Japan’s Human Trafficking Problems Not Resolved: US State Department

The US State Department released their annual Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report today  (June 19th 2012) and once again Japan was ranked as a 2nd tier nation. It barely escaped being placed on the watch-list for a 2nd time, according to some sources. Human trafficking in Japan not only includes sexual slavery, a government sponsored intern system for foreign workers has also received heavy criticism as virtual slavery, unchecked and almost condoned by the Japanese government. Human trafficking provides a significant source of revenue for organized crime and yakuza involvement in the business remains strong. Ironically, as it becomes more difficult to bring in foreign laborers for the sex industry, increasingly young Japanese girls are being targeted and exploited by the traffickers, some as young as 13 years. Yet, only about 80% of the Japanese population is aware that domestic trafficking is a reality in Japan.

The Polaris Project Japan and the Solidarity Network With Migrants Japan held a seminar at the Foreign Correspondent’s Club on the same day and summarized the findings of the report as follows:


1. Lack  of comprehensive  anti-trafficking lawsand lack of any visible efforts to establish one

2. Japan is making  only slight progress in protecting women and children from forced prostitutionthere seems to be little effort aimed at forced labormale victimsetc.

There were 619 cases of child prostitution45 cases of trafficking adults last year.

3. Lack of protection system and shelters for trafficking victims

In the past 18 yearsnot one person subjected  to forced labor as a foreign trainee has been identified as a victim.

4. Lack of efforts to prevent child sex tourism ín Southeast Asla by Japanese nationals; the narrow prohibitions in place have failed to produce visible results

The portion of the TIP report relating to Japan is below. 

(Note: I am an unpaid  board member of the Polaris Project Japan and therefore lack some objectivity on this problem–and I also  think human trafficking and labor exploitation really suck, further clouding my judgement.)

JAPAN (Tier 2)

Japan is a destination, source, and transit country for men and women subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking, and for children subjected to sex trafficking. Male and female migrant workers from China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam, and other Asian countries are sometimes subject to conditions of forced labor. Some women and children from East Asia, Southeast Asia, South America, and, in previous years, Eastern Europe, Russia, and Central America who travel to Japan for employment or fraudulent marriage are forced into prostitution. During the reporting period, Japanese nationals, particularly teenage girls and foreign-born children of Japanese citizens who acquired nationality, were also subjected to sex trafficking. In addition, traffickers continued to use fraudulent marriages between foreign women and Japanese men to facilitate the entry of these women into Japan for forced prostitution. Japanese organized crime syndicates (the Yakuza) are responsible for some trafficking in Japan, both directly and indirectly. Traffickers strictly control the movements of victims, using debt bondage, threats of violence or deportation, blackmail, and other coercive psychological methods to control victims. Victims of forced prostitution sometimes face debts upon commencement of their contracts and most are required to pay employers additional fees for living expenses, medical care, and other necessities, leaving them predisposed to debt bondage. “Fines” for misbehavior are added to victims’ original debt, and the process that brothel operators use to calculate these debts was not transparent. Japan is also a transit country for persons in trafficking situations traveling from East Asia to North America. Japanese men continue to be a significant source of demand for child sex tourism in Southeast Asia, and, to a lesser extent, Mongolia.

The Government of Japan has not officially recognized the existence of forced labor within the Industrial Trainee and Technical Internship Program, a government-run program designed to foster basic industrial skills and techniques and to provide opportunities to acquire practical skills and techniques. However, the government made a number of efforts to address labor abuses in the program. Media and NGOs continued to report on abuses in the program, though to a lesser extent than in previous years, and abuses included debt bondage, restrictions on movement, unpaid wages and overtime, fraud, and contracting workers out to different employers – elements which may signal trafficking situations. The majority of technical interns are Chinese nationals, some of whom pay fees of up to the equivalent of $1,400 to Chinese labor brokers or deposits of up to the equivalent of $4,000 prior to their departure from China; these fees sometimes require aspiring workers to take out loans or to place liens on their property, potentially leading to situations of debt bondage. Although banned since 2010, these fees, deposits, and “punishment” contracts continue to be prevalent for Chinese participants in the program. Reports of trainees having their passports and other travel documents taken from them and their movements controlled to prevent escape or communication declined, a trend that labor activists credited to increased government scrutiny of these practices.

