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Friday, October 7, 2016

Smuggling Into Japan

I recently saw an article in a Toronto newspaper noting that animal smuggling is the fourth-largest illegal trade in the world, after drugs, counterfeit money and human trafficking.

The one that surprises me is the smuggling of counterfeit money. I can understand counterfeiting money and using it in your own country, but to compound it by counterfeiting money from another country and then smuggling it into said country? That seems like a lot of work.  

So… what about Japan?

I would suppose drugs would continue to be No. 1, but what else are the Japanese border patrols having to deal with?

Here's a personal tale: 

When I left Japan in August of 1993 (the first time), I flew from Tokyo to Detroit to Toronto.

I had to disembark in Detroit and take another plane to Canada.

In what is the stupidest thing I can ever say about the fine work of the members of the border security—and in what can only be considered profiling (I’m not saying racial), I had a drug sniffing dog placed around me.

Now… some background. I am brown-skinned, but I don’t think that was the deal. I was wearing vertically striped blue-purple-black jeans that made me look like a hippie. I was still slender, tall-ish, and man, those jeans made my butt look even better than usual. The belt was leather but with open metal squares over each belt hole, and dark sunglasses that made me look like a Colombian drug lord… and… here’s the kicker… I had hair that was long. Real long. It was halfway down my back in a neat pony-tail. And while I don’t think the security guy noticed that my purple hair band matched my purple t-shirt, even I would have had a go at me while snapping on the rubber gloves for a cavity search.

Except, I was arriving in Detroit from Tokyo.

He brought his dog up to me as I stood in a line with other passengers: “Check’em out boy!”

The dog sniffed around, finding nothing but a smiling guy in awesome jeans with great hair, looked up at his master and appeared to shrug.

Perturbed at how wrong his gut instincts were, the security guy yells at the dog: “Check’em again, boy!”

The dog hesitates, as if to say, ‘duh, I did and he smells like nougat, but not in that he’s-hiding-something-kindda-way, but okay’, and sniffs around me again. I have my hands up to my sides to give the dog full access, in case he wants to have at that melting Snickers bar in my front pocket… but the dog quickly gives up again, looking up at the security master with a ‘see… toldja’-look.

I don’t mind that the security guy and his dog were checking me out. I had/have nothing to hide. But if I was going to smuggle something into another country via a commercial airline, why the hell would I dress like someone who looks like a handsome Colombian drug lord? Did I look stupid? I wasn't even sweating from nervouseness... then again, I like dogs and dogs like me.

And… who the hell brings drugs FROM Japan TO Detroit?!

No one. That’s who.

I've got nothing against Detroit, by the way. Lovely people. Sucks about the economy.

On the plus side, I did get an absolutely true and ridiculous story out of it, keeping alive my trend of being a weirdness magnet.

Now… granted things COULD be smuggled out of Japan to Detroit that might be of interest, but I don’t know if that doggie-woggie could smell ninja metal throwing stars or katana swords, or that poor geisha I won in an illegal poker game that I was illegally smuggling in my pants.

It is possible, however, that I may have had more than the legal amount of Japanese yen in my wallet. Or maybe not. probably not. Never. I spent everything on that Snicker's bar. Man... airport food is expensive!
A Dutch traveler was caught trying to smuggle more than a dozen live hummingbirds at an airport. "birds? Naw, I just had my phone on hyper vibrate. Ohhhhhh yeah!!!!"
It is also possible that I shipped, via cargo ship, a few ivory sculptures in the form of netsuke back to Toronto... then again, both were over 300 years old and exempt from illegalities. I had certification from an antique house about the age of the items, anyhow.   

So… let’s try and see what sort of things people are really trying to smuggle INTO Japan.I may have a personal story down below, too!

Well, back in June of 2016, six people were arrested by the combined Okinawa Prefectural Police, Tokyo Metropolitan Police and Okinawa District Customs Office on suspicion of smuggling 110 kilograms of gold/242.5 pounds (worth ¥480 million or ~US$4.67 million) into Japan last December (2015).

