Last Updated: Friday, 27 May 2016, 08:49 GMT

Trafficking in Persons Report 2010 - Japan

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 14 June 2010
Cite as United States Department of State, Trafficking in Persons Report 2010 - Japan, 14 June 2010, available at: [accessed 29 May 2016]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

JAPAN (Tier 2)

Japan is a destination, and to a much lesser extent, source and transit country for men, women, and children subjected to trafficking in persons, specifically forced labor and forced prostitution. Male and female migrant workers from China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam, and other Asian countries are sometimes subject to conditions of forced labor. Some women and children from East Asia, Southeast Asia, Eastern Europe, Russia, South America, and Latin America who travel to Japan for employment or fraudulent marriage are forced into prostitution. Japanese organized crime syndicates (the Yakuza) are believed to play a significant role in trafficking in Japan, both directly and indirectly. Traffickers strictly control the movements of victims, using debt bondage, threats of violence, and other coercive psychological methods to control victims. The media and NGOs continue to report abuses of the Industrial Trainee and Technical Internship Program (the "foreign trainee program"), including debt bondage, restrictions on movement, unpaid overtime, and fraud – elements which contribute to situations of trafficking. Women typically faced debt upwards of $49,000 upon commencement of their contracts, and had to pay employers additional fees for living expenses, medical care, and other necessities, leaving them predisposed to debt bondage. "Fines" for misbehavior added to their original debt, and the process that employers used to calculate these debts was not transparent. A growing and significant number of Japanese women and girls are victims of sex trafficking in the country, a highly lucrative industry for criminal networks and other operators in Japan. In the case of domestic victims, the threat of blackmail, credit card debts, and other debts from loan sharks are often used as coercive mechanisms in trafficking. Japan is a transit country for persons trafficked from East Asia to North America. Japanese men continue to be a significant source of demand for child sex tourism in Southeast Asia.

The Government of Japan does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. During the year, the government reported a record low number of trafficking victims identified and trafficking offenders prosecuted and convicted, while there was no empirical evidence of a decline in Japan's trafficking problem. In December 2009, the government issued an Action Plan to combat trafficking. Nevertheless, the government's efforts to investigate and prosecute trafficking cases, and identify and protect victims of trafficking remained inadequate. The government has never prosecuted a case of labor trafficking in the foreign trainee program. For the fourth consecutive year, the number of trafficking victims identified and assisted in Japan decreased significantly with no credible signs of a concurrent decline in Japan's trafficking problem.

Recommendations for Japan: Establish and implement formal victim identification procedures and train personnel who have contact with individuals arrested for prostitution, foreign trainees, or other migrants on the use of these procedures to identify a greater number of trafficking victims; expand proactive law enforcement efforts to investigate trafficking in businesses employing foreign workers and in commercial sex businesses; ensure that victims are not punished for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being trafficked; increase prosecutions and convictions of labor trafficking offenders; encourage the National Police Agency and to Japanese Embassies and Consulates instructing officials to cooperate to the extent possible with foreign authorities in investigating Japanese nationals involved in possible child sexual exploitation; continue to increase the availability and use of translation services and psychological counselors with native language ability at shelters for victims; and inform all identified victims of the availability of free legal assistance and options for immigration relief.


