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We all know that Japan’s drug laws are pretty darn strict. But, did you know that crystal meth was originally invented in Japan? Possibly because of this, Japan has had a pretty up and down history with the drug, most of which is pretty interesting. So let’s take a look at the story of meth in Japan. Pro tip: meth-related stories rarely have happy endings.

The Invention Of Crystal Meth

Known as shabu in Japanese (Ah ha! I knew that shabushabu place down the street from my place is run by yakuza), plain old methamphetamine was first synthesized from ephedrine by Japanese chemist Nagai Nagayoshi in 1893. This is neat and all, but it’s no crystal meth. To do this, we have to wait until 1919 when Akira Ogata, Japanese pharmacologist, performs reduction on ephedrine. By doing this, he’s able to create crystal meth. Isn’t it pretty looking?

Because nobody really knew it was bad for you (hey, it keeps you skinny, makes you alert, and is totally awesome, right?), it began to gain popularity, though I would say it wasn’t until WWII that the stuff was really able to take off.

Crystal Meth In WWII

hiropon kamikaze

Under the brand name Philopon/Hiropon (ヒロポン), anyone who needed to stave off hunger and stay awake took this form of methamphetamine. Of course, during the war this was everyone. Factory workers could work long hours without eating (more bombs!). Soldiers that needed a pick-me-up took it (more marching!). Even kamikaze pilots were given this drug so they could fly long hours and not feel so bad about crashing into something at the end of their trip (aw, kind of sad!). If you’ve ever wondered why someone would ever go through with a kamikaze mission, this may be one of your answers.

That being said, let’s be fair here. It wasn’t just the Japanese giving drugs to their soldiers. Benzedrine, a similar compound that releases adrenaline, was used by Americans. The Nazis also used meth because they could bring their portable labs to the front. Even Hitler supposedly took a shot of meth every day to keep him feeling chipper (and also to stave off the Parkinson’s).

So, it’s not uncommon for drugs to go rampant (even government sanctioned drugs) during war time. That being said, Japan made a ton of Philopon during the war. So much that it had a huge surplus of it after it was all over. So, what do you do with the stuff? Answer: You sell it for super cheap.

Making Meth Legal In Japan

Following the war, Japan had three big problems:

  • There was a lot of meth leftover not only in Japan, but everywhere else in the world as well (and it’s bad manners not to clean your plate, you know).
  • There was a lot of work to be done (stuff got blown up pretty good and needed to be fixed).
  • A lot of people were coming home, and there wasn’t enough food to go around (people were hungry!).

Luckily, the second two problems could be fixed by the first problem – How lucky! Dainippon Pharmaceuticals (aka Dainippon Sumitomo Pharma, maybe you’ve heard of it) had a lot of Philopon to sell, and there certainly was a demand, too.

First of all, lots of soldiers were probably addicted to the stuff, meaning they could (legally) keep taking it once they got home. Second, a lot of industrial workers needed to stay awake for long periods of time. Philopon gave them that extra kick they needed to work those long shifts. One other nice side effect of meth is that you stop being hungry. With a shortage of food and a surplus of philopon, these two things went nicely together. Plus, you eventually lose all your teeth so why would you want to eat anything anyways? Win-win.

Really, anyone and their grandmother could get the stuff, and because not a lot of research had been done, people didn’t understand the implications of a nation on meth until a bit later. By then, though, it was kind of an epidemic.

The Crystal Meth Epidemics

After the war in 1946, we start to see the first reported cases of psychosis due to meth in Japan (as well as around the world). By 1948, people started to figure out that meth wasn’t a good idea, so Japan banned its use in tablet or powdered form. This left injection, which is actually much worse for you in the long term. Hospitalizations increased and drug-related crimes increased. Obviously it was time to put a stop to all this.

