Japan (Tier 2)

The Government of Japan does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking but is making significant efforts to do so. The government demonstrated overall increasing efforts compared to the previous reporting period, considering the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, if any, on its anti-trafficking capacity; therefore Japan remained on Tier 2. These efforts included identifying more trafficking victims and continuing to implement public awareness campaigns. The government also officially recognized four Technical Intern Training Program (TITP) participants as trafficking victims, the first time the government has recognized TITP participants as trafficking victims. However, the government did not meet the minimum standards in several key areas. Continued lack of political will to address all forms of trafficking and identify and protect trafficking victims contributed to the government’s overall lack of progress. Authorities continued to prosecute and convict traffickers under laws prescribing insufficiently stringent penalties and delivered suspended sentences in nearly half of all cases, while some traffickers received only fines. These actions significantly weakened deterrence, undercut efforts to hold traffickers accountable, and did not adequately address the heinous nature of the crime. Law enforcement bodies continued to identify hundreds of children exploited in the commercial sex industry without screening them for trafficking indicators and did not formally designate them as trafficking victims, hindering their access to protection services and judicial recourse, and allowing child sex traffickers to operate with impunity. Reports of forced labor among labor migrants working in Japan under TITP persisted in much higher numbers than that which the government identified during the reporting period. Within TITP, the government’s memoranda of cooperation with sending countries remained ineffective in preventing foreign-based labor recruitment agencies from charging excessive fees—a key driver of debt-based coercion among TITP participants—and the government did not take any measures to hold recruiters and employers accountable for labor trafficking crimes under this system. Authorities continued to rely on disparate, ineffective identification and referral procedures, which did not cover all forms of trafficking, therefore officials continued to punish unidentified victims for unlawful acts traffickers compelled them to commit. The government did not provide specific protection services appropriate for victims of all forms of trafficking.

  • Vigorously investigate and prosecute sex and labor trafficking cases, and hold convicted traffickers accountable by imposing strong sentences.
  • Develop, systematize, and implement standard interagency procedures for the identification of, and referral to protective services for, victims of labor trafficking among migrant workers, including those in Japan under the auspices of the TITP and other visa-conferring statuses, and among those in immigration detention.
  • Enhance victim screening to ensure victims—including children exploited in commercial sex without third party facilitation, migrant workers under the TITP, and migrant workers entering Japan under the Specified Skilled Worker Visa—are properly identified and referred to services, and not detained or forcibly deported for unlawful acts traffickers compelled them to commit.
  • Increase efforts to identify male victims of sex trafficking and labor trafficking.
  • Increase resources for specialized care and assistance to trafficking victims, including designated shelters for trafficking victims, and ensure these services are also available to both foreign and male victims.
  • Increase implementation of the TITP reform law’s oversight and enforcement measures, including by training Organization for Technical Intern Training (OTIT) personnel and immigration officials on victim identification, improving OTIT coordination with NGOs, reviewing all contracts prior to approval of TITP work plans, increasing employer inspections, and terminating contracts with foreign recruitment agencies charging excessive worker-paid commissions or fees.
  • Establish formal channels allowing all foreign workers to change employment and industries if desired.
  • Amend anti‑trafficking laws to remove sentencing provisions that allow fines in lieu of imprisonment and increase the penalties for trafficking crimes to include a maximum of no less than four years’ imprisonment.
  • Enact legislation banning employers from retaining foreign workers’ passports or other personal documents.
  • Reduce migrant workers’ vulnerability to debt-based coercion by amending relevant policies to eliminate the imposition of all worker-paid recruitment and service fees.
  • Increase enforcement of bans on “punishment” agreements, passport withholding, and other practices by organizations and employers that contribute to labor trafficking.
  • Aggressively investigate, prosecute, convict, and punish Japanese citizens who engage in child sex tourism overseas.

