For over 25 years as a nonprofit organization, EIA has pioneered the use of undercover investigations to expose environmental crime around the world. Intelligence reports, documentary evidence, campaigning expertise and an international advocacy network enable EIA to achieve far-reaching environmental protection by spurring changes in market demand, government policy and enforcement related to global trade in wildlife and environmental products.
Though frequently highlighted as a model of domestic ivory control, Japan’s system is plagued by loopholes and undercut by weak legislation to such an extent that no meaningful control exists at even the most basic level. The volume of ivory being traded is on the rise, illegal activity is rampant, and abuse of the system is pervasive.
The international trade in elephant ivory is governed by the United Nations Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). In 1989, in response to the first global elephant poaching crisis of the 1970s and 80s, the international trade in ivory was banned.
In 1997, the Parties to CITES approved an “experimental” dismantling of the ban – a sale of nearly 50 tonnes of stockpiled raw ivory from Botswana, Namibia, and Zimbabwe to Japan. In 2007, CITES Parties further dismantled the international ivory ban by allowing both Japan and China to legally import 102 tonnes of ivory in a second series of ivory auctions from southern African nations. Poaching of elephants began to increase rapidly across Africa following the second ivory sale.
Both of the CITES-authorized sales were predicated on the adoption and implementation of rigorous domestic ivory trade controls in Japan aimed at preventing illegal ivory from reaching its domestic market. A CITES Secretariat team visited Japan before each sale to review ivory control system laws. In 2006, the CITES Secretariat reported to the CITES Standing Committee that, in Japan, “proof of legal origin and acquisition must be provided at the time ivory is registered.”
However, meaningful proof of legality has never been required for whole tusk registration under Japanese law. As this report will explain, the ivory trade is regulated by the Law for the Conservation of Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (LCES), a law so full of loopholes and exceptions as to be largely useless, particularly as applied to whole tusk registration. Illegal ivory tusks can be easily registered, and thereby legalized, with something as flimsy as a note from a neighbor or a family member vouching for its acquisition and origin without any additional substantiation.
During the summer of 2015, investigators undertook an undercover survey of ivory traders in Japan in order to gain a better understanding of the extent to which loopholes in the whole tusk registration system were being abused. Expecting to find perhaps a few bad actors, the investigators instead discovered that the majority (80 percent) of ivory traders they spoke with were willing to engage in illegal tusk registration activity, ranging from purchasing an unregistered ivory tusk of unknown origin, to registering ivory tusks through the use of false information. Traders talked freely about how to evade or defraud the system and clearly had no reason to believe the Government of Japan would ever look very carefully at their activities. Some boasted of selling ivory to China.
The internet ivory trade in Japan also appears to operate without any real government oversight despite the fact the large volumes of ivory are sold via retail and auction websites. EIA has been concerned about the internet ivory trade in Japan since our 2010 study found 66 ivory traders selling ivory on Yahoo! Japan’s shopping site, and our 2014 investigation revealed over 28,000 ads for ivory on another leading internet retailer, Rakuten Ichiba.
Investigators also performed a much more detailed review of Japan’s internet ivory trade, including analyzing 10 years of Yahoo! Japan Auctions site data. The results confirm a startling increase in elephant ivory product ads and sales. From 2012 to 2014 alone, over 12 tonnes of whole tusks and cut pieces of ivory were sold on the Yahoo! Japan Auctions site, including more than 800 tusks. Between 2005 and 2014, Yahoo! Japan Auctions generated revenues of over $27 million (¥2.6 billion) from the sale of elephant ivory products. Yet, internet ivory dealers consistently fail to meet even the most basic legal requirements and new evidence suggests that ivory sold via the internet in Japan has been making its way to China.
After 16 years, it is clear that Japan is incapable of controlling its domestic ivory trade. In recognition of the global elephant poaching crisis, the United States and China have announced their intention to ban the domestic trade in ivory. EIA is calling on the Government of Japan to do its part and ban domestic ivory trade as well.
Japan’s flawed whole tusk registration scheme
Japan’s raw ivory control system
Japan’s ivory trade controls are expressed in the Law for the Conservation of Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (LCES).6 The registration process is overseen by the Ministry of Environment (MoE), but its implementation is assigned to a non-government organization: the Japan Wildlife Research Center (JWRC). 7 At the heart of the system are the requirements for the legalization (“registration”) of raw ivory tusks.