The Government of Japan does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. During the year, the Japanese government did not develop or enact anti-trafficking legislation that would fill key gaps in facilitating anti-trafficking prosecutions, and the government did not arrest, prosecute, or convict a single forced labor perpetrator in 2011. Increased enforcement of labor laws in the foreign trainee program, however, led to a decline in reported abuses in the program according to non-governmental sources. During the year, the government published a manual for law enforcement and social service providers on protecting trafficking victims and continued to mandate anti-trafficking training to law enforcement officials. While the government identified 45 adult female sex trafficking victims and 619 minor victims of child prostitution, it identified no male victims for either forced labor or forced prostitution. Protective services for trafficking victims remained limited, with no shelters purposed exclusively for trafficking victims in Japan. While the government made efforts to raise awareness to prevent trafficking, sources reported that some of the outreach campaigns the government undertook were ineffective and did not reach target audiences.

Recommendations for Japan: Draft and enact a comprehensive anti-trafficking law prohibiting all forms of trafficking and prescribing sufficiently stringent penalties that are commensurate with other serious crimes; significantly increase efforts to investigate and prosecute forced labor cases, and punish offenders with jail time; increase the enforcement of bans on deposits, punishment agreements, withholding of passports, and other practices that contribute to forced labor in the foreign trainee program; continue to proactively investigate and, where warranted, punish government complicity in trafficking or trafficking-related offenses; further expand and implement formal victim identification procedures to guide officials in the identification of forced labor; continue to ensure victims are not punished for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being in a human trafficking situation; establish protection policies for all victims of trafficking, including male victims and victims of forced labor; ensure that protection services, including medical and legal services, are fully accessible to victims of trafficking regardless of income; and aggressively investigate, prosecute, and punish Japanese nationals who engage in child sex tourism.


The Japanese government continued to make progress in prosecutions and convictions of forced prostitution of women and children; however, the government did not make significant progress combating labor trafficking or trafficking of male victims during the reporting period. Japan’s 2005 amendment to its criminal code, which prohibits the buying and selling of persons, provides a narrow definition of trafficking that is not in line with the 2000 UN TIP Protocol, and it is not clear if the existing legal framework criminalizes all severe forms of trafficking in persons. These laws prescribe punishments ranging from one to 10 years’ imprisonment, which are sufficiently stringent and generally commensurate with penalties prescribed for other serious crimes. In 2011, the government reported 25 investigations for offenses related to sex trafficking that resulted in 20 convictions, 18 of which carried prison sentences that ranged from 18 months to four years’ imprisonment. The government also reported 842 investigations related to child prostitution and reported 470 convictions on charges of child prostitution, 74 of which carried prison sentences that ranged from less than a year to three years. Despite indications of forced labor in the Industrial Trainee and Technical Internship Program, the government reported one forced labor investigation, and no labor trafficking arrests, prosecutions, or convictions during the reporting period. The National Police Agency (NPA), Ministry of Justice, Bureau of Immigration, and the Public Prosecutor’s office continued to train law enforcement officers on trafficking investigation and prosecution techniques. During the reporting period, all new police officers, all senior officials from prefectural police departments, and all immigration officers received training on trafficking investigation and identification techniques. Further, 63 prosecutors received specialized training on conducting trafficking prosecutions.

Most allegations of abuse or forced labor involving workers in the Trainee and Technical Internship Program were settled out of court or through administrative or civil hearings, resulting in penalties which would not be sufficiently stringent for cases involving trafficking offenses, such as forced labor. NGOs and labor activists report that the increased inspections of trainee program worksites as well as labor standards seminars provided to employers participating in the program have been successful in decreasing the incidence of abuse and forced labor in the program. The resolution of a civil compensation case documented in the 2011 TIP Report involving a 31-year-old Chinese trainee who died due to overwork had not been resolved by the end of the reporting period.

In addition, while the government took some steps to prevent government complicity in trafficking offenses, including prostitution, corruption remains a serious concern in the large entertainment industry in Japan. The government did not report investigations, prosecutions, convictions, or jail sentences against any official for trafficking-related complicity during the reporting period. The government actively investigated a February 2012 case in which a retired police chief was arrested in Japan for soliciting child prostitution.


