There are things you will see here in Japan that are so commonplace that you’ll learn not to question them. They are simply woven into the fabric of life here. These things, however, may be against the law. Like my home nation of the US, there do exist laws that make certain things technically illegal, much to the surprise of many. Here are three examples of such things here in Japan.
Do you have asthma? Do you use an inhaler with pseudoephedrine? Then you cannot import that into Japan under any condition, as pseudoephedrine is listed as a controlled substance. The concept behind its banning was such: pseudoephedrine itself isn’t terrible, but gather large quantities, and you can make yourself a fresh batch of methamphetamine. So, because it can be used to make something much more dangerous, it is banned in Japan. Bringing it in can land you some prison time.
Japan’s rules on bringing in drugs (coined importing, as anything you bring into Japan is technically importing under Japanese law) for Japan can be a bit confusing to those outside of the country or those unfamiliar with the laws. A myriad of English websites attempt to break it down in the simplest of terms. The best rule of thumb is to check very carefully the ingredients in your medicine and the rules for Japan. You can always contact a Japanese embassy if you have any concerns about your medicine or the import process.
Holding an Umbrella While Riding a Bicycle
Bicycles are more than transport here in Japan: They are a way of life. When it rains, people are still out on bicycles because that’s just how they get to places on-time. Some clever and entrepreneurial souls have made rain ponchos that cover you and your bicycle’s baskets but, for whatever reason, most Japanese people elect to not wear any sort of raincoat or poncho, regardless of mode of transportation. Thus, we see cyclists navigating with one hand while clasping an umbrella in the other.
Unfortunately, this is technically illegal in Japan. It all has to do with safety: Japanese bicycle laws are very strict because there are so many cyclists and they want to keep everyone safe. Most things that are distracting or impair your ability to steer your bike are all illegal, but you’ll still see people doing them (especially listening to music or texting on phones). Holding your umbrella while cycling is one of many frowned-upon and illegal activities. The fines can be very harsh for this one as well, with Expat’s Guide Japan citing fines up to 50,000 yen (over $400)!
Pay-to-Pickup Trash Trucks
There is a unique phenomenon in Japan known as the trash trucks. They’re larger pickups with a woman on a bullhorn announcing that they’ll haul your big items, such as furniture, futons, and especially electronics, for a nominal fee. You’ll hear them roving down the streets at varying frequency depending on where you live. Where I live, I maybe see them once a month, but in Tokyo, you might hear them everyday.
The deal is that it’s technically illegal in Japan to charge people to take away or pick up their trash, regardless of the size of the item. All municipalities have procedures for picking up larger items and you can usually call and schedule a pickup for those items. What’s not good, though, is independent truck owners charging you to pick it up right then and there so you don’t have to wait for the city to haul it off. Some have speculated some of these trucks (in certain areas) might be connected to organized crime, but a solid connection has never been established to the best of my knowledge. Illegal dumping is a problem, though, and many point fingers at these illegal collectors as the source of these illegal trash piles.
There we go! Three things that are so commonplace yet illegal. Are there any strange things that are illegal in your area? Any more that you know about in Japan? Leave me a comment and let me know!