Episode 420 – A History of Drugs in Japan

Sometimes you just have to take advantage of a cheap joke about a silly number to take a look at the history of drug policy in Japan. So today, we’ll be exploring the rich history of illegal drugs, addiction, and government attempts to regulate or combat drug use in Japan.


Jennings, John M. “The Opium Empire: Japan and the East Asian Drug Trade, 1895-1945.” PhD Dissertation in History, University of Hawai’i, 1995.

Wakabayashi, Bob Tadashi. “Opium, Expulsion, Sovereignty: China’s Lessons for Bakumatsu Japan.” Monumenta Nipponica 47, No 1 (Spring 1992).

Mitchell, Jon. “The Secret History of Cannabis in Japan.” The Asia-Pacific Journal 49, No 1 (December, 2014).

Wada, Kiyoshi. “The History and Current State of Drug Abuse in Japan.” Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 2011.

Kingsberg, Miriam. “Methamphetamine Solution: Drugs and the Reconstruction of Nation in Postwar Japan.” Journal of Asian Studies 72, No 1 (Feb, 2013).

Karch, Steven B. “Japan and the Cocaine Industry of Southeast Asia, 1864-1944.” from Cocaine: Global Histories, ed. Paul Gootenberg.

A Science Daily article on some discoveries in relation to Kumamoto domain’s opium trade.

A WSJ article on Abe Akie’s 2019 visit to a hemp farm. Despite some buzz nothing really came of this that I could find.

Some NYT coverage of Japan’s drug laws relative to the rest of Asia, from late last year.


A poppy field in Manchukuo during harvest time.
Opium addicts in an opium den in Shanghai, c. 1930. Fears of opium addiction undermining Japan led to harsh restrictions on the drug starting in the 1850s.
A bottle of hiropon (written in English as ‘philopon’), a legal form of meth in Japan in the 1950s.
An ad for hiropon.
Abe Akie’ during her 2019 visit to a hemp farm.




3 thoughts on “Episode 420 – A History of Drugs in Japan”

  1. Hi Issac, I enjoyed the 420 episode, especially the history of methamphetamine being invented there and encouraged by the military. Good job on that one!

  2. Does Japan have a culture of psychedelics users? I’m guessing that LSD made its way into the country via the US military in the 1960s and 70s. What about others like mushrooms or DMT? We’re you able to find any stats or history about the usage of hallucinogenics. I know that in the US the numbers have fallen quite dramatically since the 1970s. Was that the case for Japan?

    So a few years ago the Smithsonian’s Sackler Gallery was advertising a show where they displayed the portraits of the Qing dynasty monarchs. I found it extremely ironic that they were on display in a museum named for a family of opioid pushers.

    1. I always forget you’re local to me! I’ve been to the Sackler Gallery many times and never made the connection to the infamous Sackler Family until you pointed it out. Wow, that truly is ironic.

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