A look at why the yakuza hitting the books is a sure-fire sign that the economy is hitting rock bottom, by Bloomberg’s William Pesek, with added flavor from Jake Adelstein.
Oct. 7 (Bloomberg) — Japan’s underworld can tell you a lot about what’s happening in the legitimate economy.
Gangsters are on the run as growth wanes and deflation worsens. Yet the oddest development by far involves yakuza members sitting for exams covering key aspects of their work.
If you think this is just a law-enforcement issue, think again. It’s a sign Japan’s funk will be longer than economists predict. That may surprise those betting Japan is recovering. Oddly, though, the plight of gangsters tells the story.
Huddled over legal texts and documents isn’t the popular image of Japan’s storied mobsters. When they aren’t collecting debts, shaking down shop owners, overseeing prostitution rings or rigging stocks, members of Japan’s biggest organized crime group, Yamaguchi-gumi, are studying for 12-page tests.
Note: I’ve been working with the Polaris Project Japan, a non-profit organization that combats human trafficking and sexual exploitation of women and children, since 2005 and recently agreed to be their temporary public relations director. In the last year, a lot of the calls coming to Polaris Project Japan were concerning Japanese teenage women who appeared to have been forced into the sex industry–not foreign women. It does seem that the Japanese government has been enforcing the anti-human trafficking laws to the point where there are significantly fewer non-Japanese women being made sex-slaves. However, it seems they have been replaced by young Japanese teenage girls, many of them runaways or abused children.
Polaris Project Japan had the brilliant idea of reaching out directly to these girls by making a mobile-phone web-site aimed at them, that was user friendly, and could offer some good advice. Young schoolgirls don’t read newspapers, don’t watch as much television as they did, and most of their communications is over cell-phones and social networking sites. Unfortunately, such sites have also becoming prime hunting grounds for pimps, low-life yakuza, and pedophiles who seek out fresh meat to use themselves or sell to others.
The contents of the consultations that Polaris Project Japan and their partner organization Yukon have gotten are quite unpleasant.
● From Host Club Patron To Forced Prostitution
A male Host asked a young victim come visit his club without worrying about money. After his begging continued, she went to the club a few times. Then, a different man from the club asked her for a few hundred thousand yen (a few thousand dollars) for the food and drinks she had consumed. She received threatening phone calls and was even ambushed at her own home. The men kept pressuring the girl to pay the bill, coercing her to go and work in the sex industry. Around that time, she was put in touch with Polaris, and after consulting with the police, she is safe once again.
Note: I covered incidents like this one as far back as 2000, when I was still a police reporter assigned to the 4th district. It’s a classic technique that yakuza or general low-lives use to force young women into the sex trade. Host clubs seems to be the equivalent of trafficking recruitment centers in many parts of Japan.
● A 14-year-old farmed out as a prostitute by her classmates
Her friends told her that she had a bad attitude, and forced her to apologize by paying money earned from prostitution. A few months later, through some website, she was introduced to a customer, and forced into prostitution. It had already been taken up as a case as a juvenile victim when she contacted this organization. She says, “I’m out of the situation, but I have nowhere to go. I always feel depressed.I let myself get picked up for casual sex, abuse my body, and start crying for no reason.” Polaris Project Japan provides her regular counseling and the support she needs.
Anyway, these are some of the cases that have come up in the last year, there probably are a lot more. Below is the press release for the web-site. The press conference was held April 1st (Japan time) at the Foreign Correspondent’s Club of Japan.
Polaris Project Japan Launches a New Mobile Website:
To help victims of child/teen prostitution
and child pornography and prevent further exploitation
The Polaris Project Japan (PPJ) is the Japanese branch of Polaris Project in Washington DC.PPJ has been operating a hot-line for human trafficking victims for several years In the last year, PPJ has been receiving more and more calls not just from the traditional human trafficking victims–foreign women ensnared in the sex industry–but Japanese teenage girls who have been lured or forced into the sex industry and can’t get out, and sometimes even been asked by their own parents to work in the industry to make money for their family members.
Contrary to the popular picture of Japanese teenage prostitutes as clueless teenagers who just want to earn money to buy a designer bag–many of the girls now in the industry are there because of financial necessity and a lack of support for abused girls and boys who run away from home.
Many of these victims are recruited over the internet and or/are sold over social networking sites by their pimps–like commodities.
The National Police Agency reported in 2008 internet Profile sites and Social networking sites are the hotbeds of child sex crimes, surpassing the net dating sites (which were originally the hub of sex trafficking).
It is hard to measure the extent of the problem because no Japanese government agency has attempted a comprehensive survey, and the laws protecting children are administrated by many different government agencies and ministries that do not share information or work together.
To provide an effective and systematical intervention to prevent sexual exploitation of adolescents and help victims, Polaris Project is launching a website:
¨To provide an environment to seek counseling in a safe and anonymous way.
¨To give information to questions like “What happens if….”, rather than sending simple “Stop” or “Danger” signs.
¨To eliminate the embarrassment and fear of seeking counseling face to face by allowing contacts via website and phone.
¨To inform the victims of additional channels of help available.
Polaris Project will also be working with The Children’s Human Rights Committee of the Japan Lawyer’s Association, Prefectural Women’s Centers, and Children’s Shelters to make sure that the children calling receive the best care and advice possible. It will also advertise on sites popular with Japanese youth to make sure the message reaches those who are most vulnerable.
【About Polaris Project】
Polaris Project is a non-profit organization that combats human trafficking and sexual exploitation of women and children. It was established in 2002 in Washington D.C., USA. In 2004, the Japan office was launched in Tokyo. Our activities and projects include victim outreach, multi-lingual hotline, victim support, and workshops for public and government agencies in positions of direct contact with victims.