Involuntary Consent
The Illusion of Choice in Japan’s Adult Video Industry
Akiko Takeyama



This book examines involuntary consent in the Japanese adult video industry—and, by extension, within other precarious forms of employment, which have become the norm in Japan over the last thirty-five years.6 I refer to involuntary consent, workwise, as an agreement a worker gives to a potential employer when faced with the condition of having no better option but to take a job being offered—whether to survive, to serve as a stepping stone toward better opportunities, or for another “lesser of two evils” type of reason. This is different from being “forced” or “coerced” to do something against one’s will by another person or government entity. Neither overtly forced nor completely voluntary, the concept of involuntary consent guides us toward a deeper understanding of how “independent contractor” status and the like obscures the structural vulnerability of marginalized people to precarious labor and exploitative working conditions.

Women’s consent to sexual labor in AV renders them of ambivalent legal status: they are not prostitutes, wage workers, or independent contractors, though their experiences share elements with all three of these forms of work. Their status provides a unique window into critically exploring liberal notions of free speech and the free market that justify sexual entertainment, while structural inequalities leave women especially vulnerable to exploitation in sex-based occupations like AV. What does it say about “free choice” when the marginalized feel that consenting to precarious labor is their best option? How do women make sense of their “consent” to stigmatized sex work that nevertheless comes with monetary and other opportunities? How do they handle the abuse, exploitation, and mental distress they experience at work and in society?

AV performers exist at the margins of legal protection in both the AV community and mainstream Japanese society. Characterized by a lack of policy and laws beyond the protection of children from sexual commerce,7 AV performance work is permitted by multiple legal loopholes. There is, to start with, an ambivalent juridical line between legal pornography and illegal prostitution. Japan’s Anti-Prostitution Law criminalizes the act of committing sexual intercourse in exchange for money. However, in the name of free speech, having commercial sex on camera for the production of pornographic images is not illegal. (Indeed, the 2015 Tokyo district ruling, which banned nonconsensual sexual acts in AV, implies consensual sex on camera is permitted.) The existence and perpetuation of rape culture also undermines Anti-Rape Law. The law protects innocent victims of sexual assault but not prostitutes or sex workers who experience sexual violence at work. AV performers’ consent to sexual performance on camera is taken as tacit agreement to the “whole package,” including the externalities of identity reveal, stigma, and discrimination that come with the job. Otherwise, pornography involving adults is largely perceived as a “victimless crime.” Finally, employment and labor laws exclude sex work as a form of wage labor due to its “harmful” nature: it is legally defined as yūgai gyōmu (harmful work) that disturbs public order and moral decency. As a result, sex work can only be provided as contract-based freelancing, not wage labor. Sex workers’ independence is therefore technically a must-have condition in the production of adult videos. At the same time, as independent contractors, these workers are deprived of labor rights. Thus, four bodies of laws—free speech, anti-prostitution, anti-rape, and labor employment—protect sexual entertainment and victims of sexual violence but not sexual labor and sex workers. This is the juridical context wherein AV performers are asked to consent to sexual labor.

Contract making, which is necessary for sound business practices in the AV industry, is destined to exploit the consent giver’s precarity. Under the current legal system, they may be eligible for legal protections only when they can prove that they are victims of forced performance in adult videos. For this, a woman needs to make a report to law enforcement and show evidence that she was coerced into having sex against her will or forced to engage in “harmful work.” This move poses risks, however; even if she simply wants to improve her working conditions by filing a report, she risks losing her job or being raped or abused again if she continues with the work. Indeed, a sex worker who encounters trouble on the job and turns to the law for help may have to accept victim status in exchange for legal aid—a status that, among other concessions, necessitates quitting AV work. In this way, she loses both her bargaining power as a worker and her source of livelihood. At the same time, abandoning victim status reinforces the legal premise that sex workers are independent contractors whose work is consensual and contractual. This catch-22 situation effectively silences AV performers about what systematically goes on behind the scenes. The end result is the (re)production of pornographic illusions (of a “victimless crime”) and legal fictions of free choice.

