Doctor prescribes activism to end abuse of alien women


by CAMERON HAY Staff writer  

Kyoto - As an activist, Dr. Tetsuro Irohira is trying to tackle
what he believes is a serious social disease - the sexual
exploitation of foreign women illegally residing in Japan.

His pursuit is not an easy one.
Besides his providing medical care, he and his colleagues have
posed as customers to rescue young women from yakuza-controlled clubs.
Ostensibly working as bar hostesses,
some are just 13 or 14 years old.

Some are not so lucky.
Although not given much press play, from what Irohira hears,
about 100 such women are slain in Japan every year.

Irohira helps foreign laborers and hostesses on a voluntary basis.
Some of them, however, place quite a premium on his services.

Bolivians coming to Japan are reported to have paid as much as
$100 for a copy of his "meishi" (business card), which the Kyoto
University-trained doctor happily gives out free.

Although unnecessary, the Bolivians pay the money
as a form of insurance.
Since arriving at Saku Hospital in 1990, Irohira and friends have
built up a network of medical aid and other support for foreigners
in Nagano Prefecture that he now hopes to recreate in western Japan.

The region's foreign population has exploded in recent years,
and Irohira estimates some 700 Thai hostesses work in nearby
Komoro alone, mainly serving as prostitutes
for male tourists staying at Karuizawa.

The women's isolation, Irohira said,
makes them particularly vulnerable.

"They don't have any Japanese friends or acquaintances.
So when they have a small problem that could be easy to treat,
they don't come to the hospital.
They endure it until the small problem becomes an emergency,"
Irohira said.

At the hospital, which has a tradition of social involvement,
Irohira set up a clinic for foreign hostesses and laborers.
Before returning here in March, he gave emergency treatment
to over 100 illegal aliens.
His colleagues in Saku are continuing his work.

But it is the underlying social problem - the exploitation of
foreigners, particularly hostesses - that most concerns Irohira.

The group he founded in Nagano along with scholar and farmer
Hiroshi Kanda and local Thai translator Takashi Yokota has played
a major role in raising awareness of the issue in the prefecture,
and providing practical support for foreigners.

"The key people are local translators.
Their numbers are limited in Nagano, so the police and everyone
else must use the same people....
By building up a network among them, we always know what is
going on," Irohira said.

Members of International Solidarity, Saku-Asia Citizens Community
have not been afraid to go into clubs, sometimes masquerading
as customers, to rescue women wanting to get out of prostitution.

More often, Irohira said, they will negotiate for the women's
release directly with a yakuza - a delicate process that he
concedes connot be repeated in the Kansai region
until he has built up further contacts.

"In the country...everyone knows everyone.
Some of our friends went to school with yakuza," the doctor said.
"And yakuza know I may be looking after their patients (as a doctor)
or one day might be looking after them."

According to Irohira, the root problem is the international
financial system and development programs imposed on countries
like Thailand by the developed world.

These cause massive rural poverty, which forces Thai women into
prostitution in Bangkok or Japan in order to support their families.

Thus despite the hardship and danger, about 90 percent of the women
come here aware they will be working as prostitutes, Irohira said.

Fighting multinationals and international financiers may be more
difficult than dealing with the illegal underground elements,
Irohira said.

About 10 percent of the Thai women who come to this country are
duped into working as prostitute.
Most are minors, some 13 and 14 years old.
This side of the trade has caused particular outrage in Bangkok.

In April, Irohira's group organized a national conference on the issue,
preparing the way for a group of Thai parliamentarians to
visit and learn first-hand about conditions here.
They returned home with some 50 hostesses.
Partly as a result of this trip a Thai Labor Office was
established in Tokyo last month.

Since his return to Kyoto University, Irohira together with Kanda,
who now lives in Miyama-cho, Kyoto Prefecture, have begun
building up contacts to launch a similarly effective group
in the Kansai region.


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