Drugs aren't very common in Japan. In the mid 1980s, Japanese officials were worried that their country was experiencing a major drug epidemic when the number of cases of suspected heroin possession nationwide jumped from 29 cases to 36 cases. An official embarrassed by the "high" numbers pointed out that the numbers only represented suspected cases, not arrests or convictions, which were much fewer.

In 2010 the Japanese government health ministry estimated that 2.76 million Japanese (2.9 percent of the population) had used illegal drugs. Japan has the lowest levels of drug abuse in the developed world. But, drugs are around as American and British dealers doing factory labor in Japanese prisons will testify. Many of Japan's drug users are young people in their twenties who first tried drugs — namely marijuana — while backpacking in countries like Thailand.

Amphetamines are the most abused drugs in Japan. Cocaine, LSD, heroin and ecstasy are also around and their usage is increasing. Glue, painter thinner and solvent sniffing is problem with some junior high school students, many of whom graduate to amphetamines when they get older.

In 2000, 19,156 people were arrested for using stimulants; 1,545 were arrested for using marijuana, opium, psychotropic drugs and other narcotics; and 6,357 were arrested for inhaling substances such as glue, paint thinner and other solvents. In a 2005 survey, 1.5 percent of those asked said they tried solvents like paint thinner and airplane glue.

An investigation of 180 people who bought marijuana and stimulant drugs on the Internet in Japan revealed that 70 percent had no prior arrest or criminal convictions, 80 percent were male and 46 were unemployed. Of the buyers 82 percent bought stimulant drugs and 14 percent bought marijuana. The investigation also revealed that 40 percent were in their 30s, 33 percent were in the 20s, 21 percent were in their 40s, two percent were older than 50 and only four percent were between 10 and 19. [Source: National Police Agency, Yomiuri Shimbun, November 20, 2010]

Good Websites and Sources: Japan ; Hempen Culture in Japan ; Japan Shocked by Marijuana Scandals ; Subculture Research ; Wall Street Journal Article on Marijuana in Japan ; Analysis of Speed and Ecstacy found in Japan pdf file ; Narcotics Anonymous of Tokyo


Penalties for Drugs in Japan

Japan has some of the toughest drug laws in the developed world. In March 1993, a disc jockey from New York named Christopher Lavinger was arrested in his hotel room with 3.5 grams of cocaine, 1.5 grams of marijuana and some LSD and spent 16 months in prison and 35 days in solitary confinement.

The Pharmaceutical Affairs Law bans the production and sale of 68 types of drugs. Drugs found to cause more serious addiction and have an adverse health impact are designated as narcotics, possession of which is illegal. “Individuals caught possessing or using stimulants in Japan face a maximum prison sentence of 10 years,” Toru Igarashi and Kenji Ogata wrote in the Asahi Shimbun. “However, smugglers are punished more severely. If charged with smuggling for profit, an individual faces between three years to an indefinite term in prison. However, most people who smuggle drugs into Japan are not aware of the severity of the punishment that awaits them if they are caught.” [Source: Toru Igarashi and Kenji Ogata, Asahi Shimbun, December 30, 2010]

In June 2003, a 32-year-old Briton was given a prison sentence of 14 years for drug smuggling. He was caught with 41,120 ecstacy tablet and 990 grams of cocaine hidden in the false bottom of a suitcase at Narita Airport in April 2002. It was the largest seizure ever at Narita. The man, Nicolas Baker, denied the charges, saying he had been duped by a friend into carrying the luggage, and was placed in solitary confinement for 10 months because he refused to plead guilty. The man who Baker said duped him was in jail in Belgium for using a similar ruse with three other people that Belgian authorities arrested but set free.

Japanese who are arrested for drug possession can often avoid a court appearance by paying police $2,000 or so. Foreigners usually end up in court. Increasingly foreigners arrested for drugs are given suspended sentences rather than jail terms. But people who been arrested are often denied bond and kept in jail until they are brought to trial.

