Patricia Aliperti & Catherine Makino on NJ Sexual Slavery/Human Trafficking in Japan


Hi Blog. Here is a situation covered only infrequently by the media and by the likes of (mainly because there is so little public information out there, and it’s a topic I’m not at liberty to research myself)–how sex trafficking, particularly that involving non-Japanese, is a flourishing business. And how Japan is one of the world’s major trading posts for it.

I’ve dealt with issues of slavery before (to this day, it exists in just about every country on the planet), but Japan’s has always had a wink-wink attitude towards the water trades–even by Prime Ministers regarding Japan’s historical connections–and especially when it comes to its particularly nasty variant involving foreigners. NJ “entertainers” (there was even an official visa category for it) are in a much weaker position linguistically (language barrier), economically (in more desperate straits) and legally (NJ have visas, meaning bosses can use denial of visa status as a further means for forcing compliance). This means it took gaiatsu (i.e. an unfavorable report from the US State Department) before the GOJ actually did anything meaningful about it.

Older article from Catherine Makino follows. And if you hope or think the situation has improved, check out this incredible Powerpoint presentation by Ms. Patricia Aliperti, Rotary World Peace Fellow at the International Christian University in Tokyo, which she gave me after a speech I attended at the Peace as a Global Language Conference in Kyoto last October 27:

Breathtaking in its breadth and depth, it will open your eyes to the issue. Arudou Debito in Sapporo


Japan Installs Caution Signal for Sex Traffic
Run Date: 07/18/05
By Catherine Makino WeNews correspondent
Courtesy of Aly Rustom

Japan has revised its criminal law to stipulate human trafficking as a crime and punish those involved. Activists, however, remain alarmed by foreign-staffed sex parlors that have made the country a haven for traffickers.

TOKYO (WOMENSENEWS)–There are about 10,000 parlors in Japan that offer sex to patrons.

Many advertise that they have foreign women by using such names as Filipina Pub, Russian Bar or Thai Delight. The patrons pay $60 to $100 for drinks and then an additional $150 to $300 to take women out of the bar to have sex with them.

Most of these women come to Japan on falsified passports or with entertainer or short-term visas, says Hidenori Sakanaka, who until a year ago was the director of the Tokyo Immigration Bureau. They are told that they have to pay off fake debts and their passports often are taken away upon arrival in Japan. The women are beaten and controlled by threats to family members in their home countries.

“Most women are moved from place to place and are too scared to complain,” Sakanaka says.

Sakanaka, who now directs the Japan Aid Association for North Korean Returnees, is credited with pushing through revisions to the law to combat trafficking while in his former post. Passed by the National Diet last month, it has helped abate international concerns about a country that has long been criticized for a too-tolerant an approach to trafficking.

On Saturday, the National Police Agency said police had uncovered 29 cases of human trafficking of foreign women from January to the end of June, up by five from the same period last year.

Despite these and other promising moves by Japan–brought about in part by the activism of Japanese women’s groups–international and local advocates continue to worry about the country’s problem with human trafficking, the world’s third-largest underworld business after trade in drugs and arms, netting $9.5 billion annually.

In a recent report the Japan Network against Trafficking in Persons said that the government’s heightened anti-trafficking efforts had so far not “made a dent.”

Fact-Finding Mission Last Week

Last week, Sigma Huda, the special rapporteur on trafficking for the U.N. Commission on Human Rights, came here on an unofficial fact-finding mission with activists, lawyers, lawmakers, academics and others concerned about human trafficking. The visit followed widespread reports–including by Amnesty International Japan–of South Asian women from developing nations being trafficked in this highly developed country.

“It’s the dark side of globalization,” says Huda, who is based in Bangladesh.

Reports indicate that about 130,000 women come to Japan on entertainer visas every year, but only about 10 percent of them actually perform in legitimate shows at hotels and other venues. Many obtain entertainment visas through agents who recruit them to Japan with promises of jobs that don’t exist.

Sakanaka traces the problem to immigration officials who bend to politicians and businessmen who hire foreign women for illicit purposes. “Some men even said I was out of my mind to try to do something about human trafficking,” he says. “They claimed it was part of Japanese culture to have sex with foreign women. They were addicted to the parlors. I received phone calls from politicians and anonymous threats on my life.”

Japan Kept Off Worst-Trafficker List

Earlier this month, the U.S. State department removed Japan from a special watch list of countries that were to be included on an updated listed as the worst condoners of human trafficking after the Japanese government compiled an action program to combat human traffickers. The State Department had put Japan on that list a year ago.

Under the new Japanese legislation, those who “purchase” people in order to control their activities will face punishment of up to five years in prison. The maximum punishment could be increased to seven years imprisonment if the victim is a minor.

The new legislation will also grant victims, on a case-by-case basis, special residency status even if they have overstayed their original visa, so that they can be rehabilitated.

Before these revisions, police dealt with trafficking by arresting the victims as illegal aliens, jailing them and deporting them as soon as they had enough money to fly home. Traffickers received a fine or a short jail sentence.

