Home > Focus on Japan 2005 > Japayuki


February 20th, 2005

EDITOR’S NOTE: Please read this first. I have received angry comments from [presumably] Philippine citizens who seem to presume that this article brands all Filipina entertainers and/or workers as sex slaves. This is not true. If you read the article carefully, it does not at any point say that all, 60%, or any other number or percentage of Filipinas entering Japan are prostitutes, willing or unwilling. I am not saying that there are no legitimate Filipina workers. This article only states that some undetermined number of that group are forced into prostitution. It could be 3%, it could be 30%, it could be more or less, I have no idea, and I am not guessing. But it does happen, that much is certain. I am not stereotyping, I am not accusing, I am not branding anyone as anything. So please stop accusing me of such. Thank you.

“Japayuki” was a popular term used in the 1980’s–literally, it means “Japan-bound”–to describe young foreign women, predominantly Filipinas, who came to Japan on the promise of work in the entertainment or housekeeping industries, but wound up all too often working as prostitutes, essentially slaves in the sex industry. Their passports taken from them upon arrival, locked in small rooms with many other women in the same situation, and forced to pay off “debts” to their owners, these women were treated little better by the police, who commonly did not “find” them until they had served their owners for some time, and were treated as criminals themselves, instantly deported from Japan after being arrested. If the men who trafficked in them were ever arrested, it was rarely if ever reported.

And this is not something that disappeared in the early 90’s–it still goes on today, perhaps just as strongly now as it did back then.

The sex industry in Japan has long been overlooked by the law. Go to Kabukicho near Shinjuku, or any of many other red-light districts in Tokyo and in Japan, and you’ll find the sex industry is pretty blatant. I recall even seeing a late-night television show many years ago in which a house of prostitution was even shown, following a patron inside where money was paid and the patron was directed to a room where a girl in a towel sat on a bed and directed the patron to use a condom (then cut away). The address of the brothel was even flashed on the screen.

This is, of course, in violation of Japanese law, but there are laws and then there are laws. The sex industry is ignored except for once every year or so when a politician accompanies a police raiding party, with news cameras in tow, in a raid against some club or another. It makes the evening news, prostitution is in check, yadda yadda yadda, and then business goes on. Yakuza gangs have long been similarly tolerated despite illegal gambling, prostitution and drug peddling; some say it’s because the police are too afraid or ill-equipped to do anything, others say it’s because the police and the yakuza are chummy, and others still say that the police tolerate the yakuza because they keep their turf clean–they keep other thieves in check and don’t step over understood lines of conduct. You can even see gambling going on, sometimes even institutionalized. Pachinko, for example: when you win at pachinko, you’re only supposed to be given prizes, not money (which would essentially be gambling). But there are little “shops” around the corner from some pachinko parlors, I am told, which will take the gifts you won and give you money in exchange.

Whatever the case, the yakuza are allowed to operate without too much interference, and so are the human traffickers–until, we are to believe, just now. Japan signed a U.N. treaty against human trafficking in 2002, and now it has to live up to its agreement–and is even more in the spotlight because of its very unsavory reputation in this area. The question is, will Japan really crack down on this industry? Or will it just continue to turn a blind eye, while having unenforced laws on the books that make it seem like the problem is being addressed?

One way to evaluate this is to look at what the new anti-trafficking law does. Although the provisions of the law are not laid out in detail anywhere I can find, three provisions are reported: first, immigration laws will be tightened. Presently, 130,000 “entertainer” visas are granted per year (something should have appeared fishy right there long ago, one would think), fully 60% of them issued for Filipinos. The reform? The Japanese government “will abolish a provision that allows singers and dancers certified as such in their home countries to automatically receive a Japanese visa.” Apparently, most Filipino “entertainers” are certified in the Philippines, which the Japanese government claims leads to human slavery. Hmmm. Sounds a little evasive to me; it does not seem to say anything about how the licensing will be monitored in Japan, or how Japan will stop the local criminals from doing the exact same thing on this side of the immigration counter. Nor is it clear how this will affect legitimate entertainers; there is protest from the Philippines and from within Japan about how this would hurt legitimate workers and employers.

Second: women found working as sex slaves arrested by police will not be immediately deported. The stated reason is so that the women will be able to stay to testify against the traffickers, but not much more is stated nor is very clear. Will the women be deported after testifying? What if they refuse to testify? If they are allowed to stay on, what support will they be given so as to have legal employment? Will they be protected against the criminals who employ them? I sincerely doubt all of these questions could be answered satisfactorily.