In April 2008, a 54-year-old Briton was found not guilty on drugs, with the judge ruling that it was plausible that someone planted nearly 10 kilograms of cannabis in his luggage, The cannabis was found in his luggage by customs officials after he arrived from South Africa via Hong Kong.

See Specific Drugs Below

Japanese Celebrities and Schoolgirls on Drugs

A far amount of publicity was given to the arrest of pop singer Manabu Oshio over the death of 30-year-old woman in his apartment who was found with large quantity of MDMA on her and may have died from an overdose of the drug. Oshio reportedly gave the woman the drug while the couple partied at his posh Roppongi Hills apartment. The woman, 30-year-old bar employee Kaori Tanaka, showed signs of acute poisoning about 10 minutes after taking the drug in Oshio’s condominium. She might have been saved had he gotten help immediately when she began having problems but instead left his apartment when she became ill to get his manager. Help didn’t arrive for several hours. Oshio was quoted as saying, “She developed a health problem after taking the tablets. I got scared and left the room.”

Oshio was found guilty and sentenced to 2½ years in prison by lay judges. Prosecutors wanted six years. The court had doubts about his guilt over abandoning his responsibility but denied that his negligence cause the death. Oshio had pleaded not guilty to charges of negligence resulting in death that he was involved in the woman death, At issue was whether he could have saved her or not. Oshio said, “I didn’t think of calling an ambulance. I tried to resuscitate her, but it was no use and she died. I’m not guilty.”

In February 2011, swimsuit model Minako Komukai was arrested for possession of methamphetamines on arrival to Narita airport from Manila. Her name was found in cell phones seized from Iranian drug dealers several months before. In February 2009 she was given a suspended sentence for methamphetamine possession.

In January 2010 the arrest of a second year middle school student in Kobe for cannabis possession also got publicity. She said she was relieved by her arrest because she started using the drug with friends out of curiosity but could not stop smoking it. An article from the Yomiuri Shimbun read: “Her remarks reveal how drug use spreads among young people and how users seem to be getting younger.”

Noriko Sakai and Her Drug Scandal

A big deal was made about the arrest of former pop music idol and actress Noriko Sakai in 2009 for possession of stimulant drugs. She admitted to taking the drug and possessing it during a visit to Kagoshima island to watch the total eclipse of the sun. She disappeared for four days, apparently to avoid failing a drug test, when police sought her for questioning. Traces of stimulants were found in her hair and 0.008 grams of amphetamines were found in her home. At her first court appearance, 6,615 people waited in line in the rain for a chance to draw lots for 20 gallery seats for the hearing. Some came as far away as Taiwan and South Korea, where she big followings.

The arrest was particularly shocking because Sakai had maintained an image of a sweet and innocent idol for decade and a half. She was reportedly introduced to drugs by her husband, a self-styled professional surfer. He too was arrested for possessing stimulant drugs. She apologized to the public and received a suspended sentence. She said her drug use was a big mistake, especially considering she had a young son, and promised never to do drugs again. In the meantime her music company dropped her. Afterwards, she said she would begin a second careers as caregiver for elder people and began training to that end.

A big media frenzy ensued and a massive manhunt was undertaken when Sakai disappeared. After she was released on $50,000 bond she apologized to her fans and supporters and said, “the drugs were what a person must not get involved with...I couldn’t get over it because of my weakness. How can I pay for the crime from now? First of all, I’ll repent my sins and I swear, as a lifetime pledge, that I’ll never again have a hand in a crime like this.” Sakai later wrote in her memoir she started taking drugs to please her husband after he suggested taking them might cheer her up during a period of time she was depressed over his arrest.