One of the most notorious traffickers, Koichi Hagiwara, known as Sony for his habit of videotaping his victims while he humiliated and tortured them, was sentenced in March 2003 and served less than two years in prison for violating labor laws.

Japanese Women Enraged

Japanese women have also pressured the government to do something about human trafficking.

“Many women were enraged by an article in the Asahi Shimbun, a major daily newspaper in Japan, about the practice,” says Sakanaka, the former director of the Immigration Bureau, referring to an investigative article published Oct. 18, 2003. “Until this article came out, Japanese women knew little about the situation. Women’s groups mobilized, and called up magazines and newspapers to protest the treatment of the women victims.”

The government, Sakanaka says, has neglected to investigate many of the abuse cases. These women, he says, live horrific, lonely lives, forced into having unprotected sex and perform other risky acts with dozens of customers a day. “These new laws are valuable. But they also need to strike at the center of organized crime.”

Sakanaka is concerned that most foreign women will be too scared to go to the police because they think they will be killed if they try to escape.

Chieko Tatsumi, an official in the International Organized Crime Division of Japan’s Foreign Ministry, disagrees. She believes the victims would seek protection from the police.

“There has already been an increase in the number of women asking for protection,” Tatsumi says. “In 2002, there were only two Thais who sought help, but in 2004 there were 25.”

She says that the government set a budget of $100,000 in April for helping women who come to a public shelter.

“The government will pay for rehabilitation for the victims of sexual enslavement and tickets for them to return to their home countries,” Tatsumi says. Not enough, says Sono[ko] Kawakami, campaign manager for Victims of Violence of Japan Amnesty International. The government’s measures fail to sufficiently protect victims and the amount of money budgeted to stop trafficking is insufficient, she says.

Her organization wants separate facilities for trafficking victims, rather than housing them with victims of domestic violence. Many victims are so traumatized that they won’t talk to anyone, so they require specialists to handle them, Kawakami says. Since many do not speak Japanese she also wants language translation support for the victims and specialists in human trafficking to assist them.

Although she believes the government can do more, she says the revisions to the criminal law affecting trafficking are a good start.
Keiko Otsu, director of Asian Women’s Shelter in Tokyo, is also pleased with the new laws, but says there are currently only two shelters available for these women.

“The women don’t have any income, assistance or support,” she says. “Some may be pregnant and many have mental and other health problems, including AIDs and other sexually transmitted diseases and need expensive medial care.”

Catherine Makino is a freelance writer in Tokyo. She has written for San Francisco Chronicle, the Japan Times, The Asian Wall Street Journal and the China Morning Post.

For more information:

Japan Network Against Trafficking in Persons:
International Organization for Migration:

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5 comments on “Patricia Aliperti & Catherine Makino on NJ Sexual Slavery/Human Trafficking in Japan

  • Johnny Tanini says:

    I hope things improve, but I won’t hold my breath. Money talks, and we all know how big the sex industry is in Japan, and how many people make money out of it.

    It’s highly likely too, that many of those with the power to make things change are part of the problem, frequenting and or profiting from such places.

  • Sigma Huda came here unofficially last month? So, where are the complaints against illegal, racist fingerprinting? Rightly conflating the two issues could hasten the end of both.

  • I am very suprised by the absence of publicity of this issue within Japan. I find it against the Japanese culture to have women subject to such horrible and illegal activities. However, it is tru that those kind of parlors are abundant in Japan and represent the income and way of life for many Japanese (men mostly). There is a issue there: the connection between the Yakusa and the politicias. I’d like to remind the readers that from the onset after WWII both Americans and politicians used the Yakuza to estabilize the country and control the population against the rising comunist penetration in Japan.

    So, Yakuza in Japan, who are in fact most of the human traffikers and owners of the business offering foreing women sex, have strong not publicized ties with the establishment. No wonder the low prision terms that still exist and the poor enforcement and assitance activities available currently.

    I congratulate you for bringing the issue and making it more available throeugh your blog for both foreigners and Japanese.

    No informaton means more chance for this issue to remain underground of the Japanese awarness.

  • Very informative articles. I run a ryokan (Kamesei) trying to cater to families and couples, in an onsen town (Togura-Kamiyamada) with 200+ bars, ‘snacks’, etc. We are trying our best to make a positive difference. Recently some guys staying with us left to go out to the bars. When they saw all the kids in our lobby, they commented how Kamesei had changed. That’s right, guys, your bad morals aren’t welcome here! Fortunately most of our guests come to Nagano for the beautiful nature and the onsen, not the bar girls.
    One other issue in this matter is the lack of viable alternatives for the landlords of the bars. Taking away the prostitution takes away the bars, and leaves the landlords without a source of income. Sad, but true. One other factor I’ve encountered is the attitude of the police. We’ve been ‘harrassed’ a few times to get passport info from our foreign guests as Nagano would make a convenient hideout for terrorists(?!?!). When I ask if their time wouldn’t be better spent on cracking down on prostitution perps, they beg off saying how complicated the problem is.
    Meanwhile, I will continue my efforts to increase the sphere of family-friendliness around here and hopefully, in doing so, make an impact on the prostitution issue.


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