Consumer demand for ivory in Japan declines

Lucy Vigne, Esmond Martin


In November 2009 the authors visited Japan to survey the current status of the ivory trade. The Japanese ivory traders had in stock about 100 tonnes of raw ivory, including nearly 40 tonnes imported legally that year from southern Africa. Over 15 major ivory traders were interviewed and all reported that they were worried for the future of their business, unless they could obtain a regular supply of ivory tusks from Africa. They would need to buy 50 tonnes of good quality tusks from Africa every five years, priced around USD 200/kg if their businesses were to be sustainable. Future sales, however, will not be permitted by CITES before 2013, if then, and the ivory traders are worried their supplies of good quality tusks will not last. About 80% of the tusks used in Japan is for signature stamps called inkans or hankos, but other items are also still made from ivory, such as chop-sticks, objects for the Japanese tea ceremony, traditional musical instrument parts, netsukes, small figurines, jewellery and accessories. Overall, production in Japan has declined, with 13 tonnes being used a year in 2001 and 7 tonnes in 2009. This can be explained by a number of factors. Japan’s economy has been in recession since 1990 and fewer Japanese are buying luxury ivory items. The Japanese are steadily becoming more westernized and ivory has therefore become less fashionable. Strict government regulations have also become a deterrent to ivory carvers and vendors, and because all ivory exports (except antiques) have been prohibited from Japan since the CITES ban in 1990, foreign visitors can no longer buy ivory items to take home with them.


Japan, ivory traders, CITES, ivory auctions, ivory carvers, elephant tusks, mammoth ivory

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