There are many qualitative differences between school life here in Japan and school life in North America and Europe. I've been taking notes all week and I had planned on making that the subject of this post. However, in honor of it being 4/20, I decided to tackle a significant quantitative difference instead, along with some of my personal revelations on how important it is for societies to make decisions for themselves.
First of all, to all my friends back home, Happy 420! Have a great day, play safe and keep fighting the good fight. I've never been shy about my support for legalization, even before I had any personal relationship with the cannabis plant. I still firmly support that position for my society.
My decision to come to Japan to live and work came with the full knowledge that I would have to put that part of my life aside for the duration of my stay. I am a guest here and as such have complete respect for the rules of their society as they choose to have it. This year, I spent my 4/20 as a responsible adult, molding young minds for a positive future.
Even if I were Japanese, my opinion would be in the vast minority. The drug laws here are incredibly strict; its like prohibition ultra. They search all the packages coming out of B.C. for example... apparently we have a reputation... and even simple possession of cannabis can garner a 5 year prison sentence and the resulting public shaming destroys the careers and relationships of the Japanese(foreigners are generally shipped home in shame, never to return). Harsh, especially given the movements towards legalization in Western culture, but it works for them. For all those idiots who get busted breaking the laws of Japan I have little sympathy, there were poor guests and, unlike the folks back home, deserve the penalty for their transgression.
There's no robust cultural history of entheogens, other than alcohol; the Japanese have historically found other ways to alter consciousness (like standing under a frigid waterfall in the dead of winter). Furthermore, being an island nation with few natural resources has made the culture insular and extremely resistant to things that their society decides it doesn't want (Christianity is another good historical example). The story on why drugs, specifically cannabis, is illegal here is an
interesting one and is a product of American imperialism, but the
history is not really relevant now. Japan is where they're at on this
issue, regardless of what outsiders may think, and changing the minds of
Japanese is not exactly what gaikokujin (foreigners) are good at. For the record the experience of living here is 110% worth the cultural sacrifices.
How does this even relate to school life here in Japan? Simply this: my job is to be a role model for the future of their society. As advanced a society as Japan can appear from the outside, especially looking at cities like Tokyo, the Japanese are not a particularly worldly people (which is one of the reasons I'm here). This goes double out in the countryside. This is not a criticism; I find the relative naivete completely charming- as Bilbo Baggins says "It's no bad thing, to celebrate a simple life."
Nowhere is this innocence more apparent than at a Japanese middle school. They're between 12 and 15- the age when the 'cool kids' AND the 'bad kids' back home were drinking 6 packs at the baseball field and skipping class for smoke breaks, both ganja and tobacco. These kids, on the other hand, are adorably innocent and amazingly well behaved. They ride their bikes to school every day, help clean the school buildings, and brush their teeth after lunch. They want to know who my favorite athletes are, if I've been to Tokyo Disneyland and the movies I like. The worst I've seen is a small pack of 'delinquents' at a park near my apartment after dark who just appeared to be hanging out... no smokes, no booze, just... hangin'. Its an innocence that we have, by and large, lost.
Drugs barely even appear on the radar here in Sakuragawa- and in Japan at large its not part of their media or culture, even for adults. In the schools drug education consists of a couple innocuous posters saying ”ダメ！ゼッタイ！” （Dame! Zettai!- Bad! Never!) with a picture of an extremely genki (happy and energetic) female athlete smiling out at you. Visually, they're indistinguishable from positively themed posters. I was trying to figure out how to get a photo of one without raising any awkward questions, but as yet have been unsuccessful.
In North America, our kids grow up really, really quickly. By 14 they're streetwise and jaded. Here, they're still just kids. Even the mature culture here vibrates with the cute and playful. Its wonderfully refreshing and I don't believe it would have been possible if the Japanese possessed the same laissez faire approach to life and social responsibility that North Americans do.
This is why I believe that massive international agreements on this issue, like the UN's Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, are frustrating and unnecessary. Its for each society to exercise their democratic right to believe in and choose what is right for their culture at a given time, human rights not withstanding. In North America, the time is right to move away from prohibition. In Japan it could be generations and I'm OK with that too.
Though I hope we could end prohibition everywhere, as its a detriment to freedom, health and security, I'm very happy following the rules here. The opportunity to be a guest in this wonderful country and be a role model for the society they want to build for their children is incredible. Its an honor and a privilege; something that I wouldn't trade for a mountain of marijuana.