A shocking announcement was made this year that the number of new syphilis cases exceeded 10,000.
This is the first time the number has exceeded 10,000 since 1999, when the tally began, and a 1.7-fold increase over the previous year. This is a clear increase in the number of infections.
When young people hear the word “sexually transmitted disease,” they probably think of chlamydia, gonorrheal infection, and HIV. For many people, syphilis is just an image of a sexually transmitted disease that was mainstream before the Showa period. Few people, moreover, are aware of the possibility of contracting syphilis themselves.
Why is syphilis increasing so rapidly now?
Various opinions are flying around. Some people attribute it to the increased opportunities to meet an unspecified number of people through matching apps, while others point out that the infection may be spreading from foreigners.
However, those in the sex industry have different opinions. Many of them express the following opinion: “This has been a problem in the sex industry for some time now.
I think everyone can understand this, considering the changes that have taken place in the sex industry over the past few years. Everyone has been expecting it.
‘I play in soaps that have a real sex scene.’
What does this mean?
In fact, the number of syphilis cases in Japan began to increase around 2014.
It has been pointed out that the syphilis epidemic at that time was caused by an increase in the number of foreign tourists, mainly from China, coming to Japan for the purpose of prostitution. Countries such as China and Southeast Asia have more syphilis cases than Japan. The number of infected people in Japan has increased due to the influx of people from these countries to Japanese brothels as customers.
A man who runs two soaplands in Yoshiwara said, “Chinese and Taiwanese, as well as East Asians, have been infected with syphilis.
When Chinese, Taiwanese, and Southeast Asian men come to Japan to play, they do not often use off-book sex clubs such as “deli-help. They play exclusively at soaps, which have a sexual function.
This depends on the form of prostitution in the country. In Asia, “genbang” is the sex industry. And Japanese soap service is so popular in Asia that there are many places that have been created to copy the Japanese sex industry. So it is only natural that they try to use “authentic” soaps when they come to Japan.
In fact, in countries such as China and Thailand, there are many brothels modeled after Japanese soapland services, and they are gaining popularity. For them, it is probably a sense of wanting to come to Japan to experience authentic services.
However, the Japanese brothels that accept them have mixed feelings. He continues, “The girls don’t know the etiquette and rules.
The girls don’t like to serve foreigners who don’t know the rules and etiquette, so if you force them to do it, they will quit. So, we charge foreigners higher fees than Japanese, and the girls agree to pay the extra. Some stores charge twice as much as the Japanese.
The reason why they go to such lengths is because foreign customers make money. Foreigners rarely come to play by themselves, and most of them are brought along by coordinators. There are foreigners who arrange prostitution tours. It depends on the coordinator, but a good coordinator can bring in 20 or more foreigners at a time. That’s a lot of money. Nowadays, Japanese customers do not play in the sex industry. That’s why the stores try to make up for it with foreigners.
There is not much atmosphere among Japanese youths to play sex games nowadays. There may be various reasons behind this, such as the recession and indifference to sex. However, this trend is particularly noticeable in soaplands, where the main users are middle-aged and older. In some places, the main customers are over 60 years old.
In this situation, if soapland operators want to attract new customers, they will have no choice but to focus on inbound prostitution tourists. To do so, they increase commissions to coordinators and raise margins to girls.
Why the girls had little sense of urgency
In the course of these times, it is believed that the spread of syphilis spread gradually, centering on soaplands. This was self-evident to the soapland operators, but since the number of infected persons was not that large, in the 1,000 to 2,000 range, the girls did not feel a sense of crisis.
Objectively speaking, however, these numbers are not reassuring. This is because there is a time lag between the time a person is infected with syphilis and the time it becomes apparent.
For example, gonorrheal infection has obvious symptoms such as pus from the genitals within a few days of infection. There is also pain and odor. For this reason, the patient goes to a hospital for an examination immediately, and since the examination method only requires a sample of secretion, the infection is easily detected.
Syphilis, on the other hand, is different. Symptoms that appear within a few weeks of infection include swollen lymph nodes and lumps, which are difficult to suspect as sexually transmitted diseases right away. And the second stage, in which various symptoms appear in the body, takes months to years. More to the point, the testing method is a blood test. This makes it less likely than gonorrheal infections, for example, to go to a hospital immediately after infection to get the results.
The manager of the Yoshiwara said, “Many of the girls are aware that they are sick, but they don’t know it.
Most of the girls go to the hospital only when they are aware of the symptoms of the disease. The girls who are very conscious of their health are tested regularly for sexually transmitted diseases, but they usually do not go as far as a blood test. The cost of the test goes up, and it’s not easy to get infected with HIV or syphilis, which can be detected by a blood test. Unless a girl is very risk-conscious, she won’t be tested for syphilis every few months.
Then the number of girls who are actually infected could be many, many times the actual number, right? The managers knew this, so they were talking among their colleagues, saying, ‘This is bad,’ or ‘This is definitely going to get worse later,’ but in the end, there was only so much they could do for the girls. But in the end, there is only so much you can do for the girls,” he said. “They are private entrepreneurs, so the only thing the store can do is warn them to be careful. We don’t want them to quit if we scare them too much.
At clinics in entertainment districts, HIV and syphilis are often tested with a single blood test. However, since young people today are not aware that HIV is such a serious disease, few of them take the blood test as part of their regular voluntary health checkups, he says.
If what this manager is saying is true, it would mean that the number of infected people in Japan, especially in the soapland industry, has been growing under the surface as the number of foreign visitors increased.
So why the explosion only now? For the surprising reason, we refer to the words of people in the field [Part 2: Syphilis Infections Have Dramatically Increased! Soapland operators talk about the impact of foreign customers”].
Interview, text, and photography： Kota Ishii
Born in Tokyo in 1977. Nonfiction writer. He has reported and written about culture, history, and medicine in Japan and abroad. His books include "Absolute Poverty," "The Body," "The House of 'Demons'," "43 Killing Intent," "Let's Talk about Real Poverty," "Social Map of Disparity and Division," and "Reporto: Who Kills Japanese Language Ability?