■ In the broadest sense, 水商売 can refer to almost any business with variable income that depends on the whims of customers, including restaurants, taxis, etc. In most cases, though, the word refers specifically to drinking and entertainment establishments such as バー "bars," パブ "pubs," スナック "small bars that serve food," キャバレー "cabarets," クラブ "clubs," キャバクラ "cabaret-clubs," etc.

□ Prewar dictionaries listed prostitution as being one type of 水商売, but now the explicit sex trade (風俗(ふうぞく)) is usually distinguished from 水商売, though the boundary between the two is not always clear.

As some of the examples below suggest, the people who work in 水商売 can often be recognized by their appearance and manner, especially the women's flashy clothing and make-up. 水商売 businesses are sometimes linked to the criminal underworld. Although 水商売 businesses are patronized by people from all walks of life, those who work in 水商売 are often regarded as separate from mainstream society.

The literal meaning of 水商売 is "water business." The origin of the term is disputed. Some sources say it dates from the Edo Period, when tea houses in the 西両国(にしりょうごく) riverside area of what is now Tokyo advertised cold water for sale during the summer but actually provided sexual services. Others make the water connection to 泥水(でいすい), which literally means "dirty water" but also refers to the sex trade. More benign suggested etymologies include the similarity between the business's uncertain income and the flowing of water, and the notion that 水商売, which attracts fewer customers during rainy weather, is "selling water," and nobody comes to buy the product when water (i.e., rain) is free.

◇ いまのわたしにとっては本業は風俗で、水商売は、あくまで気晴らしにとどめておきたい「楽しいアルバイト」なのだ。
(From the diary of a female sex worker, found on the Web in August 2000. Note the clear distinction made between 風俗 "sex businesses" and 水商売.)







Kちゃんとバイトしたいねーとかいろいろ、ごはん食べながら話してた。 Kちゃんはフリーターなんだよね。(わたしもか)。適当にバイトで稼いで、遊んで暮らしたいと言っていた。ほんと、稼げるんだったら水商売でも援助交際でもいい気はするんだよね。わたしは愛想ないし向いてないと思うから 本気でやろうとは思わないけど。


This entry was created by Tom Gally.

Created 2000-08-14.

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