Boys for Sale is a provocative and award-winning documentary about male prostitutes in the gay district of Tokyo, Japan. It has already won four film festivals in Los Angeles, South Africa, Mexico, and Ecuador. It also premiered in Japan last November.
The documentary film’s producer Thomas Ash in a candid admission said that the entire budget for the first year of the project was spent on alcohol to facilitate full access to the seedy and contradictory nature of Japan’s commercial male sex scene.
The veteran and experienced filmmaker Ash curiously still got the shock of his life at what he discovered while completing the film. He says those they encountered in making the documentary contradicts the modern take on sex work where people understand the risks involved in their trade. Ash said that was certainly not the case with many of the young men in 2-chrome.
Tokyo’s gay quarter boasts of about 800 businesses that meet the demand of a clientele which is mostly still underground in Japanese society. One owner of the establishment the film interviewed shared that at least two politicians are regular visitors to the district.
Ash revealed that it is quite a challenge to come out with an estimate of the number of young men working as male prostitutes in and around 2-home. One of the difficulties is because many operate online and are only “delivered” to customers. Ash said he would the estimate at roughly 1,000 young male sex workers.
The visitors in the district are normally offered a drink and invited to choose from “the menu” of the boys available. Some come with pictures of the young men, and not just descriptions. Once a customer has completed his choice, then the young man will be called to join the customer.
Customer and the boy would usually spend about half an hour of casual chats and get to know you stage. At that point, the customer is charged 500 yen. If a customer wants to “take things further”, he can take the boy to a private room or a nearby “love hotel” for sex in exchange for money.
The strange thing is since Japan’s anti-prostitution law has a narrow definition of prostitution as “vaginal sex between a man and a woman”, gay sex trade technically violates no law. No one is also challenging the fact that the young male sex workers are still in their late teens when the age of consent in Japan is 20.
Alarmingly, many of the young men are not even aware of the risks of sexually-transmitted diseases. The other sad discovery is the fact that a number of the young male sex workers originally came from areas hit hard by the earthquake, tsunami, and meltdown at the Fukushima nuclear plant in 2011. They went to Tokyo to earn a living but ended up as male prostitutes.
Another revelation of the film is that many of the young males who provide sexual services to gay older males are themselves not homosexual.
Some have gotten so used to the idea of the sex trade to make money that a former male prostitute who has risen to become a manager of the bars said his perennial advice to young male prostitutes having a difficult time getting an erection when they are with a client is to think about only one thing: money. He concluded: “Making money will get you hard.”