In November 2012, the Yomiuri Shimbun reported: “Actress Noriko Sakai, has announced that she will return to the showbiz world. The 41-year-old actress made the announcement at a press conference in Tokyo, after the end of the three-year suspension period of her 18-month sentence for possessing and using illegal drugs. "I'll never use [drugs] again and I'm living my new life looking forward," Sakai said. Sakai apologized again for her 2009 arrest after fleeing when her then husband was questioned by police officers over drug possession on a Tokyo street. "I was too naive and stupid--I cannot find any other words," she said. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, November 26, 2012]

Foreign Celebrities and Drugs in Japan

Paris Hilton was denied entrance into Japan in September 2010, because of her conviction of misdemeanor drug charge after she was caught with cocaine in Las Vegas, She arrived at Narita Airport as part of a tour to promote a fashion and fragrance line but was stopped at the airport and sent back home after spending the night at a hotel there. She reportedly underwent six hours of questioning over two days.

The Rolling Stones struggled for years to gain entry to Japan but were eventually allowed in despite its members’s drug convictions. Soccer icon Diego Maradonna was initially banned from entering Japan during the 2002 World Cup finals for his past drug offenses but was finally let in with a 30-day visa as a “special delegate.”

Magic Mushrooms and Legal Drugs in Japan

Some headshops and sex shops in Tokyo, Osaka and other cities legally used to sell psychedelic mushrooms that are labeled as a Class A narcotics in the United States along with heroin and cocaine. The mushroom were sold in small vacuum-sealed packets’some saying "Magic Mushrooms" on them — in dilapidated glass cases in the back of the shops. for between $16 and $100 per packet. There were also Magic Mushroom pills made from several kinds of mushroom. Bottles with 10 pills sold for between $25 and $50.

While it is illegal to traffic, sell and consume magic mushrooms of you know they have hallucinogenic properties it is not illegal if you claim you don't know. In other words if the police can prove you took the mushrooms to get high they can arrest you. If you say you ate them because you are hungry there is nothing they can do.

Thirteen different mushrooms are sold. Analysis of the mushrooms indicates some contain psilocybin. Two kinds of mushrooms found in Japan contain psilocybin — Hikageshubi-take (Psilocybe argentipes) which is grown in Honshu, and Golden Tops (Psilocybecubenis), which are found in Okinawa.

In the winter of 2001 a man froze to death in Akita prefecture in an irrigation ditch near his home and six university students in Kanagawa prefecture went into a coma while tripping on magic mushrooms. In April a television actor was hospitalized after overdosing on mushrooms. There is currently a move to ban the mushrooms.

“Amanita muscaria “ is hallucinogenic mushroom found in Japan, It has a white-speckled red cap and is found in the central mountains of Japan. People have eaten them as food but there is no record of them being taken to get high. “Amanita muscaria “ can produce strong side effects such as salivation and severe headaches and the strength of the psycho active chemicals in them can vary greatly from region to region and even season to season, making it difficult to gauge what the correct dosage should be. [Source: Kevin Short, Yomiuri Shimbun]

Legal highs — most imported from California’sold in Japan include Herbal Ecstacy (containing a high dosages of caffeine but not ephedrine like its American counterpart), e-booster (which contains 8.1 percent hydrochloric acid ephedrine and hydroxybutyric acid), and G (containing 1,4 butanedoil, a dietary supplement for weight control). Some shop sell over 100 different legal highs, taking orders from the Internet and telephone.

In April 2010, two men were charged with buying prescription psychotropic medications from people prescribed the drugs and then selling them over the Internet to recreational users. Many of the sellers were people on welfare who received the drugs as part of their welfare benefits. Most of the drugs were sleeping pills and anti-depressants.

