Cover of Healing Labor by Gabriele Koch
Healing Labor
Japanese Sex Work in the Gendered Economy
Gabriele Koch


February 2020
248 pages.
from $28.00

Hardcover ISBN: 9781503610576
Paperback ISBN: 9781503611344
Ebook ISBN: 9781503611351

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Contemporary Japan is home to one of the world's largest and most diversified markets for sex. Widely understood to be socially necessary, the sex industry operates and recruits openly, staffed by a diverse group of women who are attracted by its high pay and the promise of autonomy—but whose work remains stigmatized and unmentionable. Based on fieldwork with adult Japanese women in Tokyo's sex industry, Healing Labor explores the relationship between how sex workers think about what sex is and what it does and the political-economic roles and possibilities that they imagine for themselves. Gabriele Koch reveals how Japanese sex workers regard sex as a deeply feminized care—a healing labor—that is both necessary and significant for the well-being and productivity of men. In this nuanced ethnography that approaches sex as a social practice with political and economic effects, Koch compellingly illustrates the linkages between women's work, sex, and the gendered economy.

About the author

Gabriele Koch is Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Yale-NUS College.

"This is an intelligent and insightful study of Japanese female sex workers who provide iyashi or 'healing care' to Japan's depleted male workers. Koch makes a compelling and provocative case for the productive role of sex work in the Japanese gendered economy. It is both marginalized and necessary, caught in a gray area between legality and illegality, and dependent on the perception that it is done by amateurs. Yet, these characteristics shape the risks sex workers face and undermine their claims to labor rights. In contrast to anti-trafficking and anti-prostitution activists, they do not consider themselves as exploited and coerced."

—Nicole Constable, University of Pittsburgh

"Exceptional sensibility and true originality characterize Gabriele Koch's Healing Labor, which has sex workers tell their stories on their own terms while bringing to life the globally most pertinent debates about labor, care, and sexual commerce. An elegantly written, pathbreaking book that carries its theoretical sophistication and great erudition lightly."

—Sabine Frühstück, University of California, Santa Barbara

"One of the pleasures of Gabriele Koch's new how its erudition is mixed with an anthropologist's ear on the ground."

—Nicolas Gattig, The Japan Times