Filipino hostesses in Japan: Volition or Coercion?

Rhacel Parreñas in the field, working as a hostess in Tokyo

by Jonas Horvei

According to the United Nations Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons (2013), human trafficking can be defined as:

“[t]he recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation.”

In this week’s blog post I would like to examine to whether or not Filipino hostesses working Japan can be considered as victims of human trafficking, especially under the category of sex trafficking. I will also consider whether there is a possibility that this is not the case of human trafficking, but rather an action which they carry out by their own volition.

First of all I would like to examine what kind of typical activities a hostess performs while working in a bar in Japan.

  • Takes on the role as an entertainer
  • Pours her customers drinks, often alcoholic beverages
  • Dances with them
  • Sings for her customers, often karaoke
  • Talks with her customers, being engaged in a conversation, often with a bit of “flirtative” nature, often while at the same time complimenting them.

On the basis of only this, it is naturally impossible to say whether these people working in such establishment are victims of human trafficking or not. Nevertheless if we look a bit deeper and consider if this at the perspective of sex trafficking we can start hypothesizing at least. According to the U.S Code §7102 – (10) sex trafficking can be defined as the following;

The term “sex trafficking” means the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for the purpose of a commercial sex act”.

Judging from this definition, there does not seem to be any particular aspects that resembles a commercial sex act, and thus I argue that such kind of cannot be considered a case of sex trafficking. Although occasionally acts such as masturbating the customer did occur, nothing was mentioned whether this was carried out by their own volition or not. Looking at the culture of south-east Asian countries though, such “happy ending” customs are fairly normal in especially massage establishments such as in China and Thailand, which might explain why this is not necessarily  considered prostitution. While there are Filipinos working as prostitutes in Japan, at least on the surface it seems to me at first glance that the Filipino who come to serve as hostess, are mainly not victims of sexual trafficking.

For the meantime, let us go back to the case of human trafficking and see if there is any evidence that these workers can be considered victims of such a phenomenon. While indeed, it is likely that some of the Filipinos who migrate to Japan are forced to go against their own volition, and thus can be defined as victims of human trafficking, I argue that this is the exception rather than the norm. According to Parreñas (2011 p.3) no conclusive evidence exists that these workers are victims of human trafficking, but rather research indicates that most of the workers take this decision by themselves, and migrate by their own volition. Yet again according to Parreñas (2003 p.199), as much as 34 to 54 percent of the Filipino population is sustained by remittances by migrant workers. Such numbers tells exactly how much of an importance overseas Filipinos workers affect the homeland economy.

Nevertheless despite most of these people not being victims of human trafficking, there is no question that especially for migrants in such vulnerable occupations the working conditions can be lackluster, and that they might be victims of forced labor. This is something which needs to urgently be addressed, preferably in collaboration between the Philippines and the Japanese government.

Since 1999, Japan’s immigration policies have made it considerably more difficult, ultimately forcing many bars to shut down and many having difficulty coming over to work as hostesses (National University of Singapore, 2012). However, imposing restrictions on entertainer visas is in my opinion not a solution to combat human trafficking, or rather it is not a solution to improve the labor conditions for Filipino hostesses. Rather, I think such restrictions are what actually promotes and can actually be the trigger to human trafficking in the first place.

These migrants cannot work in their own country, the wages are either not enough to support a family, or simply they cannot find a jobs. Then naturally the next step is to seek work elsewhere, a different city, or a different country. Suddenly these options start to dwindle, and one is only left with the options of either living a life full of poverty or as a last resort they become victims or sexual trafficking, or become prostitutions out of their own volition to take care of their family.

I argue that hostess is a harmless job, and as long as this work is carried out of their own volition, restrictions should be lessened on entertainer visas, back to the way they used to be. Still, these people will continue to be exploited due to their resident status and so on, and therefore I believe the most important step to take now is rather than imposing more and more restrictions, a step in the right direction would be to protect these people by giving them more rights to them being victims of forced labor, and to collectively come up with a solution which can benefit all parties involved.

As summarized by the United Nations Global Programme against Trafficking in Human Beings report, a lot of the responsibility lay at the hands of the Japanese and Filipino government to improve this situation (Cameron and Newman).


“Human Trafficking.”  United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. Accessed 17 Nov. 2013.

“U.S Codes – USC§ 7102 Definitions” Cornell University Law School. Accessed 17 Nov. 2013.,

Parreñas, Rhacel Salazar. Illicit Flirtation; Labor, Migration, and Sex Trafficking in Tokyo. Stanford University Press (2011).

