Despite an archaic Attorney General who seems plucked from the script for Reefer Madness, America’s collective stance on recreational drug use appears to be softening. Young Americans, in particular, tend to view drug use as less of a concern than their Boomer parents. This unfazed attitude may be a result of increased cannabis legality, disillusionment over the ineffective and demonstrably false D.A.R.E. programs of yesteryear, or (most likely) a combination of those and myriad other reasons.
But, as with many things, the world is not in unanimous agreement with young Americans on these topics. Some countries still have quite draconian drug laws that will land a user in a lengthy prison sentence faster than you can say Brokedown Palace.
Japan, in particular, has one of the harshest legal systems when it comes to drugs. Illicit substance abuse is a monumentally unseemly taboo in Japan. Beyond the drawbacks of being shunned by family, ostracized by peers and career ended right then and there, drug offenders can face severe fines and prison terms, usually five years for a first offense and sometimes in solitary confinement.
With this in mind, I visited Fuji Rock, an annual Japanese music festival at the Naeba Ski Resort, to ask attendees how they feel about recreational drug use in Japan as compared to America, and whether or not the festival scene in the Land of the Rising Sun offers as hospitable a space to safely experiment as its Yankee counterpart.
“I mean, I use drugs. (Laughs.) Not very often. Like for special occasions, so I don’t see a problem as long as you’re safe and know what you’re doing, I don’t see why not. But in a place like this, it’s not as common. It’s almost unheard of. People probably do it, but I never hear anything about it. I guess people would be expecting to do that because you’re in such a beautiful environment and nothing bad can happen to you so why not have some fun? But the reality is it’s just not accepted here.” - Maria, Hong Kong
“In Japan, no people usually use drugs. I don’t care that others use, though, in America or Japan. I work with many musicians, so this is not strange to me.” - Nagira, Tokyo
“To be honest, I don’t care about it, but there could be a very serious situation for someone if they get caught. In Japan, [if you are caught] using drugs, you will never be able to get back into Japan. If you are Japanese, you can lose your job and your family, and you will never be able to get any other jobs in the future. It’s more a social-moral issue. I would say the younger generation is not more into [recreational drug use] because there are no legal drugs in Japan. I don’t have any Japanese friends who have used drugs because it is very strict.” - Yuuki, Tokyo
“It’s quite exclusive. People in Japan are ignorant about drugs and think all drugs are the same. Weed, ice, coke, LSD, thinner, mushrooms are all 'drugs' with nothing different about them. We can buy weed here, but it’s five to 10 times more expensive than in the U.S. But the drug scene and atmosphere is quite different from other countries, like in Berlin.” - Ryou, Tokyo
“I have once [done] ecstasy in America, but my family cannot know this. Japanese feel very strong about drugs, and if people learn you have done, you may lose all the important things in your life.” - Itsuki, Yokohama
“Here, they do only marijuana, but not [harder] drugs here. But it’s very few people, actually. Especially Fuji Rock. It’s the biggest [festival] in Japan with many people coming from all over, so certain people bring when they come.” - Alisa, Tokyo
“I feel like, in Europe, they’re a lot more sophisticated about it. There’s testing kits and people just casually offer it, whereas in America, it’s kind of like drugs aren’t as easy to get. I feel like it’s more of a risk you’ll get fake drugs in the U.S. Here, in Japan, it’s not as important to be high at fests, and there aren’t as many drug users overall.” - Jared, Hong Kong
“I smelled marijuana here in the woods at one time but have not seen any open drug use at this festival. Japanese like to drink so we ok with just that.” - Haru, Kyoto
“I think younger Japanese use drugs at EDM festivals, but I’m not sure. I don’t know because I don’t do anything like that. It’s very gaijin (i.e., foreigner) to do that kind of stuff.” - Miwa, Tokyo
“I’ve never had Japanese friends that do drugs in Japan. I don’t know any young Japanese people who have done it, but I know some older people who have. Forties and up. Some people here do them like in clubs, I think. In the States, it’s more free and accepting than in Japan, for sure.” - Natsume, Tokyo
“I wish more Japanese would try drugs. They aren’t what our schools and families teach us. I have done a few times, and I am still a responsible, respectful citizen.” - Yui, Tokyo