Persons owning whole ivory tusks in Japan are legally required to register the tusks before they are traded.8 Upon successful registration, the JWRC issues a registration card, which must be returned within 30 days if the owner processes or otherwise no longer possesses the tusk.9 Only raw ivory that is legally acquired and of legal origin may be registered in Japan under the LCES, essentially limiting ivory that can be legally registered to:10
Japan’s sham tusk registration system
Loopholes within loopholes
• Aside from its weak evidentiary requirements, the whole tusk registration system contains other serious loopholes that undermine its effectiveness: Tusks in personal use are exempt from registration requirements. This means that the total stockpile of ivory in Japan is outside of government control or oversight and new illegal ivory can be added to existing stocks and subsequently registered.
Investigation: Whole Tusk Registration System
Interview excerpts: illegality from the mouths of traders
The thriving internet ivory trade in Japan
To obtain a representative sample of the volume and types of ivory products currently being sold on the internet in Japan, Japanese investigators searched advertisements on Japan’s leading e-commerce sites including Yahoo! Japan Shopping, an affiliate to U.S.-based Yahoo! Inc., and Rakuten Ichiba, a top Japanese online retailer which is growing internationally and has subsidiaries and affiliate stores in the United States, United Kingdom, Germany, Canada, and other countries.
Investigators also surveyed ivory product advertisements and historical sales records on Yahoo! Japan’s Auction site to gain an understanding of the amount of ivory sales, types of ivory products, trends over time, and other data concerning online ivory trade.
Online auction sites at centre of illegal ivory trade in Japan
Ten years of Yahoo! Japan Auctions site ivory trade data were purchased and analyzed for the years 2005 to 2014.15 The results confirm a startling increase in elephant ivory product closing bids and revenues. After 2005, a gradual increase in the number of closing bids occurred; by 2010 both the number of closing bids and total annual revenue values increased rapidly.
From 2012 to 2014 alone, over 12 tonnes 17 of whole tusks and cut pieces of ivory were sold on the Yahoo! Japan Auctions site, including more than 800 tusks.
Between 2005 and 2014, Yahoo! Japan Auctions generated revenues of over $27 million (¥2.6 billion) from the sale of elephant ivory products, with more than US$25 million (¥2.3 billion) occurring in the seven-year period from 2008 to 2014. In 2014, ivory sales earned US$6.8 million (¥691 million).
In 2005, there were roughly 3,800 closing bids for ivory products on Yahoo! Japan Auctions, which by 2014 had increased to more than 27,000. Between 2012 and 2014, over two tonnes of ivory cut pieces were sold each year on Yahoo! Japan Auctions.
Additionally, more than 55,000 hanko name seals were sold, just via this one platform, often in large packages of hanko name seal blanks, to be later carved for signature (see Table 5). Between 2005 and 2014, ivory product sales on Yahoo! Japan Auctions skyrocketed, from US$584,294 (¥67.8 million) spent on 3,846 closing bids for ivory items to 2014’s high of US$6.8 million (¥691 million) (see Figure B) spent on more than 27,000 closing bids for ivory items.
Abuse of internet sales platforms is at the center of the illegal trade in Japan, and provides a strong indication of the Government’s ineffective monitoring and an inability or unwillingness to enact meaningful enforcement measures against illegal ivory trade.
E-Commerce Ivory sales survey
Ivory sales via bidding agencies
Internet Trade and Illegal Export
In 2013, the Japanese Ministry of the Environment made it mandatory that online dealers of LCES-regulated 19 species (including ivory) display their registration information. This revision to the law was made in response to a series of reports by the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) (2010) and Traffic (2010, 2012), which consistently pointed out the increasing role of online ivory trafficking and questioned whether Japanese ivory controls were sufficient to deal with online trade in elephant ivory.
In 2010, EIA published a report about Yahoo! Japan Shopping’s online sales, which identified 66 ivory traders.20 In March 2014, the EIA Report Blood e-Commerce revealed that Rakuten Ichiba carried an estimated 28,000 ads offering ivory products, over 90 percent of them for hanko.21 In May 2014, Traffic East Asia/Japan examined the country’s major e-commerce platforms including Rakuten Ichiba, the largest Japanese online shopping mall, the two largest Japanese internet auction sites, Yahoo! Japan Auctions and Rakuten Auctions, and a number of websites offering to purchase ivory items.22 Traffic found that at least 57 businesses were dealing in ivory without displaying their registration information or without being registered as legally required with the Ministry of Economics, Trade and Industry (METI). Of these, 39 (out of 107) retail ivory sellers on Rakuten Ichiba, 10 (out of 19) on Yahoo! Japan Auctions, and eight (out of 42) purchasing service websites were not registered. It is important to note that the Yahoo! Japan Auctions had the highest level of non-compliance and is the most common vehicle for the sale of raw ivory tusks via the internet in Japan.
