Monday, November 27, 2017

"‘Boys’ for rent in Tokyo: Sex, lies and vulnerable young lives"

Image and text borrowed from The Japan Times, 11/23/17.

There is a story in the November 23, 2017 edition of The Japan Times about new documentary film about urisen (rent boy) in Shinjuku's Ni-chome gay district.

The subject of urisen is at the center of a film titled “Baibai Boizu” (“Boys for Sale”), whose production was led by two foreign Japan residents. Since its release earlier this year, the documentary, directed by the singularly named Itako, has been screened in over 25 film festivals around the globe, including London’s Raindance and Los Angeles’ Outfest.

Many urisen interviewed for the film, whose more intimate on-the-job moments are cleverly represented by often-explicit animation sequences, are uneducated, occasionally homeless young men who cite financial hardships, even crippling debts, for taking on the work. It also highlights how some bar owners and managers willfully conceal crucial information about the nature of the work and potential health risks.

“I think the film tells a lot about the vulnerability of young people, particularly when they are economically disadvantaged and how they can be taken advantage of,” says Ian Thomas Ash, a Tokyo-based filmmaker from New York and executive producer of the film, which will make its Japan premiere on Nov. 26 during Tokyo AIDS Week.

Link to the story:

There is one section of the article called "Film’s disturbing revelations:"

Perhaps the most disturbing revelation in the film is how poorly schooled interviewees are in sexual health matters. Some appear to have no or only a vague notion as to what sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are or how they can be transmitted. Soap, mouthwash and brushing teeth are cited as being effective ways to prevent them. One urisen is unsure if men can even get STDs.

Ash says he is occasionally asked by film viewers if he ever attempted to educate the urisen.

“These are people who don’t even possess the vocab to describe parts of their body or substances that come out of it,” Ash says of the urisen interviewees, whom he and fellow producer and director of photography Adrian Storey put in front of the camera — some with masks to conceal their identities — for one hour each within the confined space of a typical room where they would fornicate with their clients. “So you’re not going to get far trying to make them understand why it’s dangerous to brush your teeth before oral sex.”

Indeed, the same lack of awareness is apparent with regard to HIV/AIDS. First Dash’s Hiroshi admits to sometimes having unprotected sex, both at work and in private life, but is unconcerned about contracting AIDS. “It’s curable now, right?” he says.

Statistics show that this lack of concern about HIV/AIDS among young Japanese is part of a new and worrying trend.


Particularly vulnerable are those in the sex industry, especially those who are in a weak position, financially or physically, such as urisen — who fit the AIDS-unaware age profile almost too well.

“If a bar operator has a strict condom policy, that’s one thing, but … as there is money being exchanged, if the customer wants unprotected sex, I can imagine sex workers might find it difficult to say no. In the case of urisen, the boys are young and customers are invariably gay men, so this is another layer of concern that needs to be addressed,” Ikushima says.

Instilling a sense of responsibility among bar managers and owners is also essential, Ikushima says, although this concern is not confined to the urisen industry. Indeed, a similar lack of instruction on sexual health would seem to exist in host clubs, an industry that traditionally pairs handsome young men with female clientele, though not officially for sex.

“We never mention such matters as sexual health, STDs or HIV to our staff at interviews,” says Ryo Tachibana of Goldman Club in Shinjuku. “I’m sure unprotected sex is also requested. You just assume, for their own sakes, they will be careful.”

One host, who requested anonymity, said to his knowledge unprotected sex was “not unusual” among hosts.


Reflecting Ikushima’s observations about a lack of HIV/AIDS awareness among the under-25s, however, are worrying statistics that show an increase in HIV diagnoses among that age group, from 65 cases in 2002 to 141 last year, according to health ministry data.

While incidences of HIV among Japanese aged 30 and over are still high, they have leveled out over the past decade, Iwahashi says. However, when it comes to the under-25s, surveys have unveiled a steep upward curve “of the kind never seen before,” he says.

“Whichever way you look at it, in Japan HIV/AIDS is a predominantly MSM problem and 73 percent of those who contracted HIV in 2016 were Japanese MSM,” says Iwahashi. “When you look at where the major movements are, it’s among younger MSM. And the background to that is the awareness issue.”

There is a side bar story with the article called "Foreign men defy drop in HIV/AIDS cases."

Numbers of HIV and AIDS cases among foreign residents in Japan continue to rise, according to health ministry statistics.

