UPDATED! Drugs, Medicine and Feeling Ill in Japan



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The Japanese authorities have zero tolerance for drug use - so my advice to you is don't do drugs in Japan. 

Indeed, medications that are readily available over the counter (without a prescription) in countries like the USA or the UK, might contain substances that are banned altogether in Japan. 

If you take medication on a regular basis it is best to check in advance of travel to see if anything you need to take with you conflicts with Japanese laws. 

Here are a few essential basics to know about drugs, bringing medicine into the country and what to do if you fall ill when in Japan...

A history of taking action against offenders

In 1980 Paul McCartney arrived at Narita International Airport, was arrested for cannabis possession, and was deported immediately. He was not able to enter Japan for the next ten years.

In 2010 Paris Hilton arrived at Narita International Airport and was refused entry into Japan due to a past drug case. She stayed overnight in the airport and returned to America the next day.

Todrugs in Japan The Real Japan Rob Dyer

Poster in a pharmacy store window, Osaka

The lesson here is simple: don't do drugs in Japan.

Bringing medicine into Japan

If you're in any doubt about what medicines can be brought into Japan for personal use, you should consult the Japanese government's official guidance on this on the Ministry or Health, Labour and Welfare website.

Before visiting Japan, it’s helpful to learn a little about the culture. This will make your trip more enjoyable and respectful. See Top 7 Etiquette Tips For Travel in Japan for some of the basic every day things to be aware of.

Accessible travel, sightseeing and medication in Japan

If you are a wheelchair user or have other accessibility or health-related issues then I have a couple of guest posts you should definitely take a look at.

In Accessible Japan Sightseeing Tips (How We Honeymooned in Japan), first-time visitor to Japan Cati Van Reeth shares her experiences as a wheelchair user. Her first trip to Japan was on her and her husband's honeymoon! In the post she offers specific tips and recommendations for visitng some of Japan most popular attractions and spots. She also mentions popular tourism sights to avoid as they are not wheelchair friendly.

In his post 12 Best Tips For Accessible Travel in Japan, Justin Schroth, who doesn't let his Muscular Dystrophy dampen his passion for travel, sets out his 12 top tips for accessible travel. A writer at the excellent Accessible Japan website, Justin covers bringing medicine (and a guide dog) to Japan, using various modes of transportation (including accessible taxis) and preparing a 'needs cheat sheet' among other topics.

Where to turn for help when feeling ill in Japan

If you're planning a trip to Japan, or find yourself in Japan and not feeling well, and want to know where to turn for help and guidance, the Japan National Tourism Organization (JNTO) has created a handy guide website for when you're feeling ill.

The official For safe travels in Japan - Guide for when you are feeling ill website is worth bookmarking.

JNTO emergency website The Real Japan

It contains sections on:

  • Search medical institutions
  • How to use medical institutions
  • Travel insurance
  • Emergency contact information

Never travel without medical insurance

I never travel without travel and medical insurance, and I always recommend others to do the same.

It's just not worth the risk, particularly in a country that is so alien for many visitors, and especially for those who do not speak Japanese.

Being hospitalised in Japan

I have been hospitalised in Japan on more than one occasion (including being rushed to a hospital in an ambulance and spending New Year's Day in hospital), and the medical bills afterwards would have been a second pain to deal with (!) - had I not been able to claim on my travel insurance.

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Rob Dyer The Real Japan

About the Author

A writer and publisher from England, Rob has been exploring Japan’s islands since 2000. He specialises in travelling off the beaten track, whether on remote atolls or in the hidden streets of major cities. He’s the founder of TheRealJapan.com.


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Book Your Flight
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Book Your Accommodation
I frequently use Booking.com as they consistently offer the cheapest rates and most flexible cancellation options for hotels and guesthouses. Use Hostelworld if you're looking for budget-priced options.

Book Your Japan Rail Pass
The best official agent by a country mile is JRPass.com. Clear and easy to use website. Excellent customer service.

Book Your WiFi
I never travel in Japan without pocket WiFi. Get Ninja WiFi for unlimited internet everywhere, use Google Maps, supports up to 10 devices.

Book Your SIM Card or eSIM
Order your physical
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Book Your Hire Car
Rent a car in Japan without speaking or reading Japanese via Booking.com's Car Rental portal.

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  • Nice guide here Rob. I do see a zero tolerance policy for any recreational drug use whenever in SE Asia and it looks like Japan is just as serious way up north.


    • Thanks Ryan. While there are illegal ‘hard’ drugs in Japan, it’s nothing like the problem it is in many western countries. And that has a big (positive) ripple effect on society in terms of curbing drug related crime.

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