The Japanese government demonstrated diminished anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts during the reporting period. The government reported prosecuting and convicting five individuals in 2009 under Penal Code Article 226-2, Crimes of Buying or Selling of Human Beings. The government did not report sentencing data for the offenders. Historically, most convicted offenders receive suspended sentences. Japan does not have a comprehensive anti-trafficking laws, and does not keep statistics on the number of trafficking cases it investigates and prosecutes. Cooperation between the different bureaucracies that handle trafficking cases is not always conducive to establishing a clear statistical record that includes prosecutions, convictions and sentencing. The government did not adequately pursue investigations, prosecutions, and convictions of organized crime groups engaged in trafficking. Japan's 2005 amendment to its criminal code, which prohibits the buying and selling of persons, and a variety of other criminal code articles and laws, including the Labor Standards Law, and the Law for Punishing Acts Related to Child Prostitution and Child Pornography criminalizes trafficking and a wide range of related activities. However, it is unclear if the existing legal framework is sufficiently comprehensive to criminalize all severe forms of trafficking in persons. The 2005 Criminal Code amendment, prohibiting the buying and selling of persons, prescribes penalties of up to seven years' imprisonment, which is sufficiently stringent. The Immigration Bureau and Labor Standard Inspection Bodies continued to report hundreds of abuses by companies involved in the foreign trainee program. While many of these abuses were not trafficking-related, some serious abuses were reported including fraudulent terms of employment, restrictions on movement, withholding of salary payments, and debt bondage. Trainees sometimes had their travel documents taken from them and their movement controlled to prevent escape. However, the government did not exhibit efforts to adequately monitor and regulate its foreign trainee program, and has never criminally investigated, prosecuted, or convicted offenders of labor trafficking in the program. In December 2009, a senior immigration official was convicted and sentenced to two years' imprisonment with labor on charges of accepting bribes in exchange for favorable reviews of residence permits for female bar workers. Corruption remains a serious concern in the large and socially accepted entertainment industry in Japan, but government efforts against such corruption have been inadequate. The government sustained modest partnerships with NGOs and international organizations to train law enforcement officials on the recognition, investigation, and prosecution of trafficking crimes.


The government demonstrated diminished effort to identify and protect victims of trafficking during the reporting period. The number of trafficking victims identified overall by the Japanese government declined for the fourth consecutive year. Police authorities identified only 17 victims in 2009, down from 36 victims in 2008, 43 in 2007, 58 in 2006, and 116 in 2005. The government did not identify any male victims of trafficking, nor did it have any shelters available to male victims. Government efforts to protect Japanese child sex trafficking victims reportedly improved, but the government did not report the number of such victims identified. Informed observers continue to report that the government is not proactive in searching for victims among vulnerable populations. Although some Japanese authorities use an IOM-issued handbook on victim identification, authorities did not report having formal victim identification procedures. Moreover, although personnel in the various Japanese bureaucracies do have portfolios that include trafficking, the government does not appear to have any law enforcement or social services personnel dedicated solely to the human trafficking issue. All of the 17 identified victims were detained in government shelters for domestic violence victims – Women's Consulting Centers (WCCs) – that denied victims freedom of movement. The victims had access to medical care and received psychological care from an international organization. All of these victims were identified in vice establishments. Authorities have never identified a trafficking victim in the large population of foreign laborers in Japan, including in the "foreign trainee program." The government, in partnership with NGOs, reported improving access to native language interpreters. The government appears to do a poor job of informing trafficking victims that legal redress or compensation through a criminal or civil suit is possible under Japanese law. While authorities reported encouraging victims' participation in the investigation and prosecution of their traffickers, victims were not provided with any incentives for participation, such as the ability to work or generate income. Although the government claims the availability of a long-term residency visa for trafficking victims, no foreign victims have ever been granted such a visa. In 2009, Japan decreased its funding to the International Organization for Migration (IOM) from $300,000 to less than $190,000 for repatriation and reintegration assistance, which has had a detrimental effect on victim assistance efforts in the country, resulting in foreign victims unable to return home and victims unable to obtain reintegration assistance.


The Japanese government made limited efforts to prevent trafficking in persons with assistance from international organizations and NGOs. The government continued distribution of posters and handouts to raise awareness about trafficking. Authorities also continued law enforcement training at the National Police University and with IOM assistance. In July 2009, the government established a temporary working group, which included NGOs, to develop a new National Action Plan to combat trafficking, which was released in December 2009, though the new action plan does not include NGO partnerships. The government continued to fund a number of anti-trafficking projects around the world. For years, a significant number of Japanese men have traveled to other Asian countries, particularly the Philippines, Cambodia, and Thailand, to engage in sex with children. Authorities have not prosecuted a Japanese national for child sex tourism since 2005, and did not report investigating any such cases during the reporting period. Despite the country's thriving commercial sex industry, the government did not make any efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts or the demand for child sex tourism. Japan is not a party to the 2000 UN TIP Protocol.

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