NPR interview with Jake Adelstein, author “Tokyo Vice”, on how police and laws do not stop NJ human trafficking in Japan


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Hi Blog. Jake Adelstein, whose new book TOKYO VICE just came out, was interviewed on America’s National Public Radio program “FRESH AIR” on November 10, 2009. What follows is an excerpt from their podcast, minute 23:45 onwards, which talks about how domestic laws hamstring the NPA from actually cracking down on human trafficking and exploiting NJ for Japan’s sex trades. Jake’s work in part enabled the US State Department to list Japan as a Tier-Two Human Trafficker, and got Japan to pass more effective domestic laws against it.

Read on to see how the process works in particular against NJ, given their especially weak position (both legally and languagewise). If NJ go to the police to report their exploitation, it’s the NJ who get arrested (and deported), not the trafficker. And then the trafficker goes after the NJ’s family overseas.  Glad people like Jake are out there exposing this sort of thing.  Arudou Debito in Sapporo


DAVE DAVIES: On a more serious note, you became aware of some women who were working in the sex industry, who appear not to be there of their own free will. There was human trafficking going on. How did it work in the cases that you found?

JAKE ADELSTEIN: Japan is much better than it was than the time I started writing about this. But essentially it works like this: You bring foreign women into the country, often under false pretences — that they would be working as hostesses, or working as waitresses in a restaurant. You take away their passports. You put them in a room. You monitor their activities so that they can’t leave. And then you take them to the clubs where they have sexual relations with the customers. And, aren’t paid. The women have no freedom of movement. They’re told, after they’ve slept with a customer, or been forced to sleep with a customer — sometimes they were raped first, so they’d get used to the job — that if they go to the police, since they’re in Japan illegally, that they would be deported and they would still owe money for their travel expenses to Japan. And very often these traffickers would have agents within the countries where they were recruiting these women, often Eastern Europe, and contact the families of the women under various pretexts, to let them know that if they disobeyed, or did something in Japan or ran away, that their families back home would be menaced or killed.

DAVE DAVIES: You worked really hard to develop sources, and get enough on the record to write a story about this going on, and identify some of the people who were operating these human trafficking sex joints. What was the reaction among the police and other authorities when you exposed this?

JAKE ADELSTEIN: The reaction was that they asked me to introduce them to some of the women who were victims, so that they could *arrest* them, and have a pretext to raid these clubs. An officer there I really liked a lot named Iida-san said, “I’d love to put these places out of business. But you have to understand that these women, while they are victims, that we can’t protect them. We have to prosecute them under Japanese law. There is no provision in the law that allows us to keep them in the country while we do the investigation. So, I *could* do the investigation, and I could put these people out of business, but in order to do that, I’m going to have to have you put me in contact with some of the women, and I’m not going to be able to take a statement from them without arresting them.” And I couldn’t do that.

I went to another division of the police department and asked them, “Can you do anything about that?” And they said, “We can do something about it, but first of all, we don’t have enough people who speak foreign languages to do a very competent investigation right now. And we’ve got a lot of other things on our plate. While your article is good, it is not something that is immediately actionable for us.”

DAVE DAVIES: Which was enormously frustrating for you.

JAKE ADELSTEIN: It was *enormously* frustrating. And when I realized of course was that, while the cops have problems with this and would like to do the investigations and put these people out of business, that essentially the law wouldn’t let them do it. That’s why I began writing about the flaws in the law, the whole legal system, and I also began taking studies and information and stories that I had written up as a reporter to the US State Department representative at the Embassy in Tokyo.

DAVE DAVIES: In effect, by embarrassing the government, you were able to get some reform?

JAKE ADELSTEIN: Yes. I can’t take total credit, but I would like to take some credit for supplying the US Government with enough information that they could embarrass Japan enough so that Japan felt compelled to actually put some laws on the books that trafficking harder to do. One of the things I was most proud of was, the International Labor Organization did a very scathing study of human trafficking problems in Japan — pointing out the victims weren’t protected, the traffickers were lightly punished, fined, and rarely did jail time. Which the Japanese Government, which sponsored this study, told them “never release”. I was able to get a copy of that report and put it on the front page of our newspaper as a scoop, while the Japanese Government was still getting ready to announce their plan of action. And I think that had a very positive effect of making them put together a plan that was actually effective.