In 2016, homosexual contact accounted for 72.7 percent (735 cases) of all HIV infection cases (905) in Japan, while heterosexual contact (170) accounted for 16.8 percent, according to a Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare study. For reported AIDS cases (total 355), homosexual contact accounted for 55.1 percent (241) and heterosexual contact 26.1 percent (114). A further 82 HIV and 65 AIDS cases were listed as status “unknown.”

Yet while the figures for Japanese nationals have remained relatively stable over the past six years, even decreasing since 2012, the same can’t be said of HIV and AIDS cases among foreign residents, particularly men. Between 2005 and 2015, HIV cases among foreign males reached 108, including a more-than-four-fold increase among foreign men who have sex with men (MSM) (from 15 in 2005 to 66 in 2015). In 2016 that shot up further to 126 reported cases, although non-MSM case numbers were virtually unchanged. AIDS cases between 2015 and 2016 increased from 38 to 43.

In the past, women from Southeast Asia involved in the sex industry were thought to make up the bulk of foreign residents with HIV, says Kota Iwahashi, head of the HIV/AIDS awareness NPO akta. “Looking at the data, while those numbers have been decreasing for some time, the number of MSM foreigners who have contracted HIV has been growing.” Indeed, since 2014 there have been more foreign MSM than foreign women living in Japan with HIV, he added.

A major problem is the dearth of places for non-Japanese to get sexual health check-ups with English-language support, says Place Tokyo’s Yuzuru Ikushima, adding that at present the only place providing such a service is the Shinjuku public health center.

The majority (57.7 percent) of Japanese nationals who find out they are HIV-positive discover their status during visits to hospitals for other treatments, he says, which shows just how crucial specific sexual health check-ups are. According to Ikushima’s findings, of that unwitting 57.7 percent, almost 90 percent are found to have full-blown AIDS.

“With the Tokyo Olympics approaching, it has never been more crucial to provide foreign-language testing and support,” he says.

The accumulated total of HIV and AIDS cases in Japan in 2016 was 18,920 and 8,523, respectively — approximately 0.015 percent and 0.007 percent of the population. In contrast, 39,513 people in the U.S. received an HIV diagnosis and 18,303 an AIDS diagnosis in 2015 alone. The overall prevalence of HIV in the U.S. was around 0.3 percent of the population. In Europe, nearly two-thirds of new HIV cases in 2015 were in Russia (98,177).

While I am glad that a major news outlet is covering this issue, it is unfortunate that they continue the trend of the blame game, in particular blaming foreigners. Are foreigners coming to Japan to have sex only with other foreigners? Do foreigners not sleep with Japanese people? And once again we have to be careful with the statistics. Japan's HIV/AIDS stats are sadly under-reported and so it would seem unscientific to compare national rates other than to emphasize once again that HIV/AIDS is a foreign problem. It is not - it is a global problem.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

"Japan to offer free HIV testing in annual company health checks to encourage early detection"

Photo and text borrowed from The Japan Times, Oct. 30, 2017.

In a bid to encourage more people to undergo HIV tests, the health ministry is planning to offer testing as a free option during companies’ annual health checks.

The program will start on a trial basis in fiscal 2018 in big cities like Tokyo, where the rates for HIV and AIDS tend to be higher, a ministry official said Monday.

The free HIV test will be optional at the annual health checks companies carry out on employees, and the ministry will send the results directly to the patients instead of together with all of the usual health check data, the official said.

The health ministry has requested about ¥28 million from the fiscal 2018 budget for the HIV program.

“The important things are early detection and early treatment because the development (of AIDS) can be prevented by finding and treating the infection at an early stage,” the official said. “Detection can also prevent the spread of HIV.”

In Japan, public health centers offer HIV tests for free, but they are usually offered only on weekdays, when most people are working.

According to the official, the number of people tested for HIV at public clinics has dwindled in recent years, and the ministry is working to make the test more accessible.

“We hope the program will encourage more people to take the test,” the official said.

Japan saw a steady increase in new HIV infections through 2008. Since then, the number has hovered at around 1,000, according to ministry data.

In 2016, a total of 1,011 people became infected with HIV, according to the data. Of them, 735, or 73 percent, contracted the virus through homosexual intercourse and 170, or 17 percent, through heterosexual intercourse.

According to the data, 437 people developed AIDS in the same year, many of them in their 30s. Those in the 50-or-over age group accounted for around 30 percent of people with AIDS, the data showed.


Click here to see the previous extensive coverage of HIV/AIDS in Japan at VAOJ.