Human Trafficking, the Japanese Commercial Sex Industry, and the Yakuza: Recommendations for the Japanese Government

By Amanda Jones
Cornell International Affairs Review
2010, Vol. 3 No. 2 | pg. 2/2 |


In order to decrease human trafficking in Japan, government officials must take a multi-dimensional approach to the problem, and approach that includes the signing of the UNTIP, forcing a shift in the perception of paying for sex, dismantling the strong organized crime networks, an increase in funding for operations to identify trafficking victims, and a cooperative regional agreement with members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

Sign the UNTIP

By signing the UNTIP Japanese officials prove, to the world and to their own citizens, they recognize that human trafficking is a global issue for which every country is responsible for remedying. By accepting responsibility for combating national and international human trafficking, Japanese officials will set a standard in Japan and help force a shift in beliefs concerning the commercial sex industry.

Force A Shift in the "Norm"

As the Sweden case indicates, it is possible to alter the perceptions of a nation in a relatively short time period. The demand for the commercial sex industry remains high throughout Japan and the relative acceptance of organized crime (the yakuza), the primary instigator behind human trafficking in Japan, induces an environment in which human trafficking thrives. In order to destroy this environment, the Japanese government must prove they have the political will to combat human trafficking throughout Japan. The following actions should be taken to decrease demand for the commercial sex industry:

Follow Sweden's lead

Criminalize the act of paying to have sex with trafficked women and children. This policy would need to be implemented in conjunction with increased funding for support services, such as health and psychological services, for prostitutes and victims of human trafficking. This policy idea is gaining prominence in the Netherlands, where prostitution is currently legal, as there is little evidence to indicate that legalization of prostitution has decreased crime as originally expected.22

Increase prosecutions

Japan currently has multiple laws addressing human trafficking (albeit not an all inclusive, comprehensive anti-trafficking law). One of these laws allows the Japanese government to prosecute Japanese nationals for crimes committed overseas, but this law has not been enacted since 2005. According to the U.S. Department of State, Japanese men continue to travel abroad to have sex with children and so violate the Japanese law protecting minors from abuse. If criminal activities such as this were prosecuted at a higher rate, it may cause a shift in behavior.

Criminalize possession of child porn

Although it is illegal to produce child pornography in Japan, it is not illegal to possess it. By decreasing access to child pornography, overall demand for the sexual exploitation of children will decrease.

Increase punishments for human trafficking

The current Japanese laws against the buying and selling of persons limits prison terms to ten years. By increasing the punishment associated with human trafficking, the Japanese government can increase the stigma associated with the commercial sex industry.

Dismantle the Yakuza

Although the yakuza has lost a great deal of prominence amongst the people of Japan over the last decade, their presence and the services they provide continue to be engrained in the Japanese culture. The Japanese government must diminish the role of the yakuza in Japanese society before they can dismantle the organization.

Implement a "strike force"

To combat the U.S. Mafia, the United States established a national investigative unit, the United States Organized Crime Strike Force, to inspect organized criminal activities and collect evidence to prosecute high ranking members of the mafia families. This body worked with other national and local law enforcement agencies to bring members of organized crime syndicates to justice. Because the yakuza ranks as one of the top four most complex criminal organizations in the world,23 the Japanese government should create a specialized investigative unit within the NPA to address organized crime.

Create a zero tolerance policy for corruption

The Japanese government must alter perceptions concerning the acceptance of the yakuza. The government should crackdown on police members and government officials who accept bribes from yakuza members to distill any beliefs that the government coexists peacefully with the yakuza.

Crack-down on suspected commercial sex businesses

Many commercial sex businesses advertising oral sex or call girl services pose as fronts for full scale prostitution rings. The Japanese police forces must monitor these businesses more closely to detect and break-up more prostitution rings and collect evidence against top yakuza members. This increased surveillance may also increase the number of victims identified.

