Compliance with someone else's moral standards is far from enough

Thursday, November 25 2004 @ 08:24 PM JST

Contributed by: Y.Yamamoto

Triggered by the recently released ILO report titled "Human Trafficking for Sexual Exploitation in Japan", the government and the media have belatedly started to tackle the trafficking issue in earnest. At least that's what they are saying. Prior to the International Labor Organization's report, the U.S. State Department released its 4th annual "Trafficking in Persons Report" . In the report signed on June 14 by now-outgoing Secretary of State Colin Powell, Japan was downgraded from "Tier 2" to "Tier 2 Watch List" placement, a notch below those respectable countries such as Iran, China, Uganda, etc. Tier 2 nations are defined by the State Department as "countries whose governments do not fully comply with the minimum standards (set forth by the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2003) but are making significant efforts to bring themselves into compliance with those standards", whereas Tier 2 Watch List represents those countries that fall somewhere between Tier 2 and Tier 3. Tier 3 nations are making little efforts to catch up.

The U.S. State Department evaluates each country's compliance levels in terms of 3 P's, i.e., prosecution of traffickers, protection of victims, and prevention of the crime. In its narrative pages, the TIP report examines Japan's compliance levels in terms of protection and concludes: "Over the past year, the Japanese government offered victims of sexual slavery little in the way of legal advice, psychological or financial support. Generally, victims were deported (immediately) as illegal aliens." This assessment, as such, of what little protective measures taken by the government for "illegal aliens", is considered by and large fair and accurate. The problem lies with the other 2 P's.

Flaws in Annual Report on TIP

As I discussed in my piece titled "Prostitution in Japan" (TFP, Sept. 28), there are quite a few ghetto-like neighborhoods across the nation which are tacitly designated by the law enforcement as the turfs on which respective local cells of yakuza organizations are allowed to do their business of exploiting women from the backyard countries such as Thailand, The Philippines, etc. And these sex slaves are constantly shifted around from one ghetto to another every time an international event takes place in a nearby venue, or inspectors are coming, or there are signs of transitory heightening of an anti-prostitution campaign among local residents. Each time the collaboration between the local police department and yakuza mobsters through their respective networks is almost perfect in most prefectures and municipalities. No country is free of corrupt cops. But in Japan the entire law enforcement is corrupt. Under the circumstances even an experienced inspector from an international watchdog organization can never outsmart the yakuza-police alliance running this hide-and-seek operation. The inspector always ends up having to swallow the second-hand data and information he is given by the world's least trustworthy people, Japan's law enforcement authorities.

Worse, the U.S. State Department has tended to focus so much on the import side of the "business", that it has sometimes overlooked the outward flows of people, especially those people who are habitually up to offshore "deals". One example of these offshore transactions that went unnoticed, or was left unmentioned at least, by the State Department is the hotel orgy that took place in September 2003 in the southern Chinese city of Zhuhai involving 280 Japanese "tourists" (some say it was 400) and 500 Chinese prostitutes. Needless to say the hotel orgy in Zhuhai was not an isolated case of its kind. It's just that the Chinese government politicized this particular incident to the fullest, and for the first time, while the Japanese media uncharacteristically refrained from sensationalizing the news. Moreover, they virtually suppressed the name of the employer of these 280 businessmen despite the fact this was a company-paid party. That's certainly because they didn't think it was a big deal, in the first place, let alone a downright crime. These people were just practicing the old Japanese adage that goes: "tabi-no haji wa kakisute - When traveling, you should leave your sense of shame at home." Perhaps that's also because the unidentified employer, a construction company, was one of their major sources of advertisement revenue.

These are some of the flaws involved in the annual report. Colin Powell's valid statement that "this year's report focuses more attention on sex tourism" was betrayed as far as Japan is concerned.

Japan will pass State Department's makeup

Besides, the Japanese people have unparalleled skills to cover up things that stink and are equipped with state-of-the-art mechanisms with which to sweep every source of embarrassment very neatly under the carpet. They habitually turn to these skills and mechanisms, with their pathological obsession with cleanliness, whenever they are cornered in the position to clear themselves of a charge brought up against them. This set of skills coupled with the built-in mechanisms for deception has proven very effective especially when Japan is pressed to comply with someone else's standards. This is somewhat reminiscent of gaiatsu (external pressure) that late President Reagan used to use to get Japan to remove various nontariff barriers and other "structural impediments". The Japanese people certainly know how to make this country ultimately look OK to outside people when forced to comply with the minimum standards imposed by them. In other words, despite the initial protest, it always ends up yielding to tenacious pressure to the other side's satisfaction. I would name this "ability" for compliance "Black-ship syndrome".