Despite the vulnerability of consent-giving women due to the illegality of sex work, the legality of sexual commerce has leveraged the Japanese AV industry’s swift transformation into a cutting-edge creative enterprise in today’s burgeoning digital economy. Far from seedy “underground” stereotypes about where and how pornography is produced, the AV industry has aligned with Japan’s strategic effort to remake itself into an information technology-driven nation, a country committed to providing economic incentives for those working in the so-called kontentsu sangyō (content or “creative” industry).8 This business concept, content, emerged in the mid-1990s, along with revolutionary advancements in information technology. Within a decade, it was taken to another level: the Japanese government made the content industry the heart of its political slogan—“a technology-driven nation, a nation built on intellectual property”—to tap into and monetize human creativity to revitalize the national economy.9 As such, the content industry was envisioned as the nation’s future.10 Aligning with this national move toward a “copyright regime,” the AV industry established its own advocacy group, the IPPA (Intellectual Property Promotion Association), and promoted adult videos as intellectual property.11 The AV industry has also increasingly adopted such business practices as contract making and copyright protection, evolving into a seemingly innovative business enterprise.

The rapid development of Japan’s new economy coincided with the massive flexibilization of employment to improve labor efficiency. A series of amendments to the Worker Dispatch Law paved the road. When established in 1986, the Worker Dispatch Law permitted employment agencies to dispatch temporary workers in only sixteen emerging sectors such as office automation, software development, and computer engineering. This limitation met the intention of the law, which was to mobilize highly skilled professionals more flexibly while protecting wage workers. Ten years later, however, the eligible sectors expanded to include ten more sectors such as market surveys, advertising, and telemarketing, among others. By 1999, the law permitted all sectors except construction, port operations, security, medicine, and manufacturing. Among these five exceptions, manufacturing had long been controversial due to great concerns about chipping away at the original intention of the law. Despite the controversy, however, manufacturing was removed from the negative list in 2004.

These changes took place amid the so-called Shūshoku Hyōga Ki (Employment Ice Age, 1993–2005), when many young Japanese had to accept precarious labor, hopping from one nonregular employment job to another, without job security or full benefits.12 Japanese corporations began hiring increasing numbers of flexible, nonregular workers amid these policy-driven reforms, to cut labor costs.13 Thanks to labor deregulation and financial capitalism, the “Izanami boom” (2002–2008) resulted in the longest economic expansion in Japan’s postwar history. However, it failed to trickle down compared to earlier booms, through which citizens actually benefited and income increased.14 This “cheerless boom” was welcomed with ambivalence. Meanwhile, the nonregular employment rate in the entire workforce increased from 16.6 percent in 1986 to 21.5 percent in 1996, to 33.2 percent in 2006, and to 37.6 percent in 2016.15 Nearly 40 percent of the entire workforce are nonregular employees today.16 Such changes, leading to both market volatility and disgruntled workers, were not due to a collective decision made by workers themselves.17

Ironically, amid these conditions, the Japanese government highlighted the collective volition of “self-governing citizens” as a matter of “supreme importance” in the building of a twenty-first-century Japanese society. The gap between top-down policy making and bottom-up nation building was then, as I discuss further in chapter 1, supposed to be overcome through the creation of the “self-governing subject.” Although Japanese citizens were already sovereign subjects under the country’s post-WWII constitution, the Council of Judicial Reform identified the self-governing subject (in contrast to the object to be governed) as a new model needed in “building a society of freedom and justice and bringing creative energy to the nation.”18 In this way, the Council has performatively (re)constituted self-governing citizens as the producers of a liberal democratic society. In this kind of political rhetoric, the cart (those who are governed) is put ahead of the horse (policy), wherein the causality between political goals and their driving forces becomes blurred. Indeed, the political goal—the creation of self-governing subjectivity—implies a lack of such subjectivity. At the same time, the rhetoric suggests that such subjectivity always already exists as the driving force of liberal democracy and ongoing social changes, including the flexibilization of employment. Just as AV actresses are hired as independent contractors, feeding the pornographic illusion of their involvement in the industry as being a victimless entertainment, Japanese workers more generally are contracted as self-governing citizens according to the government’s political fiction.

Japan’s new high-growth industries, on the cutting edge of technology, have indeed created new job opportunities for “independent” and creative citizens. But these conditions have also produced tens of thousands of nonregular employees and working poor. Most content-based freelancers and part-time workers struggle with scant job security and minimal wages. The average annual income for animation creators, for example, was 33,280,000 yen (US$33,280) before taxes in 2013; nearly 30 percent of animators make less than 2,000,000 yen (US$20,000) a year, which is right at the country’s poverty line.19 The new economy initiative, which prioritized economic effects, has given little attention to labor processes or rights. Likewise, the AV industry primarily focuses on sales growth over labor protections for its content creators. Such profit supremacy has only accelerated since the widespread use of mobile devices, high-speed internet access, and digital platforms have enabled free access to content in the 2010s and 2020s. Online business has transformed the creative industry across film, television, music, gaming, and animation, among other industries. The digital economy has intensified labor processes, creeping further into workers’ personal lives and requiring them to work harder to improve cost efficiency.20