The government decreased inadequate law enforcement efforts. Japan did not have a comprehensive anti-trafficking statute that included definitions in line with international law. It criminalized sex trafficking and labor trafficking crimes through disparate penal code laws pertaining to prostitution of adults and children, child welfare, immigration, and employment standards. Article 7 of the “Prostitution Prevention Law” criminalized inducing others into prostitution and prescribed penalties of up to three years’ imprisonment or a fine of up to 100,000 Japanese yen ($870) if fraudulent or coercive means were used, and up to three years’ imprisonment and a fine of up to 100,000 yen ($870) if force or threats were used. Article 8 of the same law increased penalties to up to five years’ imprisonment and a fine of up to 200,000 yen ($1,740) if the defendant received, entered into a contract to receive, or demanded compensation for crimes committed under Article 7. The “Act on Regulation and Punishment of Activities Relating to Child Prostitution and Pornography and the Protection of Children” criminalized engaging in, acting as an intermediary for, and soliciting the commercial sexual exploitation of a child and prescribed penalties of up to five years’ imprisonment, a fine, or both. The act also criminalized the purchase or sale of children for the purpose of exploiting them through commercial sex or the production of child pornography, and it prescribed a maximum penalty of 10 years’ imprisonment. The government also prosecuted trafficking-related crimes using the Child Welfare Act, which broadly criminalized transporting or harboring children for the purpose of causing them to commit an obscene or harmful act and prescribed penalties of up to 10 years’ imprisonment, or a fine of up to 3 million yen ($26,080), or both. The Employment Security Act (ESA) and the Labor Standards Act (LSA) both criminalized forced labor and prescribed penalties of up to 10 years’ imprisonment or a fine not exceeding 3 million yen ($26,080). However, the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare (MHLW) reported the definition of “forced labor” under the LSA was narrower than the definition of human trafficking under international law and—in practice—rare cases charged as “forced labor” under the LSA were not treated as human trafficking crimes. Inconsistent with the definition of trafficking under international law, the LSA did not include exploitation as an essential element of the crime. As in the previous reporting period, many prosecutors reportedly avoided using the ESA and LSA due to a perception that the relatively high penalties were more likely to trigger appellate processes that would decrease their overall conviction rates and negatively affect their professional standing. When penalties allowed for fines in lieu of imprisonment for sex trafficking, they were not commensurate with penalties prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. Civil society organizations reported reliance on these overlapping statutes continued to hinder the government’s ability to identify and prosecute trafficking crimes, especially for cases involving labor trafficking with elements of psychological coercion. The government did not have any laws that prohibited employers, recruiters, or labor agents from confiscating either Japanese or foreign workers’ passports, travel, or other identity documents, except for TITP participants, for whom passport or residential identification confiscation was prohibited. However, as in the previous reporting period, the government did not report if it enforced this law or penalized any employers or agencies for withholding TITP participants’ documents in 2021. Japanese law—enacted in 2017—contained a provision that criminalized bribery of witnesses, which would allow authorities additional grounds to pursue obstruction of justice charges against some traffickers. However, for the fourth consecutive year, the government did not report to what extent it implemented this for trafficking cases. The government continued to provide anti-trafficking trainings to various ministries, including OTIT, National Police Agency (NPA), and MHLW. Contacts continued to report an acute need for additional training to address the lack of awareness among key law enforcement officials and judicial stakeholders.

From January to December 2021, the government investigated 44 trafficking cases: 39 sex trafficking cases involving 59 suspects and five labor trafficking cases involving three suspects. This was a decrease from the government’s investigation of 55 trafficking cases in 2020: 40 sex trafficking cases involving 48 suspects and 15 labor trafficking cases involving 10 suspects. In 2021, the government initiated the prosecution of a total of 37 alleged traffickers, 33 for sex trafficking and four for labor trafficking; it also continued the prosecution of six alleged sex traffickers and two labor traffickers that were ongoing from the previous reporting period. This demonstrated a decrease compared with the prosecution of a total of 50 alleged traffickers in 2020: 42 for sex trafficking and eight for labor trafficking. In 2021, the government convicted 29 total traffickers, 20 for sex trafficking and four for labor trafficking. This demonstrated a decrease compared with the conviction of 50 perpetrators in 2020. Of the 29 convicted traffickers, 21 received prison sentences ranging from 10 months to three years, 12 of which were fully suspended sentences that resulted in the traffickers serving no prison time; eight of the remaining 29 received sentences of a financial penalty only. Sentencing of convicted traffickers was similar to 2020 when courts fully suspended 26 of 50 prison sentences and sentenced 14 of 50 traffickers to financial penalties only. Also similar to the previous year, the government convicted the 29 traffickers under a range of laws pertaining to adults and children in commercial sex, kidnapping, rape, child welfare, immigration, and employment standards, including—but not limited to—the “Prostitution Prevention Law,” the Child Welfare Act, and the “Act on Regulation and Punishment of Acts Relating to Child Prostitution and Child Pornography and the Protection of Children.” The government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government employees complicit in human trafficking crimes.