Parreñas, Rhacel Salazar. 2003. “The Care Crisis in the Philippines: Children and Transnational Families in the New Global Economy.” Pp. 39-54 in Global Woman: Nannies, Maids, and Sex Workers in the New Economy. New York: Metropolitan Books

“Filipino in Hostess Clubs.” National University of Singapore, 29 Apr. 2012. Accessed 17 Nov 2013

Cameron, Sally, and Edward Newman. “Trafficking of Filipino Women to Japan: Examining the Experiences and Perspectives of Victims and Government experts” United Nations University. Online-only journal. Accessed Nov 17. 2013.

Twilight of the Yakuza

Click on the image to view Twilight of the Yakuza on

Click on the image to view Twilight of the Yakuza on

by Robert Moorehead

Sebastien Stein’s film, Twilight of the Yakuza, explores the decline of Japan’s organized crime syndicates. Stein says the yakuza are a dying breed. Their members are aging and the government of Japan has launched a large-scale crackdown on them to eradicate them once and for all. But who are the yakuza? A threat to public safety or a necessary evil?

(For a detailed review of Stein’s film, check out, and for a great read on the yakuza post-March 11, check out Jake Adelstein’s article on The rest of this post borrows heavily from Stein’s description of his film.)

The film follows three members of the yakuza: Yoichi Nakamura, the “Tiger of Ginza” who was recently excommunicated from the Sumiyoshi-kai; Toyohiko Tanaka, head of the Matsuba-kai; and Daikaku Chōdōin, a yakuza consultant. Nakamura’s story is the most compelling, as he struggles at age 60 to leave his yakuza past behind him and succeed as a “legitimate” businessman.

Tanaka laments the low standards and lack of honor of young yakuza. As Jake Adelstein has described them, “the yakuza are Goldman Sachs with guns increasingly white collar criminals who follow no code and who serve no function in society.” Deeply rooted in Japanese society, the yakuza are seen as a necessary evil and ‘problem solvers.’ They have been around since the 1700s and were said to protect the weak from the strong, following a rigorous code of honor. Several clans even contributed aid for the victims of the recent earthquake and tsunami. As Adelstein notes:

in the midst of the dark days that followed the great earthquake, there was a time when the yakuza lived up to their claims to be humanitarian groups, and it was oddly inspiring. For a brief time, the yakuza, the people and the police all had a common enemy: natural disaster. And as the saying goes, ‘the enemy of my enemy is my friend’ and for that short time — it seemed like we were all friends.

Unlike the mafia, the yakuza is a legal, public group making them relatively easy to check on. You can find their offices by looking on the National Police Agency website, and you can read all about them in their many fanzines. I’ve even sat near them at Japanese pro baseball games in Nagoya, while they tried to explain the sport to the Filipino women sitting with them. Strict government crackdowns have moved many yakuza underground. As the police concentrate their resources on the yakuza, many criminals simply don’t register with clans anymore and start operating underground, evading the grasp of police. A clear trend is emerging towards a new structure of organized crime in Japan, resulting in a steep decrease in the numbers of the traditional yakuza while the underground is soaring – including foreign Russian and Chinese mafias.

This documentary deals with the struggle of the yakuza for its survival and the restructuring of the organized crime scene in Japan. Furthermore, unprecedented access to the secret world of the yakuza gives you an insight on who the yakuza are: criminals, outcasts, but also family men and a part of Japanese society.

Brazil – A Racial Paradise?

by Lee Hyeon Woo

I remember watching a film about Brazil. It was a film titled Tropa De Elite, or Elite Squad. The film was about special police forces named the BOPE hunting down drug dealers in Brazilian slums known as the favela. As I watched the movie, I realized that most of the population consisting the favela were dark colored. There were only a few completely black men, and most of the population had brownish skin. At first it didn’t matter because I thought Brazil was a “dark country”. But when the movie suddenly showed the image of a Brazilian medical university, I was surprised to find out that most of the students who are introduced as Brazilians were white. That’s when I realized that Brazil was not free from racial problems.

I found out that Brazil’s major populations were white people, who took up 49 percent of the entire Brazil population. Then followed brown, or pardos, which took 42 percent of the population. Blacks, contrary to my original belief, took only 7 percent of the entire population. However I also found out that due to the long history of Portuguese colonization, most of the population were of mixed ancestry regardless of skin color. These include mulato, a black-white mix, mestiso, an indigenous-white mix, and cafuzo, an indigenous-black mix. To my surprise there were also considerable numbers of Japanese Brazilians. Because of this mixed ancestry, Brazilians have no point of discriminating each other with racial ancestry. It was no wonder that the Brazilian government would promote that, since there are so many races living together in harmony, their nation is a “racial paradise”.