16 comments on “NPR interview with Jake Adelstein, author “Tokyo Vice”, on how police and laws do not stop NJ human trafficking in Japan

  • Jake Adlestein will be on The Daily Show to promote his book…ah, last night in the USA which will be sometime this afternoon here. You can watch it on the The Daily Show’s website after it comes out (if you’re in Japan. They do block some countries from watching the videos).

  • Excuse me. If there are ways to stop prostitution by illegal immigrants, the US should show the world how to do it, rather than condemning other countries for their inability, which the US cannot do either.

    Why did not the writer report the traffickers to the police? If he did, the illegal immigrants are deported and repatriated, and the traffickers are arrested. That is a happy ending for all, unless he is making up a whole story. By the way, I see similar stories on US dramas once so often.

    Prostitution is prohibited by Prostitution Prevention Act (売春防止法). Though prostitution is a crime, prostitutes are not punished unless they solicit in public (article 5). However, pimps are punished by 5 years in prison, regardless their prostitutes solicit in public or in private (article 8).

    I do not see much need for law change.

    — No, I guess you wouldn’t. Especially if you see a “happy end” in NJ being simply arrested and deported after all they went through.

    Let’s chart the self-delusion this time, HO: This is a published author deriving his information from accredited news stories he published as an accredited reporter in one of Japan’s largest newspapers. How facile of you to imply that he could be making this all up! And that it’s somehow the US’s fault for not leading by example…!

  • Human trafficking is a scourge of many, maybe even most, countries and certainly not just limited to Japan. I think the point being made in this instance is that the traffickees, if you will, are unduly punished by the system for coming forward rather than being protected. In Japan, they may be technically overstayers and/or — of course — engaging in work that is not allowed under their visa requirements and so are subject to punishment/deportation/imprisonment or other legal recourse based on that. I’m not naive enough to suggest that people being traded have all come here innocently expecting to serve drinks in a waitressing capacity and nothing else but regardless, they are being victimized here and that is not right. The trafficking of Japanese and non-Japanese alike is an issue that should be addressed. This crosses racial/ethnic and national barriers although Japanese citizens have better protection under the law and would not face immediate deportation.

    I’m not certain how other countries handle the situation but I think in some other jurisdictions there may be elements in place that allow the victims of human trafficking to remain in country at least as long as it takes for the case to be adjudicated. Law enforcement here would not seem to be overly sympathetic (or is overly constrained) in helping the victims. Another point is that traffickers get off too lightly so there is little to act as a deterrent to them in continuing these practices. Recent restrictions and control on visa applications has eliminated some of these illegal activities but, like narcotics trafficking, where there is money to be made and a market for the product/services, there will be unsavory types there to fill the demand.

  • In the U.S. they have T visas (albeit a small number of applications actually occurs) for victims — undocumented or visa ovestaying victims of sex/human trafficking.
    Since these people (majority are women, in case of sex industry) are victims, they need help and rehabilitation to recover from their trauma, not just to be expelled from the country.
    Adelstein is an investigative journalist, it’s him, not the U.S., who wrote the book.

  • Until the majority of the general population stops frequenting the establishments where women are being exploited, the exploitation will continue.

    I see several steps in the reduction of exploitation: 1. Legislate to provide a framework for prosecution of all participants and protection of victims. 2. Prosecute and shame all who participate in the exploitation of women (including pimps, customers, agents and blind police/immigration officers) 3. Lead by example and vote with your feet (boycott the city wards that harbor such premises and starve them out). We all have a responsibility.

    Side note: Debito, in spite of your Japanese citizenship it seems that people like Ho can still see a Star Spangled Banner underneath, hence the comments regarding the USA leading the way. Unfortunately if you stand for something you will become a target; keep it up!

  • Dwrightman, just to clarify, I criticised the US because US State Department listed Japan as a Tier-Two Human Trafficker. I really dislike their hypocritical blame-the-foreign-nations attitude.
    It was not directed against Debito.