'Legal Highs' a Growing Concern in Japan

In November 2011, the Yomiuri Shimbun reported: The sale of a mixture of dried plant material and other substances that have hallucinatory and potentially harmful effects is proliferating nationwide, with vendors exploiting a legal loophole to avoid crackdowns. The substances have effects similar to those of cannabis and other drugs restricted by the Pharmaceutical Affairs Law, but their chemical makeup is slightly different. Vendors argue the substances are therefore legal, but authorities say this is a ploy to get around the law. Vendors also say the products are meant not for ingestion but for use as incense. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, November 23, 2011]

The Tokyo metropolitan government, the Fukuoka prefectural government and local governments have begun investigating the sale of the products, which according to the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry and other authorities began circulating in the nation two or three years ago. They are sold at specialty stores and variety stores. Users smoke the mixture with a pipe or cigarette papers. One cigarette typically costs from 400 yen to more than 1,000 yen.

Makers of the products and authorities have been involved in a game of back-and-forth over the legal categorization of the product. If authorities deem one of the ingredient substances illegal, makers replace it with another substance with a slightly different composition. In this way, a "new" and techincally uncategorized product is created, even though its effects are the same.

Under the law, even products that are not stipulated as illegal cannot be sold without central or prefectural government permission if they are designed as a means of ingesting chemical substances. But investigators said retailers who sell the product in question market it as incense. Such products are widely available on the Internet, and according to the Tokyo metropolitan government, they were available in at least about 50 stores in the city as of November 2011. An official of the metropolitan government's pharmaceutical safety control division said, "The number [of shops selling the products] is too large for us to know exactly."

There have been cases of people suffering mental disturbances after smoking such products. In Kyoto Prefecture, 19 people received hospital treatment after using such products, according to a survey covering January to September this year. In the summer of 2011 a man in his 20s in Kumamoto became violent and collapsed after smoking such a product. He was taken into police custody for his own protection.

Herbals 'Highs' in Japan

So Herbal called herbal highs — various kinds of plant that have stimulatory or hallucinatory effects but are technically not illigeal — are becoming more common in Tokyo. The Yomiuri Shimbun reported: “ In Europe, these herbs first became popular around 2005, leading to tighter regulations. However, new types of drugs that are not subjected to control are continuously being made. Due to the rapid proliferation of these herbs among young people, the MPD, in cooperation with the Tokyo metropolitan government, will boost their investigations into sellers, while the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry also will strengthen its regulations. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, May 29, 2012]

“A metropolitan government official said: "Even if drugs are mixed into these herbs, they simply look like pieces of plant. So people tend to buy them instead of drugs that have a liquid or powder form. Therefore, these herbs have quickly proliferated." Currently, there are 68 kinds of products that contain these types of herbs. New products with slightly different combinations of ingredients often appear one after another to evade regulation. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, March 27, 2012]

“Police authorities are struggling in their efforts to crack down on the herbs. A senior police official said, "It's a cat-and-mouse game." A senior MPD official said: "Without analyzing the ingredients, it's unclear whether they contain drug substances. We conducted the raid on suspicion of injury because a quick investigation was necessary.”

“To address this situation, the health ministry is considering whether to introduce a system to categorize the herbs, where authorities will be able to enforce regulations even if the ingredients in products contain slightly different combinations. But introducing this system was debated about a dozen years ago, when similar types of drugs proliferated. Efforts to create a categorization system were abandoned because of legal problems and technical tasks.

Herbals 'Highs' Land an Increasing Number of People in Japan in the Hospital

In May 2012, the Yomiuri Shimbun reported: “The number of people hospitalized after inhaling or consuming certain types of herbs for their stimulatory or hallucinatory effects has sharply risen in Tokyo this year, leading police to step up their inspections of shops selling these substances. According to a senior officer at the Metropolitan Police Department, 11 people in 11 cases were hospitalized after inhaling these herbs last year. This has surged to 91 people in 79 cases from Jan. 1 to May 18 this year. At this rate, the number of cases for 2012 could be 20 times larger than last year's total. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, May 29, 2012]

“On average one person per month was hospitalized last year, but this year roughly 20 people each month are receiving medical treatment at hospitals. The herbs, which are not subject to legal controls, contain dried plant pieces mixed with drugs designed to generate hallucinatory or stimulatory effects. The herbs are typically sold as incense. In Yokohama and other cities, it has been confirmed that vending machines sell these products.

