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Scouting for the Sex Industry: The Kabukichō Background of the Zama Killer

In October 2017, nine dismembered bodies were found at an apartment in Zama, Kanagawa Prefecture. The suspected killer, Shiraishi Takahiro, had previously worked as a street scout for the sex industry in the Tokyo red-light district Kabukichō. This article uncovers the world of scouts and how it has changed under pressure from government crackdowns.

“It’s frightening how gentle and mild-mannered he was.” Many of the women who knew 27-year-old Shiraishi Takahiro—arrested for nine killings in Zama after dismembered bodies were found in his apartment—offer the same testimony.

Shiraishi was a scout for the sex industry, operating in Kabukichō, Tokyo’s main red-light district. Since the news of the murders was splashed across the Japanese media last year, fellow scouts and others connected to adult establishments, including women who dated or lived with him, have given their impressions of Shiraishi in interviews. Why is there such a gap between the “gentle” man these women knew and the brutality of his crimes?

“I can really understand why the girls would say that,” says the boss of a Tokyo scouting company. “A scout’s job doesn’t end when he brings a girl to a club. He’s like a manager and consultant, negotiating her treatment and giving guidance on getting money from clients to support herself. This relationship continues until she leaves the business. Girls nowadays tend to be in it for what they can get and are always thinking about moving to a better club, so they trust scouts more than the people where they work. It’s pretty common for a few private words of advice to lead to a sexual relationship.”

In other words, displaying a kind manner to women is part of the scout’s job and very much in his interest.

A Prior Suspended Sentence

Body parts of eight women and one man aged 15–26 were discovered in Shiraishi’s apartment in Zama, Kanagawa Prefecture, on October 30, 2017. The following day, he was arrested on suspicion of dumping a corpse. Since then he has been rearrested seven times, as of February 13, 2018. The police authorities have amassed enough evidence to prosecute him for six of the murders, and are continuing investigation for the three remaining victims.

Shiraishi Takahiro leaving Takao Police Station in Hachiōji, Tokyo, to be taken to the Tachikawa branch of the Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office on November 1, 2017. (© Jiji)

Shiraishi lived in Ikebukuro, Tokyo, from around the age of 25, mainly working as a scout in Kabukichō. Some who knew him described him as a smooth talker when soliciting women, while others disagreed, saying he was irresponsible and had a bad reputation. Eight months before the killings came to light, in February 2017, he was arrested for suspected violation of the Employment Security Act by knowingly introducing women to Ibaraki Prefecture clubs that operated as brothels. In May, he received a 14-month prison sentence (suspended for three years) for the offense. After this, he returned to Zama, where he grew up. In August, he started renting the apartment where the grotesque murders that shocked Japan took place.

There are three kinds of scouts: independent freelancers, workers for a particular cabaret club or other adult establishment, and employees of scouting firms. Shiraishi was in the third and largest group, which dominates the “scout alley” running from Shinjuku Station to Kabukichō. Here its members approach young women and entice them to work in the sex industry. Each company’s turf is precisely demarcated by markers like posts and utility poles, and staying within this area is an understood rule of the industry. Wages are entirely commission-based and finders’ fees vary depending on the type of establishment, such as “cabaret clubs” where customers drink with hostesses, “soaplands” where women wash customers, and “fashion health” massage parlors.

For example, cabaret clubs pay a one-off fee, ranking women based on their appearance, industry experience, and popularity. A scouting company would receive ¥50,000–¥200,000, and the scout would get 60%–70% of this. In the industry, this payment typically comes when the woman has worked for 10 days.

In establishments mainly offering sexual services, however, the company and scout continue to automatically receive a 10%–15% cut all the time the woman works there. For adult film actresses, the company and scout get a total of 40%–50% of the salary from the production. If a scout discovers a woman who goes on to be a popular actress, sudden riches can lift him out of the daily hustle.

The upper monthly earnings limit is typically around ¥300,000, however, and most scouts make nearer to ¥200,000. They also have to pay themselves for taking women to cafés or restaurants to make their pitches. Success or failure soon becomes a pattern. “The scouts who earn keep steadily earning, while the ones who don’t fall into a vicious circle of losing money,” says the scouting company boss.

  • [2018.03.08]
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