Busted in Japan – a narrative by a Briton caught in Kansai
A quick preamble to this stunning narrative …
I wrote Hemp Culture in Japan which turned into a collaboration with HempMan, a German in Japan, to create a comprehensive clearinghouse of all information about Cannabis in Japan called Taima.org. This site is maintained by HempMan but in dire need to “web 2.0″i-fi-cation to make more searchable and participatory and such but i digress …
As part of my research, i get interesting things in the snail and postal mail – from angry letters from Iran PhDs to cool grow shot shots to other”researchers” wanting all my contacts.
This note though is heavy duty as this older gentleman recounts the dystopia experience of being shook down. Frustrating to be sure as no one would add any reason or sense to the process and he was cut off from most anyone but a rubber-stamping attorney.
I’ve followed up with the gentleman for some more insight, but for starters, get comfy and give this a read.
I arrived at Kansai Airport last March with around 15g of marijuana. I’d bought it in Amsterdam and thought it would be OK as I’d travelled in and out of Japan for years and never been searched – this time it was different. I don’t really know why they searched me – the sniffer dogs weren’t interested. Anyway, they discovered the stuff. Later that day they searched my apartment and discovered about 20g there in deep
freeze – pretty bland stuff and I was hoping the import from Amsterdam was going to give me a better buzz.
I was kept at Kansai kuko police station for 18 days and then transferred to Sakai detention center in southern Osaka, where I spent a further 42 days (almost 2 months in total).
Even though I’d cooperated fully with the police, confessed and didn’t try to hide anything, the prosecutor demanded a 2 year prison sentence as I had a ‘significant’ amount. I’ve lived in Japan for 18 years and this is my first offence. In the trial, the judge regarded my ‘addiction’ as a big problem as I’d admitted to first smoking cannabis when I was 19 (I’m now 54) he said he was giving me a 18 month sentence suspended for 4 years. Very surprisingly I was granted bail after the first court appearance (the hearing and presenting of evidence). This cheered me no end as it seemed to indicate the judge and prosecutor did not regard me as a danger to society. At present I’m waiting to see what Immigration has to say as they decide to deport or not.
I did try to get my lawyer to emphasise the relative ‘harmlessness’ of cannabis abuse and the fact that I had often stopped smoking – sometimes for months at a time (couldn’t buy it) and also this was a victimless crime – smoking alone in my own home. This was ignored and not brought up at the trial but I suppose the lawyer had good reasons, he was pretty indifferent about the case to begin with and only after constant prodding by friends did he start to work a bit harder. I was still amazed at the possible harshness of the sentence. According to the lawyer, the maximum penalty for smuggling or possession of cannabis is 5 years in jail and/or a 30 million yen fine.
Detention in Japan was extremely boring and there were hundreds of rules to be obeyed. Sitting on a hard floor (this is Japan – no chairs are allowed) was very uncomfortable for me. If it wasn’t for friends bringing books and a decent cushion, I may have tried suicide in detention. The food was reasonable, though. I wasn’t made to pay court costs although my lawyer charged me his ‘standard’ fee – $4500. So now I’m out of a well-paid job and a lot poorer and still have the possibility of being
kicked out of Japan.
For anyone else contemplating bringing drugs to Japan, I’d advise – DON’T take the risk. Buy it in Japan. Grow it in Japan, (seeds are ‘apparently legal’ as there is no THC – but they’re always confiscated) but DON’T bring it in. According to the web site http://www.customs.go.jp/tokyo/english/iio/iio-cased-y2006.html even amounts as small as 1g are prosecuted.
If I’d done the same in my home country (Britain), I’d probably have been kept overnight in a cell or simply cautioned and then released – the police there have far better things to do with their time. The Japanese police throw huge amounts of money (and police time) at these prosecutions and my ‘file’ was 4 inches thick at the end, with scores of colour photos and colour copies of my diary, travel notebook etc. There were at least 3 complete copies produced. My home was searched by 10 officers for 90 minutes – while they discovered cannabis seeds hidden in a box, they failed to find a large bong filled with cannabis and may not have found my deep-freeze stash if I hadn’t pointed it out!
Police here seem to rely on confessions and don’t seem to have the ability or desire to ‘investigate’ cases thoroughly – which is why many Japanese kids ‘stonewall’ the cops, when arrested.
For alternate versions, visit Taima.org, a site dedicated to Hemp in Japan. Published in Cannabis Culture magazine (#13 & Best of …), the Journal of International Hemp Association (V.4 N.1) as well as excerpted in several books including Hemp Horizons and “Hanp” from Norway and Hemp for Victory from UK.