June 27, 2007

Comfort Women

Filed under: culture,Dalian — Kim @ 6:52 am

What can you do when you’re a lonely corporate samurai serving your time across the waters, outside of mother Japan?

You need some comforting, and what better place than a bar full of obliging and charming women who hang on your every word, laugh at your jokes, top up your glass and light your cigarettes? Very comforting. Or you can go to a massage parlour and have a comforting massage. (Only just resisted putting quotation marks in there.)

I guess I’d better stop being facetious with that loaded term now, but maybe I’ve made my point. Japanese men are still sleeping with Chinese women and it’s got little to do with romance or mutual attraction. It’s the economy, stupid.

According to the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women, Japanese men constitute the largest number of sex tourists in Asia, with Cambodia, Hong Kong, the Philippines, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Taiwan and Thailand serving as some of the primary Asian destinations for organized sex tours from Japan. And, closer to home, in 2003, four hundred Japanese sex tourists got busted having an orgy in Zhuhai with 500 Chinese prostitutes. Prostitution on that kind of scale is hard to cover up, and it caused a big stink in the press…the China Daily solemnly intoned that “The court official reiterated that prostitution is illegal on the Chinese mainland and those who have violated the law will be punished.”

Here in Dalian there is a pretty large Japanese community –somewhere between 5-6000 full timers and a fair few tourists. You can fly to Dalian in a couple of hours from Tokyo and everything’s a lot cheaper here. Plus there’s the nostalgia factor that Dairen used to be a part of the Japanese empire and there’s some surviving Japanese buildings here…in my opinion the most beautiful buildings in the city.

So, there are a lot of Japanese restaurants and “gentlemen’s clubs” in this city and I guess I would know bugger all about the latter were it not for the free glossy magazines that advertise all things Japanese in Dalian and get left in some of the restaurants and hotels I go to.

Dalian damsels

There are no less than 6 of these magazines in circulation and they all have roughly half of their pages full of enticing women beckoning readers to come along to their place for drinks or a massage.

The women are probably not coerced into it, although they might find that they take the job not really knowing what they’ve let themselves in for and then find it difficult to back out. Who knows? I haven’t asked them and won’t be able to ask Chinese people any kind of serious question for at least another year or so…until my Chinese gets up to speed.

From my observations in Thailand I would say that asian hookers are often from poor families and are usually more than happy to sleep their way out of the rice fields and into some designer clothes and jewelry. It’s also not uncommon for them to befriend their clients and enjoy their job. I am not shocked or particularly morally bothered by prostitution unless it involves coercion, by which I mean threats of violence or actual violence. Personally, I am commenting on the Japanese man meets Chinese woman club and massage parlour scene as something socially interesting, not something morally troubling. And if Chinese authorities were outraged about it they could shut the clubs down pretty easily, I think, but they won’t because there’s too much money to be made and because they are fairly discreet places.

If the orgy incident in Zhuhai caused such a storm then why is such obvious prostitution ignored in Dalian? Is it a question of scale? Yes, I think so – the Zhuhai orgy was almost impossible to ignore and was a loss of face – but the principle, and the law, is surely still the same. It’s interesting that the publishers of these Japanese magazines feel confident enough to leave them in restaurants and hotels all over town without much fear of reprisal, apparently.

While the war time comfort women were undoubtedly sex slaves -which is horrible and despicable – the sex-for-sale in Dalian these days is not so easy to condemn, I think. Actually, the “discreet but yet still out in the open” Dalian Japanese sex-for-sale scene could be seen as a sign that relations between the two countries are getting a bit less fraught and, who knows, some of these men and women might be actually making friends.


  1. Shouldn’t there be quotation marks around “observations”?

    Comment by Bernard Wrangle — June 27, 2007 @ 11:36 am

  2. @ Mr Wrangle (don’t I know you from somewhere?)

    No. They were observations, informed observations indeed, and you can make of that what you will.

    Comment by Kim — June 27, 2007 @ 3:26 pm

  3. I was dragged to one of those joints once by a middle-aged Japanese classmate of mine. He had a fairly high-paying job, and was studying Chinese in the mornings with me and my class.

    We went to one of those bars – basically it was a place where you pay for not only drinks but for the service of the girls talking to you.

    I’m sure there are extras if we’d opted for them, but we didn’t.

    In any case, most of the girls in this particular bar had pretty killer Japanese language skills. When I asked a few where they’d learned, some said that they were currently university students, a were working for extra cash.

    When I told them which university I was attending, one got all excited and yelled “Wow, me too, we’re classmates!” Not quite classmates, but close… She even offered a to do a Chinese-English language exchange, but (despite how much I’d love to tell that story to friends back home) I had to decline.

    I’m sure a lot of places do have some countryside girls employed, but I think many of those jobs which require them to speak Japanese – I expect there’s a lot of girls from local universities who are trying to make ends meet that way (no pun intended).

    Comment by Pandapassport — June 27, 2007 @ 6:42 pm

  4. @Mr Panda Interesting, thanks. I teach at Dalian University of Foreign languages and before I ever set foot in the place I was told, by several locals, that it is famous for having lots of “bad girls” who work in bars or get picked up by their sugar daddies in huge Mercedes. I just can’t see it myself though…about 90% of my female students seem to be swotty types and the others, well, not “bad girls” anyway. My theory is (was) that there are probably a couple of DaWai girls who work in bars and so the Dalian gossip grapevine soon makes DaWai a hotbed for hookers. But what you’ve just said makes me think again…most of the hostesses you met were students? Hmmmm. Perhaps that’s why they moved the campus to Lushun then! Not many clubs out there.

    Comment by Kim — June 29, 2007 @ 3:39 am

  5. Prostitution is the only State-owned industry in China that actually makes a profit. Some knowledgable people have said it accounts for 10% of GDP, though personally I’d that figure is way too low.

    @Kim… 90% of your female students are exactly the ones who pay for their new mobile phones this way. Butter might not melt in their mouths, but it isn’t exactly needed to lubricate their hips either, I’m sure.

    Comment by MyLaowai — July 4, 2007 @ 12:29 am

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