The Japayuki (Japanese: ジャパゆきさん, Japayukisan) are women who go to Japan to work in the entertainment industry.

The word Japayuki is a portmanteau of Japan and yuki (行き), a Japanese word that means “going to.” In the original Japanese version, the honorific “san” is affixed at the end to refer to a person, such that Japayukisan literally means “someone who goes to Japan” or “Japan-bound person.”

The Japayuki are not necessarily sex workers[1], but through books[2][3] and articles[4] published in Japan in the 1980s exposing the lives of those trafficked into prostitution, they have since been stereotyped as such.[5]

The Japayuki come from various Asian countries like Thailand, Taiwan, South Korea, and even Latin American countries, but most are from the Philippines.[6]

Business establishments in Japan staffed mainly by Filipina Japayuki hostesses where customers can eat, drink, enjoy dance shows and sing karaoke are called Philippine pubs (フィリピンパブ firipinpabu).[7]

A Filipina Japayuki, portrayed by Razel Ichimiya in the 2023 film Be My Guest, Be My Baby (フィリピンパブ嬢の社会学 in Japanese–or “Sociology of Philippine Pub Girls”)


Despite its literal meaning, the word Japayuki specifically refers to foreign women who go to Japan to work in the entertainment business and is not used for men, or to women who work in other kinds of jobs.

Various sources also define a Japayuki as a person who goes to Japan for work, but they differ on gender, type of work done, country of origin, and whether the term is derogatory or not.

  • Digital Daijisen
    (Japayukisan:) A name given to foreign women who come to Japan to work. The word is derived from the word karayukisan, which refers to women who once migrated from Japan to work in the South.[8]

  • Japanese Wikipedia
    Japayukisan is a term that became popular around 1983 to refer to women from various Asian countries who come to Japan to work.[9]

  • UP Diksiyonaryong Filipino
    Japayuki (colloquial): A person who went to Japan; a name given to a person who worked in Japan, usually as an entertainer.[10]

  • Wiktionary
    Japayuki (colloquial, derogatory): A Filipina who travels to Japan to work as an entertainer, with implications of prostitution.[11]

Digital Daijisen Japanese Wikipedia UP Diksiyonaryong Filipino Wiktionary
Gender female female unspecified female
Kind of work unspecified unspecified entertainer
sex worker (implied)
Country unspecified Asian countries unspecified Philippines
Derogatory? unspecified unspecified unspecified yes


The Japanese word Japayukisan was coined by documentary filmmaker Tetsuo Yamatani from the original Karayukisan.[12]

The Karayuki (Japanese: 唐行きさん, Karayukisan) were poor women from the Shimabara and Amakusa areas in Kyushu and other places in Japan who were sent to economically prosperous port cities in East and Southeast Asia during the early 20th century to work as prostitutes in order to send money back to their hometowns.

Postcard showing Japanese Karayuki in Tonkin, Indochina

The word karayukisan comes from the lyrics of Amakusa Lullaby (天草子守唄 あまくさこもりうた), where “kara” means “foreign land.”[13]

The Karayuki became well known throughout Japan through Tomoko Yamazaki’s 1972 non-fiction work Sandakan Brothel No. 8: An Episode in the History of the Lower Class, and its film adaptation Sandakan No. 8, which tells the story of a Karayuki who was sold by her family into indentured servitude as a maid and eventually a sex worker in Sandakan, British North Borneo (modern-day Sabah, Malaysia).

In a reverse trend, starting from the late 1970s, large numbers of women from Southeast Asian countries started coming to economically-prosperous Japan under entertainer visas.

To refer to these modern-day, reverse Karayuki, Tetsuo Yamatani combined the words Japan and yuki to form the new word “Japayuki,” an apelation which he then used as the title for his book about prostitution involving foreign women in Japan which was published in 1985.[12:1]

Spread to the Philippines

The word Japayuki appears to have spread and entered the vernacular in the Philippines during the later half of the 1980s.

Filipino poet Virgilio Almario noted that the word Japayuki did not exist in the Filipino language before President Ferdinand Marcos was deposed in 1986, although the Philippines started sending female entertainers to Japan during his term.[14]

As a Filipino word, it is listed in the authoritative UP Diksiyonaryong Filipino published in 2001.[10:1]

Before the Japayuki: Japan in Philippine History (Ambeth Ocampo lecture) poster
Before the Japayuki: Japan in Philippine History (Ambeth Ocampo lecture) poster.[15][16]

Cultural impact

The Japayuki has been the subject of poems[17][18], songs and movies[19][20] in both the Philippines and Japan.

A character of the popular comic strip Pugad Baboy is a Japayuki named Frostee,[21] a play on the word “prostitute.”

The imported mackerel scad, one of the most popular fish for consumption in the Philippines and locally known as galunggong, is colloquially called “Japayuki,”[22] purportedly because they were imported from Japan, among others.


