Hong Kong Customs displays 82.5kg of rhino horns from South Africa and destined for Malaysia. Photo: ISD

In Japan, the Ivory Commerce Times are a Changin’

By Amy Zets Croke, Senior Policy Analyst

Just before World Elephant Day 2017, elephants are receiving great news from Japan, home to one of the world’s largest legal domestic ivory markets. Two leading companies in Japan have committed to ending ivory sales in order to protect elephants, sending a strong signal within Japan and internationally that the trade in ivory products has no role in Japan’s marketplace.

On August 1, 2017, Rakuten Ichiba’s ban on all ivory product sales went into full effect – ivory products are no longer available on the online shopping platform. The long-awaited policy change by Japan’s leading internet retailer was made public on July 1st and sales were phased out over a month. Rakuten’s move was subtle, without an official company announcement, yet Rakuten’s influential policy change did not go unnoticed in Japan or internationally.

What has received less media attention thus far, both within Japan and internationally, is that Aeon, Japan’s largest retailing company, which is also a prominent owner of some 50 malls, announced that it will no longer permit ivory sales in shops located within its malls. As revealed in the August issue of Japan’s hanko name seal industry magazine, Gendai Inshoh (Modern Hanko), Aeon will require its tenants to end ivory sales before the 2020 Tokyo Olympics begin.

According to Gendai Inshoh, Aeon cited the 2016 resolution by the parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) as part of the reason for phasing out the trade. The resolution calls for the closure of domestic ivory markets in countries with legal markets linked to illegal trade or poaching.

Aeon already banned ivory sales in its own stores and online in 2015, as previously reported by Gendai Inshoh. The new directive takes its policy change a step further to include other retailers in Aeon’s malls. Other major internet retailers in Japan that have banned ivory products sales include Amazon.com, Google Shopping, and several large hanko name seal traders. eBay, Tencent, Alibaba, and Etsy have also banned sale of ivory on their online stores.

However, Yahoo! Japan, owned by SoftBank persists in to hosting thousands of ads offering elephant ivory products. EIA continues to urge SoftBank to end Yahoo! Japan’s ivory sales. Others in Japan are now calling for changes within Japan’s e-commerce sector, including for companies like Yahoo! Japan to implement bans like Rakuten’s.

Rakuten Inc. and Yahoo! Japan are both members of Japan’s Public-Private Council for the Promotion of Appropriate Ivory Trade Measures, along with other mostly pro-trade factions and Government ministries. EIA believes the Council’s mandate supporting ivory trade measures should be replaced with a plan to end Japan’s domestic ivory trade in line with the CITES resolution.

In Japan, the vast majority of ivory products both in stores and in online marketplaces are hanko name seals. However, ivory isn’t a traditional Japanese material for hanko name seals but became popular in the 1960s as a luxury status symbol.

Two of the world’s largest markets for ivory, the United States and China, have mostly closed, or are taking steps to close, their ivory markets. After these markets are shut down, Japan’s will be one of the largest legal domestic markets for ivory trade in the world, which is rife with illegal ivory trade due to its ivory control system being full of loopholes. EIA applauds the leadership of Rakuten and Aeon and urges all ivory trading interests to end the trade in ivory. EIA hopes the momentum from these two leading companies will catalyze the end of the ivory trade in Japan. Any doors closed on the ivory market mark a good day for the future of elephants.