It was coming in from Macau. Two of the arrested are members of a known and designated criminal group of the yakuza.

Also in June of 2016, nine rare Japanese crocodile newts of the species, Echinotriton andersoni, (aka Anderson’s crocodile newt or Ryukyu spiny newt) were smuggled from Okinawa to Belgium—and while the crocs were repatriated back to Okinawa, that doesn’t concern this article as I wanted to see what was being smuggled in. Still - way to go!

This September, it was announced that illegal drugs captured by Japanese police had increased by 6.5x in the first half of 2016 over 2015, Tokyo police did seize 154 kilograms (339.5 pounds) of  stimulant drugs in July alone. The current annual record is 816.1 kilograms (1,799.2 pounds) set in 2013, according to the National Police Agency.

In May, Taiwanese smugglers were arrested by the Okinawa Police after finding 597 kilograms (1,316.2 pounds) of drugs on a sailboat, making it Japan’s largest drug arrest.

The usual drugs are being smuggles in: Marijuana, Ecstasy, Amphetamines, Heroin,

What do we have so far… gold and drugs. Believe it or not, gold is a big thing.

But yes, exotic pets are also part of the trade. Pet shops in Japan sell hermit crabs for ¥100 to ¥500 ($1 to $5)… and if that seems like chump change, consider that the annual turnover is over three tons of the little buggers.

Other creatures found in Japanese pet shops that were illegally smuggled in, include:
  • Slow Loris (Nycticebus coucang)—a nocturnal, tree-climbing primate native to Southeast Asia: ¥3-4000 ($29-39);
  • Asian Small-clawed Otter (Aonyx cinerea) - ¥700,000 (~$6,800);
  • Indian Star Tortoises (Geochelone elegans) - ¥25,000 to ¥30,000 yen (~$243-$292);
  • Hercules stag beetle from Central or South America - ¥50,000 to ¥60,000 (~$487-$584)

Japan… WTF do you need a Slow Loris or an effing otter for? Turtles and bugs as pets, I could at least understand… but a slow loris and an otter? Come on! These aren’t pets!

What else? Well… human trafficking is big. According to the U.S. State Department, Japan is considered to be a major destination source and transit country for men and women subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking…. which is basically slavery in its myriad forms. Back in 2004, a reported 8,000 Chinese were smuggled into Japan, which you know means they ended up as forced prostitutes.

I would imagine that guns would also be smuggled into Japan, with that being something the yakuza might be interested in. You don’t hear very often about common citizens getting in trouble because of an illegal gun possession.

If you are trying to smuggle in a gun to Japan, apparently the going rate is 10x the cost in the U.S. I wouldn’t want you to get ripped off.

Just a man and his backpack.

I can tell you that Japan really doesn’t like it when you try and bring weapons into their country.

Coming from vacation in Malaysia, I was stopped by the Japanese border folk at Narita airport when they spotted my Malaysian sword aka letter opener popping out of my backpack.

I wasn’t hiding it. I didn’t think that Japan would care. It didn’t have a sharp edge or point. It really wasn’t a real sword. It was decorative… and I wanted it to sit beside my two unsharpened Japanese katana swords that I purchased at a local Japanese temple.

But no. They did not want me bringing a foreign sword into Japan—which I respect—because they didn’t want anyone running down the street with it all sharpened up trying to kill people.

I get that. They don’t know me. It’s fair.

But I pointed out in broken English and Japanese that I still had a pair of katana swords in my apartment in Ohtawara that I bought in Japan. Couldn’t someone take those swords and sharpen them and go on a murderous rampage.

They shrugged their collective shoulders, took my two-foot long Malaysian letter opener and bade me sayonara.

I don’t think they understood irony. Or English. 

Hmm… that seems to be it. I’m disappointed.

I know that back in the 1930s after Japan banned the import of Australian wool, there were Japanese trying to smuggle it into Japan.

I found a Russian news article from 2004 that says that approximately 80 percent of all the crabs caught in Russian waters are smuggled into Japan for consumption. 

If you hear of some interesting things being smuggled into Japan - let me know.

Andrew Joseph

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