Despite the known prevalence of labor trafficking indicators within the TITP program, the government has never reported holding traffickers who exploit TITP participants criminally accountable or sentenced them with adequate penalties that include terms of imprisonment. For example, in 2021 the government reported it prosecuted and convicted one perpetrator within the TITP program for labor violations under the LSA, who received a sentence of a fine in lieu of imprisonment, which was inadequate compared to the gravity of the crime. Service provision NGOs reported repeated attempts to draw attention to specific allegations of labor trafficking occurring within TITP worksites, and despite the government conducting thousands of inspections of these worksites throughout the year, authorities generally did not proactively investigate these allegations for potential trafficking crimes. NGOs reported courts set prohibitively high evidentiary standards for labor trafficking cases involving foreign victims, including overreliance on physical indicators of abuse in lieu of evidence supporting psychological coercion, thereby stymying appropriate law enforcement action.

In a failure to address the pervasive problem of child sex trafficking, the government did not investigate or prosecute cases involving child commercial sexual exploitation under trafficking statutes because Japanese law did not consider children in commercial sexual exploitation as sex trafficking victims unless a third-party facilitated the commercial sex acts. In 2021, the government reported 627 cases of “child prostitution” involving at least 540 perpetrators and 408 victims, but the government did not prosecute or convict the perpetrators for potential trafficking crimes—including whether or not they involved a third-party facilitator—and it failed to identify the vast majority of the children involved in these cases as trafficking victims. In previous years, authorities also processed hundreds of such cases involving children in commercial sexual exploitation without formally investigating them as trafficking crimes (more than 600 cases in 2020; 784 cases in 2019; more than 700 cases in 2018; 956 cases in 2017). For the fourth consecutive year, the government did not report law enforcement action taken against child sex trafficking in Joshi kosei or “JK” businesses—dating services connecting adult men with underage high school girls—and in coerced pornography operations. Eight major prefectures maintained ordinances banning “JK” businesses, prohibiting girls younger than 18 years of age from working in “compensated dating services,” or requiring “JK” business owners to register their employee rosters with local public safety commissions. Authorities did not report how many such operations they identified or shuttered for violating the terms of the ordinances (unreported in 2020 and 2019; 137 identified and none closed in 2018), nor did they report arresting any individuals alleged to have been engaged in criminal activities surrounding the “JK” business (unreported in 2020 and 2019; 69 arrested in 2018). Some authorities were reportedly unaware of the crime or unsure how to prosecute it, often citing prohibitively high evidentiary standards. Experts noted the lack of efforts by law enforcement to treat child sex trafficking cases appropriately was permissive of and perpetuated the continued commission of the crime; it continued to minimize the prevalence of the crime; and it resulted in weak—if any—efforts to hold traffickers accountable and to protect victims.

The government maintained insufficient efforts to protect victims, including by consistently failing to formally identify trafficking victims within the TITP and among children in commercial sexual exploitation. In 2021, the government identified 47 total trafficking victims, which included 31 sex trafficking victims—only one of which was a foreign national and 18 were children—and 16 labor trafficking victims; 10 of the total number of victims were Filipina who were forced to work as “hostesses” at bars and who the government identified as victims of labor trafficking. This compared with 38 total trafficking victims identified in 2020, which included seven Filipina victims forced to work as “hostesses.” However, lack of standardized guidelines, poor coordination among ministries, and misunderstanding of sex and labor trafficking crimes among all relevant agencies contributed to the government’s inadequate efforts to identify and protect victims. The government did not have nationwide standard operating procedures or guidelines for officials to identify victims, even for victims that reported a crime themselves, which thereby impeded their access to care. Interagency stakeholders followed disparate, insufficient victim identification procedures, which did not incorporate all forms of trafficking, especially child sex trafficking and labor trafficking of migrant workers. Observers further reported police and immigration officials lacked awareness of trafficking indicators especially in cases involving foreign nationals, which prevented foreign trafficking victims from receiving appropriate protection. Due to the limited scope of laws prohibiting commercial sex, widespread exploitation of children and adults took place within a legalized but largely unregulated range of “delivery health service” and commercial sex acts in urban entertainment centers. Because of the government’s insufficient victim screening and identification procedures, coupled with authorities’ misunderstanding of sex and labor trafficking and child sex trafficking, the government continued to arrest, detain, or deport unidentified victims among vulnerable groups for unlawful acts traffickers compelled them to commit, such as immigration violations.