For better or for worse I am reasonably sure it's going to be a breeze for the Koizumi administration and prefectural/municipal governments, backed by the media lapdogs, to come back to the second tier by the time Condoleezza Rice signs off on the annual TIP report for 2005. All they have to do to convince Condi and her people is further tightening its immigration control, with some flavors of compassion added this time around to ease the plight being suffered by predominantly East Asian victims. Even NGOs, alone, would be able to implement the countermeasures of this magnitude, if that's what really counts. That's it. That's the end of the story from the government's and media's point of view.

Transnational trafficking should not be singled out

Soon after the release of the ILO report, the November 23 edition of the Daily Yomiuri carried an article headlined "Trafficking blots nation's repute". In this commentary Yomiuri Shimbun Staff Writer Jake Adelstein bases his argument primarily on the "Palermo Protocol", or United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime (December 2000). The Palermo Protocol deals solely with the transnational problems such as the one Japan was facing back then with some 40,000 to 50,000 prostitutes it had imported from Thailand, at the price of US$ 20,000 apiece. Because of its exclusive focus on the transnational aspects, the Protocol has failed to have a far-reaching impact it might have had, otherwise, on anti-slavery and anti-abuse movements world-wide. But this flaw is exactly what the Japan's media like most about the Palermo Protocol. It is a typical way the Japan's media lower the hurdle for the government, and themselves, to trivialize and oversimplify an issue to be addressed in a broader context and deeper implications. The narrow definition of the problem by the Member States of the U.N. Convention really helps the media and the government here look away from the hardest part of the issue - domestic trafficking. And on the part of those international bodies monitoring each country's TIP situation, it has never crossed their mind to flip over the carpet to find out if the real problem is hidden underneath it. In fact you won't have really solved the transnational part of the issue until you have solved the domestic part.

We still look OK, but overall moral erosion is going on

To become really ready to address the issue with domestic TIP, the hardest part of the issue, we need to turn our eyes inward, forgetting about the import, export and offshore parts of TIP for a while, to have a look at the way it is in this culture. It's extremely difficult to grasp the total picture of what is going on in this society because it's something to be felt, or even lived, rather than understood inductively. In fact it looks as though the Japanese society is about to tumble as discussed in our article captioned "Box-cutter murder case" (TFP, Sept. 8). Now we are getting used to seeing a heinous crime or two practically everyday. And those who claim to know how to stem the process of moral erosion can only offer an archaic and obscure prescription for school education that only sounds like a yesterday's dream. The centerpiece of their prescription is to preach the importance of "religious beliefs and sentiments" to schoolkids that they say will help nurture in them due respect for human life and "sound" patriotism. These advocates of the new guideline for school education have been criticized from every corner of the country. For instance the New Komeito, lay Buddhist organization-backed coalition partner of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, is critical of the idea because they suspect the religion those advocates have primarily in mind is Shintoism. Soka Gakkai, the lay Buddhist organization backing the New Komeito is practicing its noisy worship half-way up Mt. Fuji whereas Shintoism is being practiced somewhere else, most typically at the now-world-famous shrine named Yasukuni Jinja. In response to the criticism, these self-proclaimed reformers say they do not intend to incorporate any particular religion in the school curricula and that their nameless "religeon" embraces any faiths, but Aum Supreme Truth's perhaps, ranging from Buddhism, to Shinto, to Islam, to Christianity, to shamanism. But it's obvious that the religion our children are going to be preached in school is something more or less akin to Shintoism because they say it will help nurture patriotism. But just the same nobody really cares what is what. Despite all this futile dispute over how to stem the ongoing moral erosion, we will see our society heading, quickly, steadily, and perhaps irreversibly, for a total collapse. And yet we can still manage to look quite OK to foreigners, including the inspectors from the ILO or the U.S. State Department. And their way of viewing us will remain unchanged. They will keep saying: The Japanese people are very nice, polite, hospitable, clean, sensible, sophisticated, dedicated (to the cause of the group), and what not.

And what about the TIP situation in this nation? In fact the real question to be asked in that respect is: "What if we apply our own moral standards, not the ones represented by the U.S. TVPRA of 2003, in our own assessment of our own TIP situation?" In our everyday life the business practice called modern-day slavery is commonplace although it's always disguised as something else, something a little more decent. My assessment would be: "We are, and will remain, a Tier 3 nation along with Sudan, Ecuador or Sierra Leone, or even North Korea." So it's all the more a shame that our government and its media lapdogs think it's enough to comply with someone else's moral standards and somehow manage to get a "B".