And then there’s the third provision, and perhaps the most dubious: foreign nationals may be summarily deported simply on the suspicion of being human traffickers. This may sound okay on the surface, but there are two huge caveats. First, it seems to suggest that a large number of the traffickers are non-Japanese. While I have no data on this, I quite frankly doubt that this is even close to being true, seeing as how territorial the Yakuza are. The provision seems more likely yet another attempt to paint the problem as a foreign crime, not as something the Japanese would be responsible for. And second, there is the question of abuse. No courts are involved, and from the appearance of things, no evidence is required. Apparently, the police could simply arrest you, claim you’re a trafficker, take you to Narita Airport and send you off, never to return. I don’t expect that English teachers or Otemachi businesspeople will be deported in such a way, but Koreans, often stereotyped as gangsters, could be targeted especially, and the law could at some point be used as carte blanche to conveniently expel anyone the government doesn’t like.

I would be far more impressed if the police actually started doing their jobs–something that Japanese as well as foreign nationals agree is all too seldom the case.

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  1. February 21st, 2005 at 06:43 | #1

    Not play on the stereotype you just mentioned, but I was always told that a good chunck of the Pachinko business is run buy the Korean Mafia here.

  2. Brad
    February 21st, 2005 at 14:50 | #2

    You know, I’m really starting to dislike the Japanese, reading everything you have to say. Mind you, I think I was predisposed against them in the first place, but all the things you’ve talked about – the prostitution here, letting the Yakuza run free, ‘gift money’ to rent, the whole Gajin (sorry if I misspelt it) thing, a comment someone left on one of your entries on how foreigners are picked up and held at the station for being … foreign, etcetera.

    Add to that other bits and pieces … like whales, etc … and I don’t think I like them very much.

    Serious question – I’m not racistly ranting here or anything – what can you tell me about how much the Japanese know, or are taught about, regarding their part in World War II? I.e. the atrocities of the Japanese during the war, second only to the eradication of the Jews by the Germans. I have the impression that most of the war is glossed over, not in the history books, etc. Can you tell me/us the real deal?


  3. Luis
    February 21st, 2005 at 23:00 | #3


    I think you’re getting a lopsided impression from me. I mean, I never type about the good stuff in the U.S., rather just tons of bad stuff, mostly in politics. But just because of that, no one should come to hate America. Criticism is always easier than praise (not that I see too much to praise about Bush specifically). My point is that you hear the bad stuff but not the good. I live here because I like the place.

    I did blog about some small good things here and here, but there are a lot of HUGE things that are good about Japan. Safety and lack of crime relative to the U.S. Wonderful, generous, helpful, friendly people. Strangers who are far more often polite and easier to get along with (in the U.S., even just on a few week’s vacation, it seems like some jerk gets aggressive or threatening in some way–far more than happens to me ever in Japan). Great public transportation. Incredible Internet service. Rich culture. So forth and so on.

    But rarely are these issues to be discussed–though I do comment on them from time to time. But it’s always easier to pick up the controversial items.

    Every country has its warts, and Japan has no fewer and no more than the U.S.

    About history: yes, it very often gets glossed over, especially the period from 1910 to 1944, when Japan was at its worst. Some history teachers provide that as “optional” reading for the students, and pick up with the carpet bombing of Tokyo and the atomic bombings, giving many the impression of Japan being an up-and-coming world power, quickly industrializing–and then suddenly they’re being bombed. And then the Japanese economic miracle, with little or no mention of the impact of the Korean and Vietnam Wars or massive economic and technological aid from the West. So yes, many–not all, but many–get the whitewash.

    But can you say that this doesn’t happen in U.S. schools? That Americans are just as intolerant of bleaker readings of our history? What happens when a museum exhibit about Hiroshima and Nagasaki goes up in the U.S. and does not take the “we had to do it” tack? When they point out that we left the cities untouched so as to be measured as experiments? Usually, severe protests from veterans and others. What did we do in the Philippines after we got the territory? Lots of stuff in our own past gets whitewashed in history classes, too…