In 2021, 7,167 TITP participants disappeared from their jobs, some of whom likely fled because of exploitative or abusive conditions and were unidentified trafficking victims. Authorities continued to arrest and deport TITP participants who escaped labor trafficking and other abusive conditions in their contracted agencies; some labor contracts featured illegal automatic repatriation clauses for interns who became pregnant or contracted illnesses while working in Japan. During the reporting period, some TITP participants lost their jobs because of pandemic-related business closures, which caused them to find a new employer to pay off their outstanding debts to the sending organization; however, authorities arrested some TITP participants for illegally changing jobs without screening them for trafficking. The government reported it did not forcibly deport any TITP participants in 2021. Unlike in the previous reporting period, the MOJ reported immigration authorities conducted 12,865 screening interviews of TITP participants departing Japan prior to the end of their contracts, yet it did not identify any trafficking victims among them. Furthermore, the government did not have a procedure for screening foreign nationals—including TITP participants—in immigration detention for possible trafficking indicators. In 2021, observers reported authorities arrested 14 trafficking victims for immigration violations and deported some of them without screening them for trafficking indicators.

Authorities did not identify children as victims of sex trafficking unless a third party mediated the commercial sex acts, preventing hundreds of children from formal designation. The government also reported it did not treat cases of children in commercial sex as child sex trafficking cases because—contrary to definitional standards under the 2000 UN TIP Protocol—it required the perpetrator to exercise “control over the victim.” Some provincial law enforcement officials noted in previous reporting periods that Japan’s unusually low age of consent, 13, further complicated efforts to formally identify children exploited in commercial sex as trafficking victims. The government did not report identifying any trafficking victims among the 408 children involved in the 627 cases of “child prostitution”—a form of sex trafficking—reported by the police in 2021. Therefore—as in the previous reporting period—the government did not provide essential victim protection services to any of the children involved in the hundreds of incidents of child sexual and commercial sexual exploitation during the reporting period, nor did it refer them to NGOs for assistance. Police continued to treat some potential child sex trafficking victims, including LGBTQI+ children, as delinquents and counseled them on their behavior instead of screening them for trafficking, investigating their cases, or referring them to specialized services.

As in prior years, the government failed to provide overall adequate protection services, such as trafficking-specific shelters, psycho-social care, and legal aid, to victims of all forms of trafficking including Japanese and foreign victims. The government reported police referred four sex trafficking victims and 11 labor trafficking victims to Women’s Consultation Offices (WCO) shelters or child guidance centers for services; none of these referrals were men. This compared with eight trafficking victims who received assistance at WCO shelters in 2020, but the government did not previously report how many victims it referred to Child Guidance Centers. An international organization also reported police referred 11 trafficking victims, who it identified during raids of commercial sex establishments, to the organization for protection services. The government continued to contribute funding for WCOs and child guidance centers, both of which could provide shelter for trafficking victims alongside victims of domestic violence and other crimes. WCO shelters provided food and other basic needs, psychological care, and coverage of medical expenses, and shelter residents were free to leave the facilities. However, some NGOs continued to allege the physical conditions and services in these facilities were poor, overly restrictive, and insufficient to provide the specialized care required for trafficking victims. Government-run protection options focused on victims of other crimes, and the government did not equip relevant staff to provide the specific services required to accommodate victims of all forms of trafficking. The availability and quality of government-run services that could be provided to victims varied widely according to prefecture-level officials’ ad-hoc experience with trafficking cases. The government continued to operate “one-stop assistance centers” in each prefecture for victims of sexual abuse, including some forms of sex trafficking, but—as in the previous reporting period—the government did not report if any trafficking victims received services at these centers in 2021. Unlike the previous reporting period, the government did not report how much funding it allocated for sheltering trafficking victims; in 2020, the government allocated more than 3.5 million yen (approximately $30,420) for sheltering trafficking victims in fiscal year 2020. Civil society providers reported that if a trafficking victim sought assistance from a provider, it could not assist a victim until the government formally identified the victim as such, which significantly delayed essential services given to victims.

