This essay was for an Asian Studies class titled 'Girls, Ganja, and Gambling. From South-East Asian, I chose to write on the Yakuza, Sex-Trafficking, and the actions the Japanese government is taking to control this major issue in present Japanese society. This was for my final paper, and it took a great deal of time to research and present.

The Yakuza, Sex-Trafficking, and the Japanese Diet

     The yakuza, also known as the boryokudan, began in the late Tokugawa Period, 1600-1868 with meager beginnings as street merchants or gamblers. It was at the beginning of the Meiji Period (1868-1912) that the yakuza became politically active, taking part in political rebellions. By the late 1880’s yakuza were hired as henchmen by political parties, intimidating their opposition, disrupting speeches, and scaring electors. Over time, members or the yakuza or the men with close ties to the yakuza began infiltrating the Japanese Diet. From here, they could use their influence to persuade the outcome of laws in their favor.

     Despite this, alleged yakuza members in the Diet could not prevent the rash of recent laws and reforms from being passed by the Diet which crack down on yakuza activities. The Boryokudan Taisaku Ho, known as the Botaiho for short, was passed in May of 1991. This law allowed the Public Safety Commission to identify yakuza groups, shut down their offices for designated periods of time, prohibit financial activities, debt collection, recruitment of youth into the ranks of yakuza, and punishment even trickled down to those who affiliated with the yakuza. As a result of both the social and legal constrictions of their activity, the yakuza have turned increasing to sex trafficking as a means of profit.

     In March of this year, the US State Department, in an annual human rights report, documented a staggering 200, 000 women and children as victims of sex-trafficking every year in Japan. These women and children mainly come from the South East Asian countries of Thailand and the Philippines, but a growing number are coming from the countries of Columbia, Brazil, Mexico, South Korea, Malaysia, Russia, and Indonesia as well.

     To get a better grasp of and clarifying human trafficking, there must be a globally recognized definition for it. Thus, in January 0f 2004, the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime supplemented the Palermo Protocol against the Smuggling of Migrants by Land, Sea and Air. According this protocol defines human trafficking as the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring, or receipt of persons by means of threat, force, and other forms of coercion, abduction, fraud, or deception to achieve control of another person for the purpose of exploitation. Exploitation, in this case, is the exploitation of sexual services or forced labor, slavery or servitude unto others. The coercion used by the yakuza to recruit women includes advertisements for models, well paying jobs as waitresses, factory workers, or nannies. Sometimes even the family or friends of the young girl or woman is a part of the scheme. Regardless, they go to Japan to escape financial hardships with hopes of a better life for themselves, or what is most often the case, making enough money to send home to support their families. Even the women and girls who have some idea of the sex-related work that they are brought to Japan to perform have no idea how severe their situation will become. They are given money for a passport, or a fake passport is provided, and money for the plane ticket and because of this, they arrive in Japan with a debt of 1 to 3 million yen hanging over their heads that they would never be able to repay. A debt they are forced to work off in the sex industry.

     Once aware of the work they are forced to perform, most of the women that want to leave cannot. The yakuza makes threats of physical injury to the women or their families back at home, withholds their passport, plane tickets, or salary, and restricts their freedom. They cannot receive help from the police because they are on overstayed visas, and as a result are not legally or officially allowed in Japan.

     Along with the issue of overstayed visas, catching the yakuza in the act of forcing prostitution has become exceedingly difficult. The yakuza already have power over the women because they hold their identification and their salaries, and when a woman does manage to escape and report to the police there is no evidence to be found. This is because yakuza are increasingly hiding sex work. During a paid date, the women are expected to have sex with the man but this fact is hidden by the yakuza under the front that the costumer pays only for the date—anything else is between consenting adults. The women can also be made to work in brothels that have the appearance of a regular household on the outside, and other such establishments that are not reported but renowned as being places one can pay for sex.

     The question is, what is the Japanese government doing about these issues? Due to Japan coming into the global spotlight as a hotspot for human trafficking, the Diet has made major movements within recent years to decrease the number of sex trafficking cases. In 1999, the Law of Punishment of organized Crimes was passed, forcing the yakuza to report their earnings and confiscating crime related assets. In May of 2002 the Law on the Prohibition of Prostitution was revised which specifically punished brokers of prostitution or anyone found guilty of coercion or inducement of another into prostitution with two year imprisonment or a 50,000 yen fine. The Basic Law on Gender passed in 1998 aims to address what could be considered the underlying problem in trafficking, sexual discrimination towards women, by building a gender equal society. And most notably, in January of this year, the Diet revised the Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Law. This Law will allow the victims of sex trafficking special residency status, despite their expired visa, so that they may seek help. In the past, victim or not, these women were simply deported. The respective embassies of the nations the women come from are also making greater moves to help these women by providing shelter to them discreet and secret place until a plane ticket home can be secured for them. NGO’s are also doing their part by providing hotline numbers posted in prostitution ‘hot spots,’ places known for sex-trafficked prostitution, and providing semi-guarded shelters for the women to reside in.

