Producing iyashi

Healing and labor in Tokyo's sex industry

by Gabrielle Koch

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Women working in the Japanese sex industry provide deeply gendered affective labor to male white-collar workers. Their services center on iyashi (healing), a carefully constructed performance of intimacy that commingles maternal care with sexual gratification. Sex workers value this labor as providing socially necessary care to men who work in valorized sectors of the Japanese economy. Yet their own labor is produced within conditions of economic precarity. Moreover, intimate encounters in the sex industry are never divorced from the terms of a gendered economy. Sex workers use gendered discourses of productivity that reflect hierarchies of the value of labor to shape their performances of intimate care. These discourses demonstrate the centrality of gendered assumptions to conceptions of production and the economy.

A billboard located prominently across from a train platform at busy Shibuya Station, Tokyo, July 2011. In this advertisement for Vanilla, an employment website for the sex industry, the “cute” graphics highlight innocence, naïveté, and access to a consumer lifestyle. The text reads in part, “Get information on high-paying work!! I want to earn more! I really love money! Access us now and get information by searching ‘vanilla’ and ‘wanted ads.’
A billboard located prominently across from a train platform at busy Shibuya Station, Tokyo, July 2011. In this advertisement for Vanilla, an employment website for the sex industry, the “cute” graphics highlight innocence, naïveté, and access to a consumer lifestyle. The text reads in part, “Get information on high-paying work!! I want to earn more! I really love money! Access us now and get information by searching ‘vanilla’ and ‘wanted ads.’ (Gabrielle Koch)