4 Surprising Things that are Illegal in Japan

Tokyo is a popular tourist destination for foreigners of all ages.

There are the recent college graduates who are “finding themselves” as they visit dozens of temples and shrines in Kyoto. Or the young adults who spend a week in Tokyo stocking up on Pokemon paraphernalia at one of the many “Pokemon Centers” and browsing through anime goodies in Akihabara.

There are also the honeymooning couples, the families on vacation, and the retired couple travelling the world together.

Japan is clean, safe, and full of things that interest a variety of ages. It’s a hit among tourists.

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However, Japan also has some pretty interesting laws that can cause confusion. I’ve met all sorts of travelers who are bitter over the fact they were kicked out of nightclub for dancing or had their allergy medicine removed from their checked baggage at customs. As with most things, information is the key to happiness.

These are 4 surprising things that are illegal in Japan.

1. Dancing in Nightclubs

Yes, you read that right. Dancing in certain nightclubs is illegal in Tokyo. This law has been in the books since 1948 – and has been increasingly enforced since 2010.

There is an exception, though. Dancing isn’t illegal in all clubs.

The club must have at least 700 square feet of dance space and pay a rather hefty “dance fee” for a dancing permit. And, despite what you might think, clubs that are too small or don’t shell out of the dance permit actually do enforce this dance ban.

It is rather easy to get kicked out of a club for dancing. Standing on the dance floor is fine, but as soon as you start shaking your hips too much, a staff member will tap you on the shoulder with a warning. With the second strike, they will escort you off the premise.

Image: Wikipedia (Nicholas1981)

2. Inhalers, Allergy Medicine, and some Prescription Medicine

Worried about suffering from asthma or remaining focused with your ADHD medicine? You might be out of luck.

According to the US Embassy site for Tokyo,

“It is illegal to bring into Japan some over-the-counter medicines commonly used in the United States, including inhalers and some allergy and sinus medications.” Also they went on to note, “Some U.S. prescription medications cannot be imported into Japan, even when accompanied by a customs declaration and a copy of the prescription. Japanese customs officials have detained travelers carrying prohibited items, sometimes for several weeks. Japanese customs officials do not make on-the-spot “humanitarian” exceptions for medicines that are prohibited in Japan. ”

Make sure you check rather extensively ahead of time whether you will be able to bring your prescription medicine into Japan. That can be a deal breaker for some travelers – even more so if you plan on living or studying abroad in Japan.

I’ve known people who have been unable to bring their ADHD or allergy medicine into the country, and had a rough time trying to enjoy Japan without it.

3. Anything with a Stimulant or Codeine

Similar to number 2, anything with a stimulant or codeine is a big “no-no.” So forget about trying to bring a bit of DayQuil, NyQuil, or any other decongestants.

People in Japan don’t self-prescribe their own medicine. When you’re sick, even just a little sick, you go to the doctors.

National Health Insurance covers 70% of your bills, and many people have additional “premiums” that can cover up to 95%. Even without additional health insurance, a trip to the hospital with the flu usually ends up with only a $10 – $15 price tag (including the medicine prescribed by the doctor).

Once you get used to the fact you can’t just pop a DayQuil when you’re feeling sick and instead should shuffle over to the doctor to get yourself checked out, this law isn’t as annoying. It probably saves lives.

4. Gambling

Straight, ordinary gambling is illegal in Japan. Instead, people turn to Pachinko, a game that is a cross between pinball and slot machines. Players shoot a stream of silver balls through pins. If the balls land in the correct spot, the player will receive additional balls to shoot.

Once the player hits a certain score, the slot machine will run. If they get a favorable spin on the slot machine, they will get more silver balls.

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Sounds like gambling, right? However Pachinko is closer to Chuck E. Cheese for adults than Las Vegas. When players want to “cash out,” they take their balls to a counter to receive a ticket.

They take the ticket to a window in an adjacent building’s window and can receive prizes like detergent, jewelry, food, and other goodies. Since the “pay in” and “cash out” stations are in different buildings, it’s technically not gambling. The whole thing is one giant, popular loophole.

You can find Pachinko Parlors every couple blocks in Tokyo, especially near train stations. Pachinko is also a popular past-time in the countryside.

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