Domestic TIP: toughest part to deal with

As we discussed in "Prostitution in Japan" (see above link), the oldest profession of mankind is pervasive across the nation in its highly institutionalized and subtly legitimatized form. Some 40 years ago a French correspondent stationed here observed: "Japanese prostitutes are prostitutes who do not think they are prostitutes". The same holds true even today. However, that they don't think they are prostitutes doesn't mean they are not prostitutes. Likewise, that the way they look does not really meet the stereotypical description of a hooker doesn't mean they are not sex slaves. If you take a closer look at the climate where hundreds of thousands of young Japanese women have fallen victim to modern-day slavery, you will find out that a good part of these women are really being "re-victimized" in this chain of oppression. According to Frank W. Putnam, author of "Diagnosis and treatment of Multiple Personality Disorder" (The Guilford Press, 1989), those who have been traumatized in their childhood by abusive fathers, or any other abusive persons, later become extremely prone to be re-victimized. (I suspect this susceptibility to re-victimization can only be explained by an assumption that those abused kids, when grown up, feel they have something ominous inside that still remains unsettled.) That's where yakuza mobsters, subtly legitimatized by the law enforcement and the entire society, find their lucrative business opportunity. And that's why these slaves, more often than not, look like those who the Palermo Protocol calls "willing participants".

Media are biggest contributors to moral erosion

The media, too, deserve to be called accomplices in the crime. You may not be familiar with the Japan's media landscape centered around the Big 4 media empires. All of these media giants deserve the grade they received from the Paris-based Reporters without Borders (see "Japan ranks 42nd in press freedom; What a compliment!" , TFP, Oct. 31). But from among the Big 4, you had better watch the Fuji-Sankei Group very closely if you are concerned about where Japan is heading or in what direction the media is guiding this nation. Traditionally the Sankei Shimbun, the flagship daily of the group, has been known for its right-leaning editorial positions and criteria for news selection and placement. But the fact is that its editorial views and news selection/placement criteria are not that far apart from those of the other three because editors and reporters in the Sankei Shimbun are, just like their counterparts in the other three, driven primarily by the goals set in terms of subscription and advertisement revenues. To that end they have to further increase Sankei's circulation which is already huge enough. That's why they cannot afford to speak like ultrarightists. But just the same the Sankei Shimbun is the most taboo-ridden newspaper. For one thing it's a no-no to question the imperial system in that organization. The organization serving, in the daytime, the lofty cause of defending the national polity based on the imperial system, as well as national(ist') interests, however, undergoes a Jekyll-to-Hyde transformation at dusk. Now is the time that every second or third passenger in the commuter train reads the "Yukan Fuji", Sankei's tabloid-like evening edition. Aside from some update on the news stories carried on the morning edition of its parent newspaper, 6 to 7 pages of the 48-page Yukan Fuji are devoted to introductory stories about yakuza-run bathhouses and ads placed by more or less yakuza-affiliated loansharks. In the part introducing dozens of disguised whorehouses, you will find some recommendations for must-visit joints and must-try prostitutes waiting for you there. These reports are very specific and explicit, because they are written based on the first-hand experience by the reporters. So you can obtain detailed information such as Miss So-and-So's forte is bxxw-job, etc. Can you imagine that someday the evening edition of the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, or the Washington Post starts to tip off its readers every evening with these informative pieces of information? Like it or not, this is part of the truth about Japan's mainstream journalism.

Japan deserves Tier 3 placement

Maybe the wartime "comfort women" recruited from the Korean Peninsula and hundreds of thousands of Koreans brought here as forced laborers are a different issue from the distant past, though largely unsettled to date. At least the 10 abductees, whose fate still remains a mystery, as well as their family members, have nothing to do with Japan's prewar and wartime crime. Definitely they do not deserve at all the hardships they are going through right now. But Prime Minister Koizumi is in the position to have to settle the unsettled part of the problem because he is the one that claims to be the leader of our nation. At the same time he is also held responsible to bring our nation into full compliance with our own moral standards, if there are any, that is, and certainly not the TVPRA's or the Palermo Protocol's, to reverse the ongoing process of moral erosion.

Until the Japan's leadership can rectify these issues altogether, nobody can deny that Japan and North Korea deserve each other. In other words Japan might have been placed in the same tier as North Korea in the U.S. State Department's TIP Report 2004 had it not been for the leniency shown by Colin Powell.

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