    — So, do you deny the existence of human trafficking in Japan, as reported by Adelstein and the US State Department?

  • Justin, to validate my comments. At my previous employer in Japan the majority of the male staff members had entered such premises, in fact such venues were considered “ideal” customer entertainment and were frequented…often…. This applied from top to bottom.

    My point is that until it becomes socially unacceptable to be associated with such venues as a “consumer” the exploitation will continue. The US seems to effectively shame public figures engaging in these activities in the media. Can’t imagine who you would see if NHK streamed live from the genkan……

  • Andrew Smallacombe says:

    I recall a poll in the Yomiuri a number of years back on how readers felt Japan should deal with human trafficking. The majority of votes were for dealing with the trafficked. Tougher laws against employers and brokers (traffickers) received far fewer votes.
    That said, I’ve also seen posters around koban warning people “not to destroy someone’s life” by aiding and abetting human trafficking.

    — Yes, and the attitude I’ve seen with people who don’t want to punish traffickers all that harshly is that 1) they have a living to make too (this attitude also came up towards the exclusionary onsens during the Otaru Case), and 2) these foreigners are over here making money off Japan, so what happens to them is partially their comeuppance (viz. the attitude behind “Japayuki”). “After all, working in Japan is tough, and if you get paid you have to, like everyone, put up with workplace crap. In the Water Trades, well, you’re getting paid handsomely, right? More than you would in your unsafe impoverished country, right?” And so on.

  • HO and the police seem to overlook the fact that the cases Adelstein was talking about involved women who entered the country *legally* but were then forcibly placed into illegal status. Does one arrest a kidnap victim for failing to make a court appearance, for example?

    Another point that has been raised is that this type of treatment is not reserved to women brought from overseas. Baiting women inside Japan with false promises regarding type, conditions, and payment of employment, then using various coercive means (rigged debts for housing, et al.) to hold them in compliance, is common practice in the onsen hotel business, for example, not just the outright “water trades”.

    It is not a question of “let him who is without sin cast the first stone”, but of the attitudes toward exploitation accepted by the mainstream of society. Japan is the focus of this blog, so it is the ugly bits in mainstream Japanese society that it is appropriate to look at here.

    — Not to mention it is the GOJ sponsoring these “Entertainer Visas” which so easily become a means to traffic people.

  • Hey Debito-san,

    The level of discourse on this blog is amazing. Thanks for pulling out some of the more meaningful parts of the interview on NPR. Mr. Davies had read the book quite diligently and he asked excellent questions.

    — Thanks for saying so, Jake!

  • Very interesting interview.

    However, I was a little confused about what he said with regard to hostess clubs. He said the following:

    “A hostess club is essentially, you go into the club and you pay either by the hour or usually an hourly fee or a set fee, for a woman to sit next to you and pour your drinks and light your cigarettes and flirt with you as if you – and sometimes sing karaoke with you, as if she was your girlfriend. That’s what happens at a hostess club. It’s not about buying sex. It’s about buying affection, the feeling, the girlfriend experience, if you will. […] Sexual favors are not exchanged and, as matter of fact, if a host or hostess has sexual relations with a customer outside of the working hours, they’re usually fired. Sexual favors are not exchanged and, as matter of fact, if a host or hostess has sexual relations with a customer outside of the working hours, they’re usually fired.”

    My understanding is that while there are hostess clubs like the ones he described, there are many where there are “dohan” — where the hostesses go out on “dates” with their customers and often have sex with them. The club owners are either aware of this or even encourage it. I have also read articles about the “satcho hosts” who work at host clubs but also go out on “dates” with clients and have sex with them. Could Mr. Adelstein or others here provide some more information and clarification?

  • From my understanding, Steve, it’s a mixed bag. There are hostess clubs on the up-and-up, that act as Adelstein describes in the interview. But according to the author of Bar Flower (, there are incidents even in the most upscale of clubs from girls looking to make more money (or get kicks, or some other thrills). I would say it entirely depends on the reputation of the club.


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