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I. Summary
II. Key Recommendations
III. Context
IV. Profiles
V. International Legal Standards On Trafficking In Women
VI. Recruited In Thailand--Sold On Japan
VII. Servitude In The "Snack Bars"
VIII. Deportation As "Illegal Aliens"
IX. Response Of The Japanese Government
X. Response Of The Thai Government
XI. International Response
XII. Recommendations
  • To the Japanese Government
  • To the Thai Government
  • To the Japanese and Thai Governments
  • To All Governments
  • To Intergovernmental Organizations
United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)
International Organization For Migration (IOM)
International Labor Organization (ILO)
World Health Organization (WHO)
Human Rights Watch OWED JUSTICE
Thai Women Trafficked into Debt Bondage in Japan

Human Rights Watch
New York Washington London Brussels
Copyright September 2000 by Human Rights Watch.
All rights reserved.
Printed in the Unted States of America.
ISBN 1-56432-252-1
Library of Congress Card Number: 00-107963


The trafficking of women from Thailand into debt bondage in the Japanese sex industry occurs within the context of larger economic and social trends. This chapter begins with an overview of the patterns and characteristics of labor migration between Thailand and Japan, and in the region more generally, to provide a better understanding of some of the forces underlying the movement of women from Thailand to Japan. It also offers a brief description of Japan's large and varied sex industry, and of the role of foreign women within this labor sector. The chapter concludes by introducing the problem of trafficking and the relevant policies and practices of the Japanese and Thai governments.

Labor migration

Regional migration in Asia

Tens of millions of people travel across national borders each year in search of employment. Economic forces in the sending country "push" migrants out when they are unable to find employment in adequately paying jobs; other migrants are "pulled" into the receiving country, usually by rapid economic growth which requires an inflow of cheap, unskilled labor. Migration between Asian countries has grown steadily since the early 1980s, when just over one million Asians were working in other countries in the region, to more than 6.5 million by mid-1997.(1) Labor migration in modern Asia first became a vast enterprise in the 1970s when countries in the Middle East, in search of both skilled and unskilled labor, encouraged the migration of workers from across Asia.(2) This massive flow of workers has continued to climb steadily since the 1970s. Some workers migrate permanently, but most go overseas only for limited time periods to earn money. Of these workers, some migrate legally, others illegally.

Skilled workers usually have little difficulty maneuvering within the legal framework of migration--passports, visas, and work permits--and are often welcomed, especially in boom periods like the 1970s and 1980s, by countries in desperate need of their skills. Unskilled workers' experience with migration is often quite different. In part this is because avenues for legal labor migration in unskilled labor sectors are limited, prompting many workers to migrate illegally, often recruited by employers and job brokers in receiving countries who are willing to violate immigration restrictions. These "undocumented" migrants are typically excluded from labor law protections and other state services, by law and/or practice. Even when visas are available for unskilled work, there are often large recruiting networks that take advantage of migrants' ignorance and urgent desire to migrate by charging them exorbitant job placement fees and otherwise exploiting them. Furthermore, unskilled work visas are often short term, and renewal may be difficult or impossible. Thus, many workers initially migrate on a contract and then stay on illegally after their contract has expired.(3)

Immigration from Thailand to Japan

Prior to 1980, foreign travel and immigration into Japan was very limited. The number of foreigners entering the country--including both temporary visitors and migrant workers--surpassed one million for the first time in 1980, almost doubling the figure from five years earlier.(4) This figure has continued to grow since then, exceeding 4.5 million by the late 1990s, with the majority of entrants coming from other Asian countries. The number of foreign nationals registered for long-term residence in Japan has also increased dramatically during this period, nearly doubling from 750,000 in the 1970s to more than 1,400,000 by the mid-1990s. And, even more striking, the number of foreign nationals estimated to be residing illegally in Japan has almost tripled in less than a decade, from 106,000 in 1990 to 283,000 in 1997.(5) The vast majority entered the country through legal channels, but traveled on falsified documents or remained in Japan beyond their visa expiration date, and most are believed to be working in violation of immigration regulations.

This increase in migration was, in part, the result of Japanese investment and overseas business activities that created contacts and solidified migration networks. As Japanese companies expanded throughout Asia with joint ventures, relationships were established on both formal and informal levels which encouraged exchanges between Japan and its neighbors. Increased contacts facilitated the mobilization of natural and human resources.(6) The rise in both legal and illegal migration from the mid-1980s through the early 1990s was also related to the surge in Japan's economy, creating increased demand for unskilled or low skilled labor. With Japan suffering from a labor shortage, migrant workers were willing to take jobs that Japanese no longer wanted, primarily in the construction and service sectors, and the strong appreciation of the yen in the 1980s raised the value of the earnings foreigners could send home.

In addition to Japan's economic boom, the dramatic increase in the migration of Asian women into Japan's sex industry in the 1980s is widely understood as a reaction to the sharp public criticism that Japanese "sex tourism" began to receive around that time. In the late 1960s, "sex tours," primarily to Thailand and other southeast Asian countries, began growing in popularity among Japanese men.(7) By the mid-1970s, package sex tours were being advertised to Thailand, the Philippines, Taiwan, and Korea, and many companies included "weekend sex holidays" overseas as part of employees' yearly bonuses.(8) However, by the end of that decade, Japan was facing heavy criticism for such tours, and efforts grew to bring foreign women into the sex industry in Japan instead.(9) The following years saw unprecedented numbers of foreign women entering the Japanese sex industry, primarily from other Asian countries.