In the AV industry, as Amatsuka Moe’s event exemplifies, unpaid, extra work is incorporated into performers’ job requirements as face-to-face personalized sales, self-promotion through social media platforms, and emotional labor for fans. The AV production process itself has also been intensified. To cut back on production costs such as studio, transportation, and labor expenses, video shooting, which used to be spread out over a few days, mostly has become a one-day job. Everything—commuting to a studio, makeup, video shooting, and package photo shooting—is squeezed into a day by extending work hours from early morning to midnight. The AV performer’s job has thus become much more demanding for less pay—although such labor issues remain in the shadow of AV’s image as a “thriving” industry.

Even more demanding, AV performance work has increasingly gained currency. This makes sense, within this specific context of historically challenging working conditions for women. Japanese women, who entered the general workforce in record high numbers at the height of the late-1980s bubble economy, soon found that they were expected to quit their jobs after marriage and childbirth. They were often hired as general office staff and paid far less than their male counterparts, who were hired as regular full-time employees with prospects for promotion. For example, 36 percent of the entire female workforce were nonregular workers in 1989, steadily increasing to 45.1 percent in 1999 and 53.7 percent in 2009. Today, three out of five female workers are nonregular employees.21 Due to the intensified labor processes in recent years, seemingly lucky regular employees work at so-called burakku kigyō (black companies, meaning sweatshop-like workplaces) and face serious labor issues such as karōshi (death by overwork). In the mid-2010s, the mainstream media sensationalized the shocking karōshi of two young, elite Japanese women in their twenties and early thirties who worked for Dentsu Inc., the world’s largest advertising agency, and NHK, the national broadcasting corporation.22 These tragedies alarmed many Japanese to how excessive labor exploitation has been normalized not only in small start-up companies and black companies, but also by the most reputable Japanese corporations. Furthermore, “death by overwork” no longer applies only to men. AV job opportunities, which appear to offer better pay, more leisure and downtime, and greater chance for self-empowerment, have therefore become a better option according to a growing number of young Japanese women.

If some women are attracted to AV jobs under these circumstances, the majority of enthusiastic AV fans I met are their counterparts in terms of holding nonregular employment jobs with little to no prospects for promotion to regular employee status. These men, who came of age during Japan’s Employment Ice Age, have remained nonregular workers since starting their first jobs.23 The male AV fans I interviewed self-identified as lower-middle (or lower) class in comparison to peers who successfully landed at major firms as regular employees. Some fans have even experienced working at a black company. To me, their livelihoods sounded only slightly more secure than those of Japan’s “underclass,” or nonregular workers other than housewives who work part-time and make 1,860,000 yen (roughly US$18,600) yearly on average.24 It is estimated that nearly 9,300,000 Japanese are classified as underclass, almost 15 percent of the entire workforce. Along with the alarming statistics, these relatively new terms—Employment Ice Age, nonregular employment, black company, and underclass—have drawn greater public attention to precarious labor conditions in twenty-first-century Japan.

Labor and life precarity is gendered, though this gendering is often rendered invisible. Studying how online content platforms have been promoted as a new job site in contemporary Japan, Gabriella Lukács (2020) reveals that young Japanese women, who are marginalized from full-time employment with benefits, find certain job opportunities attractive. They can express themselves as net idols, bloggers, and cell-phone novelists, to name a few new career paths. Despite their contribution to the country’s digital economy, Lukacs points out that their willingness to provide unpaid yet personally fulfilling labor is exploited by platform owners and also rendered invisible by technological design. Such gendered, flexible labor parallels that provided by aspiring AV idols in Japan’s adult video industry. Sexual labor in the AV industry and gig labor in the information technology sector are a continuum of precarious labor that increasing numbers of women, who find no better opportunities, give consent to. Furthermore, AV users, especially enthusiastic male fans, often share the same labor insecurities. The AV fans I interviewed often felt their masculinity challenged because of financial struggles; they cannot afford to get married or do not feel comfortable socializing with men higher up the socioeconomic food chain. Thus, many men with nonregular employment status, as I highlight in chapter 5, rely on their female counterparts—those who provide sexual and emotional labor under similar work conditions—to bring a measure of fulfillment to their lives.

