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It is the destination of choice for Tokyo children who want to while away after-school hours in the cafes, karaoke boxes, amusement arcades and fast-food outlets that line its streets. But there is a dark and seedy side to the district of Shibuya.
The small groups of schoolgirls are never far from massage parlors, sex shops, telephone booths plastered with prostitutes' flyers and young men in shabby suits who earn their keep luring young women into the capital's thriving sex industry.
After years of inaction, Tokyo's leaders, under pressure from parents and the police, have promised to take measures to protect minors from "unwholesome" influences. Next month the city assembly will debate a series of unprecedented proposals, which have been given the seal of approval of Tokyo's right-wing populist Governor Shintaro Ishihara. The measures include curfews preventing those under 18 from visiting 24-hour karaoke parlors and Internet and manga cafes between 11pm and 4am.
Shops will be asked to put covers on pornographic magazines and manga -- comic books with often adult themes -- and vending machines selling adult videos will require buyers to insert their driving licenses. There will also be a crackdown on the burusera trade in schoolgirls' used underwear, for which fetishists pay hundreds of dollars.
The new regulations are expected to be introduced by the spring despite pockets of opposition from councilors who view them as draconian.
But Tatsuo Mizuno, head of child welfare at the Tokyo metropolitan government, says the regulations will not restrict freedom of movement.
"Teenagers who have good reason to be at these places during the curfew, say for work, will not be affected," he said.
"Tokyoites of all ages have lots of reasons to be out late at night but that doesn't change the fact that we need to create a healthier, safer environment for children."
The aim, say supporters of the crackdown, is to define where the juvenile world ends and the adult one begins.
Busy intersections are a favorite haunt of recruiters for hostess bars and sex shops, even during daylight hours. Young women are routinely pestered and sometimes physically prevented from walking away.
Last month two men were arrested for allegedly running a prostitution ring in central Tokyo of more than 30 girls. Local press reports said the girls, some of whom were still at school, were promised a cut of between US$83 and US$138 for each client. They were threatened with violence if they tried to leave.
The girls had been approached through online dating sites and on the street. For some the prospect of earning extra cash or receiving gifts -- called compensated dating -- is hard to resist.
Although sex with under-18s was made illegal in Japan in 1999 after pressure from the UN and child advocates, the law has had little success.
Other forms of exploitation are even harder to legislate against. To the frustration of child welfare officials, the regulations will make it illegal only for girls to sell items of clothing directly to buyers. They will need written parental consent to sell their clothes to secondhand shops.
In Shibuya, 16-year-old Mayumi said: "I've never thought of places like [this] as dangerous and my parents don't stop me from coming here."
When asked if they had been approached on the street by men seeking sex, she and her friends laughed, but did not answer.
Measures such as those planned for Tokyo are untested, but the authorities agree that curfews alone are not enough.
"This is a problem for adults, not children," said one Tokyo policeman.
"We have to stop looking the other way ... As a society, we talk a lot about taking responsibility for children's welfare but we don't practice what we preach," he said.
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