Modern-day Geisha

In a two-part Bloomberg article reprinted in Business Mirror last Sunday, Rhacel Salazar Parrenas summarizes the findings of her nine-month study (2005-2006) on japayukis.

Parrenas argues that the US government’s campaign against global sex-trafficking “poses a setback to the emancipation of women. It has stripped thousands of migrant women of their livelihood, forcing them to stay at home, often in impoverished conditions. I challenge the identification of migrant Filipina hostesses as sex-trafficked persons.”

Ms.Parrenas speaks from experience.

“I SPENT nine months in Tokyo working as a hostess in a working-class club in one of the city’s many red-light districts, frequented by members of the yakuza, the Japanese crime syndicates. This type of place, in a seedy location, owned by a proprietor with a questionable background, was often assumed to be a site of forced prostitution.

“In 2005 and 2006, I resorted to this work as a way of gaining access to the world of Filipina hostesses in Japan.During my first three months in Tokyo, I had struggled to meet hostesses willing to participate in my study of their conditions.

“After I began working as a hostess, every person I approached agreed to talk to me. By the end of my study, I had completed interviews with 56 Filipina hostesses: 45 females and 11 male-to-female transgendered individuals. After working just one week in a hostess bar, I realized I had entered an unfamiliar sexual world, where people are more open about their sexuality, where both customers and hostesses seem to be ready for extramarital affairs, and where men can sexually harass women with no punishment.

“This world has been condemned not only for its debauchery and criminal elements but also for “crimes against humanity.”

“What I discovered, in fact, was that these women come to Japan voluntarily and gratefully, knowing what their jobs will be.

She concludes,

“Unsubstantiated claims of the forced prostitution of Filipina hostesses are morally charged, and divert attention from the need for regulation and protection of sex workers.

“Hostesses don’t need to be rescued. They need the empowerment that comes from being independent labor migrants. Only then can they remain gainfully employed, free of migrant brokers, and have full control of their own lives.”

I wonder how women’s groups will react to her study.Anyway, check out the article. Better yet get a copy of her study.

Manuel Buencamino

Buencamino was a weekly columnist for Today and Business Mirror. He has also written articles in other publications like Malaya, Newsbreak, "Yellow Pad" in Business World, and "Talk of the Town" in the Inquirer. He is currently with Interaksyon, the news site of TV5. MB blogged for Filipino Voices, blogs for ProPinoy and maintains a blog, Game-changers for him, as far as music goes, are Monk, Miles, Jimi, and Santana.

  • GabbyD

    this isnt as clear cut as you and ms parrenas make it out to be.

    lets ASSUME that her statistics are exactly right. Only 2% are “victims”, in the sense that we agree that they are. 

    IF protecting those 2% is important, its not clear why limiting entry to japan to established entertainers is a bad way of doing so.

    she claims it IS a bad way of doing so: “Yet the US State Department cites the dohan as an indication that Filipina hostesses are sexually trafficked in Japan. Such false assumptions led to a US policy that prompted Japan, in 2006, to reduce the number of visas for Filipina hostesses by 90 percent. Anti-trafficking and anti-prostitution crusaders counted this a triumph. But no trafficking and very little prostitution was stopped, and 81,000 Filipinas lost their livelihoods.”

    but this basically argues: 81,000 lost livelihoods >> 1700 fewer victims.

    now you can argue that more targetted reforms can allow more sex work to occur, while targeting victims.

    i dont know what those reforms might be. improving work conditions for sex work DOES NOT address the prostitution problem. and thats the problem japan meant to solve.

    • Manuelbuencamino


      “his isnt as clear cut as you and ms parrenas make it out to be.”

      I found her thesis interesting. It’s the first time I encountered such a perspective from a scholar. So I threw out there for feedback. I am not in a position to endorse or refute her findings. That’s why I suggested getting hold of her study 

  • Joe America

    Well, Boy Howdy,
    that obnoxious US keeps putting its values where they aren’t wanted. First, the
    US Ambassador in Manila comments that 40% of American tourists are here for
    sex, and gets screamed at by Filipinos from the Palace to the opinion columns
    in the daily rags. Never mind that there are no other reasons for visiting the
    Philippines, considering that you can’t come to work or retire because of
    fear-based laws that restrict foreigners, and the tourist destinations are
    polluted shitholes. 

