How Japan Undermines Efforts to Stop the Illegal Ivory Trade

As China cracks down on ivory sales, legal loopholes in Japan—the world’s largest market—offer opportunities for smugglers.

Masters of the shamisen—a traditional stringed instrument—use an ivory bridge and pick to produce what they say is a superior sound. “It’s a very slight difference that experts alone can hear,” says Sayo ne-san, a geisha at the Asakusa Geisha Union, in Tokyo. Japan has consumed ivory from more than 260,000 elephants since 1970.
Photograph by Brent Stirton, Getty for National Geographic

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