.

Colabo’s pink bus, a part of the the charity’s effort to succeed in out to susceptible school-age women. {Photograph}: The Asahi Shimbun/The Asahi Shimbun through Getty Photos

Run by the charity Colabo since October 2018, the pink bus seems in strategically chosen areas within the metropolis as soon as per week; tonight it’s parked exterior Shinjuku city corridor. Volunteers hope to make use of it to supply a protected house for school-age women prone to being lured into the joshi kosei, or JK enterprise, because the schoolgirl-themed companies are identified.

“JK enterprise scouts are usually males of their 20s and 30s,” says Yumeno Nito of Colabo. “They’re very conscious of developments and are good at understanding the ladies’ financial standing by their garments and make-up.” Poverty and low shallowness are sometimes elements within the manipulation of younger women by scouts, Nito says.

As Japan’s capital enters a yr within the highlight, from the Rugby World as much as the 2020 Olympics, Guardian Cities is spending per week reporting dwell from the biggest megacity on Earth. Regardless of being the world’s riskiest place – with 37 million folks susceptible to tsunami, flooding and due a doubtlessly catastrophic earthquake – it’s also probably the most resilient, each in its hi-tech design and its pragmatic social construction. Utilizing manga, pictures, movie and a bunch of salarimen rappers, we’ll hear from the locals how they really feel about their famously impenetrable metropolis lastly embracing its international crown

The fetishisation of Japanese schoolgirls in Japanese tradition has been linked by some teachers to a 1985 music known as Please Don’t Take Off My College Uniform, launched by the feminine idol group O-nyanko Membership, and re-released by no much less mainstream a bunch than AKB48, one of many highest-earning musical performers in Japan and whose single Instructor Instructor bought greater than 3m copies in 2018.

AKB48’s Mion Mukaichi (L) and Mayu Watanabe.

AKB48’s Mion Mukaichi (left) and Mayu Watanabe. {Photograph}: VCG through Getty Photos

The time period “JK enterprise” has turn into a catch-all for cafes, retailers and on-line companies which offer a spread of “actions”, a lot of which aren’t overtly sexual. Younger ladies in class uniforms will be provided for reflexology and therapeutic massage remedies, pictures periods and “workshops” through which women reveal glimpses of their underwear as they sit folding origami or creating jewelry.

However whereas many of those have a strict no-touch coverage, a proportion do result in bodily encounters. And whereas non-physical encounters might make up the vast majority of reported instances of JK exercise, the truth that intercourse doesn’t happen doesn’t imply no hurt is finished.

In 2016, Maud De Boer-Buquicchio, the UN particular rapporteur on little one intercourse trafficking and sexual abuse, raised critical issues about Japan’s JK and pornography trade. She highlighted the dearth of up-to-date official information and known as for a complete technique to sort out the basis causes of exploitation, noting that different types of in style Japanese leisure, together with “junior idol tradition”, are worrying examples of youngsters being handled as sexual commodities.

“We nearly permit males to say: ‘Yeah, I’m interested in younger youngsters, as younger as 14, 15,’” says Shihoko Fujiwara, founding father of Lighthouse, a charity working to finish human trafficking in Japan. “Even on TV, comedians will say: ‘I wish to date junior highschool women.’ Folks make enjoyable of these feedback, however nonetheless they’re made.”

Eighteen-year-old cafe worker Airi chats with a customer. She is not a high school student, but she says wearing the uniform at the cafe makes her more popular.

Eighteen-year-old cafe employee Airi chats with a buyer. She shouldn’t be a highschool scholar, however she says carrying the uniform on the cafe makes her extra in style. {Photograph}: The Washington Publish/Getty

Japan’s anti-prostitution legal guidelines broadly prohibit the sale and buy of intercourse, however there are vital loopholes, of which institutions resembling soaplands take full benefit. Crucially, within the case of JK companies, Japan has no particular anti-trafficking legal guidelines in place. Ordinarily, a toddler beneath 18 concerned in intercourse work is mechanically thought of trafficked, with harsh penalties for these accountable.

Pornography legal guidelines regarding youngsters are additionally restricted – they don’t, for instance, cowl manga, anime, or nearly created content material, permitting video games resembling 2006’s controversial (and now not obtainable) RapeLay, through which the participant stalks and makes an attempt to rape a single mom and her two school-age daughters.