    Next we have this lady’s lengthy piece, which evidently
    condemns the US for wanting to stop human trafficking. So in other words the US
    should stand silent while 15 year-old Filipinos get shipped to the sex dens of
    Asia. So that professionals of proper age are not bothered in their earnest
    desire to provide sex for money, as a job. 

    This all smacks of Filipino Ego,
    where people complain about their own inconveniences but do nothing themselves
    to stop the abuses that are taking place. How about condemning the Philippines
    and its Catholic Church for establishing the infrastructure (poverty) that
    makes sex and trafficking such a hot business for Filipinos. It is called
    “taking responsibility”. Christ, the scapegoating that goes on
    hereabouts . . . 

    For myself, I like prostitutes, as businesswomen. I’ve found
    they are generally among the most productive of Filipinos in a land that is
    usually not so productive.

    • J_ag

      Once again you have to free the markets for everything. It is the rich that do not like free markets.  We should liberalize the vaginal and anal based economy for adults. Joe A. this sector is one of the most productive mini sectors in the non-productive sectors of the economy. 

      Input costs are low while output has a very high value added.  

      Most prostitution dens in the country are indirectly owned and operated by law enforcers anyway. 

      Joe A. the Catholic hierarchy is one of the enablers for the continuing poverty in this country. 

      • Heheh, I like the term “vaginal and anal based economy…”, though “oral” seems to have been missed, :).

    • Manuelbuencamino


      You are becoming increasingly defensive. Ms. Parrenas is recognized as an expert in social studies. (Click on her name to link to her backgrounder from Brown University)  

      As far as I know she conducted a study to look into japayukis and not to discredit America. 

      So get a copy of her study, evaluate it, before you throw out disparaging generalizations about Filipinos.

      I value your insights and I follow your blog but man don’t be so defensive. The lady would not be where she is if she were just another rabble rousing anti-American.

      • Anonymous

        Parrenas is repeating the United Nations position — that prostitution is a job and all governments should provide workers’ protection.

        And I’m guessing that Parrenas is now an American citizen (or if not now, then within 4 years) so the esteemed Conrado deQuiros would brush off her findings as suspect with regards “for the good of Pilipinas and its people”.  Besides, Parrenas finding is suspect — statistically her findings would always be weak — one location, less than 100 respondents.  

        Despite lack of rigor for her study, Parrenas is correct — it is “in bounds”  when Parrenas says Japan should implement laws that protect prostitutes in Japan. It is excessive // Parrenas is out of bounds when Parrenas says Japan/USA should be less restrictive in order to allow more Pinoys and Pinas to get jobs in Japan.

        That’s what I think.  I suspect Lacierda and Ochoa will agree with me, or at least  that Lacierda and Ochoa will not make suggestions to Pilipinas DFA to loosen the japayuki-job-requirements that Japan has put in place.  I can not figure out how to translate “We want you to let them in; the Pinay job applicants don’t mind servitude” into a diplomat-to-diplomat sentence.

        • GabbyD

          i dont think the philippine side is the problem. everyone in foreign affairs/intl relations knows what the point of temporary labor migration is. 

          the problem is the receiving country. will japanese govt be ok with increasing economic activity in the sex tourism, or/and prostitution? 

          sure, its harmless as ms. parrenas might say, and it helps people, etc… but that doesnt mean that the govt wants to encourage it, or develop it, or even spend resources regulating it.

          • Anonymous

            I don’t think Dr. Parrenas will espouse “…let the business go on!!” based on a position that trafficking is harmless.  I think she says “.. let the business go on!!” based on all 56 of the 56 people she surveyed were unanimous that indenturedness/slavery is triviality and that all 56 want status quo — toncinuue work in Japan as japayuki, not return to Pilipinas.

            Parrenas position seems to be equivalent to saying that if it is only an extremely low incidence of children-trafficking then Pilipinas should allow continuation of Pilipinas child sex trade.   I also sense that Dr. Parrenas has missed this  :  indenture/slavery : “Comfort Women”    rings painful among an extremely low segment of the Pilipinas population.