Increase Funding for the Identification of Victims of Human Trafficking

Japanese police forces require additional training to better equip their members with the knowledge necessary to unearth non-mainstream commercial sex businesses in order to identify foreign and domestic victims of human trafficking. In addition, further training may help police forces track the yakuza money trail which may enable the government to more closely monitor new or changing business structures of the yakuza.

Increase training for investigative practices concerning the commercial sex industry

With the introduction of more stringent laws aimed at decreasing human trafficking in 2005, many fear the commercial sex industry has gone underground. The decreased number of prosecutions and the number of victims identified since 2005 may be indicative of this movement underground.

Work with ASEAN to Create a Regional Human Trafficking Policy

The flow of human beings to Japan is a regional issue. More than fifty percent of those trafficked in and within Japan are foreigners,24 and of those the large majority comes from developing countries in Asia. To decrease human trafficking in Japan and throughout the region, Japan should work with other members of ASEAN to create a regional, comprehensive human trafficking policy.

A Multi-Lateral Approach

The European Union created the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings in December of 2008 to combat the increase in human trafficking throughout the EU.25 Although ASEAN member countries are not as closely linked as those of the EU, they can simulate the actions taken by the EU in implementing a regional policy targeting human trafficking.

Japan Must Lead the Way

Throughout Asia, the primary concern will be the need to combat poverty as poverty serves as a catalyst for many of the schemes the yakuza and other gangs utilize to deceptively recruit sex workers. Japan will need to offer funding to many of these countries (particularly the Philippines, Thailand, and Indonesia) for national campaigns aimed at educating the population about tactics utilized to trick citizens into sex slavery.

Regional Action Against Organized Crime

Japan should also offer funding for increased training of immigration officials and police forces in ASEAN countries so that they may be better trained to identify potential victims of human trafficking. In addition to funding, Japan should provide better intelligence to other countries concerning the identities of yakuza members and international gang connections so that police forces in foreign countries can intercept criminals abroad. With more funding, training, and better intelligence per Japan, ASEAN can attempt to weaken links between the yakuza and other regional organized crime syndicates.


  1. United Nations, “Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children,”
  2. U.S. Department of State, “Trafficking in Persons Report 2008,” Introduction, pgs 1-53, June 2008,
  3. UNODC, “Global Report on Trafficking in Persons,” February 2009,
  4. Rollie Lal, “Chapter 10: Japanese Trafficking and Smuggling,” in Transnational Threats: Smuggling and Trafficking in Arms, Drugs, and Human Life, edited by Kimberly Thachuk. 2007. Westport, CT: Greenwood Publishing Group, Inc.
  5. Roth, Mitchell P. Organized Crime. 2010. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, Inc.
  6. Kaplan, David E. & Dubro, Alec. Yakuza: Japan’s Criminal Underworld. 2003. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.
  7. Ibid
  8. U.S. Department of State, “Trafficking in Persons Report 2008,” Introduction, pgs 1-53, June 2008,
  9. Ibid
  10. Rollie Lal, “Chapter 10: Japanese Trafficking and Smuggling,” in Transnational Threats: Smuggling and Trafficking in Arms, Drugs, and Human Life, edited by Kimberly Thachuk. 2007. Westport, CT: Greenwood Publishing Group, Inc.
  11. Japan Visitor, “Sex Glossary,”
  12. U.S. Department of State, “Trafficking in Persons Report 2008,” Introduction, pgs 1-53, June 2008,
  13. Japan Visitor, “Sex Glossary,”
  14. Ibid
  15. Kaplan, David E. & Dubro, Alec. Yakuza: Japan’s Criminal Underworld. 2003. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.
  16. Ibid
  17. UNODC, “Global Report on Trafficking in Persons,” February 2009,
  18. U.S. Department of State, “Trafficking in Persons Report 2008,” Introduction, pgs 1-53, June 2008,
  19., “Prostitution Ban Huge Success in Sweden,” 30 January 2008,
  20. Ibid
  21. Gregg Bucken-Knapp, “Swedish Attitudes Towards the Purchase of Sexual Services,” Nordic Prostitution Policy Reform, 9 February 2009, (Accessed 15 April, 2009).
  22. BBC, “Europe and NZ Poles Apart on Sex Trade,” 18 March 2009,
  23. PBS, “Wide Angle - Business of Human Trafficking: Criminal Groups,” 23 September 2003,
  24. UNODC, “Global Report on Trafficking in Persons,” February 2009,
  25. Council of Europe, “Action Against Trafficking in Human Persons,”