In 2017, with the Olympics approaching, the police cracked down on the rising variety of JK companies throughout Tokyo.

A brand new ordinance requires JK companies to be registered with the police, and prohibits the employment of ladies beneath the age of 18. JK companies can’t be situated inside 200 metres of faculties, nurseries, hospitals or different public buildings, and nobody beneath 18 can distribute fliers for the companies, or recruit different youngsters.

Inspector Hiroyuki Nakada, deputy supervisor of the Juvenile Assist Division, says the police are assured that their technique is working. However he says educating youngsters on the risks can be key: “It’s not sufficient simply to manage.”

Nakada says that due to the brand new, tight laws, simply three retailers have been prosecuted and fined final yr.

“Over the previous two years, because the ordinance got here into pressure, we haven’t seen [underage] women [in JK businessess]” says Nakada. “[Officers] have visited these retailers, however they haven’t seen women. However we predict possibly there’s a loophole, possibly there are women working, however they’re in all probability adults who’re carrying uniforms … they name it JK enterprise however they’re in all probability pretending to be schoolchildren.”

Critics argue that enterprise homeowners have discovered new methods to bypass the legislation. The issue might now merely be much less seen; extra homeowners function on-line, away from bodily retailers and cafes, and a few might have merely opened new companies beneath completely different guises.

Police officers verify the age of girls working at a dating service pairing up men with teenage schoolgirls in Tokyo’s Akihabara district.

Law enforcement officials confirm the age of ladies working in Tokyo’s Akihabara district. {Photograph}: Kyodo Information/Kyodo Information through Getty Photos

“After the difficulty of JK enterprise regulation in 2017 some retailers are nonetheless working however beneath a distinct identify, resembling ‘cosplay cafe’,” says Yumeno Nito of Colabo. “JK enterprise homeowners are crafty and systematic.

“They’re additionally excellent at social media so that they put an advert on blogs or Twitter, Line the place the ladies will see them. The store opens a Twitter account they usually observe women utilizing it.”

Fujiwara agrees, and says she is worried that, pressured underground, the trade might turn into much more harmful: “Some ladies’s teams would even say JK companies [were] defending younger ladies from being harmed since you present house, and so if one thing improper occurred to the woman at all times the store supervisor can intervene. But when a toddler is assembly a intercourse purchaser in a lodge, who’s going to guard them?”

It was the success of Please Don’t Take off My College Uniform that some argue sparked the infamous 1990s development for buru sera – teenage women promoting their unwashed uniforms, underwear and swimwear. From this sprang the apply of enjo kosai, or compensated relationship, through which middle-aged males provided monetary assist to teenage women in return for sexual relationships. This apply then turned diversified and commodified into what’s now know as JK enterprise.

Nito factors out that the police emphasis on educating youngsters does nothing to sort out the demand aspect of the JK enterprise: “It’s essential to give attention to offenders and never solely on little one victims. It’s crucial to teach and regulate adults or offenders who purchase women much more than educating youngsters.” With the Rugby World Cup and the Olympics resulting from occur in Tokyo in fast succession, each charities are involved concerning the potential influence of hundreds of curious vacationers.

One other main subject is intercourse training in Tokyo’s colleges. “There’s no intercourse training,” Fujiwara says baldly. “You may’t point out ‘intercourse’ or ‘intercourse’, however they need to one way or the other train about HIV and contraception – how do you train that with out saying ‘intercourse’? ”

Advertisements for host and hostess clubs in Kabukicho.

Ads for host and hostess golf equipment in Kabukicho. {Photograph}: Kosuke Okahara/The Guardian

Though the police would possibly rely it a victory that some JK companies not make use of these beneath 18, Nito argues that it doesn’t contact the basis of the issue. Even when the ladies providing JK companies are of authorized age, it contributes to a harmful and pervasive tradition of the sexualisation of minors. In spite of everything, they’re pretending to be underage schoolgirls, feeding an urge for food for the illicit shopping for of pornography and making actual schoolgirls extra susceptible.

“A society that commercialises and consumes underage ladies as a sexually high-value commodity has an issue,” says Nito. Till that downside is addressed, Colabo’s pink bus seems set to stay a fixture beneath Tokyo’s pink lights.

Guardian Cities is dwell in Tokyo for a particular week of in-depth reporting. Share your experiences of town on Twitter, Fb and Instagram utilizing #GuardianTokyo, or through electronic mail to [email protected]