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Type of document: News
Topic: Actions/initiatives/projects
Law enforcement
Policy and Planning
Trafficking patterns
Geographic descriptors: Japan
Language: English
Publisher: www.khaleejtimes.com
Date of publication: 17 December 2004
Long Abstract: “Our boat has been attacked and is sinking,” said Masakatsu Amagasa of the Japan Promoters Club, one of the speakers. “When it sinks, we will all lose our jobs.” The attacker in this metaphor is Japan’s government. After years of handing out “entertainer” visas liberally, Tokyo is taking a tough new line that would drastically narrow a well-trodden path out of poverty -- and sometimes into abuse -- for thousands of Filipino women. Japanese media have said the number of visas for Filipino entertainers will be cut to 8,000 from 80,000 next year, dismaying some Manila officials after they took months to persuade Japan to accept just 100 nurses under a new trade deal. The problem is that Filipino entertainers don’t seem to do much entertaining when they arrive in Japan’s nightclubs and ”hostess” bars, at least not in the traditional sense of dancing and singing that Filipinos are world famous for. The majorities end up catering to the drunken whims of Japanese “salary men”, sitting on laps, lighting cigarettes and pouring beer -- and making far more money than they could at home. The joke in the Philippines is that they are less Opa (overseas performing artists) than Upo (the Filipino verb for ”sit”). But by entering the loosely regulated and crime-connected world of Japanese club land, activists say the women become acutely vulnerable to abuse such as being pressured into prostitution or having their wages withheld. Japanese hypocrisy? The visa system has been in place since the mid-1990s, drawing accusations of hypocrisy against male-dominated Japan for allowing in thousands of female pleasure providers while blocking most other foreign workers, including maids. Filipinos only have to show an easy-to-attain certificate approved by the Philippine government saying they are performers. Nothing changed, however, until the U.S. State Department shamed Japan this year by putting it on a human trafficking watch list in the company of countries such as Laos and Guatemala. The U.S. State Department’s anti human-trafficking chief called Japan’s entertainment visa a “sick joke” that was being used by crime syndicates to traffic women. Responding to calls from Christian groups, President George W. Bush has put more focus and funding into combating international sex trafficking. “The rules have to be made more strict, because the truth is that entertainer visas are sometimes abused, raising the issue of human trafficking,” said a spokesman for Japan’s Justice Ministry, adding there would be no formal quota for Filipinos. While genuine trafficking cases may be rare, some say the Japanese nightclub industry has left itself open to attack for the way Filipino and other foreign women are treated. Keiko Tamai, a senior programme officer with the Asia Foundation in Tokyo who works with abuse victims, said Filipino women were usually subjected to numerous fines that could drastically cut their salary. Those failing to bring a customer to work were docked about 6,000 yen ($57), for example. She said a study had found women living 18 to a room “like canned sardines”, while some were given just one meal a day to encourage them to make dates with clients. Better than jollibee Still, some of the most vocal opponents of stricter visa rules are the women themselves. On a recent night in Tokyo’s Ikebukuro district, Mira was flitting around in a blur of beer and hot towels, lingering to massage a back or dish out a compliment in broken Japanese. At stake was several hundred dollars if she could win out over 24 fellow Filipinos as the month’s most popular hostess. The wooden spoon? Cleaning the toilets of the cramped bar. “I want to leave a good mark so I’ll be asked to come back again,” said the pretty 22-year-old, due to return to Manila soon after finishing her first six-month stint in Japan. “How could I make $3,000 in six months if I was working at Jollibee?” she asked, referring to the fast-food chain that is the Philippines’ answer to Mcdonalds. In Manila, several thousand women held rallies in mid-December in a last-ditch attempt to change minds, shouting, ”We are not prostitutes!” The women complain they face that stigma in Japan and at home, where they are known by the derogatory term “Japayuki”, a hybrid of Japan and the Japanese verb “to go”. In fact, they play a valuable role propping up the debt-stricken Philippine economy. Industry officials say Japan’s move could cut overseas remittances, a lifeline for the economy, by $400 million a year, or about 5 percent of the total, affecting more than two million relatives who depend on the hard-earned yen. Tamai said there was some truth to concerns that the visas were being used as a cover for trafficking, but is worried that slashing the visas could simply result in more women staying in Japan illegally and going deeper underground. “I can already sense that the stricter rules will encourage more underground trafficking,” she said, adding that Japan should also toughen up its regulation of the industry to prevent abuse. Japanese industry heads at the Manila meeting said they had set out plans to clean up their act, including banning clubs from encouraging women to go on dates and ending points systems. But it could be too little, too late. Japan is expected to start implementing the tougher rules from January, judging applicants on their entertainment experience rather than on the Philippine-issued certificate.
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