Enjo-kōsai (援助交際?) (shortened form enkō (援交?)) means "compensated dating" and is a practice which originated in Japan where older men give money and/or luxury gifts to attractive women for their companionship, and possibly sexual favors. The female participants range from school-age girls to housewives. A common misconception is that enjo-kōsai always involves some form of sexual activity. The term enjo-kōsai first appeared in the Asahi Shimbun on September 20, 1994. In the opposite case of women paying men, it is called gyaku-enjo-kōsai (逆援助交際?).
What constitutes enjo-kōsai is heavily contested within Japan. The most common connotation is that it is a form of child prostitution whereby participating girls sell their bodies in exchange for designer goods or money. However, to label enjo-kōsai by the most basic definition of prostitution whereby one attains money through the exchange of sexual acts, excludes an array of other activities.
Many groups, including women's centers and associations within Japan include “the exchange of a girl's company or time” as part of this equation and insist that these other activities define enjo-kōsai. Anthropologist Laura Miller argues in her research that the majority of enjo-kōsai dates consists of groups of girls going with a group of older men to a karaoke bar for several hours and being paid for their time.
Furthermore, in a 1998 survey by the Asian Women's Fund, researchers found that fewer than 10 percent of all high school girls engage in enjo-kōsai and over 90 percent of the girls interviewed attested to feeling uncomfortable with the exchange or purchase of sexual services for money. Statistics show that the majority of girls are not delving into the realm of sexual exchange.
Perceptions in Japanese society
Generally in Japan, enjo-kōsai is looked down upon as a large-scale social problem. A 1997 poll in the Japanese TV Asahi program Asa Made Nama Terebi showed that 70 percent of respondents opposed enjo-kōsai, while 30 percent approved of it. Typically, it is perceived as an extension of Japan's growing focus on materialism, much of which is what critics claim is the cause of enjo-kōsai. Critics worry that girls involved in enjo-kōsai will grow up to be unfit wives and mothers. This perception arises from suspicions that when these girls are adults, they will quickly abandon their loyalties and commitments to their family for offers of money and material benefits. However, certain feminist groups and critics find enjo-kōsai to be empowering and as an act to “undermine patriarchal models propriety used to evaluate and control women”. Control over their bodies and means to support themselves is a new kind of independence for these girls. Good women in Japan are supposed to be sensible, modest, nurturing and respectful, yet girls participating in enjo-kōsai clearly reject such virtues of female restraint and modesty in Japan. Feminists such as Chizuko Ueno point out that the accidental access of girls to this dating market was not a matter of ethics, but of probability. Sooner or later, these girls and young women would, in a desire for financial independence, tap into this market for their own empowerment.
Within Japan, the media tends to show enjo-kōsai in a rather negative light. The typical scenario involves a girl desperate for money, so she decides to partake in enjo-kōsai. Only later does she stop when a friend or individual intervenes and informs her of the potential risks and consequences of her behavior. Several examples from films and television series are listed below.
In Hideaki Anno’s 1998 movie Love & Pop, the main character, a 16-year-old high school girl named Hiromi, goes on subsidized dates in order to purchase a ring she adores. Her parents do not pay much attention to her and Hiromi often hangs out with her three closest friends who have been going on subsidized dates. Feeling like a train that travels on a predetermined track, Hiromi follows her friends and begins doing the same. Throughout the movie, they meet with different kinds of men and accompany them in various activities. These activities include having dinner at a restaurant, tasting a man’s cooking, singing at a karaoke bar, shopping in a video rental store, etc. Although Hiromi nearly gives in and has sex for the remainder of money needed for the ring, her date gives her a lesson on why she shouldn’t give up her body.
Meanwhile, the Japanese live action drama series GTO (Great Teacher Onizuka), a girl student named Miyabi, out of boredom and lack of adult supervision at home, pressures her friends, Chikako and Erika, to go on subsidized dates with older men, and to steal their money when the men are in the showers. When Chikako accidentally meets their teacher Onizuka on one of these dates, enjo-kōsai rookie Onizuka proceeds with it to see these subsidized dates first hand. In the hotel room, Chikako insists that Onizuka take a shower. Onizuka realizes the trap, stops Chikako's attempt to escape, and teaches her a lesson why her first sexual experience should come out of love and not have anything to do with money. Incidentally, Onizuka (himself a virgin) learns the same lesson from that very occasion.
Conversation over the controversy of enjo-kōsai even finds its way into shows geared toward girls (shōjo) between the ages of 11 and 14 in the form of the highly popular Super Gals! anime series. During the first episode of the series, straight A student Aya goes on subsidized dates because she wants to have money and fun like the other girls, but also because her strict parents and schedule would not allow her to have a job. Main character Ran, even although she believes the gyaru (gal) philosophy “If you want it, go and get it,” strongly disapproves of Aya’s action because she believes a gyaru should have self-respect and not treat herself like merchandise. Ran tells Aya that they can have fun even without money. Aya becomes persuaded by Ran, and not only do they begin a new friendship, but Aya quits going on subsidized dates as a result.
