Human Trafficking problem in Japan

Good morning everyone,

Today will be quite a bit nicer than yesterday. It's supposed to be mostly sunny with a high of around 26C. Tomorrow and the rest of the week will remain sunny with cloudy periods and slowly get warmer and warmer.

If you're the kind of person who doesn't enjoy reading negative things about Japan or if you don't like reading bad news, stop here. Today's blog is about human trafficking and forced prostitution of foreigners in Japan.

Living in Japan can be like living in a bubble sometimes. We're so insulated from the troubles of the world. Japan is clean, relatively egalitarian and safe. But it's not perfect. There's a sordid underbelly here that still exists even today and we are either unaware of it (like I was) or we turn a blind eye to it because it doesn't affect us.

The issue of foreign women being forced into prostitution in Japan has been around for generations and does not seem to be fading away. Just recently, three people in Gunma Prefecture were found guilty of forcing a Cambodian woman into prostitution.

"I've been forced into prostitution." These were the alarming words posted on the Cambodian Embassy's Facebook page in December 2016 by the woman who had been lured from Cambodia to Gunma Prefecture.

The woman, who had been tricked into moving to Japan with false guarantees of "earning approximately 300,000 yen per month through work like waitressing," was later forced to work as a prostitute, and rarely received the salary she had been promised. After managing to escape from her nightmare situation, she found refuge in the Cambodian Embassy in Tokyo, and was protected there with six other Cambodian women who had ended up in similar situations. The woman was able to return to Cambodia by late January, with the embassy stating that "she had become a victim in Japan."

On Jan. 19, 2017, Gunma Prefectural Police arrested two managers in their 40s of "snack" pubs in the city of Numata, and also in Ikaho, for allegedly forcing Cambodian women into prostitution -- without work visas. Following a search of the proprietor's house, it emerged that he had forced three Thai women into prostitution as well, emotionally blackmailing them into staying with statements such as, "You owe me 1 million yen for travel expenses."

There was also a case in 2012 of "snack" pub managers in Ikaho becoming involved in human trafficking. A Thai woman had been lured to Japan with the false promise of "a job in Japan that comes with a salary of 5.5 million yen," but she had her passport taken away upon her arrival in Japan and was made to work for free, with threats including, "You'll be in trouble if you run away."

In response to this spate of human trafficking cases in Japan, the obvious question is, "Why won't it go away?" Part of the problem is that we don't know exactly how bad it really is. There are a couple of reasons for this.

The first is the "visa wall." There are many cases whereby the victims have come into Japan on 90-day "short stay visas," which prevent them from working legally in Japan. Therefore, these victims tend to be reluctant to consult with authorities about their plight.

Secondly, it is common for these victims to have their passports and bankbooks taken off them after arriving in Japan, and also be subject to psychological intimidation and be held in captivity. There are also language barriers and cultural differences, such as the fact that "consulting with the police" is often rare in their home countries.

One reason the problem is not disappearing because it is lucrative for those involved. For example, in the case of the Cambodian woman, it has emerged that the "snack" pub proprietor in Ikaho pulled in about 4 million yen in just half a year through prostituting her and other women.

In addition, the relatively mild punishment is also a factor. A U.S. State Department report released in 2016 noted that, in Japan, prison sentences for human trafficking can be substituted by fines.

In one particular case, the three defendants were convicted and handed suspended sentences and fines. The proprietress of the "snack" pub in Numata was handed a 2 1/2-year sentence, suspended for five years, while the proprietor of the "snack" in Ikaho, and the gang member were given suspended sentences of 3 years and 2 years, respectively. Can you believe this? They forced a woman into prostitution and didn't spend any time in jail or even pay a fine? Does that sound reasonable to you? Can you imagine the outcry here if this happened to a Japanese woman in another country?

Other G7 countries have a much stricter stance, with prison sentences of 10 years or more being handed down in some human trafficking cases. Perhaps Japan will need to toughen its stance in the future as well, if cases of forced prostitution show no sign of disappearing.

What do you think? Am I overreacting as a fellow foreigner or do you think the punishment is far too light?

Have a great day!

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