How and why do women performers consent to having explicit sex on camera? The women I interviewed provided various reasons for giving consent, including “The job seemed interesting,”25 “I had no reason to decline [the offer],”26 “It just occurred to me to give it a try for no specific reason,”27 “I wanted money,”28 “I wanted to become famous,”29 and “I was self-destructive out of heartbreak.”30 Few women told me that enjoying sex attracted them to a career in AV. “If a woman likes sex,” a thirty-seven-year-old former AV actress and current owner of a talent agency said to me, “there are many other places to enjoy herself, and if a woman simply wants money in exchange for sex, there are plenty of other jobs available behind a closed door.” She stressed the higher risk of exposure to stigma and discrimination that comes with AV. In this sense, AV performance is a unique job that combines decent earnings with the chance of stardom through sexual labor. With this combination in mind, I realized that the women I interviewed all have one thing in common: they have no other, better choice but to perform in AV.

My inquiry into involuntary consent lifts a veil created by AV actresses’ silence, and sheds light on social injustices that lurk in the liberal assumptions undergirding infrastructures of contract making. Like online platform owners who leave net idols and bloggers with little room to negotiate their service standards, adult video makers leave AV performers with few options for contractual negotiations. Such circumstances limit the control of individuals over their labor, a major disadvantage for the party with less power. The situation of AV actresses could be paralleled with that of “guest workers” who make the seemingly irrational choice of subjecting themselves to unfree labor in Japan. In her book Illicit Flirtations, Rhacel Parreñas argued that Filipina entertainers decided to go to Japan and work as hostesses, even though many were identified as trafficked victims, because they chose indentured mobility for a chance at a better life abroad rather than endure poverty in their home country. Instead of interrogating these women’s decision as “false consciousness,” Parreñas has questioned the principle of freedom in liberal traditions that preclude individuals from choosing not to be free—to agree to indentured servitude or enslavement. The principle safeguards only consent and freedom, justifying what cultural anthropologist Talal Asad calls “liberal violence.” Intertwined with a project of bourgeois, masculinist nation building, liberal violence “universaliz[es] reason itself” in the name of expanding freedom, free markets, and the rule of law while simultaneously “conquering” illiberal things such as coercion, enslavement, the informal economy, and corruption.31 Nonvoluntary consent to sexual labor, gig labor, and guest work alike then falls through the cracks created by this fundamentally dualistic view of consent and coercion.

Although precarious labor conditions are ubiquitous within today’s profit-seeking capitalist system, consent that is not voluntary remains essentially nonexistent in liberal contractualism. To be more specific, consent perceived as voluntary is granted focal awareness within this system, while the involuntary aspects of exploitative working conditions are relegated to the margins. In the AV industry, job insecurity, sexual violence, and mental illness are considered personal problems rather than structural issues. The inequalities and exploitation typical of gendered, precarious labor are reduced to an individual woman’s problem with “risk management,” as I discuss in chapter 3. Furthermore, violence is normalized as “bad luck” befalling individuals and as part of everyday life in AV.32 Involuntary Consent brings legal systems, political economy, and gendered precarious labor together to rethink liberal assumptions of autonomy, freedom, and equality under the law that condone labor exploitation in the name of individual choice.


6. In Japanese society, such jobs are referred to as hi-sēki koyō (nonregular employment), including kēyaku (literally contract work, meaning fixed-term employment); haken (dispatched work from a temporary labor agency); and pātotaimu (part-time and temporary work), as opposed to sēki koyō (regular, full-time employment with benefits including employee rights, lifetime job security, health care, and a seniority wage system). See Cook 2016, Gagné 2020, and Takeyama 2016 for the discussion of changing selfhood, masculinity, and adulthood in contemporary Japan.

7. Act on Punishment of Activities Relating to Child Prostitution and Child Pornography, Act No. 52 (May 26, 1999).

8. In 2018, the Japanese content industry generated 10 trillion yen (US$100 billion). Of this, 2.6 trillion yen came from digital content. The industry has grown. However, Japan’s content industry growth rate hasn’t kept pace with the other leading countries. Between 2019 and 2023, the global growth rate has been estimated at 8.2 percent whereas Japan’s is expected to grow only 6.6 percent. Nihon Keizai Shimbun, 2020, “Digital Content: 2.6 Trillion Yen in 2018,” February 12,

9. Gijutsu rikkoku, chizai rikkoku in Japanese. This has been done under the Koizumi Junichiro administration (2001–2006), known for its insistent implementation of a series of neoliberal policies.

