Police crack down on schoolgirl services / Govt labels ‘JK rifure’ harmful job

May 9, 2013
Sho Mizuno and Yayoi Kawatoko / The Yomiuri Shimbun

Police have begun cracking down on businesses that employ girls of high school age to provide massage and other services to male customers after the labor ministry called the practice a harmful job, though many companies have simply turned to a “storeless” business model that attracts less notice.

The practice is known as JK rifure, in which JK stands for joshi kosei, or high school girl, and rifure is an abbreviation of reflexology, a type of massage. The term is used to describe businesses that employ girls of high school age to massage or lie down beside male customers.

The National Police Agency had been unable to move against the practice since it does not fall under the Adult Entertainment Businesses Law and therefore companies do not need to obtain permission for operation with the Public Safety Commission.

But police were freed to act after the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry said it considered JK rifure to be a harmful job, placing it in a category of work forbidden for people under 18 years old by the Labor Standards Law.

However, observers said the situation has not changed much, as more companies have merely moved their young female employees to the street to directly solicit men for paid “dates.” The NPA also categorizes this practice as JK rifure.

On one evening in mid-April, a 17-year-old girl wearing a high school uniform handed out fliers saying, “JK, 30 minutes 4,000 yen, 1 hour 7 yen,000” to businessmen in suits and other men on the crowded streets of the Akihabara electronics district in Tokyo.

The girl is an employee of the kind of storeless JK rifure businesses that have grown in number recently.

“Do you want to go out with me? We can go to a maid cafe, have something to eat, go shopping,” she said after handing one of the writers a flier.

She agreed to be interviewed, and told of how she had dropped out of a prefectural high school in Chiba Prefecture two years ago. A friend recommended the job to her and she started work eight months ago. She commutes to the area almost every weekday by train, soliciting men on the street from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. She said she goes on two or three “dates” per day, mostly with company employees in their 30s and 40s.

Some men want to go to video game arcades, others take her shopping and some just want to walk together. A few proposition her for sex, but she said with a laugh, “If I have to, I just run away. It’s not scary at all.”

Her employer has an office in a nearby building, and she splits all of her earnings with the company, making about 100,000 yen per month, she said.

“I work with about 10 other girls. It’s not the sex industry and we’re not doing anything bad,” she said. “I can make money this way. There’s no way I’d switch to other part-time jobs.”

Storeless services rampant

“Quite a few girls still visit us seeking part-time jobs, and our sales have not dropped. Even if the police strengthen their control, similar businesses that feature high school girls will carry on,” said a man in his 40s who runs another JK rifure service at a building in Akihabara.

The man had offered services inside his shop before, but now he runs a storeless service. The contents of the services have also changed. Where high school-age girls used to provide massages and lie down beside customers, they now offer conversation outside the shop, the man said. He posted information about his business on a part-time job-search website.

According to the Metropolitan Police Department, the number of facilities that provide the JK rifure service began to increase from about a year ago, reaching 80.

When examining how to crack down on the industry, the MPD found that it would be difficult to use the Adult Entertainment Businesses Law, as the new industry claimed its services merely consisted of lying down and massaging.

The MPD then examined use of the Labor Standards Law, under which JK rifure could be labeled a harmful business, meaning such companies would not be allowed to employ workers under 18 years old.

The MPD sent an inquiry to the Central Labor Standards Inspection Office of the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry on the matter, and received an answer that JK rifure “constitutes a harmful business, as it aims to offer its clients sexual consolation and entertainment.”

The MPD in January raided 17 shops in Akihabara and other locations for alleged violation of the Labor Standards Law and arrested owners and managers of four shops. The MPD also changed its handling of the issue in April to acknowledge a certain responsibility on the side of teenagers engaged in the service. It now treats such incidences as correctional guidance cases rather than juvenile protection cases.

The number of shops providing JK rifure services is decreasing, the MPD said. Now the MPD is discussing ways to regulate those that offer storeless operations, as well as those that changed the contents of their services to avoid being cracked down on by police.

Hiroshi Kainuma, a specially appointed researcher at Fukushima University who is well versed in youth culture, said the industry “has the same structure as enjo kosai [patronage dating], which became a social phenomenon during 1990s.”

“While it offers a lucrative part-time job for girls, they often find it difficult to break away from the business after being cajoled by male adults, and eventually become dependent on the situation,” Kainuma said.

“It’s a problem that should be addressed by society as a whole,” Kainuma said.

Mieko Miyata, director of the Japan Research Institute of Safer Child Education, said, “Children should be informed at schools of the possible danger of becoming a victim of a sexual offense [if they become involved in such services].”

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