In 1951, the Japanese Ministry of Health banned meth in Japan, causing an overproduction of the stuff once again (yay, cheap meth!). Also, labs just began to move overseas (which partly explains why there are so many meth labs in Asia around Japan, and very few inside of Japan). 17,528 people were arrested in the first year of meth being illegal, but this number just continued to increase. In 1954, harsher penalties (including imprisonment up to 5 years for the first offense) got introduced. Despite this, 55,000 people were arrested in 1955 for drug-related crimes.

In 1955, however, a few things changed. The Japanese government created a huge campaign against substance abuse. Also, began to prohibit the raw materials usually used to make meth from being imported into the country and meth labs started getting raided. Really, this is when Japan put its foot down, and although crystal meth is still the most popular drug in Japan today, its tapered off quite a bit (as you’ll see).

Crystal Meth In Japan Today


My Yakuza Meth Dealer: Toshio “No Nipple Tats” Watanabe

Crystal meth, unsurprisingly, is the most commonly used illegal drug in Japan. According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, 80% of drug-related arrests in Japan have involved methamphetamine. Also, half the meth-related arrests in Japan were also related to the yakuza and other organized crime (if you go, tell them “Koichi Four-Fingers” referred you for a discount). It’s used by all kinds of people too. Those skinny Japanese school girls gotta stay skinny, you know?

For the most part, though, Japan and crystal meth manufacturing are quite separate (or people are extra good at hiding their labs). In 2010, the first crystal meth lab since 1995 was found and busted. That’s 15 years of no meth-labs being discovered. I think it’s safe to assume that Japan isn’t producing much of its crystal meth. Instead, it’s importing it mainly from the countries Canada, Mexico, South Africa, and Turkey.

Japan definitely has a history of going nuts over its “drug problem,” though. While I will say that drugs are bad, kids, I think Japan’s reaction to the problem is pretty interesting. When a celebrity is caught with marijuana, it’s a gigantic media frenzy. The Japanese government is always lamenting about its terrible drug problems… but when you take a look, it’s not actually all that bad.

  • Japan (population 127.7 million) reports approximately 4,000 annual marijuana offenses every year. The single state of California (population 38.6 million) reports approximately 75,000 annual marijuana offenses per year. Marijuana is currently the #2 most used drug behind crystal meth in Japan.
  • In Japan, only 3% of people say they have tried “banned substances.” Comparatively 46% of Americans say they have tried banned substances.
  • Japan sees around 12,000 crystal meth related arrests every year (this number has been pretty level for a while now). Compare this to 1955, which had 55,000 people.

I’m sure Japan would love a zero on the board when it comes to drugs, but when you compare these numbers to other countries (or even the Japan of 50 years ago), you have yourself a fairly small problem. I will say, though, that I think that marijuana will probably overtake crystal meth for the number one spot. Crystal meth has been holding steady at 12,000ish for quite a while now, but marijuana has been on the rise. Despite Japan’s long history with meth, there’ll be a new king soon. And, if I had to choose, I’d rather have to deal with pot over meth any day.

  • MikazukiChu

    Interesting article. Do you happen to have a list of sources? This would help with my report. Thank you!

  • http://www.seomoz.org/users/profile/237899 Bryan Bottebell

    “Second, a lot of industrial workers needed to stay a way for long periods of time.”
    Should be: needed to stay awake.

    Great article, by the way.

  • http://www.tofugu.com koichi

    Most of the numbers came from various pages on the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime webpage, some history info from wikipedia and a bunch of other sites to cross reference. I’d start at the UNODC, though.

  • http://www.tofugu.com koichi

    why thank you! All fixed now ~

  • http://www.tofugu.com koichi

    oh, and also a lot of learning about what meth does, taking a look at who was taking it and when they were taking it, and coming up with some conclusions based off that…

  • MikazukiChu

    Thank you so much!