The strong demand for foreign labor in Japan has also been accompanied by policies in several less wealthy countries that encourage workers to migrate abroad in the hope of gaining much-needed foreign currency through remittances, while alleviating unemployment problems at home. Labor exporting policies in the Philippines, for example, are well-known, and over the last few decades, the Thai government has similarly encouraged its nationals to seek employment overseas.(10) Consistent with migration trends in the rest of Asia, Thai migrants in the 1970s and early 1980s were drawn by the pull of thriving economies in the Middle East, where employment opportunities were more lucrative than those available in Thailand. But in the late 1980s, the destination of unskilled Thai migrants largely shifted from the Middle East to Japan, Singapore, and Taipei. Japanese economic expansion included large-scale investment in Thailand, often through joint ventures with Thai companies, thus fostering close economic ties between the two countries.(11) In 1993, the Thai Ministry of Labor estimated that there were 370,500 Thai nationals working abroad--counting both documented and undocumented migrants--including 100,000 in Japan and 216,000 in other Asian countries. This was an increase from only 6,000 Thai nationals working in Japan, and 16,000 in the rest of Asia, in 1988.(12) And migrant workers sent significant amounts of money back to their families in Thailand. In 1995, remittances from overseas Thai workers in Asia totaled roughly US$1 billion. This included about US$100 million from Japan alone.(13) Since 1993, migration from Thailand to Japan has slowed somewhat due to Japan's economic difficulties and its related crackdown on illegal migration, but authoritative estimates suggest that there are still tens of thousands of Thai migrants working in Japan each year.(14)

Male and female migration patterns

Since the dramatic increase in migration into Japan in the 1980s, both male and female migration have followed fluctuations in the Japanese economy, increasing steadily from 1986 through 1992, and then gradually decreasing as Japan slid into recession.(15) Profiles of male and female migrants differ markedly, however. Female Asian migrants are typically younger than their male counterparts. Although males comprise a larger share of the migrants in most age groups, in the fifteen to twenty year-old bracket, women and girls outnumber men and boys by five to two.(16) For males, the largest single migrant group is the forty to forty-nine year old age group; seventy percent of all female migrants to Japan are between twenty and twenty-four years old.(17)

Another difference in male and female migration is the type of work they seek. Male migrants are typically employed in occupations that the Japanese have labeled "3K" work--kitsui, kitanai, and kiken, or, in English, "3D" work--difficult, dirty, and dangerous. These include construction work, factory jobs, and other types of manual labor. Japanese Ministry of Justice statistics on the occupations of undocumented male migrants apprehended in 1995 indicated that 37.4 percent were construction workers, 25.2 percent were production workers, and 9.5 percent were manual laborers. The remaining 27.9 percent were employed in the service industry, as cooks, bartenders, or domestic servants.(18) Some migrant women also work in factories, but the vast majority are employed in the service industry, typically providing entertainment--often including sexual services--to Japanese men. According to the Japan Immigration Association's statistics, 46.5 percent of female illegal migrants apprehended in 1993 were working as hostesses or in direct prostitution,(19) with 22.9 percent in other service work.(20) And the Ministry of Justice's 1995 arrest statistics show that 36.9 percent of undocumented female migrants were working as hostesses, 15.3 percent as waitresses, 8.1 percent as domestics, 4.8 percent as cooks, and 3.4 percent as prostitutes. Only 18.3 percent were employed as production workers or manual laborers; 13.2 percent are listed as "other."(21)

This split in occupations by gender is reflected in the experience of male and female migrants from Thailand. An estimated eighty to ninety percent of female migrants work as sex workers in Japan, typically as hostesses or waitresses who also perform sexual services for clients.(22) Others work in bars or restaurants but do not engage in sex work, and a few work in factories. Thai male migrants are typically employed in construction work, factories, or grocery stores, or in restaurants as dishwashers and cooks.(23) There are also some Thai men working as "hosts," providing sexual services to female clients in bars that target migrant Thai women.(24)

Visa policies--skilled and unskilled

Japanese immigration policies reveal a strong bias against foreigners, reflecting a deep-seated commitment in Japan to maintaining a homogeneous society. This commitment is perhaps most clear in Japanese nationality policies, which make it virtually impossible for a person born to non-Japanese parents--including second and third generation descendants of Korean nationals drafted to Japan during World War II--to acquire Japanese citizenship. The same bias was reflected in the 1990 revisions to Japan's Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Act (hereinafter, the Immigration Control Act). These revisions were adopted in the context of a severe national shortage in unskilled labor, but, while categories of skilled labor visas were expanded, the general prohibition on unskilled labor migration was reinforced. As one immigration officer explained to Human Rights Watch, "Japanese public opinion does not accept giving visas for unskilled labor,"(25) and the Immigration Bureau's web site explains that "[n]ot only do foreign nationals working illegally badly influence market for labor in Japan [sic], they cause various problems concerning customs, security, etc."(26) New provisions in 1990 for cracking down on illegal migration included, for the first time, sanctions on those employing and contracting illegal workers, in addition to penalties for the migrants themselves. When Japan's economy began slipping into recession in 1992, foreigners were among the first to be targeted.(27) They were identified as a source of the country's economic difficulties, and crackdowns on illegal migrants were carried out by both immigration and police officers, leading to mass raids and dramatically increased arrests for immigration offenses.(28)

At the same time, the 1990 immigration law revisions attempted to address the serious labor shortage by greatly expanding the availability of visas for second and third generation Japanese emigrants, or Nikkeis. This led to a dramatic surge in immigration by ethnic Japanese, particularly from Brazil and Peru, and, by 1992, the number of Nikkeis in Japan had risen to more than 150,000.(29) Two other exceptions to the prohibition on unskilled labor migration have also been made. One is the "entertainer visa," mentioned above. This visa allows foreigners to work in the entertainment industry in Japan for a limited period--typically three months, with the possibility of renewing for an additional three months--under contract with a Japanese employer. While such visas are theoretically available to both male and female applicants, they are granted primarily to women, and, as a result of an agreement between the Japanese and Philippine government, they have been issued disproportionately to women from the Philippines.(30) Officially classified as "guests," rather than as workers, "entertainers" are excluded from labor law protections, and, although immigration regulations provide detailed instructions regarding wages and job responsibilities for migrants in this category, the regulations are violated with virtual impunity.(31)