Although discussions were held between METI, the Ministry of the Environment, and the companies that were the subject of this research, it is unclear if there has been any new meaningful enforcement measures taken by the government to prevent illegal ivory trade online.
The movement of ivory from Japan to China also continues to be a persistent problem. The Elephant Trade Information System (ETIS) database has tracked seizures of ivory moved from Japan to China since 2005. Seizures notably picked up after 2009, 23 after ivory from the second CITES-approved sale entered both markets. More than 54 seizures of ivory moving from Japan to China have been made, totaling nearly one tonne of ivory.24
Most recently, in October 2015, a large seizure of 804.4 kg of ivory was made in Beijing, sourced from Japan,25 illustrating the active smuggling of ivory from Japan to China. According to the Beijing Forest Police, this was the biggest seizure of its kind in terms of the scale of operation, uncovering a traffic ring that spanned from Japan through Hong Kong to a broad network in mainland China.26 It is evident from the recent investigative surveys of Japan’s ivory tusk dealers that illegal ivory is being traded on the Japanese market and that active smuggling of illegal tusks to China is growing.
Other seizure cases illustrate that ivory is being purchased in Japan on internet platforms, like Yahoo! Japan Auctions, and then illegally exported to China. For example, in 2011, raw ivory purchased on Yahoo! Japan Auctions was mailed to China and discovered by Chinese customs.27 The investigation revealed that the operation had smuggled an estimated 380 kg of both raw and worked ivory using this method.28 In another case, a different Chinese smuggling ring was also caught using the same method, of purchasing ivory on Yahoo! Japan Auctions and shipping it to China.29 Between 2010 and 2012, this smuggling ring trafficked 3,257 kg of ivory from Japan and onto the Chinese black market.30
Japan is clearly being targeted by ivory trafficking syndicates purchasing illegal tusks including via the internet, and arranging illegal export to China without any apparent interference from Japanese authorities
Japan’s policies and practices have played a leading role in the dramatic increase in poaching that has occurred in the aftermath of the two CITES ivory auctions. Japan has reneged on the commitments it made to African elephant range states and the CITES community worldwide to enact rigorous enforcement measures to prevent illegal ivory from being traded on its domestic market. EIA’s investigations reveal a disturbing rising trend in ivory trading activity in Japan, since 2009 when it imported the ivory purchased at the second auction. Tusk registrations, many of suspect legality, have nearly quadrupled since 2010 and ivory sold via Yahoo! Japan’s internet auction site increased dramatically since 2009. Thousands of ivory ads appear both on Rakuten and Yahoo! Japan shopping sites while international bidding sites appear ready to ship ivory from auction sites abroad.
Japan is awash with ivory of dubious origin and not a shred of real evidence is required by law to ensure that ivory is of legal origin and acquisition. African nations are suffering yet another elephant poaching catastrophe. More than 100,000 African elephants were poached between 2010 and 2012 alone. The rarer forest elephant species, which occur in only six African countries, has suffered a catastrophic decline. While other countries are likely to be implicated in the decline of forest elephants, Japan is the only country in the world with a special demand favoring forest elephant ivory. Also called “hard ivory,” it is used to make hanko name seals, netsuke figurines, bachi plectrums, and chopsticks, among other items. Forest elephants experienced a 65 percent decline between 2002 and 2013. The situation is dire.
On 6 November 2015, 25 African countries issued the Cotonou Declaration demanding a total ban on ivory trade worldwide including domestic trade in order to save their remaining elephants. After 16 years of the first import of one-off sold ivory, it is time for the Government of Japan to concede that its ivory control system has been a total failure and to now join the United States and China in banning all domestic trade in elephant ivory.
- CITES (2006). “Fifty-fourth meeting of the Standing Committee Geneva (Switzerland).” SC54 Doc. 26.1 (Rev. 1), available at: https://cites.org/sites/default/files/eng/ com/sc/54/E54-26-1.pdf.
- TRAFFIC (1997). “STILL IN BUSINESS: The Ivory Trade in Asia, Seven Years After the CITES Ban.”
- U.S. Senate Report (1998), “African Elephant Conservation Act Reauthorization”
- CITES (2008). “Ivory auctions raise 15 million USD for elephant conservation.” Press Release. Available at: https://www.cites.org/eng/news/pr/2008/081107_ivory.shtml.
