Human trafficking in Japan: Actions Against the Commercialization of Sex

In Japan, several organizations fight against the commercialization of sex, human trafficking but also try to prevent young girls from adult video scouting and joshi kosei practices.

“I think we are making our sex disposable, like a fast food. You crave for it and you buy it. It’s instant gratification” says Shihoko Fujiwara shares in one of her TEDxTokyo talks, straightforwardly. During her speech, the founder of NGO Lighthouse, shared the story of a thirteen-year-old girl who was forced into sex industry for two months. Her clients would be college students or even men the same age as her grandfather. She was probably scouted through a website commonly used by interested men to choose the girl they want to meet, as if it’s not a person but only a product to fulfill a craving. “I think we can choose a society were the commercialisation of sex is our daily life or, we choose a society where we teach our children the importance of sexuality and the positive side of sex and how to build an intimate relationship.”

The NGO Lighthouse: Center for Human Trafficking Victims, founded in 2004 by Shihoko Fujiwara, is leading the fight for eradicating the issue of human and sex trafficking in Japan and worldwide. The activist worked in the anti-trafficking organization Polaris in the US and when she came home in Japan, she started Lighthouse (previously named Polaris Project Japan). Fujiwara and her staff soon received many messages in their hotline from victims who shared their stories. In 2015, Lighthouse disclosed pieces of evidence on the trafficking of children, child pornography and prostitution in Japan to the UN Special Rapporteur to raise more awareness internationally.

According to the Global Slavery Index 2018, at least 0.3 for every thousand people in Japan were living in conditions of modern slavery in 2016. In the same year, the Government found 50 victims of human trafficking, 37 of which were involved in sexual exploitation and 9 were forced to work as hostesses – this mainly applies to foreign workers, mostly Filipino women, who came to Japan after being offered good jobs and high salaries, but ended up in sex work instead.

AV scouting and JK industry

Another common form of sexual exploitation is the AV (Adult Videos) scouting: everyday in the streets young women and girls are stopped and asked if they’re interested in a job as a model or actress, but those who accept and sign the contract are usually dragged into porn industry.

One of the most concerning forms of human trafficking is the so called JK industry, where JK stands for joshi kōsei (high school girls). High school and underage girls – especially those who belong to vulnerable families – are scouted via kawaii advertisements online to work in cafés and entertain a clientele of adult men. While the service is supposed to be only a chat or uranagi, the cases in which it turns into sex abuse and prostitution are not rare.

The presence of such industries and the cheap ways Japanese girls can access them are red flag for misogyny in Japanese society. Women are treated as items on sale and only irrelevant measures have been taken from the authorities to stop those crimes. The peak was reached last week, with a controversy over a Red Cross poster – that was meant to invite more people to donate their blood – showing the anime character Uzaki-chan (from Uzaki-chan wants to hang out) in an over-sexualised scene. The objectification of women is still an appealing marketing strategy, even when the purpose is blood donation.

A café for young girls in need

While the Government is taking no responsibility for human trafficking, self-driven women have been taken action to aid the victims. One of the NPO founded to help young girls forced into sex exploitation is the Bond Project. Jun Tachibana and the Bond staff drive their Bond Car in the streets of Tokyo to find the runaway girls who would offer sex for money and a house and to give them a safe shelter and someone they can talk to. A similar project is Colabo, started by activist Yumeno Nito. Nito and other volunteers bring every Wednesday their Tsubomi Café in Shibuya and Shinjuku after 6pm and welcome every young girl in need of food, a shelter or just some company. A lot of runaway teenagers seek for help in the Tsubomi Café where they find adults that treat them like a caring family would.

Today Lighthouse’s goal is the education of government officials and a large part of Japanese society on what is human trafficking, why it is bad and how to eliminate it. At the moment, there are no laws against human trafficking in Japan, and those related to sex traffick mostly blame the women. The plan is to establish a new anti-trafficking law in Japan by next year.

Read More



私たちVoice Up Japanとして、日本における共同親権について、その現状を理解したい、なぜタブーなのかを知りたい、様々に論争が繰り広げられる本題に関して建設的な議論を構築したく執筆しました。ご意見などございましたら、ぜひ下のコメント欄にお書きください。