Writing Echoes

Delijah's Writing Blog

Research Book Review: Butterflies of the Night

Title: BUTTERFILES OF THE NIGHT – Mama-sans, Geisha, Strippers and the Japanese Men They Serve
Author: Lisa Louis
Publisher: Tengu Books
Pages: 214
ISBN: 0-8348-0249-X


  1. Job Hunting in the Water Trade
  2. A High-Class Affair
  3. The Geisha World
  4. A Special Kind of Sleaze
  5. Customers
  6. Outsiders: Token Whites
  7. Women at a Discount: Japayuki-san
  8. The gangster element
  9. Mizu Shobai, Past and Future

Butterflies of the Night deals with the issue of night entertainment in Japan, mainly hostesses (club-based companions that mostly chat, flirt, and pour drinks), mama-san (female club managers), prostitutes (funnily enough not in the title, is a “bad” word I guess) and geisha. It dedicates a few pages to the customer angle, but not enough to warrant the presence in the title, I’d say. The woman-based entertainment for men is called “water trade” (mizu shobai) in Japan, and there are many theories of why – it is not important for this post, anyway.

I have mixed feelings about the book. While I found it quite interesting, it took me ages to read, and it did not give me as much new information as I was hoping for. The style is plain, and the formatting is lacking at times, which I think put me off reading somehow. Regarding the “lack of information”, I need to note down that the book was written in 1992, probably being one of the first resources on the topic.

I am not sure whether this is a pro or a con, but it has to be said that the book is completely subjective – it is built from the author’s personal experience and an extensive interviewing job. This makes it interesting as it is a first-hand source of information. Unfortunately, it made me miss some hardcore objective data – which however would be terribly outdated anyway after 20 years. An interviewed Yakuza estimates that the gangsters have hold on about 20% tops of the sex trade in Japan, while recently the Polaris Project has been giving much higher numbers. I can’t tell whether that is subjectivity or twenty years of evolution.

In the Internet era, the book is not a must have, as most of the information it provides can be found online (see an example here), as well as sprinkled in other resources such as Tokyo Vice or Yakuza , both much more up-to-date. While it is a good topic-focussed book built on first-hand impressions that gives a glimpse into the softer side of the mizu shobai‘s world, it lacks an exhaustive study of the hardcore sex-trafficking and slavery that goes is part of the prostitution rings. Quite obviously, I doubt sex traders would sit down for a cozy interview.

Summing up: not a bad book on first hand softcore experiences, with a few interesting anecdotes. A nice add to an specialized library, but not indispensable.


2 responses to “Research Book Review: Butterflies of the Night

  1. Denise October 14, 2012 at 14:39

    Could the difference in numbers also result partially from one source only speaking about yakuza-controlled establishment while the other also includes the growing influence of the Chinese mafia?

    • Sakaki Delijah October 14, 2012 at 15:01

      I think this woman never really came in contact with the hardcore prostitution rings, and that she has a very… how to put it… biased version of the women who most of the time could choose not to do it any more? There is a very brief mentioning of Japanese yakuza scouting Filipino girls, sort of an anecdote, but in contrast Yakuza had a whole chapter on it, even before this book was written