10. To promote a network society and protect intellectual property, the state passed the Basic Act on the Formation of an Advanced Information and Telecommunications Network Society in 2000; it also put the Intellectual Property Basic Act into effect in 2003 and passed legislation to promote the creation, protection, and exploitation of content in the following year. To respond to these state initiatives and protect copyrighted videos that generate royalty revenues and licensing fees, the AV industry established the IPPA (Intellectual Property Promotion Association) in 2010.

11. The association consists of 290 AV makers and 3,300 rental and sales shops as of 2022. IPPA homepage, (accessed October 31, 2022).

12. In Japan, there is a very narrow window for new high school and college graduates to receive regular full-time employment. If they miss this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, they usually have no other choice but to take temporary employment jobs, often ending up working at so-called burakku kigyō (black companies, meaning sweatshop-like workplaces).

13. During Japan’s economic growth period (mid-1950s through early 1990s), major Japanese corporations provided their male employees with a package of lifetime employment, seniority wages, and full benefits. They also trained their new employees thoroughly. Their heavy commitment to job training and security has been known as Japanese-style management. But they no longer offer such trainings. In these precarious labor times, they now limit the number of new employees while simultaneously retaining the once-in-a-lifetime job-hunting system first established in the mid-1950s.

14. The “Izanami Boom,” which did not redistribute wealth to workers and citizens, was consequently short lived. Once the 2008 global financial crisis struck, market competition became even more fierce and working conditions worsened, fueling a profit-supremacist environment and widening economic disparities.

15. Sōmushō Tōkēkyoku (Statistics Bureau of Japan), “Rōdōryoku Chōsa: Chōki Jikēretsu Dēta (Survey of Labor Power: Long-Term Chronological Data),” chart 9(1), “The Number of Employees by Age Group (10 Years) and Different Employment Status (Since 1984),” (accessed July 20, 2022).

16. Sōmushō Tōkēkyoku, chart 9(1).

17. See Benner 2002; Curtin and Sanson 2016.

18. Council of Judicial Reforms, 2001, Opinion Brief, “21-seiki no Nihon wo Sasaeru Shihō Seido [Judicial Systems that Sustain Japan of 21st Century],” (accessed on September 10, 2019).

19. Annually, they work on average ten to eleven hours a day with one day off per month.

Japan Animation Creators Association, 2015, Animation Creators Survey Report (Tokyo: JAniCA, 2015), 44, Also see Kim and Ikegai 2006: 186.

20. Kim and Ikegai 2006: 186; Yagi 2006: 56; Tēkoku Dēta Banku (Tēkoku Data Bank), 2020, A Trend Survey about Animation Creation Industry,

21. Meanwhile, 8.7 percent of the male workforce were nonregular workers in 1989, gradually increasing to 11.1 percent in 1999, 17.8 percent in 2009, and 22.4 percent in 2019. For details, see Sōmushō Tōkēkyoku, chart 9(1).

22. A twenty-four-year-old elite employee of Dentsu Advertisement Co., Takahashi Matsuri, who graduated from the University of Tokyo and worked in the digital advertisement section, took her life in 2015. Mita Labor Bureau, a Tokyo Office, identified the cause of her death as suicide by excessive overwork. A woman employee of NHK, Sato Miwa, who was a journalist, passed away at the age of thirty-one from overwork in 2017. Unlike married women, who can play the “gender card” to avoid overtime and fulfill their household duties instead, these single women may feel particular pressure to say “yes” to extra work, especially in a short-staffed workplace. Young women are also, as labor lawyer Kawahito Hiroshi stresses, vulnerable to power and sexual harassment at work (Fumoto Sachiko, 2016, “Karōjisatsu wa Taningoto dewa nai [Death by Overwork Is Not the Issue of Others],” Nikkei Style, August 12,

23. Men’s nonregular employment has significantly increased, from 9.4 percent in 1993 to 17.8 percent in 2005, during the Employment Ice Age. Sōmushō Tōkēkyoku, chart 9(1).

24. Hashimoto 2018: 8.

25. Omoshiro so in Japanese.

26. Kotowaru riyū ga nakatta in Japanese.

27. Tada nantonaku yattemiyō kana in Japanese.

28. Okane ga hoshikatta in Japanese.

29. Yūmē ni naritai to omotta in Japanese.

30. Shitsuren shite jibōjiki ni natteita in Japanese.

31. Asad 2003: 59. Also see Neu 2018 for the discussion of liberal violence.

32. See Suchland 2015 for the similar cases in the former Soviet Union and Eastern Bloc.