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Human trafficking in Japan: the good and the bad

“C’mon, are you sure there’s human trafficking in Japan?” 

This is the most common response I get whenever I try to raise awareness about the issue in Japan. Unknown to most, the answer is sadly yes. 

What is human trafficking? Definitions differ, but basically, it is the movement of persons through force, fraud, or coercion in order to exploit them for profit. Human trafficking is one aspect of the bigger abomination that is modern slavery—the exploitation of individuals against their will.

Japan—a dark side

Japan is known for many good and wonderful things—sushi, samurai, Shinkansen. So it is hard to imagine that a little more than a decade ago it was the world’s largest receiving country for trafficked persons. 

Today, it remains a destination, source, and transit country for forced labour and sex trafficking, including children. Recently its Technical Internship Training Program (TITP), which places foreign trainees in Japanese companies, came under scrutiny following abuses by some “businesses” which placed trainees in unsavoury establishments. Traffickers also force foreign women into vice through fraudulent marriages with Japanese men. 

But foreigners make up only half of the desolate picture. While poverty is one of the reasons that many from other countries get trapped in human trafficking, the root of vulnerability amongst the Japanese usually lies in their longing to be valued and loved.

It’s not hard to find ads recruiting young, often underaged, Japanese girls into the JK business (joshi kousei meaning “high-school girls”) or selling services such as osanpo (going for walks) or rifure (reflexology) to male customers. Other vulnerable teens get paid for handing out flyers in skimpy outfits on the streets, or are charmed by part-time modelling contracts, but eventually find themselves trapped in the sex trade.

Good news about human trafficking in Japan

The good news is that Japan is taking positive steps to address these problems. A network of NGOs is working with the government to enforce stricter laws.* New TITP regulations have been introduced; under-18s are now prohibited from engaging in the JK business; and Japan’s largest airline is considering training their staff to spot trafficked victims on their flights. 

Also, a small group of prayer warriors has been gathering weekly in a church in Tokyo to pray for many years now. In addition to this, they organize talks and movie screenings to raise awareness. An NGO recently started by Japanese Christians is raising awareness in Japanese high schools and encouraging churches to share the love of Christ with victims and those at risk.

In America in the 1800s, a slave cost around USD40,000 in today’s currency. Today, the reported cost of a trafficked victim is USD90 . Human trafficking is the world’s fastest growing crime with an estimated 21 million people traffickeglobally. Major news networks now have dedicated columns covering chilling stories such as the sales of individuals. 

As the church, a redeemed chosen people who worship a just and merciful God, ought we ponder what we should be doing for our fellow brothers and sisters? 

Wilberforce was an abolitionist against slavery in England in the late 1700s and early 1800s. In his appeal to the British parliament against slavery, he said: “Having heard all of this, you may choose to look away, but you can never say again that you did not know.” And now that we know, we can all do something. 

“He has shown you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8 NKJV).

Further reading about human trafficking:

*JNATIP (Japan Network Against Trafficking in Persons) (Japanese site)

Will you pray for Japan?

  • That the Lord will foil the plans of the slaves of sin and rescue the slaves of men. Pray that he will save and transform all to become slaves of Christ.
  • That God will transform aspects of the Japanese culture that warp the biblical worldview and values of his people.
  • To raise Japanese Christians and churches who will love and speak of his eternal justice, mercy, and love within their spheres of influence.

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