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The pimps and prostitutes of Yokohama City are used to being hassled by police officers and yakuza gangsters, but they may soon be shaken down by an altogether new face: the tax man. With local government revenues shrinking amid the worst recession in 50 years, the mayor of Yokohama, Hidenobu Takahide, has proposed the introduction of Japan's first sin tax, taking a cut from sex and gambling.
Numerous obstacles - including red tape, opposition from organised crime syndicates and accusations of unfairness - need to be overcome, but the Yokohama plan is being closely watched by other Japanese municipalities, many of which are close to bankruptcy. Walk around Akebono-cho red light district, and it soon becomes clear why the sex industry is an obvious target in this port city. The main drag is lined with garishly coloured, neon-lit buildings with names like Princess Peach, The Pink House, and St Gospel School's Costume Play - all of which seem to be doing a better trade than conventional local firms.
Many of these places are so-called fashion health establishments, which circumvent the prohibition on prostitution in Clinton style by offering only oral sex.
It is a lucrative business. Most places start at 10am and, according to local residents, have a steady stream of customers until the early hours of the morning. Officials in the mayor's office say, however, that brothels and fashion health establishments usually doctor their accounts to ensure they pay next to nothing.
All this will change if Mr Takahide has his way. The mayor has set up a panel to investigate ways to levy a new local tax on sex shops, betting offices and pachinko, or gambling machine, parlours.