Inside the Tokyo vice clubs tricking women into sex work

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TOKYO — Yu is nervous. She tugs at her hair constantly and adjusts her mask to cover as much of her face as possible. As she displays dozens of credit cards bound with elastic bands and photocopies of bar bills showing eye-watering amounts, her movements are twitchy.

Yu, not her real name, is a Japanese woman who previously visited a Kabukicho host club in Tokyo regularly, became heavily indebted and was forced to do sex work to repay her debts.

While Yu is trying to turn her life around, many other young women in Kabukicho face similarly dire situations, trapped in a cycle of debt and exploitation that has largely been ignored by the authorities and society. “I had been watching videos of him on YouTube for two years before I got up enough courage to go there in person,” said Yu, who was working as a veterinary assistant in southern Japan at the time. “He was my idol. I sent him messages on Instagram, and then I finally went to the club.”

“He told me that I had to pay off the debt and that I should go to Macau to pay it quicker,” she said. “I didn’t want to go, and I told him, but he shouted and threatened me. He forced me to contact the agent and I went.” Hidemori Gen, a member of the Seiboren board, said Yu’s tale was distressingly commonplace in a district of around 1,000 host clubs and 20,000 hosts.

“The host bars are free for women to go in, they order one drink, and it starts,” he said. “It’s a trap and from the first time they go in, it’s over for them. They are victims, and every business in Kabukicho just eats girls alive.”


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