How Colabo has created a haven for girls in Tokyo

Since 2011, Colabo, founded by Yumeno Nito and her team, has been a tremendous support for young girls facing difficulties, protecting them from wandering in the streets Tokyo at night. During pandemic, their work has been more important than ever. 

TOKYO. Where can you go when you are a 10 year-old girl who doesn’t see your home as a safe place ? With Tsubomi Café, a pink bus parked once a week in Shinjuku or Shibuya, Colabo has created a haven for girls, teenagers and young women who found themselves in the streets because of a complicated situation at home. A place where they can receive a hot meal but also medicine, new clothes, as well as a lot of comfort. 

During pandemic, many girls and women found themselves in very difficult and complicated situations. “If I am losing my part-job, I won’t survive, ” explained a female student in Business Insiders in early April. If I stay locked with my parents, my mental health will collapse.” Usually, “many of those teenagers work in order to stay away from home and to be able to pay for their own place, explained Yumeno Nito (1). Most of them are running away from a violent father who wants to take advantage of them.”

Since its creation, Colabo has been receiving more and more girls at the Tsubomi cafe. A warm shelter and a haven for girls aged from 15 to 18 years old. Sometimes even younger, around 10. Yumeno Nito is worried by the fact that those young and vulnerable girls might get lured into sex industry. “They are promised the safety of a job, a roof and food, she says. Those girls are perfect preys for unscrupulous professionals who are practicing sexual exploitation.”

Yumeno Nito, 30 years old, experienced this feeling of despair herself and knows those hopeless situations too well. She was 14 when she ran away from home. “I am a sexual assault survivor, she confessed in a FCCJ press briefing a few years ago. When I left my parent’s place, I was walking alone, by myself, all night long. I wasn’t going to school anymore. I had no money and sometimes I slept on rooftops. One day, someone recruited me for JK Business. Today, JK Business is stronger than ever.”

According to Colabo’s data, 5000 teenagers are recruited by Joshi-Kousei business (JK business) agencies in Tokyo each year. Those underage escort girls are sometimes high-school students. “They don’t know how to protect themselves properly, have no information and are in a desperate situation. They got easily enlisted.” Two third of girls in JK Business would be from families affected by poverty or victims of violent parents. 

Officially, there are about 200 JK Business agencies in Tokyo but NGO believe the correct number would be around 700. Many are located in Akihabara and services from those underage girls are going from making origami while showing underwear to have a stroll, a karaoke session or a meal. Many customers use this time together with the girls to ask for sexual favors. “Two third of those girls who engage in prostitution have been victims of violence and suffer from psychological anxiety, mental disorder and hopeless situations.”

In Colabo, volunteers try to give those girls some hope by showing them that they matter and that they have their place in a community they can trust. They can feel protected and cared about. Yumeno Nito regrets that these girls are pretty much ignored by government and that Colabo won’t receive any subsidies to help them reinforce their support. “It’s not a problem that has been taken seriously by the authorities so far”, believed Yumeno Nito.  

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