“The police station that has dealt with the most cases of herb related medical issues is Shibuya, with 25 people affected. Shinjuku Police Station was next with 11 people. Male high school students were among 12 minors who have been hospitalized. In one case, three people were reportedly taken to a hospital. On May 16, a person died, the first death that is believed to be the result of inhaling a herb. In Osaka, a few days earliers, a man was accused of inhaling such herbs and causing a hit-and-run accident on a shopping street in the city's Fukushima Ward that left a woman seriously injured. Takeru Koizumi, a 22-year-old painter, was arrested on suspicion of dangerous driving resulting in injury from the accident.

“According to the Tokyo Fire Department and other authorities, at least 26 people were hospitalized between January and March 2012. In one case, a patient temporarily fell unconscious.On Jan. 25, three boys inhaled the herb at night on the streets of Shibuya Ward, and were rushed to a hospital by ambulance after becoming nauseous.Before dawn on Feb. 12, a man in his 30s and a woman in her 20s who inhaled this type of herb in a condominium in Minato Ward. were hospitalized. On March 13, a man who had smoked a herb suffered convulsions inside a taxi and needed to be hospitalized. Yomiuri Shimbun, March 27, 2012]

“Tomoji Yanagida, a guest professor of The Jikei University, said: "In some cases, due to a drug contained in these herbs, blood pressure suddenly drops, resulting in death. Those who use these herbs need to be aware of their danger." In the case involving the three boys who were hospitalized, the store where they said they were given the herb for free, was raided on Jan. 26 by the police on suspicion of causing injury.

Shops That Sell Herbals 'Highs' in Japan

According to data compiled by the ministry, 389 stores in 29 prefectures were found to have sold quasi-legal drugs as of the end of March by taking advantage of legal loopholes. It is difficult to obtain more accurate data as such drugs are sometimes sold in vending machines. Last year, 114 cases of health problems caused by quasi-legal hallucinogens were confirmed. On June 8, the Shiga prefectural police arrested a store manager for alleged professional negligence resulting in injuries after customers suffered from poisoning when they inhaled a quasi-legal drug. [Source: Jiji Press, June 19, 2012]

“As of May 2012, the Yomiuri Shimbun reported, there were 82 shops selling these herbs in Tokyo, down from 93 in February last year. However, an MPD officer said, "Some shops are only closed temporarily because they're afraid of being inspected." The MPD instructed all police stations in Tokyo to frequently inspect the shops in conjunction with the metropolitan government, [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, May 29, 2012]

“When people are taken to a hospital, the MPD identifies the sellers of the smoked herbs and investigates the shops on suspicion that the vendors inflicted bodily harm. The MPD uses these cases to find out the condition of these businesses.To escape restrictions imposed by the Pharmaceutical Affairs Law, some shops sell products with ingredients that differ only slightly from ones that are banned. Taking this tactic into consideration, the ministry is now considering whether to introduce a system that would allow the government to collectively restrict the production and distribution of drugs made using similar ingredients.

“This summer the metropolitan government will create a database of herb-related information. It plans to purchase products online that are in circulation in Europe and other regions. The government will then analyze the products and pass the information from this analysis to the ministry in the hope that the ministry designates the drugs as illegal.

“A Yomiuri Shimbun reporter visited a shop selling these herbs in the back streets of Shibuya Ward, Tokyo. In April and May, people were hospitalized after inhaling herbs they purchased from the shop. The cases prompted the MPD to twice investigate the shop, but it continues to sell these herbs. Young people and foreigners continuously visited the shop to buy bags of herbs that were displayed in a glass cabinet. A male shop assistant said: "We're selling these herbs as incense. Although police came here to do an on-site inspection, our products haven't changed." An investigation found that some products contain drugs restricted by the Pharmaceutical Affairs Law.

