Natsukashii “Japan Trip” – When Magic ‘Shrooms Were Legal

Magic Mushrooms in Japan
Until June 2002 Magic Mushrooms were legal in Japan

Japan, despite its lax attitude toward tobacco and alcohol, has always been very strict when it comes to matters of “more illicit” drugs. Laws regulating soft drugs such as marijuana are as strict as those toward heroin and cocaine. This was not so until the American Constitution was imposed on Japan after World War II; actually hemp has been an integral part of Japanese culture and religion since ancient times (see www.taima.org for more details), but that is another article altogether.

Generally, restrictions on all drugs in Japan are so strong that it is not uncommon for customs officers to seize over-the-counter foreign cold medicines, and possession of cannabis can lead to weeks in jail. The most famous victim of this law is Beatle Paul McCartney, who spent nine days in jail in 1980 for the possession of 219 grams (7.7 ounces) of marijuana.

Magic Mushroom street vendor in Japan
Magic Mushroom street vendor in Shibuya, Tokyo

In a country this strict, it may surprise some people to know that magic mushrooms were legal in Japan until June 6, 2002. A loophole in the Japanese law banned psilocybin in extracted or pure chemical form but not the actual mushrooms themselves. Thus, magic mushrooms, sealed in plastic wrap, could be purchased alongside weed pipes and Bob Marley posters in head shops throughout Japan. I’m not sure about the specifics of the law, but the packages I saw said “観賞用” (Basically look but don’t eat) on them. Of course, everyone was eating them, from college students to gaijin to bored housewives. It must have been the housewives, or perhaps the threat of hooligans at the 2002 World Cup that prodded the Japanese Ministry of Health, Labor & Welfare to close up the loophole.

Luckily, we had some advance warning. There was a bit of lag time between the decision to outlaw magic mushrooms and the date that the law came into effect. All of the head shops had signs up reminding their customers that they had until June 6, 2002 to stock up on as many mushrooms as possible. This is the story of my experience during this period of lawlessness.

Working as JET’s in rural Japan, my friend and I knew that a weekend trip to Kobe/Osaka would be necessary to score some mushrooms. We had both tried them before in our respective home countries, and thought we knew what we were getting into. The shops were not hard to find – there were several under the tracks of Kobe’s Sannomiya Station. We bought what they had in stock and proceeded to Osaka to test out our newfound purchases at an underground Shinsaibashi club.

It was hard to believe that we had just legally bought mushrooms and were about to eat them in public. But there they were, legally purchased magic mushrooms, smelling like dirty socks, sitting in our hands.

Magic Mushrooms in Japan
This is what ‘Shrooms look like when you buy them

It was time to eat. Since the mushrooms were “観賞用” they didn’t exactly have the serving size and nutritional value printed on the packaging. They looked to be about 1/8 of an ounce, the average size of one “hit” back in the states. Only later would we figure out that 1/8 of this species of Dutch ‘shrooms (‘shrooms – as they are called – are usually a less potent Mexican species in the U.S.) was enough to make 6 grown men see Jesus.

So at first, we were having a pretty good time – there is a certain confidence that ‘shrooms impart and it seemed like everybody loved us – we had the whole place under control. Control… I gradually began to lose control of my body slowly but surely. I was fully conscious but was stuck in an “observer” state. I needed to lay down. The last thing I saw before I turned comatose was my friend standing on the bar kicking over other peoples’ drinks. Then I got a good ten minutes of ceiling watching in before two monsters with Down Syndrome began trying to tear me limb from limb (actually they were a couple of Australian guys who had called me an ambulance and were lugging me up the stairs and out of the club – thanks guys if you ever read this).

The mushrooms ran their course through my body and I experienced something that can only be described as flickering in and out of existence (yes these were strong drugs!). Being placed in the ambulance triggered a fear reaction and brought me back down to Earth. The nice young paramedic patiently tried to get my to write down my name and address, but I was determined to write on the air instead of on the paper. He seemed to know what mushrooms were, and had seen cases like me before. “Are magic mushrooms bad for you?” I asked him. Wheeling me out of the ambulance and into the E.R., he replied, “Well, they’re not good for you.”

