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Drug culture, familiar to past generations, staging a comeback among the young in Japan

18 Comments
By Michael Hoffman

The following scene, witnessed by reporters from Spa (May 24-31), unfolded last month at a club in Tokyo’s Roppongi district.

Deafening music permits some, if broken, conversation. A young man takes from his pocket a vial containing an oily liquid. He squirts a few drops on what look like gumdrops. He turns to a young woman next to him. “Interested?”

She is. “What is it? Grass? L?” Whatever. “Give me one.”

“Without hesitation” she pops it into her mouth. Within half an hour she is unable to stand. Her friends – one hopes they are her friends – carry her out of the club.

The story is more blank than substance. What was the man offering? No mere gumdrop, obviously. Marijuana? LSD? Something else? Did money change hands? Was the woman all right? Did she get home safely?

We’ll never know. Spa claims to be chronicling a “drug pandemic.” COVID-19 has schooled us in “pandemic” proportions – tens and hundreds of millions, worldwide. The alleged “drug pandemic” in Japan is miniscule in comparison: 5,482 arrests for marijuana offenses nationwide in 2021, according to the National Police Agency – up from 5,036 in 2020 and 3,007 in 2017, a steady rise and of concern no doubt, the more so coupled with 12,124 arrests in 2020 pertaining to methamphetamine; still, a sense of perspective is in order. As of 2019, health ministry figures show, 1.8 percent of Japanese have used marijuana at least once – versus 44.2 percent of Americas.

An ironic historical aside: Japan came late to agriculture, and among its very first cultivated plants, 7,000-odd years ago, was cannabis. It flourished throughout the archipelago, a source down the millennia of food and of hemp fiber for clothing, rope, nets and ritual purification accouterments.

Did people get high? They may have – shamans, perhaps. The evidence is vague, the jury is out. Either way, Japan never spawned a drug culture, only a hemp culture – which the American-led Occupation of 1945-52 stamped out via the 1948 Cannabis Control Law, fruit of the U.S. “war on drugs” then unfolding. To this day Japan’s drug laws are among the strictest in the world, untouched by global trends towards decriminalization of medicinal or recreational marijuana use.

But enforcement grows harder. Online trafficking is a challenge not easily met. Likewise  increasingly ingenious chemistry that makes narcotics look like something else – gumdrops for instances, or cakes and cookies and the like.

And the stuff is affordable. At least some of it is. Spa quotes prices: 800 yen for a marijuana high, 2,000 yen for an LSD trip. The harsh economic realities now prevalent seem to stimulate rather than inhibit the quest for psychotropic escape.

We never learn what laced the gumdrop the woman in the Roppongi club swallowed – possibly LSD, Spa speculates, which is interesting in view of its history. First synthesized in 1938 by Swiss chemist Albert Hofmann, it drew excited attention from psychiatrists – as cocaine had a generation earlier – for its supposed treatment potential. It induced hallucinations. To some these represented higher consciousness; to others, “bad trips,” sometimes disastrous.

Guru of the psychedelic counter-culture of the 1960s was one-time Harvard psychologist Timothy Leary (1921-1996), who saw LSD’s potential in helping “to create a new paganism and a new dedication to life as art.” “Turn on, tune in, drop out,” he said, to mixed applause and horror. It was a phase “Western” civilization went through, rising at its most colorful (or sinking at its most abject, depending on point of view) to “acid rock,” named for LSD’s nickname, acid.

Embrace reality, or escape it? Half a century later that remains the question, the modern “to be or not to be” – still unsettled.

Michael Hoffman is the author of “Fuji, Sinai, Olympos.” 

© Japan Today

©2022 GPlusMedia Inc.

18 Comments
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We’ll never know. Spa claims to be chronicling a “drug pandemic.” COVID-19 has schooled us in “pandemic” proportions – tens and hundreds of millions, worldwide.

Spa's artcle and co-opting of the term sound more like Reefer Madness hysteria to me.

The only thing that is lacking is a mention if the young man providing drugs in Roppongi the beginning got them from a foreigner.

6 ( +7 / -1 )

"No mere gumdrop, obviously. Marijuana? LSD?" "Her friends – one hopes they are her friends – carry her out of the club."

The most clear implications here are that the writers know NOTHING about 'drugs'. "...oily liquid..."?? Or, possibly, they were 'high' when they wrote this article on the STATISTICALLY most dangerous DRUG we know, the industrial solvent and poisonous waste product of micro-organisms, ETHANOL. Even the worst pathogens cannot live in it. "...44.2 percent of Americas [SIC]." is simply a very rare breakout of sanity in America recognising the positive values of one of Mankind's OLDEST botanical friends and the criminal abuse and damage its hysterical Corporate sponsored slandering caused. During Revolutionary times, 'Hemp' (aka Cannabis) was the backbone of the American economy and it's almost without a doubt that, while sitting and looking out over his slave worked Hemp fields at Monticello and puffing on his 'pipe', Jefferson wrote the quite flowery "Declaration of Independence" and would have found a ban on it 170 years later an insanity. And, again, MEDICAL RESEARCH is beginning to recognise many of the THERAPEUTIC benefits of these substances with which the troubled have been researching themselves for a long time. If one wants quiet and peace and thought, one uses Cannabis. If one wants LOUD, WILD, STUPID, and even MURDEROUS, one chooses Ethanol. It's just a matter of choice...or should be.

1 ( +6 / -5 )

People should realize that drug sentences in Japan is almost always de facto life sentences. Even if you are only sentenced for 2-5 years, you will be sent top psychiatric hospital afterwards, and will almost certainly never be able to return to society, and in the best case scenario be sent to a group home in the countryside not being allowed any interaction with the outside world.

