“Drugs are bad, m’kay?”
And while you might think that only explanation for Japan’s weirdness must be copious amounts of psychedelics, it turns out that the Japanese do not mess around when it comes to drugs.
Japanese drug law is among the harshest in the world, and can be even worse if you’re a foreigner. Nobody is safe, not even a (former) Beatle.
Drugs in Japan
Japanese law and society at large usually view drug possession as almost an unconscionable act. Japanese citizens who are caught growing, possessing, or using illegal drugs of pretty much any kind find themselves in deep trouble.
Not only do drug offenders face up to five years in prison for their first offense, but there’s tons of other, non-legal repercussions too. A couple years ago, both a rugby player and a sumo wrestler were found to be in possession of marijuana, and both athletes had their Japanese sports careers ended.
People who get caught with drugs can be fired from their jobs, expelled from school, and have their life flipped, turned upside-down Bel-Aire style. In other words: it sucks to get caught with drugs if you’re a Japanese citizen.
Drug trip, or classic console game Rez? You decide.
And if the criminal penalties weren’t enough of a deterrent, drugs are really pricey in Japan compared to other parts of the world. According to the United Nations, Japan is the most expensive place in the world to get high. Tokyo sure ain’t Amsterdam.
So between the threat of jail time and the incredible expense, it’s not surprising that drug usage in Japan is pretty low.
But the way Japan treats its own citizens pales in comparison to the treatment that foreigners face for drug charges.
Gaijin on Drugs
If you’re visiting Japan from another country, it’s probably best to not even think about drugs. The law is never kind to foreigners in any country, but if you’re a gaijin with drugs, you’re a gaijin in trouble.
The US State Department warns of how harsh Japanese law can be on foreigners caught with illegal drugs in Japan:
…offenders can expect long jail sentences and fines. In most drug cases, suspects are detained and barred from receiving visitors or corresponding with anyone other than a lawyer or a U.S. consular officer until after indictment. Solitary confinement is common.
Yikes. Given, this sort of treatment might be more reflective of Japan’s justice system, but that’s a whole other issue for another post.
But seriously, don’t do this – you’ll be shot where you stand.
The Rolling Stones, former Beatle Paul McCartney, and Paris Hilton have all been denied entrance to Japan because of prior drug charges in their home countries. (But really, can you blame the Japanese for banning Paris Hilton from their country?)
Usually though, celebrities are eventually allowed into Japan. But for the rest of us who aren’t lucky enough to be greeted at Narita by hordes of screaming fans, it’s doubtful that you’ll ever be welcome in Japan if you’ve faced a drug charge at any time in your life.
And, as a recent story shows, if you try to get drugs into Japan from elsewhere, you can find yourself in pretty hot water. An American student studying in Japan is in jail at the moment because a friend of his sent him marijuana-infused sweets. In the eyes of Japanese law, it doesn’t matter that this student legally receives medical marijuana in his home state.
Is Japan’s drug policy too harsh? That’s definitely an issue up for debate. But the bottom line is if you’re looking to visit or live in Japan, you should be so drug-free that you make the Pope look like Hunter S. Thompson.