Foreign trafficking victims had limited or no access to other government-provided social services from which legal resident victims could benefit. In 2021, the immigration services agency (ISA) allowed 11 foreign trafficking victims to remain in Japan, but it did not report if it provided or referred these victims to essential care. In comparison, in 2020, the ISA allowed eight victims to remain in Japan. The government, however, did not uniformly allow foreign trafficking victims to work in Japan. NGOs also highlighted a lack of government-provided language interpretation services as a particular challenge to the protection of foreign victims. The government relied on and expected foreign embassies to provide protection services to their nationals whom traffickers exploited in Japan. Temporary, long-term, and permanent residence benefits were reportedly available to foreign victims who feared the repercussions of returning to their countries of origin, but the government did not report how many—if any—victims received these benefits.

Victims had the right to file civil suits to seek compensation from traffickers, but—like the previous reporting period—the government did not report cases in which victims did so. Moreover, the owners of abusive supervising organizations and subsidiary businesses employing TITP participants frequently filed for bankruptcy or falsified administrative changes to shield themselves from civil or criminal liability, enabling labor trafficking to continue throughout the program with impunity. Some employers pressured TITP participants to leave their labor unions to reduce their chances of seeking recompense for labor abuses committed against them. Receipt of compensation awards was therefore nearly impossible in practice. For the fourth consecutive year, authorities did not report any instances of court-ordered restitution for victims. In previous years, civil society organizations reported some victims of coerced pornography chose not to participate in court proceedings against their traffickers due to fear that doing so would create stigma-based challenges to their reintegration.

The government maintained insufficient efforts to prevent trafficking, including by continuing to demonstrate a lack of political will to adequately do so among highly vulnerable migrant worker populations. The government maintained a national-level interagency coordinating body and it met once in 2021; however, it did not effectively coordinate among relevant ministries to combat trafficking. The government continued to rely on a 2014 national anti-trafficking action plan. The government produced its seventh annual report on government actions to combat trafficking and tracked measures against the stated goals of its 2014 action plan. The government held four conferences with civil society organizations to discuss its anti-trafficking measures, but it did not report if any tangible results came from these meetings. Authorities continued to raise awareness of trafficking by disseminating information online—including on the NPA’s public website—and through radio programs, posters, and brochures, as well as through leaflets distributed to NGOs, immigration and labor offices, and diplomatic missions in Japan and abroad. The government did not make significant efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts, as most of its awareness-raising targeted victims, rather than the demand source. The government had extraterritorial jurisdiction to prosecute Japanese nationals who engaged in child sexual exploitation abroad, but—for the second consecutive year—it did not report investigating or prosecuting any cases of child sex tourism under this jurisdiction in 2021. Several ministries continued to operate hotlines that could identify potential trafficking cases, including MHLW, ISA, and NPA, but none of these ministries reported if these hotlines identified any victims in 2021. An NGO observed NPA’s anti-trafficking leaflet advertising its hotline was unclear and difficult for trafficking victims to understand.

