Tokyo Fumbles Short-Term Ivory Trade Action

Tokyo Fumbles Short-Term Ivory Trade Action

TOKYO — 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.

The measures include an awareness campaign to educate consumers and recommend that registered ivory retailers alert customers about the illegality of ivory export — all efforts that the national government has undertaken for more than three years and which have failed to stem illegal ivory exports.

Amy Zets Croke, senior policy analyst at the Environmental Investigation Agency said: “These ‘new’ measures in Tokyo are just business as usual in Japan — another weak attempt to prevent illegal trade. Our investigations have shed light on how ineffective the national government’s existing awareness campaign has been. Tokyo needs to do better.”

Japan has an active legal domestic ivory market, and the lack of effective controls and enforcement measures have long enabled the trade in illegal ivory and illegal ivory exports. For example, between 2018 and 2020, EIA documented 76 seizures of ivory from Japan made in other countries, likely an underestimate of the actual level of trade. Tokyo is home to 18% of Japan’s thousands of ivory trading facilities.

Iris Ho, wildlife policy director at Humane Society International, said, “Tokyo Metropolitan Government continues to shirk its environmental and ethical responsibility and allow the ivory trade to flourish within its jurisdiction. Any legal market for elephant ivory serves as a convenient cover for the sale of illegal ivory, so the closure of Japan’s domestic ivory market is essential to stop the decline of this iconic species. Tokyo is beloved by international visitors, so it is deeply disappointing that the government has chosen to favor ivory traders and place the burden on tourists to prevent illegal ivory exports. With an elephant dying in Africa every 25 minutes to supply the ivory trade, the time for half measures and recycling failed policies is over.”

Numerous stakeholders, including African elephant range states with endangered and critically endangered elephant populations, have repeatedly appealed to both the Tokyo Metropolitan Government and the national government to close the ivory market. Earlier this year, EIA, JTEF, HSI and other international and Japanese organizations, urged the Tokyo Metropolitan Government to implement urgent measures before the Olympic Games and before an ivory ban could be legally implemented and enforced. Tokyo’s actions ignore these recommendations.

“Tokyo’s actions thus far are disappointing, but we continue to urge the Tokyo Metropolitan Government to move forward to close the Tokyo ivory market and, in the interim, to publicly discourage further ivory sales or purchases within its boundaries,” Croke said.

“Despite the restrictions on spectators for the postponed 2020 Olympics due to COVID-19, there will still be tens of thousands of international athletes, supporting delegations, media, and volunteers present. We encourage the Tokyo 2020 Organising Committee to release a public statement confirming that no elephant ivory products will be gifted or available as Olympics merchandise for purchase,” added Croke.

Masayuki Sakamoto, executive director of Japan Tiger and Elephant Fund, said, “It is disappointing that the Tokyo Metropolitan Government did not listen to the voices of some members of the Advisory Council and our own appeals for Tokyo to declare the goal of being an ivory-free international city before the Games. Effective action in Tokyo has the potential to pave the way for increased efforts by the Government of Japan to commit to protecting elephants by closing the domestic ivory market. After the Olympics, we hope Tokyo will focus on implementing a plan that will truly lead the ivory market to closure and virtually eliminate illegal ivory trade.”


–       An Advisory Council on the Regulation of Ivory Trade, composed of eight identified experts, was established in January 2020 by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government to assess Tokyo’s ivory trade and regulations and identify measures that Tokyo could take to address its ivory trade and illegal exports. While postponed due to COVID-19, the Council has met publicly four times and members shared recommendations that go far beyond these weak measures.

–       In December 2020, the Environmental Investigation Agency and Japan Tiger and Elephant Fund released the results of investigations of ivory hanko retailers in the report “Willing to Sell: Snapshot Investigations of Ivory Hanko Retailers in Japan.” Results reveal that many ivory retailers in Tokyo and across Japan are engaging in ivory sales knowing that customers plan to export the ivory, and most know it is illegal. These investigations follow an earlier investigation in 2018 with similar findings, all in spite of an existing national government awareness campaign to educate retailers and consumers about the illegality of ivory export.

–       A report released in March 2021 by WildAid and JTEF documented ivory businesses in Tokyo targeting Chinese customers, who knowingly operate with the assumption that the purchased ivory items will eventually be exported.

–       A recent survey by WWF and Globescan of Chinese consumers who travelled to Japan found that 19% planned to purchase ivory and an estimated 12% actually did make an ivory purchase. As many as 52% of the travelers included in the survey recognized that bringing ivory into mainland China was


Masayuki Sakamoto, Japan Tiger and Elephant Fund, [email protected]

Iris Ho, Humane Society International, [email protected]

Environmental Investigation Agency, [email protected]