Human Trafficking and Prostitution in Japan

Prostitution and Human Trafficking in Japan

Prostitution is known as one of the oldest and most well-paid jobs in the world. Some countries ban it and in other countries it is legal to have sexual intercourse in exchange for payment. Japan is one of the countries prohibit prostitution but its definition in the Japanese constitute is very vague; it sees sex work with penetration as prostitution. The sex industry exists in Japan supported by yakuza (gangs) because of its legal status. There are so many brothel-like houses and outsiders cannot know what is going on inside. The sex industry enriches gangs in Japan, which facilitates anti-social violence. Women who have been neglected by their family or sexually assaulted are said to be likely to take the job because they do not feel they are needed or loved otherwise.

What is controversial in Japan is, however, human trafficking and forced prostitution but not prostitution by choice. Most of the victims are foreigners, especially Southeast Asians, who are lured by Japanese high salaries. They find job advertisements written “easy manual labor”, “waitress”, etc. Some of them are instructed to come with no work visa and have their passport taken away, and find themselves unable to escape. Most of them are forced into prostitution for free. Because of Japanese strict immigration law, it is hard for them to report their cases, and they keep working until they are released.

According to an annual government report, the number of human trafficking cases peaked in 2005 with 117 victims, and subsequently dropped to 17 victims by 2013. Some people believe that the drop over this period was due to the introduction of stricter visa measures, but the number of cases increased again from 2014 onward, hitting 50 in 2016.

One of the reasons human trafficking and forced prostitution could not be eliminated is mild punishment for human trafficking. For example, a Cambodian woman was forced into prostitution in 2016 in Gumma, and the offender was sentenced to prison only for 2.5 years. A US State Department report released in 2016 noted that, in Japan, prison sentences for the offense can be substituted by fines, which is not strict enough.


Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) states in its article 4 “No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be
prohibited in all their forms”, and the Japanese government must deal with the human rights violation more strictly. It might work if it legalizes prostitution in the first place so that it can provide sex workers with health care. Illegality sometimes just makes something forbidden underground.  Actually this respects a human right (UDHR article 23, the right to free choice of employment), and its legal status can prevent some sex crimes. The Japanese government are recommended to enforce a law that protects foreign workers with no work visa in the cases of human trafficking and victims should be encouraged to report their cases.


Why are foreign women continuing to be forced into prostitution in Japan?, The Mainichi, June 10, 2017,, accessed on February 2, 2018

Universal Declaration of Human Rights,, accessed on February 2, 2018


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