The government continued to implement the 2016 Act on Proper Technical Intern Training and Protection of Technical Intern Trainees (TITP reform law). The TITP reform law mandated the MHLW approve work plans outlining living conditions, working hours, and other factors developed jointly by incoming TITP participants and their employers. The government did not report the number of TITP participants it allowed entry into the program in 2021; however, from November 2020 through mid-January 2021, the government allowed the entry of 55,754 TITP participants. However, authorities did not fully implement oversight procedures to ensure unity among sending and receiving organizations’ contracts nor among these contracts and the participants’ work plans, resulting in discrepant language that left many participants vulnerable to labor abuses, including labor trafficking. OTIT conducted on-site inspections of implementing and supervising organizations, as it did the previous year, as did MOJ. OTIT reported it conducted inspections of 21,833 implementing organizations and 3,950 inspections of supervising organizations in 2021, while MOJ reported OTIT conducted 10,954 inspections of implementing organizations and 2,120 of supervising organizations. This data compared with 15,318 inspections of implementing organizations and 2,983 inspections of supervising organizations in 2020. The government did not report if these inspections resulted in the identification of a trafficking victims or criminal investigation for potential trafficking crimes. According to the MOJ, in 2021 the government revoked the licenses of 19 supervising organizations, a slight increase from the 11 licenses revoked during the previous year. Authorities also revoked the accreditations of MHLW-approved work plans of 157 implementing organizations for violations of the Technical Intern Training Act, an increase from 91 revoked the previous year. Some observers expressed these work plans lacked enforceability due to the high number of TITP employers and participants relative to the small number of inspectors. As of August 2021, OTIT suspended the acceptance of new technical intern trainees from sending organizations from which there were multiple cases of disappeared trainees; in particular, OTIT reported five sending organizations to Vietnam and did not accept the applications for accreditations of technical intern training plans or the applications for licenses of these supervising organizations. Civil society groups continued to express concern the OTIT was too understaffed to adequately investigate allegations of abuse, including labor trafficking, within such a large program—particularly as the number of participants continued to grow. Some participants reported the OTIT and the MHLW were unresponsive to their request for mediation when their employers suddenly changed or terminated their contracts. In April 2021, OTIT established a hotline for technical intern trainees to respond to emergency cases such as violence or intimidation by their employers; between April to November 2021, the government reported it received 69 anonymous calls to this hotline, but it did not report if any of these calls resulted in authorities identifying any labor trafficking victims.

The government-maintained memoranda of cooperation (MOC) pertaining to the TITP with Bangladesh, Bhutan, Burma, Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Laos, Mongolia, Pakistan, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Uzbekistan, and Vietnam as sending countries of TITP participants. MOCs remained the Japanese government’s primary tool to regulate recruitment practices, but they remained largely ineffective because the government failed to hold the governments of the sending countries accountable for abusive labor practices and labor trafficking crimes by recruiters and sending organizations. The MOCs affirmed the government would accept TITP trainees only from state-approved organizations that would not charge participants “excessive fees” known to place workers in high debt. However, some sending organizations in these countries circumvented the fee restrictions and secured their respective governments’ approval by charging high “commissions” in lieu of fees; trainees from these countries therefore remained at risk for debt-based coercion once in Japan. This was especially true for Vietnamese participants, who constituted the highest proportion of TITP trainees, and were required to pay commissions to sending organizations in Vietnam. Some Japanese TITP employers forced participants to remit portions of their salaries into mandatory savings accounts as a means to prevent their abscondment and retain their labor. The MOJ, MOFA, and MHLW could request that sending countries investigate allegations of recruitment fee violations, but the decision to penalize or ban sending organizations for the practice was at the discretion of sending country authorities. Over the last four years, the government reported to sending countries the alleged misconduct committed by 100 sending organizations, but it did not report how many it reported to sending countries in 2021 alone. The government eliminated 23 of these organizations from the list of approved sending organizations, but it did not report investigating them for committing potential trafficking crimes.

The government continued to implement its Special Skilled Worker visa program—established in 2018—to fill positions in construction, shipbuilding, nursing care, and 10 other sectors with known labor shortages over a five-year period. Although there were no reported cases of labor trafficking within this system in 2021, observers continued to express concern it would engender the same vulnerabilities to labor abuses, including labor trafficking, as those inherent to the TITP and the government’s oversight measures were similarly lacking. The program reportedly permitted qualifying individuals already participating in the TITP to switch their visas to the newly created categories, allowing them to extend their stay in Japan and change jobs within the same sector; the government did not report how many—if any—TITP participants changed their employers in 2021. Japanese law also enabled for-profit employment agencies and individuals to become “registered support organizations”—with no licensing requirements—to liaise between labor recruitment brokerages and employers for a fee. Observers reported these service fees could create additional risks for debt-based coercion among migrant workers entering under the auspices of the regime. Under this program, the government maintained MOCs with 14 governments that provided a framework for information-sharing to eliminate malicious brokers and recruitment agencies.