While it would have been the best if what the Brazil government claims are completely true, I unfortunately found out that even in a “racial paradise” discrimination exists. Even if the ancestry is mixed, Brazilians would still discriminate race by fundamental means – the skin color. To simply put, the whiter you are, the more advantageous you are in Brazilian society. These discriminations can apply in job interviews, education, and environment. As I mentioned the Favela in the film, Tropa De Elite, most of the populations in the favela are dark skinned people. On the contrary, in university, which requires a large amount of tuition, most of the students are white, implying that white Brazilians have more economic benefits than darker ones. The most difficult part in solving this discrimination is that it is hidden. Everyone in Brazil says that they are not racists and they respect all races, but when they face a situation which involves other races, they would subtly engage in discrimination. Sometimes they don’t even know that their act is a racial discrimination.

Update: After Protests, Genky Store Takes Down ‘Foreigner Crime’ Sign

by Robert Moorehead

After protests by local non-Japanese residents, the Genky store in Minokamo, Gifu prefecture, has taken down the signs that warned foreign customers that they were being watched as potential criminals.

My Portuguese skills are limited, so hopefully a reader can help translate the video. I am encouraged by the response of the local non-Japanese community in standing up for their rights, and by the fact that the store management responded to those concerns.

Stereotypes are harder to maintain when the person the stereotypes supposedly describe is standing right in front of you. In that case, we sometimes fall victim to what Tim Wise has called “enlightened exceptionalism.” That is, have prejudiced views about a group but making an  exception for individual members of that group. This approach lets prejudiced whites vote for Barack Obama, while still holding racist views of African Americans. In this case, clerks at the Genky store might have said to the protestors, “Of course the sign doesn’t describe you. It refers to other foreigners.”

The protestors used the uncomfortable tension the staff likely felt when confronted with protests to their advantage, in demanding that the signs be taken down and in rewarding the removal of the signs with applause. In so doing, they hopefully have taken a step toward turning a foe into an ally. But whether the staff at Genky will still watch non-Japanese customers with suspicion or not, at least that suspicion is no longer publicly posted for all the world to see. The public posting of the signs reproduced and reinforced negative stereotypes of foreigners in Japan.

A Portuguese page on Facebook contains links and discussion about this issue:ção-no-Japão/551075024924887.

Genky Stores on the Lookout for “Criminal Acts of Foreigners”

“WARNING If we find any kinds of criminal acts of foreigners, we SURELY report not only to the police but also to your workplace and your agency.” – GENKY Stores Inc (a drugstore in Kani-shi, Gifu-ken, dated February 28, 2013, taken by HSD, courtesy of shared links on Facebook through SM)

by Robert Moorehead

Arudō Debito posted the above picture on his blog,, as another example of the persistent stereotype that connects foreigners with crime. As other posts on my blog have shown, this stereotype is not unique to Japan and is inaccurate. Simply put, foreigners are no more likely to commit crime than the native-born are. Debito’s blog points out that instances of shoplifting are increasing in one demographic group: elderly Japanese are committing shoplifting in increasing numbers. However, their crimes are often depicted in much nicer ways, as crimes of loneliness.

As a foreign resident of Japan, shouldn’t I also be on the lookout for crime? And shouldn’t I be looking out for all crime, and not just the tiny percentage committed by the country’s tiny foreign population? If non-Japanese are less than two percent of the population, shouldn’t we really be focusing on the other 98 percent? Something tells me they’re committing way more crime. Drawing on the Occupy Movement, maybe foreigners’ rallying cry should be “We are the 98 percent.”

When I lived in the city of Kasugai, in Aichi prefecture, most homes in my quiet suburban neighborhood were decorated with crime-watch signs in Chinese. The fact that there was no crime wave, Chinese or otherwise, was irrelevant, as was the fact that this supposed threat made up only 0.5 percent of the city population. Rumor had it that years earlier, someone had their home had broken into, and the alleged perpetrator was Chinese.

Following the logic that if one is guilty, all must be guilty, many homes in Kozoji New Town were festooned with signs in Chinese from their neighborhood associations, warning that residents would report anyone who looked suspicious (and Chinese) to the police. While an occasional sign was in Japanese, most were not. The enterprising neighborhood association of Iwanaridai cast a broad net over most foreigners in the area, putting up crime multilingual watch signs in Portuguese, Spanish, Chinese, and English.

Crime Watch Sign

Beyond perpetuating stereotypes that foreigners are somehow more likely to commit crime, these signs equate not being Japanese with crime and being Japanese with being law-abiding. They warn Japanese to be on the lookout for foreigners, and they warn foreigners that they’re being watched. They’re also an affront to our (shared?) humanity.

Update: The issue has prompted a video response on YouTube:

Do foreign immigrants threaten public security?

by Chika Yamamoto

When we are talking about foreign immigrants, the discussion always goes to the anxiety of increasing crime by foreigners somehow. In this case, I don’t know why but criminals are always foreigners and therefore victims are Japanese. So, my question is why. Why do people assume that crime will increase if foreign immigrants increase? Is it really true?