Another option available to unskilled migrants seeking work in Japan is the "trainee" visa.(32) According to Immigration Bureau statistics, the number of foreign trainees admitted to Japan quadrupled in the decade following the introduction of these visas in 1982.(33) In 1992, 43,627 foreigners were accepted into Japan on trainee visas, including more than 38,000 from other Asian countries.(34) The trainee visa program operates under the auspices of the Japan International Training Cooperation Organization (JITCO), which was set up under the joint auspices of the Ministries of Foreign Affairs, Justice, International Trade and Industry, and Labor. Trainees enter the country under contract with an employer who is required to provide opportunities for skills development, both through classroom activities and on-the-job training. Again, these laborers are not officially categorized as "workers," but many employers have taken advantage of the policy by using it to bring over unskilled foreign workers, while providing little or no actual training.(35)

The demand for unskilled migrant labor in Japan has continued to outstrip legal limits on the supply, and the majority of unskilled migrant workers in the country are undocumented.(36) Typically these workers enter Japan through legal channels, though often with falsified documentation, on a tourist or transit visa, and then overstay their visa expiration date and engage in activities outside their visa status. Others sneak into Japan, bypassing immigration controls entirely, and thus enter the country without any documentation at all.

Only a very small number of work visas have been made available to Thai nationals, so the great majority of migrant Thai workers in Japan are undocumented. The Japanese government estimates their numbers based on the number of persons with Thai passports who have entered Japan on temporary visitor visas and then overstayed their visa expiration dates. From 1991 to 1994, Japanese government statistics indicate that Thai nationals constituted the largest group of overstayers, with a total of more than 32,000 Thai overstayers in 1991 and almost 47,000 by the end of 1994.(37) In 1997, Japanese government statistics showed that at nearly 40,000, Thai overstayers continued to represent a significant percentage of the undocumented migrants in Japan (fourteen percent), though their numbers had been surpassed by Korean (eighteen percent) and Filipino (fifteen percent) nationals.(38) Moreover, many believe that the actual number of undocumented Thai migrants in Japan is much higher than the Japanese Immigration Bureau statistics indicate. The Counsellor at the Thai Embassy in Tokyo, for example, told Human Rights Watch that there were approximately eighty thousand Thai "overstayers" in Japan in 1995, including about thirty thousand who either entered with Malaysian or Singaporean passports, or entered Japan illegally by boat.(39)

Criminal networks

The wide gap between the demand for unskilled foreign labor and the legal opportunities for migration under Japanese immigration policy has encouraged the development of a large underground business in procuring illegal foreign labor.(40) Typically, women in Thailand are recruited by relatives, friends, or other acquaintances, who promise them high-paying jobs in Japan and introduce them to trafficking agents. The agents then make arrangements for the women's travel and job placement, obtaining the necessary documentation, contacting job brokers in Japan, and hiring escorts to accompany the women on their trip. When the women arrive in Japan, job brokers receive them and deliver them to employers.

The agents, brokers, and employers in these operations often have ties to powerful organized crime syndicates. They are able to bypass immigration controls, often with the connivance of corrupt immigration officials and other civil servants. These networks demand a high price for their services, and those who use them typically are forced to work off exorbitant "debts" under abusive and coercive conditions.(41) Many migrants are unable to distinguish in advance between legal and illegal work opportunities, and thus may not realize that they are dealing with underground agents and brokers--or mafias--until after they have been cheated, incurred heavy debts, and arrived illegally in Japan.(42) In other cases, operators of Japanese entertainment businesses--often Thai nationals who have lived in Japan for extended periods of time--recruit women themselves, either directly or through Thai contacts. But in these cases too, women often arrive in Japan saddled with enormous debts and vulnerable to serious human rights abuses.(43)

The extensive involvement of the Japanese Yakuza(44) in facilitating illegal immigration, including the procurement of women from Thailand and other countries into the Japanese sex industry, is well-known and documented.(45) Japanese and Thai police exchange information on Yakuza activities in an effort to stem the flow of Thai women into Japan, and Japanese police officers are consistently quoted in the press blaming the Yakuza for both the surge in illegal migration into Japan generally, and, more specifically, the flow of Thai women into the sex industry.(46) The Yakuza's ties to criminal groups in migrants' countries of origin, including Thailand, China, Hong Kong, Korea, Taiwan, the Philippines, Russia, Colombia, and Mexico, have also been well-documented.(47) Arrests of Thai agents accused of sending women to Japan to engage in sex work have revealed links to Yakuza members in Japan, and there have been credible reports of ties between ethnic Chinese crime syndicates operating in Thailand and the Yakuza.(48) Criminal syndicates in Thailand are involved in sending women to other parts of the world as well, including the United Kingdom, France, the United States, Australia, and South Africa.(49)

The Sex Industry in Japan

Government policies

Foreign women employed in the Japanese sex industry are part of an enormous undertaking, with estimated gross annual earnings of between four and ten trillion yen (US$33.6 billion - 84 billion), approximately one to three percent of Japan's GNP.(50) The wide range in estimates may in part reflect different decisions about what types of enterprises to include, as Japan has a large and varied sex entertainment industry, with both legal and illegal components. "Prostitution," narrowly defined as the sale of sexual intercourse on a repeated basis, was prohibited in Japan for the first time in 1958, under the Prostitution Prevention Law. A wide range of sexual acts, however, have remained outside the purview of prohibitions on prostitution, and businesses involving the sale of such services are regulated under the Law on Control and Improvement of Amusement Businesses (hereinafter, the Entertainment Businesses Law).

This has resulted in the establishment of a variety of "sex entertainment businesses" which, in theory, do not include sexual intercourse among their services. These include "image clubs," where role playing and oral sex are the norm; "pink sarons,"(51) which are similar to the image clubs without the role playing; and "SM Clubs," where customers can engage in activities such as cross-dressing and anal sex. These businesses fall under Japan's Entertainment Businesses Law, which regulates the types of services they may provide, specifies detailed reporting requirements, establishes zoning restrictions, and sets minimum age levels for clients and employees. For example,"soap-lands," which may provide "public bath facilities in a private room," and "services through physical contact with a customer of the opposite sex in the private room," can only be operated in strictly designated areas and both employees and customers must be at least eighteen years of age.(52) There are also a number of businesses that routinely include sexual intercourse, but evade legal sanctions by arranging for sexual activities to occur off-premises, making anti-prostitution provisions difficult to enforce. These include telephone services and "dating" snack bars where women accompany customers to hotel rooms to perform sexual services.(53) Finally, a number of brothels continue to operate throughout the country. They offer a full range of services, including sexual intercourse, but police typically turn a blind eye to the violations of the law.(54)

Role of foreign migrants

There are an estimated 150,000 non-Japanese women employed in the Japanese sex industry, primarily from other Asian countries such as Thailand and the Philippines.(55) These women are typically employed in the lower rungs of the industry. Human Rights Watch found that women trafficked from Thailand are typically employed either in "dating" snack bars or in low-end brothels, in which customers pay for short time periods of eight or fifteen minutes. Abuses are common as job brokers and employers take advantage of foreign women's vulnerability as undocumented migrants: they cannot seek recourse from the police or other law enforcement authorities without risking deportation and potential prosecution, and they are isolated by language barriers, a lack of community, and a lack of familiarity with their surroundings. Compounding the difficulty and danger of escape, women in "debt" are kept under constant surveillance, their wages are withheld, and their passports and other documentation are confiscated, depriving them of proof of identity. In addition, the Yakuza is heavily involved in the operation of many of these establishments; bar and brothel owners are often Yakuza members themselves, or else pay protection money to the Yakuza in exchange for assistance both in "disciplining" women who disobey orders or attempt to escape and in evading police and immigration raids.(56) As one Japanese sex worker--and sex workers' rights activist--explained to Human Rights Watch, "Foreign sex workers are kept isolated, without information about Japan, and their passports are confiscated. Japanese women are too knowledgeable about their rights, so owners use foreigners. Other Asian woman, in particular, are viewed as controllable by Japanese men."(57)

The brokers and employers involved in recruiting foreign women into Japan derive enormous profits from their earnings. Even at the lower end of the sex industry, fees are significant, and brokers and employers take a large cut by entirely withholding wages from women in debt and taking up to fifty percent of the fees from non-indebted women. Women from Thailand who work in "dating" snack bars reported that clients were charged fees of 20,000 to 30,000 yen (US$170-250(58)) for two hours and 30,000 to 50,000 yen (US$250-340) for a full night. While in debt, the women typically worked seven nights a week, servicing between one and three clients a night, and all of their earnings went to their employer. Using conservative figures, a noted Thai economist estimated the gross annual income generated by Thai sex workers in Japan as 310,500 million yen (US$3.3 billion).(59)


A Global Problem

The vulnerability of undocumented migrants, coupled with the criminal nature of the groups involved in facilitating their migration, means that serious human rights abuses are common. This is particularly true in the case of women's migration into sex work. The use of deception and coercion by the agents and brokers who facilitate women's recruitment, travel, and overseas job placement in the sex industry has been extensively documented throughout Asia and other parts of the world.(60) This problem of trafficking in women has been on the international agenda for the last one hundred years, but efforts to clearly define the scope of the problem and to adopt concrete measures to remedy it have met with little success.(61)

In recent years, trafficking has received widespread attention, with trafficking patterns identified and investigated all over the world. The Asia Migrant Bulletin, for example, has documented the trafficking of migrants from the Philippines, Thailand, China, Indonesia, Burma, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, India, Nepal, and, more recently, from other Asian countries such as Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, and Fiji. Migrants from these countries have been trafficked to Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macau, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, India, and further to Australia, the Middle East, Europe, and the United States.(62) The International Organization for Migration (IOM) publishes a quarterly newsletter entitled "Trafficking in Migrants" that has included accounts of trafficking from all over the world, including Southeast Asia, East Asia, South Asia, the Middle East, Western Europe, Eastern Europe, South America, Central America, and North America.(63) The global scale of the trafficking problem was also highlighted at the Beijing Women's NGO Forum in September 1995.

Despite the increased attention, the actual extent of trafficking, both in terms of the number of persons trafficked and in terms of the profits made by traffickers, is still not known. In part this is because international attention has focused largely on the problem of trafficking of women for prostitution, often with the assumption that all migration into sex work is by definition coercive. However, other definitions acknowledge that men, women, and children are trafficked into a wide variety of labor sectors, including domestic labor, factories, construction, and criminal activity, including smuggling.(64) And some have stressed the fact that many women voluntarily decide to migrate for sex work and not all fall victim to trafficking abuses in the process.(65) Estimating the magnitude of trafficking operations is also difficult because of the illegal nature of the activity, and documenting the number of women trafficked can be particularly difficult because the victims often end up in informal--or illegal--labor sectors. One IOM study estimated that up to four million persons are trafficked internationally each year--with those involved in the trade making a profit of up to $7 billion--but this study defined trafficking to include all facilitation of illegal migration for a profit, whether or not elements of coercion or deception are involved.(66)