“When the reporter entered the shop, a male shopkeeper asked, "Have you decided what you would like to buy?" The shopkeeper recommended a black package with English writing on it containing three grams of a herb, priced at 5,000 yen. When the reporter asked about the herb's legality, the storekeeper said, "Goods sold in my store have no problems." The shopkeeper explained that just like a cigarette, the herb should be wrapped in paper and smoked. But he said nothing about the effects of smoking the herb. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, March 27, 2012]

“According to the metropolitan government's investigation, there were only two stores selling these herbs in Tokyo in fiscal 2009. This rose to 17 in fiscal 2010 and 93 in fiscal 2011. Analyses of nine herbs sold in Tokyo found they contained drug substances regulated by law. The metropolitan government instructed stores to cease selling these nine products.

Thirteen Drugs Designated Narcotics in Japan in 2012

In June 2011, Jiji Press reported: “The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry designated four types of regulated drugs as narcotics in an effort to clamp down on hallucinogens and quasi-legal drugs sold as legal herbs. This is the first such designation in four years. The four types of drugs--JWH-018, cannabicyclohexanol, MDPV and mephedrone--will be classified as narcotics, probably in August. [Source: Jiji Press, June 19, 2012]

“The health ministry plans to make designations at least once a year, and impose a blanket regulation on drugs that have similar effects with slightly different ingredients, the officials said. On July 1, nine types of quasi-legal drugs were added to a list of regulated drugs that can cause hallucinations and pose risks to human health.

Marijuana and Cannabis in Japan

Cannabis culture in Japan
A survey in 2005 revealed that 1.3 percent of Japanese over the age of 15 had tried marijuana, a 2.6-fold increase from 1995 when only 0.5 percent said they had tried it. Many think the 1.3 percent figure is too low. A 2009 International Narcotic Control Strategy Report, issued by the U.S. State Department stated: “marijuana use is not widespread” in Japan.

A record 1,446 people were caught possessing or selling cannabis in the first six months of 2009, an increase of 254 over the same period the previous year. Of those caught 84.9 percent were first time offenders and half were in their 20s.

In Japan many people obtain cannabis using the Internet. Some buy it raves. Some officials have blamed the increase in cannabis use on the number of Web sites that explain how to grow it and provide information on obtaining seeds.

Cannabis grows wild in Hokkaido. Sometimes police cut down fields of it to prevent it from being used. Much of the cannabis that is consumed — based evidence from drug busts — appears to smoked by university students and grown inside people’s homes. A kilogram of cannabis has an estimated street value of $40,000 in Japan.

In 2006, 123 people were arrested for growing cannabis in the homes. Many obtained seeds online from foreign suppliers, particularly from the Netherlands. It is not illegal to possess or sell ,marijuana seeds, which are also used in bird seed and as a spice.

The use of hemp for medicine, food and paper goes as far back the Jomon period (10,000 to 400 B.C.). Clothes worn by emperors and sumo wrestlers used to be made of hemp. Dozens of Shinto shrines around Japan are named "”Taima”," one of two Japanese words for marijuana. Medical handbooks for the 1930s recommends the use of cannabis as a treatment for asthma. insomnia and spasms. These days marijuana leaf images are widely displayed on T-shirts, jewelry, rearview mirror ornaments and other accessories.

Raves have become increasingly popular in Japan. They are often held outdoors, sometimes at camping sites, and last all night and into the morning. Some attract 1,000 people or more. They’re have been some drug arrests at raves in Gunma and Gifu Prefecture.

Audio Active is an experimental-dub group that dresses in astronaut suits and openly sing about the joys of getting high. Their albums “Tokyo Space Cowboys” and “Backed to the Stoned Age” includes tracks like “Stoned Age, Free the Marijuana, Hempire Strike Back, Universal Joint, Weed Specialist” and “Psycho Buds”. A member fo the group told the Daily Yomiuri, “We don’t want to force anyone to smoke marijuana, but we recommend it.”

