Riot in Japan
Right-wingers fight at an anti-Yasukuni Shrine demonstration, by Brett Bull

At a recent anti-Yasukuni Shrine demonstration right wing pro-Yasukuni Shrine groups had to be separated from the protesters by police. While most Japanese shun the right wing groups due to their ties to organized crime many share their drive to return Japan to more conservative times. These conservative Japanese have the so called golden age syndrome where each generation longs for a return to a remembered or fictional perfect time in their past. But what values do they find lacking now? As shown by the media circus surrounding Noriko Sakai, Japanese view drugs as a major concern. The family unit is also being portrayed as under attack by higher divorce rates and the mainstream emergence of gay lifestyles is seen with alarm. But what are traditional Japanese values? What influence did western values have on Japanese values?

Looking at the craziness surrounding Noriko Sakai, you can see the hype surrounding drug use in Japan. Her only crime is having done drugs in the past, not caught with drugs or arrested while on drugs. She was arrested, and Japan is going crazy, because she admitted she has done them in the past! From the hysteria surrounding her situation you’d assume that anti-drug attitude has always been part of Japanese culture.

Before World War II the Japanese did prohibit Opium-based narcotics because opium addiction was used by colonial powers to undermine China’s power in the region and the Japanese didn’t want to fall into the same trap. However, as soon as they seized power of parts of China in the 1930s they too started mass producing Opium to be sold to the Chinese. By 1939, the Japanese reported $90m (That’s $1.4 billion in 2009) per year in tax revenues from drug sales in China and keep in mind that’s tax revenue not the amount of money made from actually selling opium in China.

After the Pearl Harbour attack in 1941 Japan abandoned its no drug policy and started feeding its population regular does of what the Japanese government called “senryoku zokyo zai” or “drugs to inspire the fighting spirit” today we call them methamphetamines i.e. speed and crystal. After the war American military government of Japan banned the industry but stimulants continued to be problem till the 60s. While uppers or stimulants were only officially endorsed by the government during the war one of the other so called drug problems of Japan, Marijuana, has deep cultural roots in Nihon culture.

Riot in Japan
Taima Shukaku (Hemp Harvest) a 1929 painting of farmers harvesting the hemp fields

Marijuana or cannabis has been in Japan for thousands of years and was widely farmed because of the superior hemp fibres found in the plant stem. Hemp production was a major part of Japan’s economy until cotton was introduced. The plant was still grown as a recreational drug and farming product until the American occupation. American General Douglas MacArthur and his colleagues rewrote the Japanese constitution in 1948 and included the Taima Torishimari Ho, the Cannabis Control Act.

So you can see that drugs that were thought of as “normal” in Japanese society before the occupation, were after the American occupation demonized. Demonized to the point were a situation like Noriko Sakai can produce anti-drug hysteria for what was a government sponsored drug 65 years ago.

If you like this then, you should check out more from the “Myths of Japan” series:

numerology gay marriage okinawa myth
Numerology Japan’s Gay culture Divorce a Japanese Tradition The American Occupation of Okinawa Myths of Japan