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The Humbert Humberts of Japan Have a Powerful New Friend in Tokyo

"Compensatory dating," a practice whereby older men pay to date Japanese teens, appears to be a bigger problem than the government is willing to admit.

Japan 2013
Japan 2013

Japanese sugar daddies may have just found an unlikely ally in their government: The foreign ministry lodged a complaint this week against a top United Nations official for comments she made about “compensatory dating,” a Japanese practice in which doting older men pay teenage schoolchildren for anything just short of sex, from massages and city strolls to cuddling in bed.

Maud de Boer-Buquicchio, a U.N. official who focuses on child prostitution and pornography, visited Japan in late October and said in a Tokyo press conference at the end of her trip that some 13 percent of Japanese schoolchildren are dating for money.

In early November, after the Japanese government demanded a source for her statistics, Boer-Buquicchio clarified that Japanese officials had not given her authoritative data, and that the number had instead come from open source research. “Many of my interlocutors referred to it as a worrying trend which can easily lead to sexual exploitation of the minors involved in this lucrative business,” she said then.

But that wasn’t enough of an explanation for the foreign ministry, which is now demanding a retraction of what it blasted as an accusation based on an “unacceptable” use of unreliable data, according to daily newspaper the Japan Times.

In compensatory dating, older men pay Japanese schoolgirls for romantic favors that differ from prostitution because they don’t always include explicit sexual acts. The schoolgirls often massage the men, cuddle with them, or accompany them for strolls. In Japan, the practice is  known colloquially as either enjo kosai, which means compensated dating in English, or “JK business,” based off of joshi kosei, which means high school girl. And according to the U.N. envoy, these semblances of intimacy amount to an “enormous business” that despite controversy seem “to be socially accepted and tolerated.”

Boer-Buquicchio warned in her October press conference that although the practice doesn’t amount to full-blown prostitution, it should be considered a preparatory stage for prostitution or “involvement in the production” of child pornography.

The special rapporteur declined to comment for this story, but her spokeswoman told Foreign Policy in an email that she is preparing an official response to the government of Japan.

The government’s incredulity reflects a spotty track record of confronting sexual exploitation of children. Lagging far behind the United States and other Western nations, it took Japan’s parliament until 2014 to ban possession of child pornography, and even that law has been criticized for exempting sexually suggestive, though not explicit, images.

Thilo Hilberer/Flickr

Henry Johnson is a fellow at Foreign Policy. He graduated from Claremont McKenna College with a degree in history and previously wrote for LobeLog. @HenryJohnsoon

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