Cannabis Laws in Japan

The Cannabis Control Law, enacted in 1948 during the Allied occupation, bans the possession, cultivation and trading of cannabis. Under its terms, people possessing a single marijuana joint can be sent to sent to prison for five years and forced to do hard labor. Foreigners caught face deportation with no possibility of reentry. First time offenders arrested for possession are generally given something like a six month in prison suspended for three years.

The number of people arrested for cannabis-related illegal activities such as possession, sales, cultivating selling cannabis seeds online is rising every year. People have also been arrested at rave events and charged with taking ecstacy and possessing marijuana.

In 2008, there were 3,832 cannabis-related crimes involving 2,778 offenders. In 2007, 2,271 people were detained on suspicion of violating th Cannabis Control Law. Of these 1,570 were in their teens and 20s. In 2006, a record 2,289 people were charged with marijuana-related crimes, up 18 percent from the previous year.

Why are the drug laws in Japan, especially those for marijuana, so harsh and followed so strictly and why is there such a strong, public outcry when someone get caught smoke pot or growing a few cannabis plants? According to an article in the British Journal of Criminology one of the reasons is the view in Japan that people who take drugs, lake self-control and strong public support of the status quo. “A highly success public education campaign has helped to suppress the Western notion that drug abuse is caused by social conditions. Many Japanese believe that people who take drugs are evil,” the article said.

Cannabis Busts in Japan

Paul McCartney of the Beatles was arrested and spent 10 days in jail in Japan in January 1980 after he was caught trying to bring 225 grams of marijuana into Japan.

In July 2008, police seized 180 kilograms of cannabis, the largest ever found in a raid and arrested two people; a 40-year-old Tokyo executive and 22-year-old Chinese student.

Cannabis use received more attention after a couple of sumo wrestlers and students at top colleges such as Keio University and Sophia University were arrested for possession.

In January 2008, two former university rugby players were given suspended prison sentences for growing marijuana in their dormitory rooms. They were given 18 month prison sentences suspended for three years. In another case a university student was given a prison sentence of three years, suspended for five years, for growing 16 marijuana plants.

Satoru Ichikawa, a 24-year-old former engineering student at Kansai University was sentenced to three years in jail and fined $110,000 for dealing cannabis. The student sold a total of 1.9 kilograms of cannabis between December 2007 and May 2008. His fine was based in the money he made through selling cannabis plus $10,000. Many of his customers were skateboarders like himself.

Marijuana-Smoking Sumo Wrestlers

In August 2008, Russian sumo wrestler Wakanoho was held for possessing marijuana after his wallet was found with a joint in it. He said he got the drugs from a foreigner at a bar in the Roppongi entertainment district in Tokyo and smoked cannabis mixed with tobacco at his stable. The wrestler’s wallet was found after he lost it. A subsequent search revealed cannabis-smoking paraphernalia in his residence. He reportedly used marijuana frequently at home in Russia and began smoking marijuana when he was 14.

Wakanoho was banned for life for marijuana use, It was the first ban on an active wrestler in the history of sumo. He was offered a $50,000 severance pay. Later Wakanoho filed a lawsuit against the JSA nullifying the dismissal, saying his punishment was too severe and filed an injunction against his possible deportation. He also threatened to spill the beans on drug use, match-fixing and other “evil things” that plague sumo. He said other wrestlers smoked marijuana but were not punished. He did not name names but said he as willing to testify in court about match fixing (See Match Fixing Above).

Two other Russians — the brothers, Roho and Hakurozan — tested positive for marijuana when given a drug test. They denied smoking cannabis and were tested again with more sophisticated equipment with the same result. They continues to deny using cannabis despite the private testimony of stalemates that the two brothers told them they smoked marijuana while in Los Angeles.