     The majority of the laws being passed are aimed at Japan’s entertainment and sex industry by decreasing their hours of operation, age limits, providing more definitive definitions of what is and is not allowed at such establishments, mailings to households advertising these businesses, and large fines should any of these requirements not be met.

     Without a doubt, long before U.S. Department of State report, sex-trafficking has been an issue in Japan. Subsequently, the motives of the Japanese government must be questioned: is the Diet passing laws because it sincerely wishes to end sex trafficking and help these women, or with a culture that places emphasis on not losing face and being shamed, only trying to get out of the spotlight. It was up until the end of the Meiji Period in the early 1900s that Japanese society embraced the policy of ‘ryousaikenbo,’ translated as ‘good wife, good mother,’ in which women were expected to be subservient to either their fathers or husbands, and stay home to care for the home and children. During this period, young upper class girls were allowed education, but only classes in the arts, suck as flower arrangement, playing the harp, or learning English were offered. Japanese women could not even vote until 1946, a mere 59 years ago. Even Japan’s office lady of today is socially expected to serve tea to her male coworkers. When investigative such evidence, it is clear that the manner in which Japanese women are seen in Japanese society leaves much to be desired. With a society that, more or less, sees women on a different level than men, what motivation does the Diet have to create and pass laws that would seek to permanently put a stop to sex-trafficking?

     Japanese society operates on the underlying ideology of shame and honor. Suicide is often seen the honorable route rather than ‘losing face’ and bringing shame to one’s self, family, or nation. Without a doubt, being recognized globally as the country with the highest cases of sex-trafficking is shameful for the Japanese government, as it reflects poorly on Japan, so it natural that the Diet world pass drastic laws and reform previous laws to bring about a sudden and drastic decrease to the number of cases of sex –trafficking so that the nation of Japan will not continue to be looked down upon by the rest of the world. These laws may also have a dual usage: the first to take Japan out of the spotlight as a human trafficking hotspot, the second to bring praise to Japan for so quickly and effectively handling the problem. If Japan is able to reduce the number of cases from the reported 200,000 women and children a year to, say, 10,000, the Japanese government would look extremely efficient. Besides the view of Japanese women by society, another underlying issue is the way that Japan perceives the rest of Asia. The study of eugenics and the belief of Japanese racial superiority, in comparison to the rest of South East Asia has been and still retains a level of belief and popularity in Japan today. A popular book by Okuma Eiji in the mid1900’s called 1940 The Genealogy of 'Japanese' Self-Images supported and attempted to prove Japanese racial superiority. Historical events, such as the thousands of Chinese slaughtered in the Nanking Masacre in 1937 and the Korean comfort women during World War II , and the repeated visits to Yasukuni Shrine, which houses class A war criminals, by Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro stand as proof of Japan’s often disregard or negligence when it comes to matters of her neighbors. Finally, there is the relationship between the yakuza and the government. As before mentioned, there are members, yakuza, or men who have close ties with the yakuza directly, by becoming politicians, or indirectly, with bribes or blackmail, participating in Japanese politics. It is well known that President Dwight Eisenhower’s visit to Japan in 1960 was made secure by the aid of government enlisted yakuza. The yakuza have been known to exist for centuries, yet still endure. It seems as that if Japan had any top priorities of getting rid of the yakuza, that would have been done long ago. Myths that the yakuza evolved from samurais, once highly respected and admired members of Japanese noble society, and uphold the strict code of bushido adds somewhat of a romantic and respectable view of the yakuza. Even if the yakuza did descend from the noble samurai class of the Feudal Period, what is important to remember is that the yakuza of today deal drugs and trafficking women and Japanese society must quash any romanticized view of the yakuza.

     In the end, the permanent stop to sex trafficking in Japan has meek prospects. In short the Japanese entertainment industry is huge. Love hotels, soap lands, and hostess clubs where women cater men are socially accepted in Japan. As long as the sex industry continues to boom in Japan, their will be a constant need for women to fulfill this need. With the yakuza’s influence on Japanese government, and the overall negative or indifferent view on other Asians and women, and once new reports are made that attest to the Japanese government lowering the number of cases in human trafficking, it can be assumed that the Japanese Diet will do just enough to be sure Japan stays out of the headlines, but nothing more than this. In order to bring a complete stop to the number of women and children trafficked into Japan, there has to be major changes made to Japanese society to change the way women, Asians, and the yakuza are seen. More attention should also be brought to finding and flushing out yakuza leaders and yakuza politicians, as well as politicians that have close dealings or ties with the yakuza, as they have the ability to sway laws to their own favor. Given that sex trafficking provides the yakuza with almost half of its income, when and if human trafficking is stopped in Japan, a serious crippling financial blow will be dealt to the yakuza, giving them less money to devote to running for political offices or buying out politicians and police officers, and could very well bring about the eventual end of the yakuza as well

© Caroline Alicia Harris

post script If you are the copyright owner of anything metioned in the above essay, I do have the bibliography os my sources if you need to see them. I choose not to post them on this site, in the hopes nothing will be reused.