Photos courtesy of:

Suggested Reading from Inquiries Journal

Another factor in explaining the flourishing of the industry, however, is what globalization has not brought, for despite having allowed people from distant locales to communicate and trade, globalization has not necessarily fostered greater understanding among diverse peoples.  As such, many Northern sex tourists have attempted to justify their exploitation of foreign children with assertions that these children... MORE»
The role of women in ancient Japan elicits inconsistencies due to different influences that were integrated at various time periods. The primary influence that contributed to these inconsistencies was religion. Integration of the two major religions of Japan, Shintoism and Buddhism, created a paradox for the female identity; altering... MORE»
While the enslavement of humans has been occurring even before the dawn of written history, today's form of slavery occurs on an unprecedented scale in both scope and reach. This work attempts to understand the most vulnerable... MORE»
The decades to come witnessed Japan grow at an unprecedented rate, with its economy reaching heights that were unseen in Asia. But this massive growth[1] also came at the cost of Japanese society’s underclasses—the women, the outcastes, the landless laborers, the prostitutes and the peasants. In particular, the hugely... MORE»
Submit to Inquiries Journal, Get a Decision in 10-Days

Inquiries Journal provides undergraduate and graduate students around the world a platform for the wide dissemination of academic work over a range of core disciplines.

Representing the work of students from hundreds of institutions around the globe, Inquiries Journal's large database of academic articles is completely free. Learn more | Blog | Submit

Follow IJ

Latest in Political Science

2022, Vol. 14 No. 09
This interdisciplinary paper investigates the shortfalls and obstacles to success currently facing the climate movement, examining issues represented by the disconnect between policy and electoral politics, the hypocrisy and blatant indifference... Read Article »
2022, Vol. 14 No. 06
Two of the most prevalent protest movements in recent history were the Black Lives Matter and the #StopTheSteal movements. While there are many differences between the two, one of the most prevalent is their use of violence. Whereas the BLM movement... Read Article »
2022, Vol. 14 No. 05
Strong linkages between autocrats and the military are often seen as a necessary condition for authoritarian regime survival in the face of uprising. The Arab Spring of 2011 supports this contention: the armed forces in Libya and Syria suppressed... Read Article »
2022, Vol. 14 No. 04
During the summer of 2020, two fatal shootings occurred following Black Lives Matter protests. The first event involved Kyle Rittenhouse in Kenosha, Wisconsin, and the second Michael Reinoehl in Portland, Oregon. Two shootings, each committed by... Read Article »
2022, Vol. 14 No. 02
In popular international relations (IR) theory, knowledge production is often dismissed as an objective process between the researcher and the empirical world. This article rejects this notion and contends that the process of knowledge production... Read Article »
2022, Vol. 14 No. 01
This article explores the political relationship between nation-building, ethnicity, and democracy in the context of Ethiopia. It traces Ethiopia's poltical history, explores the consequential role ethnicity has played in the formation of the modern... Read Article »
2022, Vol. 14 No. 01
The study examines the degree to which Xi Jinping has brought about a strategic shift to the Chinese outward investment pattern and how this may present significant political leverage and military advantages for China in the Indian Ocean Region (... Read Article »

What are you looking for?


Finding Balance in Graduate School
7 Big Differences Between College and Graduate School
How to Select a Graduate Research Advisor