TOKYO – Police have begun cracking down on businesses that employ girls of high school age to provide massage and other services to male customers after the labor ministry called the practice a harmful job, though many companies have simply turned to a “storeless” business model that attracts less notice.

The practice is known as JK rifure, in which JK stands for joshi kosei, or high school girl, and rifure is an abbreviation of reflexology, a type of massage. The term is used to describe businesses that employ girls of high school age to massage or lie down beside male customers.

The National Police Agency had been unable to move against the practice since it does not fall under the Adult Entertainment Businesses Law and therefore companies do not need to obtain permission for operation with the Public Safety Commission.

But police were freed to act after the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry said it considered JK rifure to be a harmful job, placing it in a category of work forbidden for people under 18 years old by the Labor Standards Law.

However, observers said the situation has not changed much, as more companies have merely moved their young female employees to the street to directly solicit men for paid “dates.” The NPA also categorizes this practice as JK rifure.

On one evening in mid-April, a 17-year-old girl wearing a high school uniform handed out fliers saying, “JK, 30 minutes ¥4,000, 1 hour ¥7,000” (about $40 to $70) to businessmen in suits and other men on the crowded streets of the Akihabara electronics district in Tokyo.

The girl is an employee of the kind of storeless JK rifure businesses that have grown in number recently.

“Do you want to go out with me? We can go to a maid cafe, have something to eat, go shopping,” she said after handing out a flier.

She said she had dropped out of a Chiba prefectural high school two years ago. A friend recommended the job to her and she started work eight months ago. She commutes to the area almost every weekday by train, soliciting men on the street from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. She said she goes on two or three “dates” per day, mostly with company employees in their 30s and 40s.

Some men want to go to video game arcades, others take her shopping and some just want to walk together. A few proposition her for sex, but she said with a laugh, “If I have to, I just run away. It’s not scary at all.”

Her employer has an office in a nearby building, and she splits all of her earnings with the company, making about ¥100,000 per month, she said.

“I work with about 10 other girls. It’s not the sex industry and we’re not doing anything bad,” she said. “I can make money this way. There’s no way I’d switch to other part-time jobs.”