Into the Japanese sex industry

The trafficking of women into the sex industry in Japan has been a significant problem for many years. It first received attention in the late 1970s and early 1980s, when women from the Philippines began migrating to Japan in large numbers, often falling victim to gross abuses in the process. In 1981, the governments of Japan and the Philippines officially acknowledged the demand for Filipina "entertainers" in Japan, and agreed to facilitate the process of issuing "entertainer visas" to women from the Philippines. Over the course of the next decade, the number of entertainer visas issued to applicants from the Philippines increased from about nine thousand to more than forty thousand per year.(67) The evidence suggests that these visas have improved women's position vis-a-vis agents, brokers, and employers, making them less vulnerable to abuse and exploitation in the workplace than migrant women who enter Japan on tourist or transit visas.(68)

There are limits, however, to the advantages Filipina women possess. Many continue to enter Japan on tourist visas, unable to obtain one of the still limited number of entertainer visas. This problem has been exacerbated by the heightened application requirements imposed by the Philippines government in the 1990s,(69) which were adopted in response to reports of serious abuses of Filipina women working in Japan on entertainer visas.(70) Moreover, peculiarities in the regulations governing entertainer visas significantly reduce their effectiveness in protecting the women's rights. The most obvious problem is that while Filipinas who enter Japan on entertainer visas have the right to work, they are officially classified as "non-workers" and are not covered by Japanese labor laws.(71) Consequently, any appeals for violation of their contracts, which are frequent, must be directed to immigration authorities rather than labor officials, and enforcing labor standards is not an Immigration Bureau priority.(72) One study of Filipina workers in the Japanese entertainment industry found that even those women with entertainer visas, or "contract workers," are commonly subjected to labor violations and other abuses by their employers. Nonetheless, the study concluded that the contract workers generally suffered less abuse, both in terms of financial exploitation and other rights violations, than their non-contract worker counterparts from the Philippines.(73)

Trafficking of women from Thailand into Japan's sex industry reached large-scale proportions in the late 1980s, and remains an egregious problem more than a decade later. No effort has been made by the Japanese and Thai governments to regularize the migration of Thai women, as in the case of Filipina migrants discussed above, even though the evidence suggests that such measures could reduce their vulnerability to abuse. Japanese economic recessions in the 1990s, coupled with an increase in the enforcement of immigration law, have had a dampening effect on migration flows, and, according to Japanese government statistics, the number of female Thai "overstayers" has been gradually declining from a high of almost 30,000 in 1993.(74) However, even by official Japanese government estimates, the number of female overstayers from Thailand continues to exceed 20,000,(75) and as pointed out above, this excludes the numerous women from Thailand who have entered the country on non-Thai passports. Moreover, our research indicates that the abuses new entrants commonly suffer at the hands of their traffickers and initial employers in Japan remain largely unchanged.


1. "Toward Regional Cooperation on Irregular/Undocumented Migration," International Symposium on Migration, Bangkok, Thailand, April 21-23, 1999.

2. Philip Guest and Kritaya Archavanitkul, "Managing the Flow of Migration: Regional Approaches," Institute for Population and Social Research, Mahidol University, IPSR Publication No. 233, 1999.

3. Pasuk Phongpaichit, "The Illegal Economy of Trafficking in Migrants," in Voices of Thai Women, October 1997.

4. Japanese National Police Agency White Paper on Crime, 1995. Note that these numbers include temporary visitors (i.e. tourists) as well as labor migrants.

5. Immigration Bureau, Ministry of Justice, Japan, "Immigration." Available:; /ib-03.htm; /ib-11.htm; /ib-14.htm. February 2000. Note that this is still a very small percentage of Japan's 65 million person workforce.

6. Kiriro Morita and Saskia Sassen, "The New Illegal Immigration in Japan, 1980-1992," IMR, vol.28(1), 1993, p. 162.

7. Anchalee Singhanetra-Renard, "Networks for Female Migration Between Thailand and Japan," International Seminar on International Female Migration and Japan: Networking, Settlement and Human Rights, December 12-14, 1995, Tokyo, Japan, p. 6.

8. Naomi Hosoda, "The International Division of Labour and the Commodification of Female Sexuality: The Case of Filipino Women in the Japanese Entertainment Industry," thesis submitted to the Department of Political Studies, Queen's University, Ontario, Canada, January 1994, p. 13.

9. Ibid., p. 14.

10. Aaron Stern, "Thailand's Migration Situation and its Relations with APEC Members and Other Countries in Southeast Asia," Asian Research Center for Migration, Institute of Asian Studies, January 1998, p. 57.

11. Singhanetra-Renard, "Networks for Female Migration . . .," International Seminar, December 12-14, 1995, Tokyo, Japan, p. 2.

12. Overseas Employment Administration Office, Thailand's Ministry of Labor, "Estimated Numbers of Thai Workers Abroad, by Country, 1988-1994," Yearbook of Labor Statistics.

13. Singhanetra-Renard, "Networks for Female Migration . . .," International Seminar, December 12-14, 1995, Tokyo, Japan, p. 11.

14. These include both documented and undocumented migrants. Scalabrini Migration Center, Asian Migration Atlas 1999. Available: February 2000.

15. Noriyuki Suzuki and Phannee Chunjitkaruna, "Thai Migrant Workers in Japan," paper presented at the International Workshop on Research Project on Thai Migrant Workers in Southeast and East Asia, Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok, Thailand, August 5-7, 1998.

16. Mizuho Matsuda, "Women from Thailand," AMPO Japan-Asia Quarterly Review, vol. 23., no. 4, 1992.

17. Japan Immigration Association, Statistics on Immigration Control 1994 (Tokyo: 1994).

18. The National Police Agency, "White Paper of the Police," 1996, pp. 308-309, quoted in International Organization for Migration, Trafficking in Women to Japan for Sexual Exploitation: A Survey on the Case of Filipino Women (Geneva: IOM, 1997), p. 7.

19. The duties of a "hostess" in a Japanese bar generally include flirting with customers and serving drinks and snacks; in some establishments, customers can also pay to take "hostesses" to nearby hotels for sexual services.