In Shunji Iwai's film "All About Lily Chou-Chou", Shiori Tsuda, a female classmate, is blackmailed by Shusuke Hoshino into enjo-kōsai. The film isn't explicit about whether or not Shiori Tsuda performs sexual favours for her "customers", but the connotation is present. The depiction within the film of the practice could be considered negative, as the process of being blackmailed into it seems to push the character into some form of mental instability (although it's not clear whether that instability was present prior to the blackmail), culminating in her tragic demise. It is also used as a weapon of control by Hoshino, rather than empowering Tsuda in any way.
In the series Bokurano by Mohiro Kitoh, middle highschool student Mako "Nakama" Nakarai (who is the daughter of a prostitute) considers getting into enjo-kōsai because she needs money to fill a personal goal, before it's her time to pilot the Zearth super robot and die as a consequence. She is steered away from it by an old friend of her mother, however. Mako still manages to gather some money thanks to her mother and fulfills her wish to make some costumes for her fellow pilots; after her death, the other girls in the group finish the outfits.
In My-Hime, fellow middle schooler Nao Yuuki engages into a strange variation of enjo-kōsai. She calls up to several men under the alias "Juliet", but when they meet up with her, she uses her CHILD Julia to rob them. She isn't in it for the money, though, but as revenge after her father is murdered by robbers and her mother is left in a coma.
Although the greater part of Japanese society discourages this type of behavior, that has not stopped teachers, monks, government officials, company executives, and others of high social status from being arrested for their involvement with enjo kōsai.
Prostitution has been illegal in Japan since 1958, but only prostitutes and pimps were punished, with customers escaping any penalty from the law. During SCAP’s occupation of Japan, the Child Welfare Law was introduced into legislation as a means to protect children from “lewd behavior”. Many have criticized the law as being too vague to protect Japanese children from sexual abuse and say it does not do enough to keep girls away from sex markets.
During the 1990s enjo kōsai, as well as other forms of child exploitation, gained national attention in Japan leading to international awareness. Due to pressure from outside NGOs and other industrialized nations, the Japanese government updated its laws relating to child exploitation. The Law for Punishing Acts Related to Child Prostitution and Child Pornography and for Protecting Children, which prohibited an adult from paying a person under the age of 18 for obscene acts, was passed in 1999. The law made the legal age limit 18 for consenting sexual activities[dubious ] and punishes the adult offender as the criminal party instead of the child.
To combat enjo kōsai and other forms of juvenile misbehavior, many prefectures have instituted a program of hodō (補導?). Hodōin are plain-clothed police officers and volunteers who approach youths who appear to be participating in juvenile delinquency (out past 11 p.m., under-age smoking, wearing expensive accessories, etc.) and offer guidance against such behavior. When police consider it necessary, teens are taken to a juvenile center or police station for “formal guidance” and entered into a confidential police directory. Since enjo kōsai is seen as a moral problem relating to Japanese youth, care is taken not to ostracize the girls but instead give them assistance and advice to steer them away from enjo-kōsai.
Spread to other countries
While having its foundations in Japan, enjo-kōsai began to spread to other East Asian nations in the late 1990s via media. Enjo-kōsai became popular in Taiwan after the airing of the Japanese dorama God, Please Give Me More Time, in which a young woman engages in the activity and suffers social and physical costs. In the end, however, the heroine is able to turn her life around and seems to project a positive image for youth. According to scholar Oi-Wan Lam, Taiwanese teens identified with the love story in plot and the subculture of the characters. Lam also points to the similarities between Taiwanese and Japanese subcultures, and the notion that enjo-kōsai is not actually an occupation, writing, “Sex work is not recognized by the society as a form of work.” Due to this recognition, teens in both cultures feel they will not suffer consequences for participating in the activity.
A key difference between enjo-kōsai in Japan and Taiwan is the way in which girls set up dates with customers. While telephone clubs were the main venues that facilitated enjo-kōsai in Japan, the Internet facilitates meetings between girls and clients in Taiwan. Due to this, there have been attempts by several NGOs and the Taiwanese government to regulate Internet sites. Efforts at regulation are compounded by the fact that NGOs and the Taiwanese government sometimes apply the term enjo-kōsai to mean more than just teenage compensated dating, but also prostitution and Internet pornography sites.
Enjo-kōsai has also found its way to South Korea, where the South Korean government considers enjo-kōsai a form of prostitution. An annual report by ECPAT International, published in 2004, asserts that 222 girls 18 and younger were arrested for participating in enjo-kōsai in the year 2000. South Korea, similar to Japan, recently passed a law in 2000 protecting children from exploitation and prostitution. Yet due to the nature of enjo-kōsai, specifically the decision of the girl to participate in the act, the girls who do enjo-kōsai are not protected under the law and are subject to punishment under the law.
According to social workers, teenagers as young as 15 advertise themselves as available for "compensated dating". The practice is becoming more acceptable among Hong Kong teenage girls, who do not think compensated dating is a kind of prostitution. Some believe it is different because it does not involve sexual intercourse and they can choose their clients, who range from teenage boys to married men. Some even think they are helping others. The internet allows girls more opportunities to offer to shop, eat out or go to a movie with men in return for payment to fulfill their material needs. In April 2008, the brutal murder of a 16-year-old girl, Wong Ka-mui, who was taking part in compensated dating drew attention to the issue.
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