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The changing face of 'papa-katsu' as coronavirus bites harder and longer

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By Michael Hoffman

We all need companionship, we all need love, and we’re all in business of one sort or another – the business of survival if none other. Companionship and love are themselves businesses. The courtesans of early-modern Japan evolved into the geisha of prewar Japan; fast-forward to the 1990s and we have enjo kosai, generally translated as “compensated dating” – the sale of sexual favors whose most controversial aspect was the frequent involvement of high school girls trafficking with men old enough to be their fathers.

The 21st century introduced new refinements, packaged under the generic name papa-katsu. Spa (May 17) sums it up as a symbiosis between male libido and female profit-seeking – with sexual gratification, however, if not sexual teasing, increasingly filtered out of it by mutual consent.

“Reina Tanaka” (all names in this story are pseudonyms) has been "papa-katsuing" for going on two years. Do her parents know? She doesn’t say. Would they approve if they did? There’s no obvious reason why not. She’s 21, attending college, living at home. She limits her trade to dinner, talk, a pleasing appearance and pleasant manners. Anyone inclined to cynically ask, “What’s the point, then?” can go elsewhere – to “Mayu Yamashita,” for instance, who’s 23, has been in the business for four years and in fact lives off it. Reina doesn’t. Her parents cover her school fees, and a part-time job earns her pocket money. Papa-katsu is for luxuries; also for conversation – an asset in itself – with people (generally older men though not very much older, mostly in their 30s) whose wit and worldly experience give them something to talk about.

So sex, for her, is out. She does well all the same. The medium of choice nowadays is the smartphone app, linking client and provider either directly or via online “clubs,” obviating the middleman or pimp, whose unsavory presence cast shadows on enjo kosai. The fee structure is loose. Generally, she says, thinking back to the summer of 2020 when Covid 19 had yet to bite hard, she got 15,000 per date, a date consisting of whatever developed and lasting as long as the mood sustained it. Monthly, 300,000 yen was about average.

The epidemic straitened things somewhat; now she settles for 5,000 to 10,000 yen per date and roughly 200,000 a month, confident that the virus will run its course and trade get back on track.

Mayu’s case is different. Last spring, a new-fledged graduate, she got a job – which she quit this past February over her employer’s “power harassment.” That left her with papa-katsu. She’d got into it as a student and done it casually for four years. Now she went full-time. If the client wants sex play she’ll play; if full sex, she’ll consider it. Sometimes she’ll meet as many as five clients a day, but that’s exceptional. Eighteen hours a week is usual, providing an income of 270,000 yen a month – not bad for her home town, Shizuoka, with its relatively low cost of living. Many holders of more conventional part-time jobs toil longer for less.

Spa wades a bit into the sociology of it all. Men of middle age who grew up in the “feudal” environment of the last generation typically married “OLs”– “office lady” clerks – from their own companies, who typically quit to become fulltime housewives and mothers. Such marriages tended to grow cold – company drones married to household drudges, said cynics. Sex became routine and conversation flat. What can wives at home all day talk about? Housekeeping? The children? Restless husbands strayed – to enjo kosai, to hostess clubs, anywhere that promised a dash of sparkle, erotic or conversational. Lately, Spa says, sex is problematic. The rules have changed. Flirtations once tolerated, condoned, winked at, or even admired in some circles no longer are. A charge of sexual harassment can get a man fired or demoted, if not arrested. Thus the steady de-eroticization of papa-katsu.

“Hikaru,” 32, is a papa-katsu pro, with 12 years of it u-under her belt. A budding entrepreneur, she saw it initially as a way to make business contacts. So it proved, in the long run. She prospered, throve, made good money, met many people, broadened her horizons, honed her conversational and negotiating skills – and, two and a half years ago, met “Kensaku Hata,” 72.

Hata was a lonely widower four years ago when a “mischievous friend” introduced him to papa-katsu. He met Hikaru on Twitter, and something – call it friendship – clicked. “She listens to my foolish prattle on the telephone,” he says. “She rents a wheelchair for me and takes me out. She’s met my daughter and grandchildren. Now I know that if I die suddenly there’s somebody who’ll let the family know.” In return he transfers 50,000 yen a month into her account. Both parties seem enriched by the transaction.

Hikaru, meanwhile, has – “with Hata-san’s advice” – got her business going. Spa doesn’t say what kind of business. Might it have something to do with papa-katsu? It’s just a guess.

Michael Hoffman’s latest book is “Cipangu, Golden Cipangu: Essays in Japanese History.” 