            In my opinion, the onus is predominantly on Pilipinas.  First, on the GMA administration policies which resulted in continuation of an abysmal employment picture.   The same burden is on the Noynoy Aquino administration — this challenge to create more jobs in Pilipinas for Pinoys in Pilipinas.  This is my opinion.

          • Manuelbuencamino


            Based on the article, Japayukis are not indentured servants.  Forced by economic circumstances, yes. But they could have gone as housemaids instead of japayukis. So her point is they should all the protection and benefits that all other labor sectors enjoy. 

          • Anonymous

            Parrens makes many points, and on one of them , I’ve said that already — Parrenas just echoes United Nations Position — all labor (including prostitutes;  japayukis included) “all should have protection and benefits”.   [Interestingly, some middle East countries to the day still say the United Nations goes too far to say “prostitutes should have protection/benefits”.] Read again and pay attention to the details — japayukis are not even getting the minimum wage after the “employment deductions and fine print” kick in. Japayukis get much more than Pilipinas minimum wage but they get less than Japanese minimum wage.

            Be attenetive to detail. What it reported — none of the 56 japayukis Dr. Parrenas talked to were indentured (and I don’t know if she even got to say that).   Now to the question — Are there indentured japayukis?  Philippine Embassy in Japan says there were — there is a Dolores, there is a Gloria — and without a doubt Dr Parrenas did not talk to them.

            And as the article writes explicitly, once a japayuki always a japayuki, meaning the japayuki can’t change jobs to become a housemaid and japayukis can’e ven change place of employment without Japanese visa laws in the way. The Philippine Embassy also reports that trafficked japayukis do not want to go back to Pilipinas because of Pilipinas pressure — this “… hah??? Naloko ka. Nagi kang hostess ka sa Japan, akala ko, entertainer-visa ka???”

          • Anonymous

            Now if Dr Parrenas wants to continue this “… Filipinas/Filipinos in the “hospitality”-entertainment-with-tittilation industry needs help”,  then she can try prosetylizing where she gets more bang for the bucks.  And Pilipinas the home country is where would she find more than 56 entertainers/hostesses. Prostitutes even.  And yes — 14 year olds and younger. 

            I’m assuming she never got an audience with the Macapagal-Arroyo administration and Pilipinas “civil society” of the 1990’s.   Dr. Parrenas may want to try an audience with Ochoa, Valte or even President Noynoy, with Walden Bello, with Randy David, with members of the CBCP or various NGO’s of Mindanao.

            Of course, in USA, she can rail against Secretary Hillary Clinton or she can try to sway the United Nations or other international organizations based in Washington DC, Chicago or New York City.

          • Manuelbuencamino

            Read the goddam study. Stop bitching about representative samples. You sound like Gloria’s mouthpieces whose favorite line was how can 1500 respondents speak for 90 million Filipinos?

          • Anonymous

            Do you seriously believe there are no Filipinos/Filipinas being sex-trafficked in Japan, ManuB?

          • Manuelbuencamino

            I wouldn’t be surprised if some ended up as sex slaves. But i don’t think there are filipinas there who were brought to Japan by force. They all went willingly and some may have fallen into the wrong hands. So it depends on your definition of sex-trafficking.

            I have some personal experience dealing with Filipinas who became sex slaves, not in Japan but in another asian country. I helped rescue some and others found us. We kept them in a safehouse until arrangements could be made for their repatriation. From interviews with the escaped sex slaves, here’s what typically happened to them:
            1. They thought they were going to work as GROs. They entered the country as tourists. When they got to their destination they were picked up from the airport or the dock and then locked up in an apartment and made to work as whores.   
            2. They dealt with shady recruiters who were impossible to track down. All the victims had were their recruiter’s first name and pre-paid cp number.
            3. Some were recruited from bars etc. others from massage parlors etc and others from communities, schools, and work places.
            4, It would be difficult for this type of sex trafficking to happen in japan because the girls have to get visas. working visas. The recruitment business in Japan works this way – a recruiter in Japan has establishments that he supplies with girls. He gets orders from them and he contacts his Pinoy counterpart who is POEA registered and the Pinoy counterpart sends the girls over. Very rarely do they send one girl at a time. It is usually in groups. 
            5. It’s difficult to have a pirate recruitment operation in Japan because there are so many rules on the official Japanese side and the underworld side. It’s easy in ASEAN countries as visas are not required for entry.

