Article by Masashi Suzuki, Cannabis Life Network
It was raining lightly and the temperature was 18℃ when I arrived at Ishigaki Island- one of Japan’s most southwestern islands that’s famous for its nature and tropical weather.
I was there to meet a former actress and pioneer of Japanese cannabis activism, Saya Takagi, to learn more about cannabis in Japan.
Of course, cannabis has been used for millennia around the world, so it’s always good to see how different cultures feel about cannabis. Japan has a somewhat complex history with the plant- although cannabis was legal until 1948, the Japanese now regard cannabis as a kind of hard drug, largely thanks to the education system and the media.
During our conversations, I realized that even though she was a famous actress, Saya is just an ordinary person. That’s much different from what I saw on TV when the media was attacking her for being arrested for possession of cannabis- they were reporting on her like she was nuts for having what they called a “dangerous narcotic”.
Cannabis law in Japan
In Japan, there was a specific law for cannabis established in 1948 under the direction of General Headquarters after WW2. This act prohibited not only possessing, cultivating, and transferring cannabis, but using cannabis as medicine- even though other drugs like amphetamines and morphine are allowed for medical use.
In Japan, so many people still think cannabis is a dangerous drug, and that’s one of the reasons why Saya Takagi abandoned her career as a famous actress and risked her reputation to become a cannabis activist, and her impact on the Japanese cannabis movement was huge.
Saya’s 2016 election run and arrest for less than 2 ounces of cannabis
As a cannabis activist, she served as a manager for the Cannabis Inspection Committee and ran for a seat in the Upper House of the Japanese government in the July 2016 election, campaigning to legalize medical cannabis and abandon nuclear power. Although she did not win, her slogans about abandoning nuclear power and legalizing medical cannabis were widely broadcast by the media, creating widespread awareness in Japan that medical cannabis exists.
In October 2016, she was arrested for possession of 55 grams of cannabis, but as a matter of fact, the cannabis wasn’t even hers! It belonged to someone who was using cannabis to treat his heavy angina, and he was growing it on her property. Despite this, she was arrested and given a suspended sentence of 3 years and 1 year in jail, and she was in jail for 6 months waiting for her sentence!
Ever since, she has rarely made media appearances. She now lives on Ishigaki island- which is about 2000 km away from Tokyo- and manages her camping lodge, “Niji-no-mame” (which means “bean of rainbow”).
The media versus Saya Takagi
After her arrest, the media denounced her and called her crazy, but even though she suffered huge backlash, she was praised by Shinto followers, Japanese people living abroad, and people who needed medical cannabis.
When she was doing a street speech for her election campaign, there was a young man listening with tears in his eyes as everyone else dubiously passed her by, and it reminded her why she was speaking out in the first place.
Looking back at her actions and experiences, she mentioned, “I didn’t do anything wrong and the generations will change. I don’t regret these experiences, either. As someone said, there’s always a rainbow after the rain. The things I have done will be a cog in the wheel that changes the world and turns out to be the right thing in the end.”
Throughout the interview, Saya-san gave me valuable insight on everything from her jail sentence to making our world better, and she showed me how important it is to think critically and explore the essence of things.