HempenCulture in Japan


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Cannabis Culture in contemporary Japan


While smoking marijuana is not as wide-spread as in Canada, cannabis culture is certainly alive in contemporary Japan.

The most popular drugs in fast-paced Japanese society are nicotine, alcohol and caffeine followed by Amphetamine in form of speed and ice. The Yakuza organized crime gangs run the trade and it goes on without the government paying much attention to it.

In 1995, there was an increase to 19,400 arrests for speed. Compare that to a decreasing 1,500 for pot in 1995. (
Young) Perhaps, the slanted priority is because of the Yakuza’s wide influence throughout Japanese politics and business. Recently their is more cry for legalization to reduce the cash flow to the gangs as the usage increases.

Says writer Nobuhiro Motobashi, “The Yakuza are running a dirty trade in drugs which could be seriously damaged if you relaxed marijuana restrictions and at the same time tightened laws to catch hard drug traffickers. In my own experience, marijuana isn’t that dangerous, not like amphetamines or cocaine.” (Young)

In the big cities, it isn’t to hard to find buds or hash in small quantities. It is nonchalantly viewed as a trendy western drug to many casual urban users. Something you do a couple times before you “get serious” with your life. The chunks of hash are primarily sold by Iranians by the parks or train stations but the police are rounding up many of these suspects and deporting many for visa violations and minor infractions, in actions that often seem racially motivated.

The commercial product comes mostly from the Phillipines, Thailand smuggled in by boats, the packages tied to off-shore buoys and passed off to the locals. Or from Hawaii, brought by smugglers posing as tourists.

In the mountains and country-side, the situation is somewhat better as the skills of growing are still practiced. Unfortunately it is hard to meet growers and smokers out in the countryside (that’s why they live there). Several people I met there had moved from the big cities to homestead and grow in the rural areas. Due to the scarcity of equipment and the high cost of electricity, most crops are outdoors in clearings on steep hillsides in the dense forests. The genetics come from various seeds brought back from vacations to Thailand, Jamaica, Amsterdam or BC and then worked into the Japanese soil.

Some growers in villages use small greenhouses alongside their house, hoping no one stops by to see what’s growing. In Hokkaido there are still good-quality wild stands growing for those who dare to risk the police and go up to harvest. The police know this trick and station roadblocks during harvest season often catching people with their trunk full of plants.

In these rural area, Cannabis Culture grooves on with an international twist. It is great to pass a bong around in a foreign land knowing that you are among folks with the same understanding of the plant as you. Especially in Japan which is so often seen as a crowded, neon, worker hive, it feels great to meet people living a life like yours in many ways. Same tunes, same thoughts, same ganja.

One friend told me about Bob Marley’s visit to Japan about 2 years before he died. Bob’s entourage hadn’t brought any weed with them to Japan so Bob was excited to meet this friend who was able to provide Bob with buds from his apartment closet grow system. Bob stayed at his apartment for a couple days and gave him a percussive gourd as a gift.


The police still work along at catching the Cannabis smokers , especially as it is imported. A police spokesman says, “Amphetamines are a big problem but we are enforcing the cannabis laws as rigorously as the other drug laws.” (Young)

The Shizuoka Police Department has pictures of seized smuggling devices like transistor radios and books and cite an increase in foreigners and Japanese caught importing “large” quantities.

They also point out many strange reactions to smoking weed.
”Habitual users of marijuana of cannabis suffer from illusion or hallucinations. Sometimes they become over-excited and lose control to the point of violence or provocation. Their health deteriorates.” (Shizuoka)

Their report also quotes from a book called “What is Marijuana,” by Katsuo Kenmochi, “Marijuana abuse cause disorder of time concept, confusing past, present and future. Addicts sometimes see what can not be seen, or sometimes see themselves as beautiful ladies, birds or animals. Sometimes they fall into a state of lethargy.” (Kenmochi)

The establishment also target famous people to defame the role models publicly. In 1995, one of Japan’s most popular rock singers, Tsuyoshi Nagabuchi, was caught with under 2 grams of grass. He was jailed, fined millions, concerts canceled and had to publicly apologize. Remember this is the country that jailed a Beatle for a week.

Japanese have also been at the other end of the rope as the Phillipines executed by hanging a Japanese convicted of smuggling several ounces of pot in the early 1990’s .

To be caught with smoking weed in Japan is a very big deal. Their justice system is efficient and precise at measuring out your sentence, no matter how much influence you have in some other country. Indeed there are many foreigners languishing away in Japanese jails who were caught bringing in a stash to get them by while they are living and working in Japan.

At the border, both foreign and Japanese young people are often asked about and inspected for weed. One technique used by the border guards at the airport was to have the “customer” turn his or her pockets inside out to see if their is any residue or pieces of bud.

Perhaps safer then the airport border is sending herb by mail, some foreigners living in Japan have buddies back home mail a nugg or two hidden in a cassette tape case or similar device although this does carry inherent risks as well.

It is a social stigma to be caught and many Japanese parents fret that if their child goes overseas to visit or study they will become either pregnant or start smoking pot and then not be a proper worker/citizen. Marijuana is considered as bad as any other drug and smokers are referred to as “happachuu” (leaf addict) the same as a junkie.

For several years, Japan has had a working holiday visa arrangement with Canada, Australia and New Zealand so it has given many young Japanese a chance to explore the world and try many new things and then take their new foreign habits back home to share with their friends. To many young Japanese who feel stifled by the rigors of their society, Vancouver is known for good bud, snowboard and music.

“The demonization of cannabis is not part of the Japanese culture,” says Hidehiro Marui a lawyer in Shizuoka referring to the Cannabis Control Act imposed by the US government in 1948. Hopefully, Japan can find a balance between the traditional uses of hemp and the international drug policies sponsored by US government and global industrialists. This will surely increase international understanding, exchange of ideas and lifestyle rights throughout Japan and the World.


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