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Will-Scruggs/1130827912 Will Scruggs

    Interesting read, no idea Meth was “invented” in Japan, or was even its #1 drug right now.  I’ve learned my 1 fact of the day

  • ಠ_ರೃ

     Sounds like a certain somebody could use a little pick-me-up! Don’t worry, all the cool kids are doing it!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1567001652 Jamal Antonio

     ありがとう!この記事は面白いですよ。

  • http://www.tofugu.com/ Hashi

    Five Hour Energy?

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001535919021 Heather Stewart

    It’s painfully ironic that you would write this article after the article on Japanese all-you-can-eat buffets. Not as much as if you had done an article on marijuana, but still pretty ironic…

  • http://yonasu.com/ Jonas

    Great article! I had no clue crystal meth was invented in Japan, though that was some kind of American trailer trash stuff(^^;)

  • linguarum

    Great article. I’m just wondering why the Philopon label image has the katakana from right to left. Did Japan used to write that way?

  • http://www.tofugu.com koichi

    back in the day it was more common ~

  • http://www.tofugu.com koichi

    hahah, ikr

  • Mescale

    What’s the benefit of crystallized meth-amphetamine over non-crystallized meth-amphetamine ? 

    I guess its better for sprinkling on your cereal as a sugar replacement?

  • braintree

    Odd question, but do you know why they call it shabu? Google seems to throw up a few different answers (making it apparently sounds like someone cooking shabu-shabu/it comes from the verb ‘to suck’ because people usually smoke it/a judge was quoted as saying it ‘sucks the life from people’), but nothing’s really conclusive.  It just seems so odd to give something so dangerous a seemingly innocent name. 

    Also, I find it hilarious that the blog now has a ‘meth’ tag. Hopefully you won’t be using it too often.

  • Kiriain

    Meth you say? (́≖◞౪◟≖‵) I’m afraid I don’t know what you’re talking about…

  • ಠ_ರೃ

    Huh. I just assumed it was because everyone was on meth.

  • Shumanfu

    Maybe it’s the sound that it makes while you’re “cooking” it.. :P

  • linguarum

    Speaking of pot, interesting that the Japanese media freaks over a celebrity pot bust, but before every sumo match, the mat must be spiritually ‘cleansed’ with taima = marijuana.

  • Marion

    that guys would be pretty happy to see his picture here!

  • Hinoema

    Plus, IIRC, they invented an even worse drug than that… HUGH FRUCTOSE CORN SYRUP!!!

    *dun dun etc*

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100003410150338 Nicole Yamagawa

    Aah, maybe that’s what I need to stay awake in school these days.. Alright then, off to the yakuza! 

  • yata

    I guess almost all the Japanese would have never involved in drugs. ( I’ve never been, of course.) Although I often hear minors drink, I’ve never heard someone use illegal drugs.
    About celebrities arrested for using marijuana(?) ( I’m not sure what kind of drigs there are ), I remember how overly reported the arrest of 酒井法子 was…

  • ToruKun1

    As someone who lives in a town dubiously known as the Meth Capital of the World, this was very enlightening! XD

  • http://mistersanity.blogspot.com Jonadab

    The most dangerously addictive drug of all is DHMO, an industrial solvent that people consume quite casually, most commonly in beverages, often for purely recreational purposes or sometimes for other reasons.  A lot of people use it to “wash down” other drugs, but while you can potentially stop taking the other drugs, you can’t stop taking DHMO.  The stuff is so physically addictive that after you’ve been on it for a while you physically cannot stop.  (If you do, the withdrawal symptoms will actually kill you in 3-5 days.  Literally.)  So pretty much everyone who has ever taken it is permanently addicted.  Worse, it consistently crosses generations automatically:  if a woman takes DHMO during pregnancy, her amniotic fluid contains significant quantities of DHMO, so her children are well and truly addicted before they emerge into the world.  If they aren’t given the drug after birth, they die of DHMO withdrawal in a day or so. (Yes, the withdrawal is actually worse for young children than for adults.)  Fortunately, in addition to amniotic fluid, DHMO also gets into breast milk, so the children don’t have to start taking it on their own until they are weaned.  By then, they can already tell when they need a DHMO fix.