© Japan Today

©2022 GPlusMedia Inc.

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The 21st century introduced new refinements, packaged under the generic name papa-katsu. Spa (May 17) sums it up as a symbiosis between male libido and female profit-seeking – with sexual gratification, however, if not sexual teasing, increasingly filtered out of it by mutual consent.

The socioeconomic divide between Japan and the rest of the G7 really stands out in this article.

Imagine a Western media outlet with an article about how the nature of older businessmen paying high school and college age women for sex has changed over the last 30 years due to the economy and the pandemic.

Well, it was not talked about 30 years ago in the West but now in late stage capitalism we have sugar daddy apps and "sugaring" has become a verb used in that context.

6 ( +7 / -1 )

Men doing this are losers

-8 ( +5 / -13 )

Men doing this are losers

Maybe if you are white it is easier.

if you are asian and arent tall (180+)and stunning looking, there’s absolutely zero chance someone will date you outside of financial reasons. 50,000 per month is actually cheap, usual rates is about 300,000-400,000

she saw it initially as a way to make business contacts

Girls who enter papa-katsu do it for host clubs and their hosts, and struggle financially no matter how much they earn. I have not met a single papa-katsu girl who is not making money for hosts.

1 ( +4 / -3 )

Now she went full-time. If the client wants sex play she’ll play; if full sex, she’ll consider it. Sometimes she’ll meet as many as five clients a day, but that’s exceptional. Eighteen hours a week is usual, providing an income of 270,000 yen a month – not bad for her home town, Shizuoka, with its relatively low cost of living. Many holders of more conventional part-time jobs toil longer for less.

I suppose it depends how much of that is sex work, but if most of it is, that's poor pay, 3500 a hour. Five clients a day suggests it is mostly sex work.

If papa-katsu includes meeting men in their thirties, I would say this is just enjo-kousai by another name. Yes, some (usually younger and poorer) women have always sold themselves to some (usually older and richer) men, but the world does not get better by using jokey euphemisms for it.

Married men turning away from affairs with women at work due to fear of sexual harassment is a new angle though. I'd imagine there'll be some truth in there.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

What consenting adults do with each other is their own business, with or without cash changing hands. If you don't approve of it, that's OK - nobody is forcing you to do it. So mind your own business and move along.

Why do people distinguish between sex and conversation? Sex is a biological imperative, hence all those hormones and urges. If anything, paying for conversation is more unusual.

quote: I have not met a single papa-katsu girl who is not making money for hosts.

I have not met a single employee who is not making money for employers. Because that's what most people do - earn money whilst earning money for others.

As workplaces become more puritan in policing and censoring interaction between men and women, the safer option is to pay for any level of interaction you require out of the office. The less you interact with colleagues at work, the less risks you take.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

es, some (usually younger and poorer) women have always sold themselves to some (usually older and richer) men, but the world does not get better by using jokey euphemisms for it.

No it don't. It just cheapens the whole purpose of it all. In America it's called the 'escort service' and it usually involves sex for money.

It's dehumanizing at best.

4 ( +5 / -1 )

I know an older man who does this, and there is nothing seedy about it. No sex, as far as I know, and certainly no clubs are involved. He has had a couple youngish (not quite young) women take care of him, drive his car, keep him company when he goes out, etc. He enjoys the company and has someone reasonably attractive to talk with and to be his companion at functions. I never asked about the exact pay, put they are compensated. I know he paid for one's advanced education overseas. Further, they get to meet his many acquaintances, most of them company presidents and the like. Seems to be a win-win, and nothing to be ashamed of.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

I think this isn't good for the women in the long-run because they will not have anything they can put on a resume when they want to get a legitimate job. What can they say they've been doing all that time? Also, wouldn't the government get suspicious of this spending, how do they tax it? Lastly, how will you find a husband who will be cool and accepting of this? That is a rare guy indeed. Oh and of course, the higher risks of STDs. I'm sure if they are sleeping with clients, then the clients decide what protection, if any, to use. At the end of the day, young ladies are better off using their time to hone some skills that will make them more employable than wasting time with this papa-katsu nonsense.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

The young women doing this might be in for a rude awakening when they get a little bit older and decide they want to settle down. I highly doubt many men would be interested in marrying a sex worker, current or former.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

and who wants to bet this is untaxed income. So whatever they are making isn’t going into a bank account and it’s all being saved inconspicuously to avoid having to pay anything to a government office. Living with parents etc… The whole thing is a strategy to work the every corner of the room.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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