I'm currently unable to distinguish between Japanese, Korean and Chinese ethnicities. How do I avoid exploiting victims of human trafficking while having a massage in Japan?

Is human trafficking more of a problem with massage parlours that offer sexual massages (スペシャルマッサージ or Supesharu massāji) compared to places that only do non-sexual massages?

If so, how can I tell if a parlor offers sexual massages or not?

signs advertising massages in Sendai

There are a couple of signs, but the one at the front has some kanji, and then "Reflexology and pedicure", a picture of a woman getting a massage, more kanji, then "4th floor, 10am to 5am".

I assumed that operating at late hours would be a sign it's sexually oriented, but the following is available until 2 am and otherwise appears to be non-sexual:

advertising for massage in my hotel in Sendai

Advertising within my hotel room in Sendai. It offers both "body care" and "foot care", and says it is available from 8pm to 2am. Elsewhere (not in the photo) it mentions that the masseurs are qualified.

  • Is there any sort of YELP type review website in Japan. If so I would try out their version and see if you can distinguish a good establishment from a bad one based off loyal users. Mar 26, 2012 at 4:41
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    What about the price? Normally, sexual massages have higher prices
    – Ivan
    Mar 26, 2012 at 7:54
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    Dunno about human trafficking, but I believe taxi drivers can tell you the exact "type" of each place so you can just ask one. Mar 26, 2012 at 8:56
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    There could be a clue / code that local people know. For instance in South Korea there is something about the number and/or rotation of red/white striped barber poles which indicates that the place provides sex services. And no I'm not making this up! Mar 26, 2012 at 10:24
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    One thing I have seen about the operating hours--late hours mean nothing if the massage place is part of a larger business that's open that late also. Mar 26, 2012 at 19:31

2 Answers 2


For the traveller, this is pretty much a non-problem.

First, the costs of human trafficking are too high to pay back with anything other than sex, so your run-of-the-mill hotel massage is going to be performed by an Japanese obasan (old lady), often blind, with fingers of steel. (Shiatsu means "finger pressure", and they ain't kidding. It's about as sensual as getting repeatedly whacked with a baseball bat.) So, no, you're not going to be contributing to the Yakuza if you dial up a massage from the hotel.

Second, as a foreigner you will have a very easy time distinguishing between non-sexual and sexual services, because the latter will:

  • not advertise in English
  • have much higher prices: think upwards of Y10,000 per 30 min. Unfortunately these are rarely spelled out in full, but having a price of >Y5000 for some unspecified "service" (サービス) without a clear corresponding time should set alarm bells ringing.
  • very often use the color pink in their signs, so much so that "pink salon" (pinku saron) is a standard term for a certain flavor of establishment
  • plaster undressed cartoon characters and/or photos of the ladies working in the shop outside

In other words, they look like this:

enter image description here

And if you still manage to miss the clues and try to get in anyway, no worries, since nearly all sex industry establishments make a point of refusing entry to foreigners.

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    "It's about as sensual as getting repeatedly whacked with a baseball bat." As they say, tastes are like nether regions -- everybody has one. Apr 2, 2012 at 12:55
  • So it's the same as it is here--showing the female form other than in the context of being the recipient indicates a sex place. Jan 14, 2018 at 4:37

What jpatokal says is true, except the part about what you'll get if you order up a massage from your hotel. I don't know how many times he's done that, but I have done it twice so far (from onsen type hotel) and that wasn't my experience either time. First time was a man, much to my disappointment - although it was a good massage. Second time was actually a young attractive girl - but there was no offer of "more". Her massage was fairly weak though, and she didn't seem very experienced - so maybe if I had the Japanese language skills I could have gotten more if I had asked. I only mention this stuff because I don't want people to get discouraged from ordering massage from hotels because you don't want what jpatokal describes. I don't think it's the most common thing. And you should also note that you can usually talk to the concierge to get whatever it is you want - this is true in any country and pretty much any decent hotel.
As for taxi drivers - yes, they usually know where to find just about anything, but in my experience, not that many speak English. I suppose you could call the taxi company and specifically ask for an English speaking driver - calling a taxi company comes with a 1000Y surcharge, just FYI.

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