- CITES (2006). “Fifty-fourth meeting of the Standing Committee Geneva (Switzerland).” SC54 Doc. 26.1 (Rev. 1), available at: https://cites.org/sites/default/files/eng/ com/sc/54/E54-26-1.pdf.
- “National guideline for the conservation of endangered species of wild fauna and flora” adopted by the Cabinet based on LCES (Article 6, Paragraph 1) states that “listed species on CITES Appendix I, except for the species specified in Japan’s reservation” are to be selected as “International endangered species of wild fauna and flora” or the subject of the internal trade regulation. “Internal trade regulation” includes:
– Prohibition on transfers, delivery or receiving (paid or non-paid whatsoever)
– Prohibition on display and advertisement for the purposes of selling or distribution
– “Internal trade regulation” may include various procedural regulations for making above regulations workable.
- The Minister of Environment shall assign the actual duty on registration procedure to the organizations registered to the Minister (LCES Article 23 Paragraph 1). Japan Wildlife Research Centre (JWRC) is the only registration organization registered to the Minister so far.
- Transfers, delivery or receiving (paid or non-paid whatsoever) in whole tusks without registration are prohibited (LCES Article 12, Paragraph 1). Display and advertisement for the purposes of selling or distribution, which include advertisement on an Internet shopping site and an Internet auction site, without registration are prohibited as well (LCES Article 17).
- LCES Article 22 Paragraph 1
- LCES Article 20 Paragraph 1, Cabinet Order Article 4
- “Statement written by the person who internally acquired or imported the tusk, with regard to the background of acquisition (prior to the application of CITES regulation) of individuals, their parts or products thereof” (MoE Order Article 11, Paragraph 1, Section 2).
- “If such document is not available, any other document can be attached instead, which supports the applicability of the individuals etc. to a specific category of registration requirements” (MoE Order Article 11, Paragraph 1, provisory clause)
- Japan Wildlife Research Centre (2001), “Improvement of operation on registration of international endangered species of wild fauna and flora in accordance with Article 20, Paragraph 1 of Law for Conservation of Endangered Species of wild fauna and flora”, JWRC No. 77-1 dated 27th December 2001. Tokyo Japan (in Japanese)
- Ministry of Environment (2002), Improvement of operation on registration of international endangered species of wild fauna and flora in accordance with Article 20, Paragraph 1 of Law for Conservation of Endangered Species of wild fauna and flora (Response by Director of Wildlife, Nature Conservation Bureau, MoE, No 549, 18th January 2002). Tokyo Japan (in Japanese)
- CITES (2007). “Review of the Proposals Submitted by Botswana, Namibia and Zimbabwe to Transfer their National Populations of LOXIDANTA AFRICANA From CITES Appendix I to Appendix II, Report of the CITES Panel of Experts on African Elephants, 7 February 1997.”
- Data on closing bids of “hon zouge” were obtained from a download service site, Aucfan (http://aucfan. com/).
- More than 12 tonnes reached by summing the estimated weights of 803 whole tusks (4,154 kg) and the weight of 15,787 closing bids for cut pieces (8,638 kg).
- The Asia Times (2013). “Tusks’ origins are too easy to hide.” Available at: http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/news/world/asia/article3675641.ece.
- Law for the Conservation of Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora
- EIA (2010). “Yahoo! Profiting From the Killing of Whales, Dolphins and Elephants.” Available at: www.eia-global. org/PDF/Report–Yahoo–CetsElephants–April10.pdf.
- EIA (2014). “Blood e-Commerce: Rakuten’s profits from the slaughter of elephants and whales.” Available at: https://eia-international.org/report/ blood-e-commerce-rakutens-profits-from-the- slaughter-of-elephants-and-whales.
- TRAFFIC (2015). “A Review of Online Ivory Trade in Japan.” Available at: www.traffic.org/species-reports/ traffic_species_mammals82.pdf.
- TRAFFIC (2015). “Beijing Forest Police smash major wildlife trafficking ring,” press release. Available at: http://www.traffic.org/home/2015/10/12/beijing-forest- police-smash-major-wildlife-trafficking-ring.html
- Chuyuechun (2013). “Documentary of Chinese Customs Crack-Down on Ivory Smuggling.” Beijing Daily.
- Xinhua (2014). http://news.xinhuanet.com/legal/2014- 08/06/c_1111962557.htm (in Chinese)