  1. Filipina Modern: “Bad” Filipino Women in Japan. Suzuki Nobue. Bad Girls of Japan (Page 162). Miller Laura, Bardley Jan, editors. Published 2005. Internet Archive. Retrieved 25 March 2024. ↩︎

  2. 『現代の慰安婦たち 軍隊慰安婦からジャパゆきさんまで』 (Modern Comfort Women: From Military Comfort Women to the Japayuki). Usuki Keiko, Gendaishi Shuppankai 1983. Retrieved 20 March 2024. ↩︎

  3. 『じゃぱゆきさん』(Japayuki) Yamatani Tetsuo, Joho Center Publishing 1985. Retrieved 20 March 2024. ↩︎

  4. 「性の彷徨者たち(5)ジャパゆきさん 東南アジアからの出稼ぎ売春婦たち」(Sex Wanderers (5): Migrant Sex Workers from Southeast Asia). Mizoguchi Atsushi, Hoseki Magazine, December 1981 Issue. Retrieved 21 March 2024. ↩︎

  5. The Social Constructions of the Filipina Japayuki and Hanayome and Their Locations in Japanese Household and Society (PDF). Da-anoy-Satake Mary Angeline. Philippine Sociological Review Volume 48 January-December 2000. Retrieved 20 March 2024. ↩︎

  6. Invisible Women. Chicago Tribune. 4 December 1988. Retrieved 25 March 2024. ↩︎

  7. A short history of the Filipina Japayuki and Philippine pubs in Japan. Timog BBS. 23 November 2023. Retrieved 20 March 2024. ↩︎

  8. Original Japanese: 日本へ出稼ぎに来る外国人女性の呼称。かつて日本から南方へ出稼ぎにいった女性たちをさす「からゆきさん」をもじった言葉。 デジタル大辞泉 「ジャパゆきさん」の意味・読み・例文・類語 (Digital Daijisen [Japayukisan] Definition, Reading, Example Sentence, Synonym). Kotobank. Retrieved 22 March 2024. ↩︎

  9. Original Japanese: ジャパゆきさんは、1983年頃に流行語になったアジア各国から日本に出稼ぎに来る女性のことを指して呼んだ語である。ジャパゆきさん. Japanese Wikipedia. Retrieved 22 March 2024. ↩︎

  10. Original Filipino: Japayuki (colloquial): Tao na nagtungo sa Japan; tawag sa tao na nagtrabaho sa Japan, karaniwan bilang mang-aaliw. UP Diksiyonaryong Filipino. Almario Virgilio S, Editor. 2001. Internet Archive. Retrieved 22 March 2024. ↩︎ ↩︎

  11. japayuki. Wiktionary. Retrieved 22 March 2024. ↩︎

  12. じゃぱゆきさん (Japayuki). Iwanami Shoten. Retrieved 21 March 2024. ↩︎ ↩︎

  13. からゆきさん (Karayuki). Kotobank. Retrieved 20 March 2024. ↩︎

  14. Comfort woman/japayuki F_l_p_no ng mga F_l_p_no. Virgilio Almario, Anvil Publishing 2009. Internet Archive. Retrieved 20 March 2024. ↩︎

  15. Japan in Philippine History. Beltran Maria Rona. 25 August 2012. Retrieved 22 March 2024. ↩︎

  16. Image from History Comes Alive! with Dr. Ambeth Ocampo – Before the Japayuki: Japan in Philippine History. 15 August 2012. Retrieved 22 March 2024. ↩︎

  17. Basahang Birhen. Sayas Ricardo S. 1994. Liwayway. March 2021 Issue, Page 62. Quoted in Images of Japan in Contemporary Philippine Literature (PDF). Cruz Isagani R. De La Salle University. Retrieved 27 March 2024. ↩︎

  18. Japayuki-san. Aguila Reuel Molina. Gatilyo. Kalikasan Press 1989, Page 11. Quoted in Sa Ngalan ng Ina: Sandaang Taon ng Tulang Feminista sa Pilipinas 1889-1989. Santiago Lilia Quindoza. University of the Philippines Press 1997. Page 61. Internet Archive. Retrieved 27 March 2024. ↩︎

  19. Maricris Sioson: Japayuki. IMDb. Retrieved 27 March 2024. ↩︎

  20. Be My Guest, Be My Baby: The Untold Story of Filipino Hostesses in Japan. led_allaci. Nipino.com. 3 March 2024. Retrieved 27 March 2024. ↩︎

  21. Pugad Baboy Characters. Wikipedia contributors. Wikipedia. Retrieved 26 March 2024. ↩︎

  22. Fishers, peasants refuse to bite next regime’s bait. Nadir.org. 15 May 1998. Retrieved 26 March 2024. ↩︎