The Government of Japan demonstrated modest efforts to protect victims of human trafficking over the last year. The government increased identification of sex trafficking victims in 2011, identifying 45 adult female victims, compared to the 43 victims identified during 2010. One of these victims had originally entered Japan as a participant in the Industrial Trainee and Technical Internship Program. The government has not identified a forced labor victim in Japan in 18 years, despite substantial evidence of abuses against workers in the Industrial Trainee and Technical Internship Program. Japanese authorities produced and distributed to officials a manual entitled, “How to Treat Human Trafficking Cases: Measures Regarding the Identification of Victims.” The manual’s focus, however, appears to be primarily on identifying the immigration status of foreign migrants and their methods of entering Japan, rather than identifying indicators of non-consensual exploitation of vulnerable populations. However, this manual led to the identification of trafficking victims in four prefectures that had never before identified victims. The government reported no specific protection policy or specialized services for victims of forced labor. Japan has no dedicated shelters for trafficking victims or clear sheltering resources for male victims. The government continued to provide general (not specific to human trafficking) funding for Japan’s 43 Women’s Consulting Center shelters (WCCs), which largely care for Japanese domestic violence victims but also served 37 foreign trafficking victims during the reporting period. Due to limitations on these shelters’ space, language, and counseling capabilities, WCCs sometimes referred victims to government subsidized NGO shelters. Victims in WCC shelters are technically able to leave the facility at will; however, security concerns are often asserted as the basis for requiring that facility personnel accompany the victims on outings. The government covers medical expenses in full for foreign and domestic victims while they shelter in government-run facilities; however, according to several organizations and government officials, referral to medical and psychological services for trafficking victims was inconsistent, and some victims were not referred to or offered these services in 2011. The government recognized and worked to correct these disparities, briefing victims prior to their arrival at the shelters, providing flyers at the shelters, and training WCC staff on available services.

According to NGOs, many victims refused to seek government assistance, due both to a fear of government authorities instilled in them by their traffickers, and, in some instances, fear of arrest and punishment for unlawful acts victims committed as a direct result of being trafficked. Some victims were also reluctant to seek government assistance due to the overall lack of protective services available to identified trafficking victims. Some trafficking victims were successfully identified by law enforcement subsequent to arrest or detention. The government-funded Legal Support Center provided pro bono legal services to destitute victims of crime, including trafficking victims, though it was unclear how many trafficking victims, if any, received government-funded legal services during the reporting period. The Japanese government identified 619 victims of child prostitution in the reporting period and the government juvenile protection agency provided protection services to these victims. Furthermore, while authorities reportedly encouraged victims’ participation in the investigation and prosecution of their traffickers, victims were not allowed to work while participating in the investigative and prosecutorial process. While long-term residency visas are available to persons identified as trafficking victims who fear returning to their home country, only one person has sought or received this benefit in the past. No trafficking victims were granted long-term residency visas during the reporting period.


The Japanese government made limited efforts to prevent trafficking in persons during the reporting period. The National Police Agency (NPA) and the Immigration Bureau updated and expanded multilingual emergency contact information for potential victims of trafficking. While the government distributed handbills with multilingual emergency contact information for potential victims of trafficking at local immigration offices and to governments of source countries, NGOs reported that many of these publicity efforts had little impact and failed to engage their intended audiences. The Immigration Bureau continued to conduct an online campaign to raise awareness of trafficking and used flyers to encourage local immigration offices to be alert for indications of trafficking.

For years, Japan has served as a source of demand for child sex tourism. Japanese men have traveled to and engaged in the commercial sexual exploitation of children in other Asian countries – particularly Thailand, Indonesia, Cambodia, the Philippines, and, to a lesser extent, Mongolia. During the reporting period, one person was convicted under a Japanese law that allows nationals to be tried in Japanese courts for engaging in sex with minors or producing child pornography overseas. Japan is not a party to the 2000 UN TIP Protocol, the only G-8 country that remains a non-party.

Yakuza Go On The Record About 3/11 Relief Efforts In July Fanzine (実話時代)

The enemy of my enemy is my friend.”—Yakuza saying.

