2017/09/14 What's On
Weirdest Laws In Japan
by Jordan Mounteer
Every country has its share of odd customs and things you should or shouldn’t do, and this tends to carry over into the formalized laws that are upheld, regardless of how crazy, outdated, or just plain bizarre they happen to be. And Japan is certainly not exempt from this trend. We take a look at some of the more unusual laws you probably didn’t know existed, from the obvious to the uncanny.
Don’t Forget Your Passport
This is just for foreigners, but the Japanese government according to their state run site advises all visitors to always keep their passports on them 24/7. This is a bit unique to Japan, since it’s often the norm in other countries to lock up your passports with the hotel or hostel when you go out to explore the city and take in the sights. But in Japan, being caught without your passport – in the rare event a police officer asks to see it – can get you in hot water. But if you’re still a bit hesitant about taking such a valuable piece of ID with you out in public, don’t worry too much; the overall respect for people’s property in Japan means that even if you do happen to misplace your passport, chances are someone will turn it into the nearest koban or police box.
One of the most commonly cited, and certainly unique to Japan, is the so called ‘Metabo Law’. Like the English root it’s borrowing from, this law has everything do with metabolism – more specifically, it enforces what is considered to be a normal weight. Since 2008, when Japanese lawmakers first introduced the law, very precise maximum measurements on how fat you can be have become a staple policy. For men who are 40 and over the waistline can be no larger than 33.5 inches, and for women it is 35.4 inches, to accommodate the fact women tend to naturally have broader hip structures. But don’t worry too much as a foreigner – this only applies to people of Japanese descent. Thankfully, it’s not severely punishable. Rather than jail time or a fine, those who fail to meet the criteria are instead given dieting advice and put on a regimen for several months to try and help them shed those extra pounds. And, thankfully again, the Japanese phenotype (on average, at least) tends to be thinner than, say, more Western countries like the United States – but we can probably blame the rise of fast food franchises like McDonald’s for the Japanese government’s bright idea to come up with a Metabo Law.
Throw Away Money
Most countries actually have this at least somewhere in their law making policies. Money, regardless of whether it is paper or coins, is considered property of the country (or, in this case, the government). As a result, there are strict penalties on defacing, damaging, or throwing away money. And unlike some countries where you could get away with this with only a slap on the wrist or some stern glares, in Japan the fines can exceed ¥200,000 and may or may not include spending a year in prison. The moral of the story: treat those notes with care.
Smoking In Public
Ironically, Japan is one of the few industrialized countries where the taboo of smoking hasn’t quite caught on, and the deadly habit is alive and well, ranging across a wide demographic from young 20-something’s to the older generation. As a result, chronic asthmatics to Japan are often put off by the apparent laxness of tobacco laws – in particular, how common it is to run into a cloud of nicotine while walking around in urban spaces. There is a long tradition of being able to smoke in cafes, bars, and restaurants, and it’s only been in the last decade or so that Japan has started to crack down on the pervasive status quo that is public smoking. Nowadays there are specific designated areas for smokers, and many restaurants have segregated areas. But it’s been an uphill battle for lawmakers since many of the politicians who have advocated for more tobacco-friendly policies (and who have vested interests in the industry) have held a lot of political sway – even going so far as to prevent the graphic images on cigarette cartons we are so familiar with in North America. However, as long as you stay to the most populated places in Japan’s bigger cities, you’ll be okay. But if you decide to dip into some of the more off-the-beaten-trail establishments, be prepared for a more “authentic” Japanese experience.
Home Brewing Is A No-No
Alas, if you’re like me, it is probably dispiriting (no pun intended) to find out brewing your own alcohol in Japan is illegal, and can bear some serious repercussions if you’re found out. That isn’t to say that Japan doesn’t have strong drinking culture, and heading out with colleagues or friends to a local izakaya ranks as one of the more quintessential Japanese experiences. But the production and sale of alcohol is highly regulated, and this extends even to the home. Technically it is legal to brew up your own concoctions, just so long as they remain under 1% alcohol, but anyone who has dabbled in making their own beer or wine knows for a fact that it is almost impossible to accurately make something within that range. You might have to settle for some kombucha.
In terms of what is allowed in Japan, an idiosyncrasy many foreigners love to indulge in is the fact that drinking alcohol in public isn’t illegal. In fact, on a Friday or Saturday night it’s quite common to see groups of young professionals and salarymen alike snapping open an ice cold karakuchi Asahi in the center of town. Obviously, it’s a good idea not to be too rambunctious or draw attention to yourself, but if you’re just enjoying a beer in the park or outside a convenience store no one is going to bat an eye. It can feel oddly paradoxical to first timer visitors to Japan, especially when the leniency of public drinking is contrasted against some of the more rigid laws (drinking and riding a bike is still ‘drinking and driving’, so be careful!).
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