Japanese flesh traders targeting Western women
Many unaware of sex trade dangers
By Akemi Nakamura
January 13, 2005
A 23-year-old Russian woman became intrigued with the idea of working as a
hostess in Japan a few years ago after a friend returned home flush with cash
from hostessing and opened a boutique.
But if there's a silver lining, there is also a dark cloud.
"There are few job opportunities in my country," said the woman, now a hostess
at a nightclub in the Kinshicho district in Tokyo's Sumida Ward. "I want to
start up my own business (in Russia) like my friend."
The woman began hostessing two years ago and now earns 60,000 yen to 70,000 yen
in basic monthly salary, plus tips from customers and commissions from the
club. But there are also extracurricular activities that come with the turf.
"I don't like this job because (Japanese customers) do indecent things and talk
about sex. If I go for a drive with a customer, I fear I might be taken to a
strange place," she said. "It's very stressful."
But the woman, who is now married to a Japanese, said she will stick with the
job for a while so she can save more money and achieve her dreams.
Women from Europe, North America and Oceania find working as hostesses or
dancers here an easy way to make a quick fortune to pay for travels, education
or investments. But many may not be aware of how close they are to danger.
People familiar with the sex trade said that like many of their counterparts
from developing countries in Asia and Latin America, Western women have since
the late 1980s been victims of sexual and financial exploitation here.
Rob Cox, an Australian who worked as a nightclub agent in Tokyo's Roppongi
district for three years since 2000, said he heard from many Australian
hostesses and strippers about various forms of abuse.
For example, a 23-year-old stripper from Sydney was raped by four customers at
a club after she had drinks probably spiked with drugs.
Others told him they were promised 24,000 Australian dollars a month to work as
strippers but got A$15,000 or less, according to Cox, who now lives in
His job was to provide daily support for hostesses and dancers at several clubs
for their accommodations and problems at the workplace, which made him learn
how badly the victimized women were suffering physically and mentally, he said.
Cox wrote a book about the women's difficulties and hopes to publish it to
raise public awareness in Japan and Australia about the true nature of the
"Girls do know that they would come as hostesses (or dancers) . . . but what
they are not told in Australia before they come is that they come to work
illegally" or that their jobs could involve sexual abuse, he said.
Western women are often recruited by shady "model agencies" or "promoters" and
enter Japan with tourist or entertainer visas. But since neither visa allows
them to work as hostesses, many are counted as illegal workers.
This allows sleazy brokers, club managers and patrons to take advantage of
Cox said the foreign victims he met in Tokyo did not report their sexual or
financial exploitation to police because they were afraid of being detained and
They also feared people back home would find out what happened to them in Japan
if their cases were made public, he added.
Taiyo Akagi, a journalist familiar with the nation's sex industry, said Russian
hostesses and dancers are often warned by their recruiters that their kin back
home could be harmed if they tried to run away before their contracts expire.
Masamitsu Goda, who runs a Tokyo bar that employs Russian hostesses, claimed
few of them actually become victims of sexual or drug abuse.
"Only a fraction (of the promoters) bring women in without elaborating on their
job (conditions) and force them into prostitution," he said.
Goda, however, warned that some patrons at these types of bars can be
dangerous, noting the "standards of morality" are lax.
Businessman Joji Obara is currently on trial, charged with fatally drugging
Briton Lucie Blackman and raping her during a "compensated date" in 2000 after
meeting her at a Roppongi bar.
Obara is also accused of fatally drugging an Australian woman in 1992, and
drugging and raping eight other women, two of them Westerners, from the late
1990s to 2000.
Western hostesses and dancers who are sexually and financially abused should be
counted as victims of human-trafficking in a broad sense, said Keiko Otsu,
director of HELP Asian Women's Shelter, a nongovernmental group that works on
behalf of foreign women in Japan.
Most human-trafficking cases in Japan involve women from other parts of Asia
and Latin America. They are usually forced into prostitution after unknowingly
incurring millions of yen in debt upon arrival in Japan.
According to the National Police Agency, 46 human-trafficking cases were
reported between January and September involving 27 foreign women -- 21 from
Thailand, four from Colombia and two from Russia. The women had been forced to
work as hostesses, strippers or prostitutes, and 12 brokers and 18 club owners
and managers were arrested.
Of the 27 women, 22 Thais and Colombians were told upon arrival that they owed
the brokers between 2 million yen and 6.6 million yen for air fare and passport
and other miscellaneous expenses they were unaware of before agreeing to the
jobs, an NPA official said. The Russians also told the NPA their employers were
taking some of their pay.
But these figures represent just the tip of the iceberg. Last June, the United
States put Japan on its special watch list of countries on the verge of falling
into the worst category of human-trafficking.
The government hopes to correct the situation by revising laws this year.
The NPA meanwhile has formed contacts with 22 embassies in Japan, the
International Labor Organization, the International Organization for Migration
and a few other groups working on behalf of foreign women in this country.
The organizations are cooperating on information exchanges, trafficking cases
and victim support, the NPA official said.
Otsu of HELP said Japan needs to take more concrete measures to reach out to
victimized women, such as launching 24-hour hotlines. She also said the
government should reach out to more Westerners.
"Many Asian women knew about our group, but we'd like (Western women) to know
about us," said Otsu, adding that Western women have not sought help from her
group in recent years.
To provide better care for foreign women, "we also need cooperation from their
fellow communities" in Japan, she said.
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