As reported over the past five years, human traffickers subject Japanese and foreign men and women to labor and sex trafficking, and they subject Japanese children to sex trafficking. Traffickers also transport victims from elsewhere in the region through Japan before exploiting them in onward destinations, including East Asia and North America. Traffickers subject male and female migrant workers, mainly from Asia, to conditions of labor trafficking, including at companies participating in Japanese government-run programs, such as TITP. Japan’s fast-growing foreign student population is at risk for trafficking in the unskilled labor sector due to abusive and often deceptive work-study contract provisions. Men, women, and children from Northeast Asia, Southeast Asia, South Asia, Latin America, and Africa travel to Japan for employment or fraudulent marriage and are subjected to sex trafficking. Traffickers use fraudulent marriages between foreign women and Japanese men to facilitate the entry of women into Japan for sex trafficking in bars, clubs, brothels, and massage parlors. Traffickers keep victims in forced labor or commercial sex using debt-based coercion, threats of violence or deportation, blackmail, confiscation of passports and other documents, and other psychologically coercive methods. Employers require many migrant workers to pay fees for living expenses, medical care, and other necessities, leaving them vulnerable to debt-based coercion. Brothel operators sometimes arbitrarily impose “fines” on victims for alleged misbehavior, thereby extending their indebtedness as a coercive measure.

Traffickers also subject Japanese citizens and foreign nationals—particularly runaway teenage girls and boys—to sex trafficking. Enjo kosai or “compensated dating” services and variants of the “JK” business, often with ties to organized crime, continue to facilitate the sex trafficking of Japanese children; children from the People’s Republic of China (PRC), the Republic of Korea, Laos, the Philippines, Singapore, and Vietnam are also reportedly exploited in these establishments. The pandemic caused a surge in unemployment and domestic violence, which increased the risk of some Japanese women and girls—especially runaway children—to enter into “compensated dating;” NGOs reported traffickers increasingly use social media sites to contact women and girls for this purpose. “JK” bar owners may subject some underage boys and girls, including LGBTQI+ youth, to labor trafficking as hostesses and club promoters. Highly organized commercial sex networks target vulnerable Japanese women and girls—in some instances those living in poverty or with cognitive disabilities—in public spaces such as subways, popular youth hangouts, schools, and online, and subject them to sex trafficking in commercial sex establishments, small musical performance venues, retail spaces, and reflexology centers, often through debt-based coercion. Some groups posing as model and actor placement agencies use fraudulent recruitment techniques to coerce Japanese men, women, boys, and girls into signing vague contracts and then threaten them with legal action or the release of compromising photographs to force them to participate in pornographic films. Some transgender youth seek employment in unregulated urban entertainment districts as a means of financing their gender-affirming care and are subsequently exploited in commercial sex and possibly labor trafficking. Private Japanese immigration brokers help Japanese-Filipino children, and their Filipina mothers move to Japan and acquire citizenship for a significant fee, which the mothers often incur large debts to pay; upon arrival, some of these women and their children are subjected to sex trafficking to pay off the debts. Organized crime syndicates posing as immigration brokers also lure these families to Japan with deceptive job offers, and then subject the women to labor and sex trafficking in the nightlife industry. Japanese men remain a source of demand for child sex tourism in other countries in Asia.

Cases of labor trafficking continue within the TITP, a government-run program originally designed to foster basic technical skills among foreign workers that has effectively become a guest-worker program. TITP participants from Bangladesh, Bhutan, Burma, Cambodia, the PRC, India, Indonesia, Laos, Mongolia, Pakistan, the Philippines, Thailand, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Vietnam pay sending organizations in their home countries thousands of dollars in excessive worker-paid fees, deposits, or vague “commissions”—despite bilateral agreements between sending countries and Japan aimed at curbing the practice—to secure jobs in fishing, food processing, shellfish cultivation, ship building, construction, textile production, and manufacturing of electronic components, automobiles, and other large machinery. TITP employers place many participants in jobs that do not teach or develop technical skills, contrary to the program’s stated intent; others place participants in jobs that do not match the duties they agreed upon beforehand. Some of these workers experience restricted freedom of movement and communication, confiscation of passports and other personal and legal documentation, threats of deportation or harm to their families, physical violence, poor living conditions, wage garnishing, and other conditions indicative of labor trafficking. Some sending organizations require participants to sign “punishment agreements” charging thousands of dollars in penalties if they fail to comply with their labor contracts. Participants who leave their contracted TITP jobs fall out of immigration status, after which some are reportedly subjected to labor and sex trafficking. Some foreign workers within the Specified Skilled Worker visa program—including former TITP participants—may be at risk for trafficking. An NGO noted more than 90 percent of the migrant workers in Japan under the auspices of this visa regime were former TITP interns in vulnerable sectors prior to 2019.

U.S. Department of State

The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future