“Of all injustice, that is the greatest which goes under the name of law; and of all sorts of tyranny the forcing of the letter of the law against the equity, is the most insupportable.” ~ L Estrange
“Say HELLO (KITTY) to my little friends!!!!” says Scarface Sally to the Japanese Customs and Law Enforcement officials. Of course the assault weapon of choice in Japan simply shoots peaceful love and hearts….
One of Jody’s coworkers recently received in the mail, without asking and quite by accident, a package of toiletries from their home, sent to Okinawa by her husband since he is getting ready to join her here. The package consisted of the remnants of the medicine cabinet…which for most of us, is a perfectly normal thing to pack and send.
Yes, these few pills, consisting of over-the-counter legal (in the United States, at least) Sudafed, and legally prescribed Percocet and Vicodin, in Japan makes one a drug trafficker. A Drug Kingpin of sorts. The head of a cartel no doubt. Or at least that’s how Japanese officials treat such circumstance…and people…in a darker – but no less humorous – episode of the Far East Fling.
Image Okinawa just like Florida during the height of the Mariel Boatlift. They both share many similarities: palms, climate, and latitude (if not attitude), and it suffers a continual flood of clearly criminalized Americans – if you believe the hype, that is. And from our treatment by and actions of the military leadership we’ve experienced thus far, island- and service-wide, but particularly at my wife’s new duty station, it seems the American military flushed their own personnel toilet back home in the states, one which drains directly to Okinawa, much as Castro did between Cuba and Florida back in 1980. In a concerted effort to elude the unavoidably resulting drug culture, Japan uses a “zero-tolerance” policy for most drug-related crimes, complete with hefty penalties. And thank goodness, because the fashion associated with an emergence of Scarface Sally would be a HUGE step backwards for the esthetics of the population here…already borderline with their sense of style of hair color as it were.
Japan, in a somewhat overly paranoid and uncharacteristic culture of fear, has a much different notion of what is considered an illicit drug. For example, in order to stop Breaking Bad-inspired meth labs from spontaneously breaking out among the well-educated, homogeneous, and basically law-abiding Japanese citizenry, common over-the-counter medications for sinus and allergy problems are here downright banned. Yes, I’m talking about the gateway drug of choice: Sudafed! No, you can’t even slink back to the Rx window of the local drugstore, wearing your dark sunglasses, looking wearily over your shoulder, just to get your fix…and clear your sinuses. Nope – you might as well be the figurehead of a South American drug cartel if you neglected those ubiquitous pills left idly in your shower bag over the last three years.
And don’t even think about running your old prescription narcotic painkillers…even codeine is banned. Have a valid prescription from a licensed medical doctor, and the pill bottle script matches your name to the letter? Sorry, still not good enough. Obviously if one went to all that trouble to get the drugs, one has certainly begun their slide down the slippery mucus-covered slope – ‘cause you can’t take Sudafed here – of a budding criminal enterprise.
When caught red-handed, and while the gravity of the situation started sinking in, Scarface Sally reached out to one of her Cartel Captains, my wife. “Jody I need your help…this could be an all day and possibly most of the evening interrogation. I don’t feel okay about our leadership…. [Scarface Sally’s command deserted here completely, not even providing a command rep or even checking in on her during her trial and tribulation].”
The ignorance of the law excuse provides no efficacy against character assassination once you, a nascent Scarface, are in-country. No matter the circumstance, you can still be fined or jailed for bringing in illegal substances to Japan. Simply received a package? GUILTY!! You can be held liable for such drugs that are mailed to you, much to your surprise and chagrin. Hell, if I had known this is all it took to cause BIG trouble, I would’ve been sending multiple “special car packages” to my ex-wife all along, who remained in Okinawa for six months after my departure back in 2005 when we were then only separated. While it still may be a man’s world and a woman’s court, I would assume that our legal system would not show so much compassion or deference to an international drug Kingpin.
“When it’s over, let us know your prisoner and cell number so we can come visit you,” Jody writes Scarface Sally, in a clearly supportive and serious manner. “Ha!! Thanks for the loving support!! Bring curry, dammit,” answered an upbeat Scarface Sally. Curry here can be used as currency in the slammer, it appears.
Generally in Japan, a two month supply of over-the-counter meds and vitamins are okay, and a one month stash of Rx scripts are okay…but to a point: any drug must first be allowed by Japanese law. Even then, the “allowed” prescription drugs have to be permitted, and then a copy of the Rx must be included, along with a letter from your Doc stating the purpose of the drug. Oh, and as our very own Scarface Sally found, you cannot mail prescription medicines without obtaining first a Yakkan-Syoumei import certification from the Japanese Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare. I’m sure that quite a simple and quick process (wink). See, it’s like the Japanese government is pushing innocent and naive Americans into a dramatic life of crime.
