Photo/IllutrationA woman, foreground, receives advice on job hunting from a Grow as People representative. (Ryunosuke Kanayama)

  • Photo/Illustraion

The woman reached a point where she felt like a piece of meat for her customers to feast on.

Despite high monthly earnings, 600,000 yen to 800,000 yen ($5,300 to $7,050) on average, the 28-year-old sex industry worker felt she had no future.

She spent four years working in the adult entertainment business in Saitama Prefecture outside Tokyo.

The woman got stressed out at the way punters opted to spend time with her based on her looks, as if she was a product on a store shelf.

She was desperate to change her line of work, but did not possess professional skills or work history that would muster for a written resume.

While struggling to find a way out two summers ago, the woman learned online about a group called Grow as People (GAP) that helps sex industry workers find “daytime jobs.”

GAP, based in Tokyo’s Arakawa Ward, said it receives inquiries almost daily from ladies of the night who are eager to switch to a legitimate occupation or are having other problems.

The group offers opportunities for these women to work as interns at its partner companies and elsewhere, allowing them to build careers while continuing to work part-time in the nightlife industry.

“I thought it was important for them to be able to be engaged in a line of work that they could openly speak about,” said GAP founder Junichiro Kakuma, 35.

With the help of GAP, the 28-year-old woman did clerical work for six months at a nonprofit working on child welfare. She quit the sex industry and is seeking employment in a pet-related business.

“The program gave me confidence to change my way of life, and I felt I have become a responsible member of society,” she said. “That I could build the foundation for the next step is very significant for me.”

In 2010, Kakuma met the owner of a sex establishment and realized that many sex industry workers face all sorts of problems, unable to seek assistance from the government.

He handed in his notice at the architect’s office where he worked and got a job at the owner’s establishment, where he started trying to figure out the situation facing sex industry workers.

Talking with the women revealed a common thread: the “barrier of 40.” Women who have turned 40 generally lose physical strength, forcing them to work shorter hours and for less money.

According to GAP’s “white paper on the nightlife business,” released in February and covering 381 sex industry workers across Japan, the monthly income of women aged between 36 and 40 was only 236,000 yen, while those between 18 and 25 years old pulled in 432,000 for around the same days of work.

“The women have to quit their job if customers stop selecting them,” said Kakuma. “But it is difficult to move on to the next step if they have no professional backgrounds.”

Kakuma resolved to help those women find alternative employment.

Since his group registered as a a corporation in April 2012, GAP has helped 40 women switch jobs. It also offered assistance so they can marry and have children.

Many sex industry workers find it difficult to share their problems with friends and others around them.

“I hope other groups will follow suit to help prevent the women from being isolated,” said Kakuma.