TOKYO: An investigation by a wildlife charity in Japan and an international environmental NGO has revealed that dealers of personal seals in Japan are selling products containing ivory knowing they will be illegally exported.
Personal seals are used in Japan as a form of signature to fulfill a number of official functions, such as agreeing to contracts and as proof of identity. Customers can choose the material they are made from, including ivory.
In accordance with the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), known as the Washington Convention, the Japanese government has forbid the export of any ivory products since 1990, but it allows domestic trade to continue.
However, at least 70 personal seal businesses are willing to sell the ivory chops to export customers, a joint probe carried out by the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) and the Japan Tiger and Elephant Fund (JTEF) has shown.
While the Japanese government allows ivory stored and traded here to be sold only for domestic use, the reality is that some companies are happy to flout the rules for sales.
The EIA and JTEF looked into the practices of 317 personal seal shops in Tokyo, Osaka, Nagoya and other areas to compile their report. Of the stores they checked, 303 offered ivory made seals. Among those sellers, 70 were willing to sell the chops to customers taking them abroad, and three even said they would send them overseas directly.
Japan’s ivory laws are in accordance with the Washington Convention’s rules on international ivory sales, but domestic transactions are not subject to the agreement.
The country’s policy has been criticized strongly by the international community for perpetuating poaching and the illegal ivory trade. In accordance with an agreement reached at a bilateral leaders’ meeting in 2015, the U.S. and China have shut down their respective domestic ivory markets.
Countries and territories including the U.K. and Taiwan have since followed suit. However, Japan intends to continue domestic transactions on the grounds that the country has never been involved in illegal hunting or sales of ivory, according to the Environment Ministry.
However, Masayuki Sakamoto, a lawyer and executive director of the JTEF, doesn’t agree with the ministry’s position, “Japan’s approval of domestic ivory trade helps serve as a front for illegal exporters to conceal their practices. In-country sales should be outlawed immediately.”
The Environment Ministry’s section for wild animals says it is managing the problem. “Through on-the-spot inspections of these businesses, we have made clear that the export of ivory goods is not acceptable,” it said.