It’s partly about living up to the slogans they profess for the yakuza doing the relief work–about helping the weak and fighting the powers that be. That’s the so-called humanitarian way (任侠道)they espouse. It’s also about getting a stake in the reconstruction of Japan. Construction is big business.” –Suzuki Tomohiko, author of Yakuza and The Nuclear Industry, investigative journalist, former yakuza fan magazine editor.

When you think of the first responders in a disaster-ridden country, you think of doctors, firemen, police officers—not usually the mafia, let alone the Japanese mafia aka the yakuza.

There are 79,000 of them in the country, and when you take into consideration their thousands of front companies, affiliated industries, and associated members—they are almost a second army in Japan, and as unlikely as it may seem—they were among Japan’s first responders. I’ve written the best account I could in Reconstructing 3/11 but as time goes by even more details emerge.

Yakuza fanzine JITSUWA JIDAI describes the post disaster relief efforts of one group in detail this month.

When I first wrote about the yakuza and their relief efforts in the Daily Beast after the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear meltdown that devastated Japan on March 11th last year–it was greeted with some skepticism. Admittedly, it wasn’t an easy subject to write about. Public opinion had turned against the yakuza, with good reason, and many of the tattooed gentlemen involved in the work were afraid that media coverage would force the police to crackdown on their relief efforts. There was also a legitimate concern, amongst the yakuza I spoke with, that works done in good faith would be seen as 売名行為 (baimei-koi)  or”self-advertisement.”

In this month’s yakuza fanzine, 実話時代 7月号, (Jitsuwa Jidai July 2012 edition), one yakuza group based in Tohoku (東北)aka northern Japan, the Inagawa-kai Koryu Ikka (稲川会紘龍一家)finally goes on the record about their efforts to help out in the crisis. Although there has been some reporting on relief work in the past, other than my own reporting, most of it has been very vague and lacking in details.  Jitsuwa Jidai has done an excellent job in detailing the efforts of one local yakuza group in helping their community deal with the aftermath of 3/11. Of course, the nature of the magazine is that they lavish tremendous praise on the group without recognizing that the yakuza are in general a parasite on Japanese society, involved in loan-sharking, financial fraud, extortion and other anti-social activities.

The article focusses on the damage, both from radiation and the earthquake in Koriyama, where the Inagawa-kai Koryu Ikka is headquartered. There is a detailed description of how the Inagawa-kai head office working with the local office collected diapers, chopsticks, cup noodles, flashlights and other daily essentials for the disaster victims–and how they carried the supplies to local city halls and shelters, by truckloads, under the cover of the night. I was unable to independently verify all of the article. Some it rings true–about the city distributing cup noodles but forgetting to distribute chopsticks. Cans of powdered milk but no milk bottles.

The article also points out that not only the Inagawa-kai but many other yakuza groups quietly did their best to help the displaced victims anonymously.  The piece closes with a yakuza boss explaining the reasons behind the group activities post 3/11:

“The Inagawa family motto is one word 我慢 (gaman/endurance).  This is a time when that motto is very important–in the face of a rain of falling spears or radioactive fall-out. We did our best to protect the people in our local turf. We looked out for the victims and the refugees, without fanfare, as best we could.”

I’d never argue that a few decent acts justify the existence of an organized crime group but we also have to admit that sometimes “bad people” may do good things, and in the face of disaster as a common enemy, there is a short time that we all are friends.


Note: Reconstructing 3/11: Earthquake, tsunami and nuclear meltdown-how Japan’s future depends on its understanding of the 2011 triple disaster is available as a free download today, June 11th. The book is written by several worthy authors but proceeds are not earmarked for charity. I’m giving my cut away and other individuals are doing the same. Just so there’s no confusion. All profits from the predecessor to this work Quakebook went to The Red Cross.

Reconstructing 3/11 is an excellent book on Japan's triple disaster and its meaning for Japan's future as well as lessons learned.

Amazon.com: Reconstructing 3/11: Earthquake, tsunami and nuclear meltdown – how Japan’s future depends on its understanding of the 2011 triple disaster eBook: Jake Adelstein, Michael Cucek, Kiyoshi Kurokawa, Philip Brasor, Our Man in Abiko, Sandra Barron, Dan Ryan: Kindle Store