20. Japan Immigration Association, Statistics on Immigration Control 1994 (Tokyo: 1994).

21. The National Police Agency, "White Paper of the Police," 1996, pp. 308-309, quoted in International Organization for Migration, Trafficking in Women to Japan for Sexual Exploitation: A Survey on the Case of Filipino Women, (Geneva: IOM, 1997), p. 7.

22. A Thai Embassy official in Japan provided this estimate in "40,000 Thai women work as prostitutes in Japan," The Nation, September 9, 1994. See also "A multi-million baht business," Bangkok Post, Sunday, August 18, 1996; Presentation by Yayori Matsui at the Asian Women's Human Rights Conference, Waseda University, 1995.

23. See Phongpaichit, "The Illegal Economy . . .," Voices of Thai Women, vol. 16, October 1997; "Over 40,000 Thais Suffer in Japan," Bangkok Post, January 3, 1997 (summary of research conducted by Suriya Samutkupt and Pattana Kitiarsa).

24. Human Rights Watch interview with Suriya Samutkupt, Professor of Anthropology, Institute of Social Technology, Suranaree University of Technology, Nakhon Ratchasima province, Thailand, April 27, 1999.

25. Human Rights Watch interview, Tokyo, Japan, April 15, 1999.

26. Immigration Bureau, Ministry of Justice, Japan, "Immigration." Available: February 2000.

27. Japan's real economic growth rate dropped from 3.8% to 1.0% from 1991 to 1992, and then sunk to .3% in 1993. (International Department, Bank of Japan, "Comparative Economic and Financial Statistics: Japan and other Major Countries," August 31, 1998.)

28. "Cracking Down on Foreign Workers; Government Exploits Recession Fears: an interview with Kobayashi Kengo," AMPO Japan-Asia Quarterly Review, vol. 25, no.1, 1994.

29. Montse Watkins, "'Coming Back' to Japan: The Nikkei Workers," AMPO Japan-Asia Quarterly Review, vol. 23, no. 4, 1992, p. 31.

Further evidence of these restrictive policies is seen in Japan's highly restrictive asylum policies. Though Japan is a signatory to the Refugee Convention and purports to follow the provisions of that Convention, it has approved a strikingly small percentage of asylum applications. In the seven years from 1982 to 1988, Japan approved 192 out of 814 applications for refugee status, and in the following eight years, from 1989 to 1996, Japan approved seventeen out of 514, including only one approval per year in 1994, 1995, and 1996. (Japan Civil Liberties Union, "1998 Report Concerning the Present Status of Human Rights in Japan (Third Counter Report)," October 1998.) In 1998, the number of persons granted refugee status reached a high of sixteen, but this figure fell to eleven in 1999. ("Takuya Asakura, "Asylum said in short supply here," Japan Times, December 24, 1999.)

30. Pipat Lertkittisusk, "Japan rights groups reach out to Thai counterparts," Bangkok Post, July 9, 1990. In 1996, Japan issued a total of 53, 952 entertainer visas. More than a third of these visas were issued to migrants from the Philippines, who accounted for more than 78 percent of total number of "entertainers" admitted from Asia. Only 176 entertainer visas were issued to Thai nationals; the vast majority of Thai entrants entered Japan on temporary visitor visas. (Japan Immigration Association statistics, "The Number of New Entrants Classified by Nationality/Area of Origin and Status of Residence (Purpose of Entry), 1996." Available: December 1999.)

31. Ma. Rosario P. Ballescas, Filipino Entertainers in Japan: An Introduction, (Quezon City: The Foundation for Nationalist Studies, 1992).

32. Skilled laborers may also enter Japan on trainee visas, but the great majority are issued to unskilled migrants (Morita and Sassen, "The New Illegal Immigration . . ." IMR, vol. 28 (1), p. 153).

33. Kenichi Furuya, "Labor Migration and Skill Development: Japan's Trainee Program," Asian Migrant, vol. viii, no. 1, January-March 1995, p. 8.

34. Immigration Control Association, "Summarized Statistics on Immigration Control," quoted in Kenichi Furuya, "Labor Migration and Skill Development: Japan's Trainee Program," Asian Migrant, vol. viii, no. 1, January-March 1995, p. 9.

35. See Morita and Sassen, "The New Illegal Immigration . . .," IMR, vol. 28 (1); Furuya, "Labor Migration and Skill Development . . .," Asian Migrant, vol. viii, no. 1.


36. In November 1999, the Mission for the Revitalization of the Asian Economy, which was set up by the Japanese Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi in response to the Japanese economic recession, observed that Japan needed to accept a much wider range of foreign workers in the country (BBC World Service, "Japan 'must open up to foreigners,'" November 17, 1999).

37. Immigration Bureau, Japan's Ministry of Justice,"Foreigners staying without legal documents by country of origin," March 1996. Note that the number of Thai overstayers peaked in mid-1993 at 55,383, and then began to gradually decline.

38. Immigration Bureau, Japan's Ministry of Justice, "Change in Number of Illegal Overstayers by Nationality (Place of Origin)," January 1, 1997.

39. Human Rights Watch interview with Udom Sapito, Counsellor, Royal Thai Embassy, Tokyo, Japan, May 19, 1995.

40. See International Organization for Migration, "Trafficking in Migrants: IOM Policy and Activity" (Geneva, May 1997) for a general discussion of how the "unabated demand for migration, coupled with stricter entry controls or requirements, has provided entrepreneurs with a potential for profit."

41. See Pasuk Phongpaichit, Sungsidh Piriyarangsan, and Nualnoi Treerat, Guns, Girls, Gambling, Ganja: Thailand's Illegal Economy and Public Policy (Chiang Mai: Silkworm Books, 1998), p. 166; Yayori Matsui, "Trafficking in Asian Women and Prostitution in Japan," Asia-Japan Women's Resource Center Newsletter, no. 1, August 1995, pp. 29-31; Pisan Manawapat, "From sex, exploitation to finally crime in Japan," The Nation, January 16, 1993.