  • Mashimaro

    That’s too dangerous! You should just stick with the crystal meth!

  • Jeffrey

    ” For the most part, though, Japan and crystal meth manufacturing
    are quite separate (or people are extra good at hiding their labs). In
    2010, the first crystal meth lab since 1995 was found and busted. That’s
    15 years of no meth-labs being discovered. I think it’s safe to assume
    that Japan isn’t producing much of its crystal meth. Instead, it’s
    importing it mainly from the countries Canada, Mexico, South Africa, and
    Turkey.”

    Might be true.  But given the general corruption and bone laziness of the JNP, it could be that they just don’t go looking much for the labs.

  • SaraWyatt

    lol I remember when Daishi (former member of the former band Psycho le Cemu) was arrested for meth in 2005… And everyone totally freaked out. Their website was pulled down over night. All their merch was removed from shelves for like a year!!  
    I had to wait extra long to see if I was on their US Tour DVD! Like, ugh, how insensitive, Daishi! ;P

    And I guess that explained his sudden weight loss, especially in the face because you don’t lose noticeable weight there unless you’re really fat to begin with, but meth f*cks your face up!! It’ll make you look 80 in 10 yrs.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=668980464 Roddy McDougall

    Pre-war Japanese reads right-to-left when written horizontally :)

  • http://twitter.com/ka_zu1991 里・リイ

    in response to the 3% that have taken ‘banned substances’, I find it hard to believe. I mean we are talking about a country that is quite humble and subtle about themselves, I doubt it would be that easy for them to admit anything like drugs that leisurely.
    however that’s some neat info I learned from you, thanks Koichi!

  • seth r cooper

    Well done done I appreciate any extensively researched article but this was an incredibly gutsy piece. I dont know that I would have the balls to credit any one person or culture with the invention of one of the most pleasurable and destructive drugs our generation has seen.

  • -=Tuff ‘em up=-

    You should also conclude as to how it is the main form of mind control

  • rainbowrevolt
  • Danielle

    No wonder why they are so strict about bringing sudafed in…

  • Jennifer Cruz-Banzuela

    so you still live in japan?all my dogs are from japan..tosa inu..call me sometime i would like to do an interview for my journal.7027415662 names romeo

  • Rex Gregson

    Japan’s culture literally has words to label “public truth” and “private truth” and it is considered good to keep anything shameful or embarrassing to yourself or to your superiors a secret because it’s seen as “keeping social peace and harmony”. So I bet those numbers are lower than they actually are. The Japanese would be more likely to consider any “drug use” a “private truth” and would confidently answer “no” to the survey even if they are hardcore addicts. They wouldn’t want huge poll numbers to have a ripple effect in the media that would lead to a disturbance of their “peace”. And honestly I think that’s smart. If polls show lots of drug use then law enforcement will clamp down. Much better if the government and any other haters thinks there isn’t much going on.

  • Tanc

    Informative and all, but your small comments are just annoying. Had to stop reading at half article.

  • dawnatilla

    you ain’t lyin!!! Id rather have a meth problem than be forced to ingest corn syrup which is in practicaslly EVERYTHING and is extremely harmful to the brfain and body. it aint just corn, folks!

  • dawnatilla

    extremely gutsy might be over stating the case. Gutsy would be to include the Reptilian faction of both meth and Japan.

  • dawnatilla

    look..one cant name just ONE DRUG as the “most” addictive or “most dangerous” drug…that is not only erroneous scientifically..but the addiction level of any drug is ALMOST wholly dependent on the users proclivity to SUBSTANCE ABUSE.

  • dawnatilla

    never heard someone use illegal drugs? eh?

  • dawnatilla

    I dont know but in California we call a crystal rock a “shab” like a (shard) of crystal…

  • dawnatilla

    naw its better for amplifying your energy, as a dopamine replacement.

  • dawnatilla

    hahahahaha

  • dawnatilla

    what?

  • dawnatilla

    hahahahahhaaaa

  • dawnatilla

    kinda got that feeling myself

  • dawnatilla

    wrong. not a main form of mind control. SCOPOLAMINE is,.

  • dawnatilla

    or are into the profits of said labs….$$$

  • dawnatilla

    it is still a highly oppressive and aggressive government

  • dawnatilla

    so many meth capitals in this country!!

  • dawnatilla

    good job mate. great banner and title as well.

  • dawnatilla

    one factor: low dopamine levels will drive people to use drugs.

  • Jack

    We need much harsher anti-drug laws here in the USA. I’m so sick of living with all these fat, disgusting, disorganized, rude, drunk and drugged-up people here in the USA. Recently I was in Las Vegas on business and saw big groups of ravers going to the so-called Electric Daisy Carnival. I talked to some of them and their brains were already half-fried even though they were in their early twenties. People who make ecstacy, meth, or other synthetic drugs, or who grow and sell marijuana, should be dealt with at least as harshly as in Japan. But I know it’s hopeless. Most Americans are so criminal-minded and psychologically weak that it’s only going to get worse. All the Chinese have to do is wait a few more years. We’ll have a drugged-up 3rd world country and they can just walk right in and take over without a fight.

  • RamonaThaBona

    Very informative article. Ive got a bunch of friends in Japan who were locked up for the stuff. I tried to explain to them that its a total bum fuck drug in the US but they always respond “meth in japan is totally different than meth in the US” its cleaner blah blah blah! This article cleared that up for me!

  • Kingandrew

    You thought he meant sources for the information…Maybe he is looking to try a sample as part of his “research” :)

  • guy who does fucking research

    it wasn’t, it was invented in Germany

  • saywhatnow

    Haha its a troll. DHMO is short for “dihydrogen monoxide”. It’s a scientific in joke and the name means two hydrogen (atoms) and one oxygen (atom), in other words “H20″ or water.

  • Too much time to study things

    It was invented in the JA-PAN corporation first in 1893, it was listed as amphetamine. Then the Germans around 1919, but it really had no use, it was developed it in the war where both JA-PAN and Germany both used it in the industrial arena and the war effort. Pilots or anyone who had to stay alert and focused for long periods of time. There are many articles on it and postings from reputable for guy who does f#$%ing research can look it up.

  • Thatecceleratedrapidly
  • Hitokiri 1989

    I would say that drug use was encouraged by the Imperial government to keep soldiers/citizens more controllable, docile and motivated. Its very different from people who use the stuff for recreation purposes

  • chicaqt

    Is there a way you may please provide articles as to what you have just described? I would really appreciate it since you have inspired a topic for my research paper.

  • Ishimaru

    this is so stupid and offensive…

  • Ishimaru

    no, you missed what japanese culture is about
    it’s not “truth” but its called public and personal opinion

  • Arnab Basu

    Good article

  • Mr.Japan

    Japan had a chemist who made it & when Germany was in WW1 they became Alliies &
    Japan gave them Meth so Hitler’s soldiers can fight for Days & weeks non stop. Hitler was a Tweaker only not a Chemist. Japan came up with Meth. You’re an idiot LOL!

  • Looking up historical origins

    Are you sure methamphetamine was invented in Japan? I looked up the reference and only see ephedrins and methylephedrin (which is not methamphetamine). Every chemical in the 1893 document has an oxygen. Perhaps a Japanese fellow first synthesized methamphetamine in Germany in 1919?

    https://www.jstage.jst.go.jp/article/yakushi1881/1892/127/1892_127_832/_pdf

  • Michał Kowalski

    #2.2 // The.Most.Important.Knowledge.You.would.Ever.Read.Implement.and.Live.up.to.Forever /// http://foreverthemostimportant.com/

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