“I have been temporarily released from questioning. I have one more appointment to sign relinquishment paperwork for Vicodin and, oh yeah, the Sudafed that turned out to be in the box! Yeah, that too is contraband here,” lamented Scarface Sally after spending all morning with Japanese customs. Her afternoon with the Japanese police was yet to come.
She was, in fact and in all seriousness, facing Jail time on the order of 14 years. Getting out of her penal pickle turned out to be quite tricky, emotionally exhausting, and downright personally embarrassing. Police interviews in Japan are long, drawn-out affairs, where legal representation is not allowed, and which are recorded only in written format. For Scarface Sally, this meant an all-afternoon interrogation (after spending all morning with Customs), complete with a “translator” that much too often referred to his Japanese-to-English dictionary, and where, at the end of the day, Scarface Sally was mandated to sign her “confession,” which was totally written in Japanese and for which no translation was provided. And in Japan, there is a 99% conviction rate for cases brought to court; putting your signature on a confession automatically leads to guilty verdicts…. Yikes.
So, this brings us to the idea of “Fair” versus “Right.” Fair: Having or exhibiting a disposition that is free of favoritism or bias; impartial. Right: That which is just, morally good, legal, proper, or fitting. Both terms are rather easy to understand and easier still to recognize, no?
No, they actually aren’t. In the real world, things are much more complex.
Ask yourself this: what is more important, the literal letter of the law, or its central spirit? When obeying the letter of the law but not the spirit, one is in keeping with the law but not its intent. Conversely, when following the law’s spirit but not its letter, appropriate legal intent is upheld, but the literal wording may be broken. Most of us would hypothesize that it’s “unfair” for anyone to violate the law’s spirit, regardless of whether or not the letter of the law has been fully followed. In other words, there has to be a realistic and pragmatic way to apply accepted social norms in the application of law, rule, or regulation.
A great example is this: when is it “fair” for law enforcement to ticket speeders? We all would be PISSED if we got ticketed for going 1 mph over the limit, and then there’s a point where almost no one would argue speeding as a ticketable offense – like for those traveling recklessly at 100 mph on a crowded highway. The real rub, though, lies somewhere in the middle, where enforcement should be designed and tailored to have the most effect. And that effect, I argue, should be to shape and mold behavior so that the SPIRIT of the law – regardless of what the literal reading of the law may be – is maintained. So, using this example, on American highways, this number is somewhere around 82 mph.
Halfway through her police interrogation, Scarface Sally writes, “OMG, you would not believe everything they go through!! It’s like a top secret security clearance questionnaire, only the Japanese guy is saying it in Japanese, and then the interpreter is interpreting into English after he consults a Japanese-to-English dictionary. Then I have to sign the damn paper written completely in Japanese! I even got questioned about John’s [her husband and chief drug mule] college major and the classes he took….”
So, rather than prosecute harmless Americans for mistakenly mailing prescription meds when moving overseas, perhaps the Japanese could focus their efforts in a better on the sizeable American community resident on Okinawa. For instance, an aggressive – and anonymous “Drug Turn In” program, conducted jointly with US and Japanese customs and law enforcement officials, along with a robust education initiative to better educated us stupid Americans about what we can’t bring into the country, could fetch most “illicit” drugs, getting them off the mean streets of Okinawa, and out of Japanese communities, which is EXACTLY the spirit of the strict Japanese laws on drugs. While the military hospital on the island does offer a drug turn-in program, it’s more focused on helping to keep the water clean, rather than keep poor American sailors out of Japanese jails. Oh, and let’s not forget the many thousands of household goods deliveries that happen every year here, which go almost completely unscreened. I’m sure none of those shipments had medicines from back home; I know that ours did not (wink!).
“OMFG Jody, they have made me recount my entire life history, including all my kids names, dates of birth, addresses, parents vitals…EVERYTHING…. This is nerve wrecking, but at least they are nice to me.” The demure Japanese police were probably scared of Scarface Sally. I know I am. “I just feel like a criminal.”
Spending this amount of effort on an American commissioned office, with a clean record, who recently just moved to Okinawa, is silly. Focusing these many resources on an ignorant American who had nothing to do with her husband innocently mailing some meds to her after packing up their house is just frackin’ silly. The whole scenario is not, in a word, “fair.” And it certainly misses the mark, the very spirit of the Japanese law. Good news for our starring villainess though; after apologizing profusely, batting her long eye-lashes, and shedding shameful tears, she was finally released. Japan got their pound of emotional flesh, and what do they have to show for it?
Scarface Sally’s personal stash of decongestants and painkillers. Which she can refill at work anytime she wants….
Read more about the law and fairness here: Social Norms and Fairness.