-7 ( +2 / -9 )

Google "Reefer Music " for an interesting cornucopia of music including Louis Armstrong .

Real feet tapping stuff.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

Drug culture, familiar to past generations, staging a comeback among the young in Japan

Did I miss something? Maybe this should have been titled “A very quick history of drugs in Japan, and one observation.”

I sometimes miss the Maryjane but never enough to get sent packing for it. It was getting too strong for my liking anyway, and that was back in the States 25 years ago.

4 ( +5 / -1 )

What a hysterical article. I agree with the Reefer Madness comparisons.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

Allowing recreational drugs may be cheaper than giving people free money to keep them from being angry at you, if you are a political regime damaging their lives and erasing their futures.

In the UK, drug use amongst youngsters seems to be widespread. Post-Brexit, it may be the only sector still growing. I see trades every week in broad daylight. The police generally don't stir themselves for such things, but still waste too much time chasing and processing addicts. Most of them just get off with a warning - so why bother? If it was decriminalised, they would be under less pressure to find so much cash to obtain it as it would be cheaper, so they would steal less. They are often unemployable, so it wouldn't be too much of a loss to the economy, and less stuff would get nicked.

It may increase healthcare pressures. There are a lot of accidental overdoses and bad trips, and people do idiot things when on drugs, just as they do when they are drunk. Maybe the legal supply of stable hits would reduce this. Presumably some research is being done in places where drugs have been legalised.

There is no reason to suspect the story cited isn't true. Getting drunk or drugged to the point where you can't protect yourself from crime - theft, assault, abduction, rape - is idiotic, but common. You've probably seen a few people in the last week who will only survive unmolested until they are sober/clean again by good fortune and the kindness of strangers. Sexual predators and serial killers often target people in such a condition.

Canada are decriminalising Class A drugs in a limited trial. It will be interesting to see how it goes.

If drugs are widely decriminalised, we may need more routine occupational drug tests. Just to make sure your surgeon, dentist and pilot are all clean as well as sober, before you place yourself in their hands.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

1.8 percent of Japanese have used marijuana at least once

Honestly, taking the country as a whole, even this number seems high to me- but who knows, maybe I'm just naive and/or sheltered.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

“Without hesitation” she pops it into her mouth.

The “Always trust strangers” algorithm needs work...

1 ( +2 / -1 )

People should realize that drug sentences in Japan is almost always de facto life sentences. Even if you are only sentenced for 2-5 years, you will be sent top psychiatric hospital afterwards, and will almost certainly never be able to return to society,

I know several people, Japanese and foreign who were arrested for drugs, marijuana or other.

One did 90 days, another 180 days, a few got off with suspended sentences.

None of them are in mental care facilities, and now live life normally.

You must be basing your conclusions on hearsay, or “a friend of a friend” who actually had a psychotic episode and was committed to a facility.

Also. Sentences longer than a year are only for dealers and smugglers, and even so, the maximum sentence is 15 years.

7 ( +7 / -0 )

blahblah222June 3  12:15 pm JST

People should realize that drug sentences in Japan is almost always de facto life sentences. Even if you are only sentenced for 2-5 years, you will be sent top psychiatric hospital afterwards, and will almost certainly never be able to return to society, and in the best case scenario be sent to a group home in the countryside not being allowed any interaction with the outside world.

Simply not true. What is your source of this misinformation / disinformation?

4 ( +6 / -2 )

"800 yen for a marijuana high" Jesus!

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Guru of the psychedelic counter-culture of the 1960s was one-time Harvard psychologist Timothy Leary (1921-1996), who saw LSD’s potential in helping “to create a new paganism and a new dedication to life as art.” “Turn on, tune in, drop out,” he said, to mixed applause and horror.

Reminds me of a story I heard from an acquaintance 45 years ago about Leary. The acquaintance said he went to a lecture by Leary a few years before. He said Leary was almost incoherent. He had become a semi-vegetable.

So, go ahead, kids, drop acid and drop out. Make way for someone else.

-2 ( +2 / -4 )

Deafening music permits some, if broken, conversation. A young man takes from his pocket a vial containing an oily liquid. He squirts a few drops on what look like gumdrops.

The music was deafening, but Spa reporters could hear the following conversation?

*He turns to a young woman next to him. “Interested?**”*

She is. “What is it? Grass? L?” Whatever. “Give me one.”

4 ( +4 / -0 )

Lots of Japanese,just to be posers

-1 ( +2 / -3 )

Back in the US now after 20 years in Japan. It's impossible to walk down the street, or even go on a hiking trail, without the stink of weed wafting in your nose. I miss being free of that stuff in Japan. I hope Japan keeps up its strict enforcement.

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

Back in the US now after 20 years in Japan. It's impossible to walk down the street, or even go on a hiking trail, without the stink of weed wafting in your nose. I miss being free of that stuff in Japan. I hope Japan keeps up its strict enforcement.

I'm skeptical. I don't even smell it that often in Canada, where it's legally allowed to be smoked anywhere where people smoke tobacco. Every few days I'll catch a waft, but very rare.

I like the smell though.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I started smoking pot when I was 16(yes, too young) and did just about everything except opiates. I had a great youth and enjoyed experiences with my friends that I will never forget. Never had any issues and am a successful professional and business owner. Fast forward to a serious back injury, so had to take opiate painkillers for 6 weeks while waiting for my surgery. I knew I was going to be addicted after 2 months of use and I had two weeks of intense withdrawals that would have been much more difficult had I not been mentally prepared for them. I was an occasional partier when I lived in Japan, but quit for about 10 years when I returned to the US, though now I have found edibles great for improving my sleep. Long story, but my point is that all drugs are not created equal. THC should be legal and opiates highly regulated but readily available for those in pain.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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