(Originally posted to Fukuzawa and Friends Wed, 18 Sep 1996)

Many Fukuzawans have been talking about the alleged drugs crackdown and how it's those durn Eikaiwa junkies who have spoiled our image for the rest of us. I thought I'd just offer something from my experience that illustrates how long it's perhaps been going on over here.


To be honest, I tend to believe the horror stories about some of the more transient eikaiwa teachers abusing drugs. This is based upon personal experience, which I offer to you as an example of how it was even ten years ago, apparently even before the yakuza started getting into it.


Despite the trade barriers, foreigners here could even keep up their habits

I started living in earnest in Sapporo from 1987, and before I knew better, I was getting mixed in with what I thought were my own kind--the Eikawa "gaijin", as I refer to them now. Y'know the type: those that come all the way here expecting to find Japan just like home, and bellyaching when it ain't. Griping, okay, but these people usually make little or no effort to learn the language or at least to understand what people around them are thinking or feeling. Anyway, diatribe aside, these kinda gaijin had lots of money and were often spending it like they would at home--on chemical stimulants. Apparently they had only a little trouble, say, procuring pot.

Let's take two of my friends--call them Pothead and Clothead--and describe the little magical mystery tour they took me on:


Pothead was a businessman. He knew where all the scores were, knew the street prices, and could fashion bongs out of just about anything (even toilet-paper tubes!). He would tell me stories about being stoned in karaoke parlors, stoned in the backs of taxis (No driver ever suspected he was anything but drunk, he said. I was awaiting the day when the driver stopped by a police box to say hello.), stoned in the local bath, stoned at the local gaijin party. I attended one of the wilder parties and sure enough, once alcohol had become an insufficent intoxicant, out came the pot (nothing harder as far as I know). When I accompanied Pothead to one of his unannounced business deals on the roofs of Susukino, the gentleman there, a local DJ with the wherewithal, asked me if I wanted any prime Cambodian. I told him no thanks, I'm full. For reasons I will describe now:


Clothead was an intellectual of sorts, and only used the mind-expanding stuff so he could see sound and talk to walls. But one day his indulgences came back on him when the cops knocked on his door.

"Would you please come with us?" they said to him politely in Japanese. "We only want to ask you a few questions."

Clothead acted as if nothing was wrong but he was shaking in his shoes. He told me of his interrogation thus:

He was put in a bleak room with a table and an interpreter. The police asked him about a parcel addressed to him they'd intercepted in the mails. They'd rifled through it (like they do all packages I've ever gotten in Japan) and this time got the goods. Pot inside the gift-set pens. Clothead shrugged.

"This is your address, isn't it?"

He admitted that it was. But he said that he didn't know the return addressee. A "Mr Whippenpoof Wingding" from Thailand (aka Pothead, on one of his sex tours). A little present that blew up in his friend's face. "Somebody's played a terrible joke on me," Clothead said over and over, chainsmoking. He watched his every word. He knew that if there was any wrinkle in his story, he'd be sent to the holding cell in Narita Airport that night, deported never to return. And this was all happening only a few weeks before his wedding to a Japanese, whose family resisted the marriage heart and soul, calling him a nogoodnik and whatnot. Over a year's marital negotiation (which I had had a hand in as well) was about to go up in smoke.

The police took his explanation at face value, had him sign a deposition that he had never used drugs and never will, and sent him back to his apartment. Fearing that somebody might search his pad (he wasn't sure why they didn't on the spot), Clothead went outside, destroyed his stash and buried his bong. He now works in Tokyo. Pothead, btw, has disappeared off the face of the earth.

Anyway, the point is: you get caught and, if you're not incarcerated, you're outta this country forever

(Paul McCartney was caught with hash at Narita Airport, according to Goldman's LIVES OF JOHN LENNON, after a tip-off from Yoko Ono. Apocryphal. But in jail, the cops apparently had him sing "Yesterday" over and over. Now if that ain't true, it OUGHTA be!).

Tough? Yes. But the ends justify the means? Well, I would argue yes.


Although it is unlike me to support incursions into privacy (and, in particular, singling out of foreigners, in this case as suspect dealers or junkies) like mail searches and things like that, I would say, even on the slender evidence of experience offered above, that this time the Japanese bureaucracy has got it right. Measures taken seem to have been effective at stemming something bad, i.e. Japanese society's descent into drugs. Even if stuff still slips through the sieve, this country is surprisingly drug-free, and threat of possibly being caught through the mails does deter when you know it does happen. Moreover, this has been accomplished without the draconian laws (death penalty, folks!) Singapore has.

Well and good. If people want release, they can abuse alcohol here well enough without having to dull their minds with chemicals, or muddy the issues with the merits of recreational (and more easily-abused) drugs. For whatever shortcomings Japanese schools have ("creating noncreative automatons", whatever), I daresay that the situations in Japanese schools are better than those with a youth culture smoking or snorting dope in the school lavatory, or having gangs which profit from it. Call me a prude, but I am a parent (amazing how much your view changes when that happens), and I don't want my kids to be able to get that stuff in the schoolyard. This time around, I'm amazed to say, Japan is really doing a good job and I hope they keep it up.

If you think my views bear correction I would be delighted to hear any comments.

Dave Aldwinckle


I got some interesting comments, almost all in near or complete agreement (surprisingly--thought there'd be more hippies out there).

Plus a few clarifications; the most enlightening one was:

Date: Wed, 18 Sep 1996

It's interesting, anyway, that these drug anecdotes tend to focus on Western drugs of choice, which, not surprisingly are used mainly by Westerners, although they are freely available in Roppongi and there does seem to be a sharp increase in consumption even among certain groups of Japanese in recent years (the topic was mentioned in a recent issue of Raygun). Nevertheless, the "drug" of choice is paint thinner among the junior high and high school crowd who aren't on the fast track to a good university and simulants, especially among lower-middle class housewives or in the mizu-shobai business, although it's anybody's guess how widespread the problem is because the government doesn't usually bother to do surveys related to things about which it's likely to get unpleasant results. An interesting book released recently, however, was a compilation of interviews with 40 actresses in the adult video industry, many of whom can from the lower stratums of Japanese society. In it were story after story of thinner and sex parties, high schools in which the rooftops were littered with empty thinner cans and used condoms, and where rapes were a daily occurrence. Again, it's important to remember that most foreigners in Japan live in a very closeted environment. Their view of Japanese society is largely filtered through the mass media or Japanese middle-class acquaintances. There's a lot more going on at the fringes, however, that never gets reported on -- unless, of course, it happens to relate to high school girls and their sexual habits. --JV

Still, I bet the situation over here is better than the US, perhaps even better than small-town Geneva High School (where I grew up, and where kids walking stoned into Biology class was not unusual).

Guess drugs are a pretty tough thing to stamp out of a society. Japan's doing what it can, and doing pretty well, I think.

Dave Aldwinckle

(Not everybody would countenance my views so nicely.
Click here to go onto a well-researched flame which I deserved.)

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