As for my first question, I think people don’t worry about just foreigners in Japan. In other words, people don’t care or feel anxious about, for example, lots of foreign tourists coming to Japan. Rather, mostly Japanese people welcome foreigners to come to Japan. Also, if a foreign couple becomes our neighbor, we would be nice to them, help them if necessary, and we wouldn’t feel afraid of them. But when it comes to foreigners accounting for the majority in our neighborhood, the situation and people’s reaction would be different. People don’t know how to communicate with them if they don’t speak fluent Japanese. People feel worried about being minority and replaced by them. The foreigners get visible and influential by the growth of number. I think that just comes from people’s mind. It is easier for them to label foreigners as unknown and uncanny people because people mostly don’t try to know them and decide the impossibility of communication with them. Also, people can put emphasis on Japanese safety by associating foreigners to crime even though Japanese of course commit crimes mostly in Japan. I think this idea is just for escaping and hiding the fact of crimes by Japanese.

My next question is whether this relation between foreign immigrants and crimes is true or not. According to Shakai Jitsujyo Deta Zuroku, the rate of crime by foreigners has not really increased since 1992. Of course comparing to 1980, the rate increases from 0.2% to 2.4% in 1992. As of 2010, it even decreases to 2.0% according to this statistic although number of foreign people is increasing day by day. So, from this result, I think the increasing number of immigrants doesn’t correspond with increasing number of crime. In addition, Omae says that this idea that crime will increase because of increasing number of foreigners is very one-sided. He criticizes the opinion Ishihara, mayor of Tokyo, saying all over Japan would be like Shinokubo if we accept huge number of immigrants. Shinokubo is one of the diverse cities in Tokyo and even called as ethnic town. Foreigners living in Shinokubo account for almost 40%. However, Omae says this is biased by showing the example of immigration in Singapore. Singapore accepted huge number of immigrants for the economic demand and population increases from about 3,000,000 to 5,000,000. But, nothing changed in public order. They maintain the security in Singapore because they put requirements for immigrants such as their academic career and job qualification. Thus, the increasing number of immigrants and foreign crime are not really corresponded.

In this aging society, Japan needs huge number of labor to maintain Japanese economic. Immigration from foreign countries is probably significant to make up this labor shortage. But if people believe that crimes will increase and society will not be safe by having foreign immigrants, it would be very difficult to have foreign immigrants. There will be serious problem such as the problem in America that we learnt in the class. Therefore, as Omae points out, I think people should know that this view is one-sided and there is another way to have immigrants and maintain the security in Japan. That will be at least first step for being immigrant-friendly country.


Shakai Jitsujyo Deta Zuroku. “Transition diagram of crime by foreigners in Japan” (Dec 28,2011)

Omae Kenichi. News Post Seven (Nov 14, 2011)

Immigrants and Crime in Japan

by Saki Hirama

There is a general perception that immigrants are likely to commit crime more than Japanese in Japan. However, is that right realization? It seems that the mass media in Japan deal with crimes by foreigners or immigrants excessively, and it brings people a kind of prejudice.

Mass media in Japan often shows how foreigners or immigrants are dangerous with daily news, newspaper, or magazine. This phenomenon can be analyzed by closed society in Japan. Still in today, Japan is said that it has little variety of nationalities, ethnicities, cultures, and language, while the world comes to be more global. Compared with other countries like America, Japanese’s attitude of accepting immigrants is by far less flexible. People tend to have uncomfortable feeling against immigrants and it helps Japanese to have negative perception against them like committing crime. However, according to the data by National Police Agency, many cases of the crimes by immigrants have Japanese accomplices. It means that Japanese accomplices have been hidden because of the emphasized report of the crime by immigrants. Through this, I think it’s not necessarily appropriate to suggest that only immigrants tend to have high possibility to commit crime, and Japanese and they are standing in equal field.

However, it is also true that there are crimes committed by immigrant in Japan. The immigrants should have some reasons, because I think nobody commits crime without reason, Conceivable factors are that the lack of the opportunities for work, or the uncomfortable environment at working place or community. In Japan, it seems that most of immigrants have non-regular employment, and it means that they are in an insecure situation and also the payment is lower than the average. On a daily level, it is difficult for them to integrate into Japanese community, because of differences in language, culture, religion, and character of people. They might be isolated by community. I think these factors bring immigrants negative feelings, and sometimes it drives them to commit crime.

Although there is prejudice against immigrants in Japan, the problem of the crime committed by immigrants actually exists. We have to think how we can deal with it. I think the most important thing is that Japanese and immigrants should have good relationship by participation in communities. If they make connection, they will pay attention to each other, and it might help them when they are in trouble. Moreover, it might help them to understand their differences. The crimes committed by immigrants will decrease when the future that Japanese and immigrants can live together without prejudice or discrimination comes.


the status of arrest against the foreign crimes 来日外国人犯罪の検挙状況. (2011).  Retrieved Nov 10, 2012, from National Police Agency: