This is a brief historical overview of some of the reasons behind Japan’s drug policy and some context why Hamp is in such trouble.

Japan and China haven’t always had such a... unique national relationship. The earliest written records of Japanese culture were written in Old Chinese and the influence still is obvious with Japan’s later use of written Chinese-based Kanji (despite that the linguistics of Han Chinese and Japanese are vastly different). Not only was Chinese language the standard for the ruling class, Chinese goods were highly prized and coveted as well. Keep in mind at this time (250-500 AD) that China was just past the Han Dynasty and all of the advancements that had brought, while Japan had just begun to form into a recognizable organized state. The Yamato Court modeled itself after China and later even adapting Confucian style edicts and reforms.

Basically, there were centuries of the Japanese rulers adapting and promoting the Chinese model and by extension China itself. This pattern continued for centuries until the Sino-focused imperial court lost influence to the militaristic Shoguns. Although Japan became more culturally unique, China was still by far the largest foriegn influence on Japan, even during their famously isolationist era.

Skip ahead a few centuries to the European expansion into China and the rest of Asia. Europe sent a HUGE amount of silver into China (the only acceptable payment for the Chinese) in exchange for silk, porcelain, etc... This created obvious economic problems for both sides, as there is only so much silver to go around and ship loads of silver tends to drive down the value of it in China. Fortunately, the East India Company landed the rights to some sweet, sweet, opium, (in 1793) and who doesn’t love opium? Unfortunately, Chinese law banned opium houses and the smoking of opium way back in 1729(The traditional, prescribed drinking of opium was allowed). How could the EIC get around a prohibition like that? Hmm...*hint: it rhymes with truggling* In 1729 200 crates of opium were imported. In 1799, opium was banned entirely. Let’s see how this worked:


Not well. Not well at all. Granted, the population of China exploded during this time as well but the main take away was that China was entirely unable to enforce the laws against opium and it’s illegal importation by the EIC. When China actually attempted to enforce the law by burning over 1000 TONS of opium, Great Britain declared war, beginning the First Opium War. For reference to modern times, the current global production of opium is somewhere about 8,000 tons. So take ALL of the opium in production and put it into China which had a population of ~400 million. That’s not even accounting for the fact that opium was much more popular in southern China. Obviously, there would be vast social and political consequences from this, but that’s for another post.

Seeing China, the great historical Asian power so crippled by opium addiction influenced the Japanese viewpoint on opiates and drugs in general. Opium was used as a tool by Europe to economically destroy Chinese sovereignty. Japan had already made it’s policy towards the outside world well known even before the proliferation of opium. After the Meiji Restoration one of the goals of a “new, modern Japan” was to distance itself from the rest of occupied/colonized Asia, which included extreme, zero tolerance drug laws, although it was allowed for medicinal purposes through tight regulation. Enforcement of the strict laws was successful thanks to centuries of experience controlling Japan’s borders, but also due to the west pulling back from state enforced drug trafficking. Apparently that was an unpopular foreign policy in the rapidly democratizing west. Weird. Plus, it’s hard to sell manufactured goods when the new market would rather just get high.

Don’t smuggle drugs into Japan. EVER. Of any kind. To say that drug trafficking is a serious offense in Japan is a bit underselling it. You aren’t an executive in one of the largest Japanese companies. You won’t lose your job, you’ll lose weeks or months of your life dealing with a completely uncaring Japanese legal system. For a quick summary on modern drug consequences in Japan: check out the state department’s summary


Google search for some anecdotes if you want a potential rabbithole.