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Japan’s Illegal Ivory Exports

Whole ivory tusk seized by Changchun customs in August 2018. 1
Japan’s legal domestic ivory market is contributing to the illegal international ivory trade problem. While other nations and jurisdictions are closing their domestic ivory markets, Japan’s ivory market remains legal. This open ivory marked is allowing ivory to be purchased legally within Japan’s borders and then illegally exported. Illegal Japanese ivory exports undermine bans on domestic ivory trade enacted in importing countries and violate the international ivory trade ban implemented under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

EIA has been documenting illegal exports of ivory from Japan from publicly available sources, with a particular focus on China. Since 2009, more than 5.4 metric tons of ivory have been illegally exported from Japan to China, primarily in small packages.** The vast majority of seizures of ivory exported from Japan to China have been made by Chinese authorities.

11 ivory items seized from Chinese passenger arriving from Tokyo.2 
EIA has documented 72 seizures of Japanese ivory made in China since 2018, when China’s ivory ban went into effect. While these seizures are typically small amounts of ivory, they have been continuous and increasing and are likely a significant underestimate of the actual level of illegal trade. In some cases, Chinese ivory traders have relied on Japan’s legal market, online trade platforms, and lax export controls to supply their ivory inventory for re-sale to customers throughout China. Products seized include statues and carvings, jewelry, hanko name seal blanks, painting shaft heads, and whole tusks.

Year Number of Seizures Location
2018 7 6 China, 1 Taiwan
2019 53 50 China, 2 Vietnam, 1 Japan
2020 (as of December 2020) 16 16 China
Total 76 72 China, 2 Vietnam, 1 Taiwan, 1 Japan

**Data available upon request.

Ivory scroll paintings seized in mail from Japan.3
These seizures of legally purchased ivory in Japan make it clear that Japan’s domestic ivory market poses a threat to international efforts to combat poaching and the illegal ivory trade, particularly as others close their own domestic trades and markets shift.

1China Customs. 2018. 长春海关:首次在邮递渠道查获整根象牙 [China Customs]

2Sina News. (2019). 青岛流亭机场海关查获非法携带入境象牙制品800余克.

3Chan, T. 2020. 一批违法进境的象牙制品在杭州被查获 [Hangzhou Network]

Recent Posts

Room for Improvement: Using DNA Analysis to Address Rhino Horn Trafficking
09/22/2021
Law enforcement officials from around the world have seized illegal supplies of rhino horn at least once a week on average for the past 10 years. The type of seizure ranges widely. It could be a pair of fresh horns confiscated from poachers who just gunned down a rhino inside a national park. Or possibly dozens of horns were discovered cleverly hidden in an air cargo shipment. Sometime it’s just a few grams of powdered horn found in a traveler’s luggage. Maybe a mix of raw and carved horns was seized after a police raid on a trafficker’s home.
Still Waiting for Action: Tokyo's Ivory Trade Assessment
08/11/2021
The reality of the scope and impact of COVID-19 hit home for much of the world when the Tokyo 2020 Games were postponed. A year later and looking far different than ever expected or hoped, the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games finally arrived. As the host of the 2020 Games, Tokyo has come under increased scrutiny for its legal market for elephant ivory. Even as the Games were underway, the influential capital city faced mounting international pressure to close its legal ivory market for good. For World Elephant Day 2021, in between the Tokyo 2020 Olympics and Paralympics, we take a look at where Tokyo stands in doing its part to protect the world's elephants from the threats of ivory trade and poaching. 

Recent Reports

Letter: NGOs Make Recommendations for Tokyo Ivory Market Closure
10/07/2021
EIA and 30 international non-government environmental and conservation organizations sent a letter October 7, 2021, following up on previous appeals to the Tokyo Metropolitan Government (TMG). Our organizations continue to urge Tokyo to close the market for elephant ivory and make specific recommendations in the letter to the TMG for moving forward. The letter can be viewed in English and Japanese.
Letter: NGO Appeal to the Tokyo Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games
06/25/2021
: EIA, JTEF, and HSI appeal to the Tokyo 2020 Organising Committee President and Governor of Tokyo to take action to prevent illegal trade and export of elephant ivory products

Recent Press Releases

Tokyo Fumbles Short-Term Ivory Trade Action
06/25/2021
Conservation, environmental and animal welfare groups bemoaned measures announced today by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government to address Tokyo’s illegal ivory trade as a missed opportunity. Tokyo’s short-term plan is focused only on consumer awareness and falls dramatically short of expectations for substantive action, instead replicating previous failed awareness efforts by Japan’s national government.
Japanese Retailers Willing to Sell Ivory Hanko for Illegal Export
12/17/2020
Investigations of Japanese hanko retailers revealed that many are willing to sell an ivory product knowing that it will be exported internationally despite most being aware that ivory export is illegal.
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