42. "Villagers cheated through offers of work in Japan," Bangkok Post, October 2, 1995. Human Rights Watch similarly found that women migrating from Thailand typically did not understand the legal implications of their migration decisions until after they had arrived in Japan or had committed themselves to going.

43. See "Prostitution ring broken in Shinjuku," Asahi Shimbun (English version), August 12, 1999; "Three Thai arrested for arranging prostitution in Japan," Kyodo New International Inc., August 16, 1999; "Over 40,000 Thais Suffer in Japan," Bangkok Post, January 3, 1997; Chitraporn Vanaspong, "A multi-million baht business," Bangkok Post, August 18, 1997, p. 4.

44. "Yakuza" refers to long-standing organized crime groups in Japan that are now officially known as "Boryokudan."

45. See Phongpaichit, Piriyarangsan, and Treerat, Guns, Girls, Gambling, Ganja: Thailand's Illegal Economy and Public Policy, p. 166; Donald Wilson, "The Sinking Sun," The Sunday Nation, September 4, 1994, pp. C1, C3; Matsui, "Trafficking in Asian Women and Prostitution in Japan," Asia-Japan Women's Resource Center Newsletter, no. 1, pp. 29-31; David E. Kaplan and Alec Dubro, Yakuza: The Explosive Account of Japan's Criminal Underworld (Reading, Massachusetts: Addison-Wesley Publishing Company, Inc., 1986).

46. See Sonni Efron, "In Japan, a Thriving Business in Illegal Immigrants," International Herald Tribune, February 4, 1997, pp. 1, 10; "Japanese, Thai police to discuss crime crackdown," Bangkok Post, March 6, 1995; "Crackdown helping to cut down prostitution in Japan," Bangkok Post, December 14, 1994;

47. See Michael Vatikiotis, Sachiko Sakamaki, and Gary Silverman, "On the Margin: Organized crime profits from the flesh trade," Far East Economic Review, December 14, 1995; "Hokuriku Special: Illegal immigrants find new gateway," Japan Times, April 19,1999; Gregory Gross, "Mexican women forced to be sex slaves: Taken to Japan, they were victimized by organized crime," San Diego Union-Tribune, May 3, 1996, p. A-1; "Crackdown helping to cut down prostitution in Japan," Bangkok Post, December 15, 1994; "Japan: the Illusion of Immigration Control," in Wayne, Cornelius, Philip Martin and James Hollifield [eds.], Controlling Immigration a Global Perspective, 1994; Human Rights Watch interview with Rutsuko Shoji, Director, HELP Asian Women's Shelter, Tokyo, Japan, April 8, 1999.

48. See Chitraporn Vanaspong, "A multi-million baht business," Bangkok Post, August 18, 1996, p. 4; "Girls pack up and quit Japan," Bangkok Post, August 9, 1996; "Yakuza links may have led to flesh trade gang leader's killing," The Nation (Bangkok, Thailand), March 8, 1995, p. A5; "Three men arrested for supplying prostitutes," Bangkok Post, February 9, 1994, p. 6; Hiroshi Komai (translated by Jens Wilkinson), Migrant Workers in Japan, (London: Kegan Paul International, Ltd., 1995), p. 78; Vatikiotis, Sakamaki, and Silverman, "On the Margin . . .," Far East Economic Review; Phongpaichit, Piriyarangsan, and Treerat, Guns, Girls, Gambling, Ganja: Thailand's Illegal Economy and Public Policy, p. 166; Wilson, "The Sinking Sun," The Sunday Nation; Matsui, "Trafficking in Asian Women and Prostitution in Japan," Asia-Japan Women's Resource Center Newsletter, no. 1, pp. 29-31; David E. Kaplan and Alec Dubro, Yakuza: The Explosive Account of Japan's Criminal Underworld (Reading, Massachusetts: Addison-Wesley Publishing Company, Inc., 1986).

49. See R. Robin McDonald, "Human Contraband: Asian women expected jobs, not prostitution," The Atlanta Constitution, August 31, 1999, p. C8; "U.S. Says Asian Women Held In Prostitution Scheme," Reuters, August 20, 1999; Andrew Drummon, "Flesh Market: More and more Thai women are being tricked into prostitution by global traffickers," Bangkok Post, May 23, 1999; "France bids adieu to 40 vice girls," Bangkok Post, April 7, 1999; "Thai sex slaves working in SA," Bangkok Post, September 6, 1994.

50. See "Weekend Economic Forecast," Asahi Newspaper, April 6, 1991; HELP Asian Women's Shelter, "An Alternative Report (Non-Governmental) To the United Nations," 1993; and "Women From Across the Sea: Migrant Workers in Japan," published by Asian Women's Association, Tokyo Japan 1988, p.45, respectively. The dollar figures have been calculated using the average yen-dollar exchange rate for the nine year period from 1990-1998: 119 yen to the U.S. dollar. Average yearly rates fluctuated between 94 and 145 yen to the U.S. dollar during that period.

51. This term is taken from the English expression, "pink saloon."

52. Entertainment Businesses Law, Article 4, 4-1. See the "Japanese Government Response" chapter for a more detailed description of this law.

53. SWEETLY (Sex Workers! Encourage, Empower, Trust and Love Yourselves!) publication.

54. Human Rights Watch interview with Momocca Momocco, founder of SWEETLY (Sex Workers! Encourage, Empower, Trust and Love Yourselves!), Kyoto, Japan, April 12, 1999.

55. "Prostitution in Asia Increasingly Involves Trafficking," Trafficking in Migrants, no. 15, June 1997.

