On September 8, Yusuke Iseya, whom you might remember from the live-action Rurouni Kenshin movies, Fly Me to Saitama, 13 Assassins, or Sukiyaki Western: Django, was arrested on suspicion of using marijuana. Two days later, Iseya removed all traces of suspicion from the case by admitting that he was a marijuana user. Quite a frequent one, too, judging by the police finding more than $1,000 worth of the drug at his home. Sadly, this probably means that his career is over (at least for now) but the conversation about pot in Japan is just starting.

High Penalties for Getting High in Japan

Cannabis was first cultivated in Japan more than 12,000 years ago, primarily as a fabric and food source, but there is evidence that it was also used for its psychoactive properties. In 1948, the country criminalized marijuana and unlike many other major economies like the US or Canada, Japan has not softened their stance on the drug. Pot remains extremely illegal here and Iseya might be looking at up to seven years in prison. Ten if the prosecutor proves he was intending to sell any of it.

In fact, in Japan, it’s even illegal to talk positively about marijuana. According to Article 9 of Japan’s Act Concerning Special Provisions for the Narcotics and Psychotropics Control Act, etc. and Other Matters for the Prevention of Activities Encouraging Illicit Conducts and Other Activities Involving Controlled Substances through International Cooperation (or the ACSPNPCAOMPAEICOAICSIC for short), talking about smoking weed can be construed as inciting people to commit a crime. This will probably be the charge for a 32-year-old Kanagawa man and a 37-year-old Tokyo woman who posted about their pot smoking habits on their social media. They were arrested earlier this month and face up to three years in prison and a $5,000 fine.

It’s what makes Yosuke Kubozuka’s stance so surprising. Kubozuka is a major Japanese star, known to Western audiences as Kichijiro in Martin Scorsese’s Silence. Yet on September 10, he defended Iseya on his Instagram, emphasizing with his situation, and telling people to lay off him because he “didn’t hurt anyone.” As mentioned before, being linked to drugs in any way can have disastrous consequences in Japan, so for Kubozuka to stick his neck out for another person like this is just incredibly brave.

Actress Sei Ashina Dies at 36 in Apparent Suicide

September hasn’t been good to 36-year-old Asian actors, with three of them dying in the span of just three days. On September 14, South Korean actress Oh In Hye died of cardiac arrest. Two days later, she was followed by Taiwanese singer-actor Alien Huang who died of an aortic dissection. And in Japan, there is the tragic case of Sei Ashina, who took her own life on September 14.

Mainly known from her role on Kamen Rider Hibiki, Ashina started as a model before moving to acting and appearing on highly rated shows like A Chef of Nobunaga and The Emperor’s Cook. Her body was found in her Shinjuku apartment by her relatives but no other details about her death, including why Ashina would take her own life, have been released. If you or anyone you know have been struggling with suicidal thoughts, please consider contacting TELL Japan.

The Yokohama Gundam Moves!

The Gundam franchise has defined the Giant Battle-Mech genre for years, capturing the imaginations of sci-fi geeks around the world. But it’s always had a special place in the hearts of Japanese people. Throughout the years, life-size replicas of the Gundam robots have appeared all over the country, but the one currently standing at the Gundam Factory Yokohama (at Yamashita Pier) is special. Because it’s not just standing. It’s recently started to move.

In a video tweeted by @nansei2 (which has currently been liked over 58,000 times), we can see a mobility test of Yokohama’s Gundam robot. For its massive size (18m or 60 feet), the robot is surprisingly nimble, even being able to take a knee. The Gundam Factory Yokohama was supposed to open earlier this year but due to Covid-19, the opening has been pushed to October. Check it out in person if you ever get the chance.