  4. Myla Okinari
    June 11th, 2005 at 22:25 | #4

    Honestly, I was hurt when you said that 60% of Japayukis are Filipinas and that we are prostitutes. I am a Filipina married to a Japanese national and was once an entertainer. I am a professional dancer, did study ballet and jazz before they certified me as a “Performing Artist”. Have you ever been in a club? If not would you like to go to any Philippine pub in Japan and see for yourself what kind of job we are doing. Maybe you can differentiate us from other japayukis. When you get inside the club, try to offer some money to a Filipina hostess so you can take her out and you’ll be surprised if they refuse. You can probably ask for a date and they would agree because every one of us find most foreigners…handsome. Going to a club is in the system of every Japanese. Men and women go to karaoke club to unwind. It is due to their custom that superiors are always right. They have no right to disagree to the commands given to them which result to a stressful day. Inside the club they are treated like kings. The hostess welcomes them with hot towels, ushers them to a table, mixes a drink, helps them to eat, assists them in looking for the songs that they wanted to sing, escort them to the stage or hand them the microphone if their song appears at the karaoke, applauds before and after their song, tries to converse with broken Japanese, hands them a hot towel everytime they went to the toilet. This is the kind of service that they want. This is not prostitution. And the reason why we are a majority is because they preferred Filipinas which are funny, humble, and smart. This is not my personal description but according to most customers that I interviewed. We are not locked in one room and asked to perform some sexual acts but we are free as birds to go anywhere we want. We do shopping and have dates almost everyday in different restaurants. And there are some customers who take us to hotels hoping to have sexual intercourse to them, but it’s up to us whether we will agree or not.

  5. Luis
    June 11th, 2005 at 22:41 | #5

    Honestly, I was hurt when you said that 60% of Japayukis are Filipinas and that we are prostitutes.Sorry, but I never said that. I said that in the 1980’s, “all too often” Filipinas coming over on entertainer visas were forced into prostitution, and later that 60% of the entertainer visas were issued to Filipinos. Note the “o” and not the “a”. That is not even close to what you claim, and I find your accusation rather insulting. Please read more carefully before saying such a thing.Have you ever been in a club? If not would you like to go to any Philippine pub in Japan and see for yourself what kind of job we are doing.I never said nor did I ever intend to say or even suggest that there are not legitimate entertainers. Of course there are. I only pointed out that an unknown number of them are brought in for illicit purposes, just like they are from almost any country to almost every other country, and that far too many are brought into the “white slavery” trade, and that Filipinas have all too often been victims of this.

    Do you disagree with that?

    As to the service you describe in the rest of your comment, I find nothing at all wrong with that, so long as working conditions are acceptable and the employees are treated as all employees should be treated. In fact, I made a point in the blog entry about legitimate workers, clearly showing that I was not saying all immigrant workers are in an illicit trade.

    I think you have misread my post rather badly; please read it carefully again, and if you still find fault, kindly point to specific quotes and make certain you have read them correctly. Thank you.

  6. RISSA
    September 9th, 2005 at 21:37 | #6

    [Editor’s Note: the following post was written with “code switching,” a linguistic habit of using more than one language within sentences, switching back and forth. I can only assume that the second language was Tagalog; however, since I could not understand or translate it, I have no idea if it violates comment policy on this blog. As a result, I offer the comment’s English portions only. If the author wishes to re-submit the comment fully in English or to have this comment deleted, I will honor said requests.]





  7. BlogD
    September 10th, 2005 at 01:43 | #7

    Rissa: As you may see from the Editor’s note I put in your comment, I could not understand most of your message. However, the meaning seems clear from the English portions that you did not understand my writing, either. Like Myla before, you seem to assume that I am saying that all Filipinas in Japan are prostitutes. I am not even saying how many of the 78,000 or so Philippine citizens in Japan on Entertainer visas have been forced into prostitution, because I do not know.

    I do know that people who come to Japan as teachers do not come on Entertainer visas (I am a teacher myself, so I should know–you would have either an Instructor or Specialist in Humanities/International Services visa), and I am fairly certain that dish washers, toilet cleaners, advisers and negotiators also require non-entertainer visas, and perhaps a few other the other jobs you list. I am not certain about all of those, but I find it doubtful that you could acquire an Entertainer visa with the stated claim that you have come to clean toilets.

    I am not judging anyone. I am not saying that any one person or any whole group are prostitutes.

    However, some Filipinas coming to Japan looking for honest work are forced into prostitution. You cannot deny that. I do not judge them, either. I do not assume that any of them come to Japan wanting such work.

    But it does happen.