56. The Yakuza's involvement in the procurement and employment of foreign women in the Japanese sex industry is well-documented. See Vatikiotis, Sakamaki, and Silverman, "On the Margin . . .," Far East Economic Review; Matsui, "Trafficking in Asian Women and Prostitution in Japan," Asia-Japan Women's Resource Center Newsletter, no. 1, pp. 29-31; Alexandra Black, "Japan: Foreign Women Workers Forced into Flesh Trade," an Inter Press Service Feature, September 16, 1994; Wilson, "The Sinking Sun," The Sunday Nation; "Japanese ordeal ends for girl in tearful reunion," The Nation, April 8, 1994; Pisan Manawapat, "From sex, exploitation to finally crime in Japan," The Nation, January 16, 1993; "MPD: Thai Women Help Businessmen Close Deals," The Daily Yomiuri, October 10, 1992, p. 3.

Human Rights Watch interviews with women from Thailand who worked in the Japanese sex industry--including one woman who was the manager of a snack bar--as well as with women's shelter staff and other advocates in the field consistently confirmed that Yakuza members operate some sex establishments directly, while providing protection and disciplinary services to others.

57. Human Rights Watch interview with Momocca Momocco, founder of SWEETLY (Sex Workers! Encourage, Empower, Trust and Love Yourselves!), Kyoto, Japan, April 12, 1999.

58. These dollar amounts were calculated using the average yen-dollar exchange rate over the nine year period from 1990-1998.

59. Phongpaichit, Piriyarangsan, and Treerat, Guns, Girls, Gambling, Ganja: Thailand's Illegal Economy and Public Policy, p. 171. This amount was calculated for 1995 using an estimated 23,000 Thai sex workers, an average fee per client of thirty thousand yen, and an average rate of 1.5 clients per day, 300 days per year. The dollar figure was calculated using the average exchange rate for 1995. (Note that due to a miscalculation, the book cites a total of 3,105,000 million yen (one decimal point too many), but the figures used to make this calculation are those noted in this footnote.)

60. See "Prostitution in Asia Increasingly Involves Trafficking," Trafficking in Migrants, no. 15, June 1997.

61. Human Rights Watch understands that a definition of trafficking should include all acts related to the recruitment, transport, transfer, sale, or purchase of human beings by force, fraud, deceit, or other coercive tactic, for the purpose of placing them into conditions of forced labor or practices similar to slavery, in which labor is extracted through physical and/or non-physical means of coercion, including blackmail, fraud, deceit, isolation, threat or use of physical force, or psychological pressure. For a more detailed discussion of the definition of the term, see the "International Legal Standards on Trafficking" chapter.

62. Asia Migrant Bulletin, July-December, 1995, Volume III, No. 3&4.

63. See Trafficking in Migrants, no. 10 (March 1996) - no. 19 (July 1999).

64. 1998 Regional Conference on Trafficking in Women Report, Nov. 3rd - 4th, Bangkok, Thailand.

65. Jo Doezema, "Loose Women or Lost Women? The re-emergence of the myth of "white slavery" in contemporary discourses of 'trafficking in women,'" presented at the ISA Convention, Washington, D.C., February 17-21, 1999.

66. International Organization for Migration, "Trafficking in Migrants: IOM Policy and Activities" (Geneva, May 1997).

67. Hosoda, "The International Division of Labour . . .," thesis submitted to the Department of Political Studies, Queen's University, Ontario, Canada, p. 14.

68. Human Rights Watch interview with Rutsuko Shoji, Director, HELP Asian Women's Shelter, Tokyo, Japan, April 8, 1999. In Filipino Entertainers in Japan: An Introduction, Ballescas also finds that Filipina women working in Japan on entertainer visas enjoy somewhat better conditions than those with tourist visas.

69. There is some evidence that policies of the Japanese and Philippine governments to discourage women from coming to Japan as entertainers--including stricter visa requirements by the Japanese Immigration Office and stiffer conditions imposed on women leaving to work as entertainers by the Philippines' labor department--have pushed an increasing number of Filipina women into abusive marriages with Japanese nationals. (Luz Rimban, "Rights: Marriage is Ticket to Living in Japan," Inter Press Service, January 1998. Available: October 1999.)

70. The exploitation of Filipina entertainers in Japan received widespread attention after Maricris Sioson, a twenty-two-year-old Filipina entertainer, died in Japan on September 14, 1991. Her death certificate indicated that she died of hepatitis, but when an autopsy was performed in the Philippines, at her family's request, Dr. Arizala of the Philippine National Bureau of Investigation found that she had suffered severe blows to the head and two stab wounds, one in the thigh and one in the genital area. Dr. Arizala determined that though she was suffering from the early stages of hepatitis, her death was due to traumatic head injuries. Appeals were made to the Japanese government to investigate her death, but the Japanese police continued to insist that she died of natural causes. (Equality Now, "Japan: The Death of Maricris Sioson," Women's Action 4.1, December 1993.)

71. Ballescas, Filipino Entertainers in Japan: An Introduction, p. 9.

72. Human Rights Watch interview with Rutsuko Shoji, Director, Asian Women's Shelter HELP, Tokyo, April 8, 1999.

73. Ballescas, Filipino Entertainers in Japan: An Introduction.

74. This fits the general pattern of undocumented migration in Japan. According to Japanese government estimates, the number of foreign nationals illegally residing in Japan peaked at 297,000 in 1993, and had fallen to 283,000 by 1997, the last year for which such statistics were available at the time of this publication. (Ministry of Justice, Japan, "Estimated number of illegal stays by foreign nationals." Available: February 2000.)

75. The most recent statistics available from the Japanese government at the time of this publication were for January 1997, at which time there were an estimated 22, 574 Thai women overstaying their visas in Japan. (Immigration Bureau, Ministry of Justice, Japan, "Change in illegal stays by country of origin," March 1997.)