Sex Workers’ Dilemma: Evacuation or Assistance? A Journalist’s Account of Earthquakes and the Sex Industry | FRIDAY DIGITAL

Sex Workers’ Dilemma: Evacuation or Assistance? A Journalist’s Account of Earthquakes and the Sex Industry

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Crystal Magic, a health club in Sannomiya, Kobe, which was one of the first to reopen for business after the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake of 1995 (all photos provided by Mr. Ikoma)

This is a continuation of the series “Earthquakes and the Sex Industry” by veteran sex industry journalist Akira Ikoma, who has observed how sex establishments facing disaster have managed to overcome the challenges until recovery. In the second part, Ikoma delves further into the reopening of businesses that bravely faced the disaster and the actions taken by sex workers in response to the earthquake.

Click here for the first part: “What did the sex industry do when the earthquake destroyed daily life? A veteran sex industry journalist writes about “The Earthquake and Fuzoku”.

Health clubs reopened for business while water supply was still cut off

In the aftermath of the Great East Japan Earthquake, not only the “Eikokuya” in Kaga and Katayamazu Onsen mentioned earlier but also establishments such as Kinzuen in Gifu City, Gifu Prefecture, and soaplands in Otsu City, Shiga Prefecture, expressed their willingness to accommodate sex workers. “During the Great Hanshin Earthquake, we also accepted managers and girls. As a result, the entire Kinzuen area revitalized,” said one manager.

In the Shiga Prefecture Special Bathhouse Association, where soaplands in Otsu are located, a portion of the reserve funds was donated as charity. Additionally, there was a nationwide trend of collecting donations by setting aside a portion of sales as contributions. In Osaka’s Umeda district, the SM club “Karma” placed donation boxes at the reception and encouraged clients to contribute.

During the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake, despite being right in the midst of the disaster area, one establishment stood out for its miraculous revival – the popular health club “Crystal Magic” in Sannomiya, Kobe City, Hyogo Prefecture. Just two weeks after the earthquake, the day after electricity was restored to the area, Crystal Magic, a top health club in Sannomiya, reopened for business. The surrounding area was filled with buildings on the verge of collapse, and there was no running water. Yet, employees transported water from water supply stations in plastic tanks and placed buckets with heaters in the playrooms to provide services.

Despite the inability to bathe properly, men flocked to the health club, eager to engage in activities. Regular customers who became victims of the disaster, workers from other regions involved in demolition work, Self-Defense Forces personnel involved in rescue operations, and even dusty workers wearing helmets and tools during breaks were said to have visited. This scene was featured in a photo magazine, creating a significant buzz with the headline “Plenty of hot water despite the water shortage. Popular and resourceful Sannomiya fashion health clubs.”

There are many such heartwarming stories of sex establishments during times of earthquakes. The sex industry contributes to society in various ways.


Sex workers and store managers who saved the affected prostitutes

Immediately after the Noto Peninsula earthquake, some soapland workers in Ishikawa Prefecture expressed their concerns on their blogs, saying things like “I hope everyone is safe,” “I pray that as many people as possible will be rescued,” and “I hope for a speedy recovery as much as I can.” Additionally, there were cases where workers who were visiting other regions used social media to confirm their safety and suggested emergency support fundraising on their blogs.

During the Great East Japan Earthquake, there was a nationwide movement where some sex establishments and sex workers from Tokyo and the Kansai region collaborated to find places willing to accommodate sex workers affected by the disaster. Many girls were temporarily relocated to these establishments, thanks to this support.

While some girls evacuated from disaster areas, there were also girls heading towards them. The disaster areas saw an increase in the labor force due to reconstruction demand in civil engineering and construction work. Sex workers from Kanto or Kansai regions aimed for Tohoku, hoping to profit from the spare change the men had. It was surprising to find girls heading towards areas like Fukushima and Koriyama, near the nuclear power plant. Some thriving establishments near the Fukushima power plant were attracting workers due to the good economic conditions there. Among the workers involved in debris processing around the Fukushima power plant, there were those with good earnings. They were said to be gathered in areas like Yamanote in Tokyo or Nishinari in Osaka, earning around 30,000 yen per day. Some girls went to work there to make a quick buck.

Moreover, a 19-year-old girl who lost both her parents, brother, and grandmother in the Great East Japan Earthquake was saved by a friend who was a sex worker she met through social media. She was taken in by the friend to her home in Kanagawa, where she was introduced to a delivery health service in Yokohama. The girl started working at this establishment. Feeling sorry for her situation, the manager let her stay in the dormitory and covered not only the rent but also the utility bills. The manager said, “I want to help her rebuild her life and contribute to the strength of the disaster victims.” Although the girl’s father was eventually found, her mother and grandmother remained missing. The girl said she would continue working in the sex industry until she had enough money to rebuild her life.

In this way, during disasters, there were sex workers praying for the safety of the victims, sex workers and managers saving those affected by the disaster, and sex workers providing comfort to local workers. In various ways, sex workers contributed to helping others.

Because of disasters the sex industry becomes a form of “healing.”

During disasters, the importance of the sex industry becomes even more pronounced. In times of emergency, relaxation becomes absolutely necessary for mental stability and hope for the future. The sex industry epitomizes relaxation. Some may condemn it as inappropriate during such times, but it is indispensable for mental well-being. During disasters, there is an increase in the number of people seeking human interaction to alleviate anxiety. The existence of the sex industry serves as a source of comfort for such individuals.

During the Great East Japan Earthquake, there was a 34-year-old businessman who visited a storefront health establishment in Morioka City, Iwate Prefecture. He had come from another prefecture on a business trip to Kamaishi City, which was affected by the disaster. Despite finally escaping to Morioka after losing a bag containing important company documents, he still went to a sex establishment. At the time, some sex workers even voiced opinions like, “In a bleak society during a disaster, why not use the sex industry as a means of distraction?”

It was common to hear stories of young volunteers who participated in activities such as debris removal, then visited a soapland in Sendai City, Miyagi Prefecture, for relaxation before returning home. For men who had just finished heavy labor in disaster areas resembling battlefields, a comfortable private room with beautiful women in a sex establishment would undoubtedly be an “oasis.”

Once the reconstruction projects in areas heavily affected by the Noto Peninsula earthquake progress smoothly and the region regains stability, it would be beneficial for the local sex industry to contribute to economic recovery. This is because supporting local sex establishments is also a form of support for the reconstruction efforts in disaster areas. Let’s practice “supporting through playing in the sex industry” in Hokuriku and beyond.



Soap district in Onahama, Iwaki City. Originally, there were many tourists and local regular customers, but after the earthquake, the number of customers of nuclear power plant workers temporarily increased.
Soapland “Itohan” in Onahama, Iwaki City. Due to its proximity to the sea, it suffered extensive damage from the tsunami.
After the earthquake, the entertainment district of Kokubuncho in Sendai City became bustling to the extent that it was referred to as experiencing “special demand” due to reconstruction needs.
After the earthquake, men returning from volunteering stopped by a soap shop in Sendai City.
  • Reporting and writing Akira Ikoma

    Pen name is "Master Ikoma. He is the chief editor of "Ore no Tabi" series. His motto is to conduct thorough on-the-spot interviews, and he has completely explored all of the entertainment districts in Japan. As a freelance editorial reporter, he continues "Ore no Tabi" through articles in magazines and websites, as well as on his own SNS. Author of "A Modern History of Fuzoku" and "Reporto Nihon no Ijikai Chizu" (co-authored).

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