Emerging trends and concerns

  • Large amounts of crystalline methamphetamine have been seized in Japan in the past two years with the amount in 2013 representing third highest total reported since 1956.
  • Japan continues to be targeted by an expanding transnational drug trafficking network, as it has a large methamphetamine market that is driven by high drug market prices.
  • Over the past few years, the smuggling of methamphetamine from countries in Central and South America, in particular from Mexico, has increased.
  • The use of new psychoactive substances (NPS), particularly among young persons, is an emerging concern.

Overview of the drug situation

Crystalline methamphetamine, followed by cannabis, remains the primary drug of concern in Japan, both in terms of seizures and drug-related arrests. The illicit manufacture of methamphetamine is rare in Japan. However, there are indicators to suggest that liquid methamphetamine is being trafficked into the country for conversion and refinement. Most of the crystalline methamphetamine is smuggled into Japan by domestic and international drug trafficking organizations, primarily from China, the Islamic Republic of Iran, West Africa and recently, Mexico.

Table 1. Trend in use of selected drugs in Japan, 2009-2013

In 2013, crystalline methamphetamine use remained stable. Ecstasy use is also indicated to have remained stable in 2013 but has been on a downward trend during the past several years, as indicated by the overall decline in the numbers of arrests and ecstasy pills seized in Japan.

Following methamphetamine, cannabis is the second most commonly used illicit drug in Japan. Demand for cocaine, heroin and opium in Japan remains limited. The combined number of arrests related to these drugs has accounted for around 1% of total drug-related arrests during the past four years. 

Consolidated drug treatment data are not available from Japan. However, in 2012, amphetamine-type stimulants (ATS) were ranked as the primary drug of use among all persons treated for drug use in psychiatric facilities, followed by sedatives and tranquilizers and cannabis. The number of persons who received treatment during the year remained stable for each drug type. Publicly available government statistics for drug-related consultations at clinics and mental health and welfare centres show that 18,131 persons received drug-related services between April 2011 and March 2012, marking a 16.5% increase over the previous reporting period.

Figure 1. Number of drug-related consultations at health centres in Japan, 2008-2012

Source: MHLW, January 2014.

New psychoactive substances (NPS) have been available in Japan over the Internet since 2004 and through direct sales in the country since 2009. Japan, together with Singapore, are the only two countries in Asia that have reported seizures from each NPS group. Both Japan’s national and local governments have taken legislative measures to control NPS. As at September 2014, 1,584 substances were controlled under the Pharmaceutical Affairs Law which came into force in 2007. Most of the NPS found in Japan are blended in and imported from countries outside of Japan, but some NPS are blended domestically in Japan. In November 2013, Japan Police charged a company that had been manufacturing and selling NPS, arresting five persons and seizing more than 100 kg of alpha-PVP, a synthetic cathinone, and equipment. The bulk material for NPS were believed to have been imported from overseas.

In 2013, 846.5 kg of crystalline methamphetamine was seized in Japan, marking an 81% increase over the amount seized the previous year (466.6 kg) and the third largest amount seized since 1956. A total of 540 kg of methamphetamine seized in Japan in 2013 originated from Mexico, most of which was seized from three large sea cargo consignments totaling more than 400 kg and shipped via Hong Kong, China. Another 170 kg of methamphetamine originating from Mexico was seized in sea cargo in Japan in March 2014. Ecstasy pill seizures have declined sharply in recent years. The number of ecstasy pills seized in 2013 was 2,147, the lowest total reported since 2000.

Table 2. Seizures of selected drugs in Japan, 2009-2013 

China has been the major source of methamphetamine smuggled into Japan until a few years ago. However, during the past several years, there has been a substantial increase in the number of source countries (in Asia and other regions) from where methamphetamine has been smuggled into Japan. Based on the volume of methamphetamine seized in Japan in 2013, the primary embarkation points for methamphetamine were Mexico, China, and India. In addition, West African drug trafficking groups continue in their attempts to smuggle methamphetamine into Japan by recruiting air couriers of various nationalities.

Figure 2. Sources of methamphetamine trafficking to Japan, 2013

Source(s): NPA, October 2014.