Japan

Emerging trends and concerns

  • Crystalline methamphetamine remains the primary drug of concern in Japan, with the drug accounting for the majority of drug-related arrests and seizures.
  • Japan continues to be targeted by expanding transnational drug trafficking networks, in particular those based in Asia. In addition, over the past few years, large quantities of methamphetamine coming from Mexico by sea cargo have been seized in the country.
  • The smuggling and use of new psychoactive substances (NPS) remains a concern with the number of NPS related arrests rising rapidly in recent years. At the same time, the number of drug-related consultations at health centres in Japan has increased rapidly due to NPS.

Overview of the drug situation

Crystalline methamphetamine 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 and almost all the crystalline methamphetamine found in the country is through trafficking  by domestic and international drug trafficking organizations. The latter are primarily from China, Hong Kong (China), Taiwan Province of China, and recently, Mexico.

Table 1. Trend in use of selected drugs in Japan, 2011-2015

Overall, crystalline methamphetamine use has been trending upwards in recent years in Japan. While stable until 2013, “ecstasy”  use has been trending downwards since, a development which was accompanied by a decline in the numbers of “ecstasy”-related arrests and pill seizures.  Following methamphetamine, cannabis is the second most common illicitly used drug in Japan. Demand for cocaine, heroin and opium in Japan remains limited.

In recent years, large quantities of crystalline methamphetamine have been seized in Japan. According to preliminary figures reported from national authorities, more than 1.5 metric tons (mt) of crystalline methamphetamine were seized in Japan in 2016, by far the largest amount seized in the country since 2000.  The steep increase in seizures of crystalline methamphetamine in 2016 is due to several large shipments of the drug originating from China. For instance, Japanese national authorities seized 600 kg and 154 kg of crystalline methamphetamine originating from China respectively in May and July 2016.  Both cases involved trafficking groups from Taiwan Province of China.    

Methamphetamine reaching Japan is sourced from a number of different countries, both within and outside of the region (see Figure1). In 2016, China, Taiwan Province of China, and Hong Kong (China) accounted for nearly 50% of the total number of crystalline methamphetamine shipments (n=82) in 2016, followed by the United States (17%), and Mexico (6%).  However, in recent years Mexico has become a prominent source country of large-scale crystalline methamphetamine shipments trafficked to Japan. For instance, Japanese national authorities seized 230 kg of crystalline methamphetamine trafficked from Mexico in November 2016.

Table 2. Seizures of selected drugs in Japan, 2011-2015

Figure 1. Proportion of total number of seizure cases attributed to countries of origin of methamphetamine shipments trafficked to Japan in 2016 (n=82 cases).
 
In 2015, the average retail price of 1 gram of crystalline methamphetamine in Japan was estimated at USD 700, the same figure reported in the two preceding years. 

Between 2010 and 2014 , the number of drug-related consultations at health centres in Japan increased more than two-fold from 10,405 to 22,110 persons.  Considering that crystalline methamphetamine has been the primary drug of concern in Japan, it is plausible that the steep increases in the number of drug-related consultations during the period  are largely attributable to its use. In addition, Japanese national authorities reported that the increases were also due to the rapid emergence of new psychoactive substances (NPS) in the country during that period.  

Figure 2. Number of drug-related consultations at health centres in Japan, 2010-2014
 
The smuggling and use of new psychoactive substances (NPS), in particular synthetic cannabinoids and synthetic cathinones, remains a concern in Japan. In addition, the number of NPS-related arrests and the number of NPS-related cases rose rapidly in recent years. In 2015, 1,196 persons were arrested as a result of 1,100 NPS-related cases, marking a 56% and a 42% increase respectively compared with the figures of 2014.  The steep increases may partly be the result of the expanded list of controlled substances in Japan (see below). 

Several measures have been adopted by the Government of Japan to address NPS challenges in the country, including legislative measures to control NPS. As of March 2017, a total of 2,356 substances  were controlled under the Pharmaceutical Affairs Law.  In addition, law enforcement authorities in Japan identified and dismantled a number of shops selling NPS in the country.  As a result, all the shops selling NPS have been closed down since July 2015.  However, smuggling of NPS from other countries, in particular from Asia, to Japan remains a concern for the country. 

Figure 3. Number of cases and arrestees related to NPS in Japan, 2011-2015