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Empty streets are seen in Kabukicho, Tokyo's entertainment district, on April 7.
Empty streets are seen in Kabukicho, Tokyo’s entertainment district, on April 7. Behrouz Mehri/AFP/Getty Images

Mika is worried. As a sex worker in Japan, she used to see three or four clients a day — then the coronavirus pandemic hit. Now, with people staying home and avoiding close contact, she’s out of clients and out of money. 

With no savings or other sources of income, Mika says she is living off borrowed money. She has tried to find other jobs, but nobody’s hiring in the middle of an economic crisis. At this rate, she might not be able to pay rent or afford basic necessities, let alone pay off the debt she has recently taken on.

“I’m worried if I will have a place to live or if I can find a job to get money to live,” she said, using a pseudonym to protect her privacy. “I worry about (my health) of course, but now I worry more about how to survive.”

Sex workers across Japan have been hit hard by closures and restrictions due to the pandemic. The entire country is under a state of emergency, with many businesses ordered to shutter and people advised not to go out. 

Japan has recorded nearly 11,000 coronavirus cases nationwide, including at least 236 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University.

Softening the economic blow: The central government has launched a massive stimulus package worth 108 trillion Japanese yen ($1 trillion). After some controversy, sex workers are eligible to apply for aid, under certain conditions — a move some activists have hailed as a sign of progress for an industry that has long suffered social stigma. 

But for many sex workers, the package offers little reassurance — and its rules for eligibility seem opaque and restrictive. Some aren’t sure how to apply for benefits without effectively outing themselves. 

“(The government) haven’t clearly said they will help everybody,” Mika said. “There are many people unable to eat and survive without working.”

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