After an emergency meeting of the Japan Sumo Association (JSA) Roho and Hakurozan were expelled from sumo. They fought the expulsion. In March 2009, a Tokyo District Court ruled the JSA dismissal of Roho and Hakurozan was “appropriate” and within its bounds, Hakurozan’s stablemaster Kitanoumi, who was also chairman of the JSA, stepped down from his job. Kitanoumi won 24 sumo tournament and is regarded as one of the all time greats in the sport. No other chairman had resigned before his term was completed. To American eyes it was a bit weird that he would resign over s couple wrestlers smoking pot and not resign after a young wrestler was beaten to death by his stalemates.

Wakakirin, a Japanese wrestler, was also arrested for marijuana possession after he and a musician were caught with marijuana in a police raid. Wakarkirin said he smoked marijuana for some time and bought the marijuana he was caught with from a foreigner in the Roppongi district of Tokyo. Suspicion about his drug use had been raised by a positive drug test but the results to drug test were not conclusive. He most contrite than the Russians. He said he would not accept his $50,000 retirement payout even though the JSA said he was entitled to it. In April 2009, he plead guilty to possession in a Yokohama court.

Ecstacy and Ketamine in Japan

Ecstacy has become increasingly popular among young people. The drugs are widely available at rave-style events and nightclubs with techno music. In 2004, three times as many people were arrested on ecstacy charges as in the previous year. A record 331,000 ecstacy tablets were seized in 2006.

Ketamine, a powdered anesthetic that is taken by recreational drug users, was designated a narcotic in Japan in 2007. Known as Cut or Special K, it is used along with Ecstacy the rave crowd. A gram sells for about $100 in Japan. Tokyo-based Chinese gangsters are trafficking a new synthetic hallucinogen called yaotou (shaking head).

A record 286,000 ecstacy pills worth ¥1.14 billion was seized in a raid in Saitama prefecture in February 2005. The haul was equal to two thirds of 414,700 ecstacy tablet seized in 2004. Among the four people that were arrested were an organized crime member and a hotel employee.

In April 2007, a 61-year-old mother and 25-year-old daughter were caught with 80,000 ecstasy pills worth ¥320 million at Narita Airport. They had reportedly been paid by a gangster in Aichi prefecture to smuggle the pills to Japan from the Netherlands.

Cocaine and Opium in Japan

Kitty-chan cocaine
Cocaine is becoming increasingly popular among yuppies that work for securities firms in Tokyo. Users tend to gather at hip clubs in the Roppongi district. Use increased in the mid 2000s, when the economy started to recover. The users need to have a fair bit disposable income to afford cocaine which can go for as much as $550 a gram. It has become common for Japanese yuppies in some circles to entertain visiting American counterparts with a few snorts of cocaine. Some even indulge in cocaine-heroin cocktails.

In early 2004, there were four drug-related deaths and 12 near fatal overdose comas that were linked with cocaine laced with heroin. The drugs were reportedly sold by a single Iranian drug dealer. Many of the victims were Westerners. One Australian bond trader who didn’t die was immediately arrested on possession charges when he emerged from coma. The drugs found in his pockets were three parts heroin and one part cocaine.

In May 2008, opium poppies were found growing at a park in Shimotsuma, a town in Ibaraki Prefecture that hosts the Kokaigawa Flower festival. It is believed that the people that planted the seeds thought they were seeds for wild flowers such as corn poppies. Government officials were put to work pulling up hundreds of thousands of illegal poppies growing over a five hectare area.

A man, who exports automobile parts was arrested after one kilogram of heroin was found in 70 polyethylene bags in his digestive system. The heroin was discovered after the man was taken to a hospital after complaining about not feeling well. Surgeons put him under the knife and removed the bags, wrapped in adhesive tape from his stomach and intestines.

Image Sources: 1) Economist via Danny Choo 2) 3) 4) exorsyst blog

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Daily Yomiuri, Times of London, Japan National Tourist Organization (JNTO), National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated January 2013

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