  8. Lisa
    September 10th, 2005 at 13:07 | #8

    I believe that everyone is entitled for their own opinion…but that thing doesn’t mean that we had the right to judge other people’s life….each of us has our own choice,,I worked in japan as an entertainer but I chose the path of “clean business” no hanky panky! though there are “white lies” but upto that thing only …there are HARSH times that I’ve encountered some japanese customers—asking about “my price” at first you’ll be overwhelmed beacuse of the money 500$??but as I come to think of it,,”I can’t afford to do it,,for me it’s yucky,,and I told myself evethough I’m just an ordinary individual and alot of people “stereotype” us–that we’re all the same,i can prove them WRONG!!..working in a club looks like a dirty job but as long as I know myself..I’m still proud of who I am..
    Inside the club of japan each one of the girls their has their own “GAMBLE”..other’s don’t go fot that gamble but–the sad thing other’s gamble their life(those who play dirty games with yakuza),heart(those who are really inlove but doesn’t know if the guy has same feelings too??), and their body(those who are prostitute–!!),,,other’s we’re lucky to find true love–but it’s RARE!(I’m lucky to be one of those lucky..thank you LOrd) other’s we’re unfortunate,,they we’re fooled(raped,pregnant,No money,battered??)…–by those “veteran” guys, and fooled by their own dreams and intentions,,
    I could say that prostitute doesn’t only come from the philippines,but all over the world even in oher asina country….It’s really up to a person –her choices,,
    me I’m lucky now I’m getting married to fiance whose a japanese the one I truly love–he waited for me,he really patiently waited for me(unlike other’s whose only after on your BODY!!)…because of that patience, I love him more :-)may Godbless Me and KAZU on our starting life together :-)

  9. BlogD
    September 10th, 2005 at 13:43 | #9

    Lisa, it sounds like you made all the right choices, did all the right things, and you’ll have a happily-ever-after ending to your story. Congratulations on your marriage, and I wish all the best for you. Thanks for the comment!

  10. Jean
    June 24th, 2006 at 00:58 | #10

    You should write a blog about Filipinas beaten up to death, after sexually abused (repeatedly gang-raped is just one) and sent home in coffins to their helpless families, who are mostly very poor and cannot afford lawyers’ fees! Has Japan ever done a study on how many “Japayukis” they have murdered? The number of our women they raped and killed during World War II isn’t enough for them, obviously!

  11. Emma
    November 16th, 2006 at 14:28 | #11

    Realities in life hurts. Let’s admit it, there are innocent victims to illegal sex trades in Japan and those who are, well, willing to be the victim – be it Filipinas or otherwise. There are countless media attacks on Japanese sex trade. Mostly resulting from the entertainment scenes targeting women (who else). This would have been a signal of a BIG RED FLAG. Yet, a lot of women venture into this type of job and taking great chances – leaving home and family. All because the economy back home is too weak to provide each family food on the table. I would say, sending entertainers to Japan should be tightly regulated and reinforced by both government parties. I know this is not an easy task but my heart goes to innocent victims. In the meantime, take care of yourselves, ladies!

  12. Anonymous
    April 29th, 2007 at 07:37 | #12

    Poverty in the Philippines and the absence of law protecting the rights of workers abroad especially young women forced them to become Japayukis.I wonder if there were also some sort of Japayuki quiet services performed by our domestic helpers in Hongkong, Singapore, and the Middle East to their employers. Who knows…( It seems that these women are taking in all sorts of abuses and sufferings from their employers in fear of losing a job to sustain a family waiting in the Phlippines). I feel bad for some of them who were not able to fulfill their goals which is mainly to earn money decently and be treated with respect–help their families and be able to afford the neccessities in life. Most of these women have college education but not a lot of job opportunities in the Philippines. I would say… they are courageous women who search for ways to survive. For whatever reason they went to Japan and become Japayukis or worked elsewhere, we do not have the right to judge them. I hope they learned from their experiences and became mature and smarter.

  13. Luis
    April 29th, 2007 at 10:59 | #13

    It’s still happening: a Chinese woman who was a sex worker in Japan for more than five years was kidnaped and brutalized by a gang of men, who held her for ransom.

    When she was released, she was arrested by the Japanese police for overstaying her visa.

    A woman who probably just wanted to support her family or set aside money for the future, abused by the system, abused by criminals, and then abused by police, she’ll probably be deported penniless back to where she came from.

  14. Anonymous
    April 16th, 2010 at 16:36 | #14

    @Myla Okinari
    hello!ang ganda mo?

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