What You Need to Know About the Japanese Drug Laws

When it comes to laws pertaining to drugs, Japan is a different animal than many other countries, especially Western ones.


There's a "zero-tolerance" policy in place for crimes related to drugs and the penalties are strict. Same goes for drink-driving offenses, which can lead to fines or jail time, and alllowing someone else to drink and drive with you as a passenger. Bar patrons are also subject to random drug testing and if you smoke on the street in parts of Tokyo and other major cities, police can fine you on the spot.

Some drugs and med's are illegal in Japan

The country also carries different ideas of what are considered illegal drugs. To them, common over-the-counter medications for sinus and allergy problems are banned.

The “But I didn’t know” excuse does not bode well once you’re in the country. You can still be fined or jailed for pinging what law enforcement terms an illegal substance onto Japanese soil. Drug-filled syringes, such as EpiPens, may also be heavily scrutinized. One Virtual Tourist traveler was detained for pinging in the common American decongestant Sudafed. 

How to avoid hassles over med's

To avoid sitting in the slammer over your cold meds, triple-check the list of prohibited substances and consult your country’s embassy before your trip.

For the most part, any drug that has stimulants such as pseudoephedrine or codeine is banned.  You can ping a two-month supply of certain over-the-counter medication and vitamins and a one-month stash of permitted prescription medicine into Japan, but you have to include a copy of your doctor's prescription and a letter stating the purpose of the drug. 

Some drugs are still no-go even with this documentation, nor can you mail prescription medicines without obtaining an import certification called “Yakkan-Syoumei” from the Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare.

If all your usual meds are prohibited, you might be able to get similar, not exact, kinds from Japanese doctors.

Other things that are illegal in Japan

It’s not just drugs about which the Japanese government is stricter. Much like China, those visiting the country, especially for less than three months, may be asked by local police to produce their passports at any time. Even foreign residents should keep their alien registration identity card with them.

Police also conduct random checks at pubs and nightclubs, and if you don’t have proper identification, you can be detained. Police may let you off easy if you apologize, but if they’re in a particularly grouchy mood, it’s within their right to fine you up to ¥200,000. There goes your day at the spa.

What to do if you are arrested in Japan

More things illegal in the country include UHF-CB radios, or walkie-talkies, purchased in another country, according to the Australian Smart Traveller web site, and you can get fines or jail time for possessing one

Jail time for any of the above offenses can last close to a month. Getting out of the penal pickle is quite tricky. Police interviews, which are often long, do not allow lawyers and are not recorded. Bail is out of the question if you are a foreigner, and you can be stuck in the slammer awaiting trial for up to six months if indicted.

Don’t sign anything unless you completely understand the legal wording included; putting your signature on a confession will lead to a guilty verdict.


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