The doctors and nurses in the E.R. were a bit more clueless. I had already fessed up to my semi-illegal deed, so I figured it was too late to change my story, but I felt a little silly explaining what magic mushrooms were to the emergency room doctor. He had never heard of them before and had to look them up on the internet. Magic Mushrooms in Japan were sold openly in ShibuyaThe internet?? How do you become a doctor in Japan anyway? The nurse seemed not to want to release me, but I lied to her and said that my hallucinations had stopped, and she let me go after I signed the appropriate forms. Luckily my employer never found out about the whole debacle, and thanks to Japan’s health insurance system, the ambulance ride only cost me about 1,000 yen!

So, you ask, whatever happened to my friend dancing on the bar? He got tackled and was nearly choked to death by club security. He had also apparently jumped onto a ceiling lamp and pulled it out of the socket. He ripped some girl’s designer clothes too, so club security tried to threaten him into paying 100,000 yen for damages, saying that the bar was yakuza owned and they’d be there any minute. Somehow he managed to hand someone a 10,000 yen bill and slip away. Needless to say, the next day neither of us were in the mood for any more magic mushrooms. Which was probably for the best since the extras we bought had somehow disappeared at some point that night anyway.

This story is here to entertain, but I hope it does make some people think seriously about the drug policies of Japan and other countries. Although I got off scott-free in early 2002, the same stunt today could earn you up to 7 years in prison! What a difference a silly little law makes. A good Japanese friend of mine swore he would never try “Drugs” like marijuana, but in return he offered me a cigarette dipped in paint thinner. Almost all societies have a long way to go in creating rational drug policies. In the meantime, let’s all just be sure to stay out of trouble.

If you can’t stay out of trouble, you can at least call the numbers of a national directory for treatment help.

On that note, if you do have any stories where you pushed the limit with drugs in Japan, let us know with a comment below!

55 thoughts on “Natsukashii “Japan Trip” – When Magic ‘Shrooms Were Legal”

  1. I dont know if anyone is still following this post, I am in Japan currently in tokyo and looking to get my hands on some green or just want to get high, booze is available everywhere but i am not into booze that much, have been to many clubs in roppongi and shibuya but could not find anything… anyone still living in Tokyo, any help will be a welcomed :D

  2. i used to live in tokyo…17years ago and wasnt into mushrooms back then, but there was a fair amount of acid going around. i remember one night when at a club called MILK where the walls decided to describe themselves to me.

    a few years later i moved to osaka and was introduced to the shroom scene…then later in 2002 managed to stock my freezer up a bit before the gates closed. it was about a year later that i visited my freezer, ate a bit, taped my eyes shut to avoid distractions in an attempt to focus on inner views…then climbed into a JR construction site in search of more meaning.

    anyway, its been 10years since i was in japan, and as of last week, it turns out that ill be in tokyo for a few days this summer. i never thought id get back to nihon and am in near hysterics at the thought of it…

    …so for old times sake, i repeat Mr. Lonely’s question from 2012 – is anything still available? i rephrase: stuff is always available, so i ask: can anyone point me in the right direction?

    many thanks and many memories

  3. Pingback: Anonymous
  4. I was also in japan, during 2002. I had arrived in 1999 and quickly found out about japans policy towards magic mushrooms. Since I was and still am a drug taking kind of guy, I immediately went with some friends to Shibuya, Tokyo and picked up a couple eights. The rest of the day was spent at Yoyogi, tripping face and listening to dance music with my friends and girlfriend. That was one of the good times… on another occasion, a buddy and myself decided to ingest an entire eighth each, again in Yoyogi but it was late at night and we stayed under the bridge in the main part of the park, listening to a saxophone player belting out a tune. I really do not recall what happened other then the two of us were suddenly scared for our lives, as we both hallucinated knee high floodwater and decided to run, screaming out onto the streets, heading back to Shibuya station. To retell this story to friends, explaining this experience as two white American guys, tripping face harder then I have ever tripped before, running with traffic screaming and shouting down the streets as a completely legal activity, supported by the local merchants would always get me a laugh and looks of disbelief. When mushrooms were legal in Japan… was one of the best times of my life. I also legally indulged in: 5-meo-dmt, 2ct, 2ci, 2ct2 and a whole host of other bizarre chemicals while residing in Yokosuka. Club culture use to be king in Tokyo however I have read those days are almost over. Best times ever: tripping on legal shrooms with my friends in Japan.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

Current ye@r *