Okubo Park’s Resurrected Prostitutes Target Foreigners, Crackdown on Smokers | FRIDAY DIGITAL

Okubo Park’s Resurrected Prostitutes Target Foreigners, Crackdown on Smokers

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Women standing in Okubo Park. This was a sight rarely seen at the end of last year, but it is gradually making a comeback.

Under the glow of streetlights, women leaned against guardrails, tinkering with their smartphones. In April, about twenty girls were lined up in one corner of the park.


In Shinjuku’s Kabukicho, Okubo Park, prostitutes known as streetwalkers are increasing again. The Metropolitan Police Department strengthened crackdowns last year, resulting in over 140 arrests compared to 51 in 2022. Consequently, there were noticeably fewer girls standing on the streets by the end of last year. However, necessity drives innovation. These girls on the streets devise their own measures to continue earning money.

“What if we get caught? Well, can’t help it, right? I think the police have nothing better to do,” says a 26-year-old dressed in gothic Lolita-style black and white clothes. She was caught in a sting operation last November and spent about ten days in police custody. She came out crying, promising not to do it again, but started again in the new year.

“We have to earn to survive, you know. Even if they catch us or host club guys, nothing changes. We can’t afford to get caught again right away, so we’re careful in choosing clients.”

Despite saying it’s for survival, most of the nearly million yen she earns monthly disappears into host clubs. Her police strategy? Targeting foreign clients.

“They’re definitely not cops. I’ve never seen foreign detectives. I don’t understand their language well, and there are many troubles, so honestly, I hated it. But, we can’t afford to be picky, you know? There are more foreign tourists coming in groups, and the pay isn’t as bad as before.”

She recounts taking a Chinese man to a hotel for an additional fee of ¥20,000. With the end of the pandemic, tourists are returning from overseas, flooding Kabukicho, a popular tourist spot, with visitors from China and Western countries. There are also websites targeting foreigners introducing it as a red-light district, and many foreigners visit with the intention of being with Japanese girls.

“Asians are often quiet and not scary, and since we can’t communicate well, there’s less unnecessary chatter. They’ll give you ¥20,000, and it’s a hundred times better than bargaining with Japanese old men,” she says, adding that she even installed a translation app on her smartphone.

The scene near Okubo Park last February. Metropolitan Police Department patrol cars and security guards were patrolling the area.

Another woman, 22 years old with four years of experience as a streetwalker, emphasizes different measures from targeting foreigners. She, too, has been caught by the police in the past.

“If I get caught a second time, my family might be called this time, and if the detention is extended, I might even get evicted from my apartment. There are definitely characteristics of guys who aren’t cops, so I only choose those kinds of clients.”

She lists the characteristics as wearing sandals, holding a cigarette in their mouth, and old men.

“I’ve even been to a hotel with an 82-year-old. Old men make you feel safe. If things go south, I feel like I could escape.”

Most arrests by the police are carried out by undercover officers posing as clients. To avoid situations where police badges are shown at the hotel entrance, thinking they’ve found a client, it’s necessary to distinguish between clients and investigators.

“None of them really look like detectives, but no one wears sandals or smokes on the street. You can go to a hotel feeling safe with those kinds of guys,” she says. 

The return of women working for prostitution reasons is also due to the fact that police investigations have calmed down from the intense state seen around last summer when streetwalkers in Kabukicho became a social issue.

“Since last summer when streetwalkers in Kabukicho became a social issue, the Metropolitan Police Department has been intensively cracking down, arresting 140 people in a year. That’s nearly triple the number from two years ago. The girls disappeared all at once for a while. However, the police are now focusing on investigating semi-organized crime groups and scouting groups called ‘Tokuryu.’ Although there were mass roundups in Tohoko Plaza during spring break, prostitution seems to have calmed down,” says a reporter from a national newspaper’s social department.

Women who were hardly seen on the streets by the end of the year have sharply increased again since around March. They now overflow from Okubo Park, which was not the case before, to the sidewalk one block away. With enforcement weakened and the girls more vigilant in their measures, it seems unlikely that the sight of streetwalkers will disappear from Kabukicho anytime soon.

  • PHOTO Takayuki Ogawauchi

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