You are subject to local laws. If you violate local laws, even unknowingly, you may be arrested, imprisoned, or deported. If you are arrested in Japan, even for a minor offense, you may be held in detention without bail for several months or more during the investigation and legal proceedings. Information on the Japanese Judicial System is available on the Japan Federation of Bar Associations’ website.
Furthermore, some laws are also prosecutable in the U.S., regardless of local law. For examples, see the U.S. Department of State website on crimes against minors abroad and the Department of Justice website.
Japanese authorities aggressively pursue drug smugglers with sophisticated detection equipment, “sniffing” dogs, and other methods. Penalties for possessing, using, or trafficking in illegal drugs, including marijuana and synthetic drugs, are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and fines.
You must carry your U.S. passport or Japanese Residence Card (Zairyu Kado) with you at all times. In Japan, you may be taken in for questioning if you don’t have your passport or Japanese residence card to show your identity and visa status.
It is illegal to work in Japan while in tourist or visa-waiver status. Overstaying your visa or working illegally may lead to fines of several thousands of dollars, and in some cases, re-entry bans can be as long as ten years, or indefinitely for drug offenders. For additional information please see Japan’s Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Act and contact the Japanese Embassy or nearest Japanese consulate in the United States for more information.
Laws governing rape, sexual commerce, and other activity involving sexual relations do not apply to same-sex sexual activity. This definition leads to lower penalties for perpetrators of male rape and greater legal ambiguity surrounding same-sex prostitution.
Driving under the influence of alcohol could also land you immediately in jail. The blood-alcohol limit in Japan is approximately 0.03%, less than the amount of alcohol in a single glass of beer. Punishments can be up to 10,000 USD in fines and up to five years in prison.
Possession of a gun or ammunition is a crime in Japan. Possession of a knife with a locking blade, or a folding blade that is longer than 5.5 cm (a little more than two inches), is illegal in Japan. U.S. citizens and U.S. military personnel have been arrested and detained for more than 10 days for carrying pocket knives that are legal in the United States but illegal in Japan. The possession of lock-picking tools is illegal in Japan.
A list of English-speaking lawyers located throughout Japan is available on the Embassy’s website.
Arrest Notification: If you are arrested or detained, ask police or prison officials to notify the U.S. Embassy immediately.