            If sex trafficking as slavery of Filipinas exists in Japan then it’s the exception rather than the rule. In the other Asean countries, sex trafficking is more prevalent because the borders are porous and law enforcement turns a blind eye either because of corruption or even more so because their governments have an official policy of denying sex trafficking exists in their borders.

          • GabbyD

            who are dolores and gloria?

          • Anonymous

            United Nations report.

          • Manuelbuencamino


            Note that the Japanese gov’t changed their policy only after it was placed on the Tier II watch list.

          • GabbyD

            yeah, i know. 

      • Joe America

        Ak, MB, thanks for the whack upside the head. I earned it. Still, I wish Filipinos with airtime would consider what choices the nation gives visitors. Are they globally competitive? Are they wholesome? What are the reasons people DO come here to visit?

        My sensitivity derives from the Nicole incident where the US was denigrated on the front pages for three years over the shenanigans of two irresponsible drunks. It was . . .  um, frustrating.

        • J_ag

          Joe A. Those with air time live in enclaves and most of them hardly interact with people outside their enclaves.

          The domestic culture looks to foreigners (Americans, Europeans, Japanese and Arabs as ATM machines…. 

          The country survives as the government has made it the premier policy to export labor and they have become the country’s ATM machines. 

          Naturally there are a few people who resent the fact that the relationship of the U.S. and it’s colony is one of master and slave with the house slaves holding sway
          over the field slaves for their Massa’s.

          They tend to sensationalize and gloss over the frailties of the “rich” foreigner.  

          Keeping the master salve relation ship for so long has made it almost impossible for locals to think for themselves. Intellectual discourse is useless. 

          Lower brain function issues of blood sex the name of the game. 

          How do you explain these issues like the sovereign is the abstract of the rule of law when there is little division from the cops and criminals and people in government. 

          • Manuelbuencamino

            Does that also explain the notoriety of Bangkok as a sex destination?

        • Manuelbuencamino


          On the matter of tourists, I don’t know why they come here. We have no Broadway, no Louvre, no wine country, no Disneyworlds, no architectural marvels …

          We do have natural sights but what do you do when you get to scenis spots? I remember when I first arrived in DC. It was the end of summer. My American girlfriend said let’s go to Virginia…the mountains…the sight of forests changing to autumn colors is fantastic…so we drove for hours…and when we got there it was indeed a sight to behold…and then? Let’s roll a joint and get laid. 

          We do have beautiful beaches, if you can get to them. And the ones you can get to and have the facilities, well what else does one think of doing when one is in a beautiful beach surrounded by lookers and hookers and the spouse and children a thousand miles away? 

          ….but we will soon have a mini Vegas by the bay, just like Singapore and Macau, and you know what goes with gambling and booze. Yep Harry Thomas was wrong. His figures were too low. 

          Seriously I wouldn’t go to the Philippines as a tourist if I was not looking to get laid, just like in Bangkok in the good old days. If I were a foreigner I would go to the Philippines to retire, just like many Americans do Mexico. The Philippines and Mexico are great places for chilling – relatively cheap and very laid back. 

          The Philippines lacks the vibrancy found in the usual destinations. We have no Broadway, no Louvre, no wine country, no Disneyworlds, no architectural marvels …

  • Anonymous

    cut-and-paste from the Business Mirror article:
    “Still, migrant Filipina entertainers see servitude abroad as a much
    better option than their other choice of immobility in the Philippines.

    If Japan has put up the “No-Can-Do!!” sign, then Pilipinas should put up the “Open For Business Sign”. Back to Ambassador Thomas-versus-deLima tete-a-tete so that Pilipinas can encourage Sex-Tours to Pilipinas  but to government-regulated houses of prostitution where 14-year-old and younger Filipinas and Filipinos are not offered to the tourists.