Drug abuse rampant in entertainment world
TOKYO, Nov 1 — The unprecedented media coverage given to the recent trial of actress-singer Noriko Sakai over possession of marijuana betrays the deep concern in Japan over the rising incidence of drug abuse among the young.
News of the trial hogged the air waves from the start on Monday morning.
At least one television network gave a live, blow-by-blow account of the trial with the help of reporters who took turns to tell viewers what was happening inside the court room.
More than 6,000 people had queued up, some overnight, for 20 courtroom tickets to view the trial, where she pleaded guilty to the illegal drug charges.
Sakai, 38, is the latest in a string of Japanese celebrities charged with drug abuse over the past year or so. Another recent high-profile arrest was that of popular actor-singer Manabu Oshio, who was charged with taking the synthetic drug MDMA.
Drug abuse is believed to be so rampant in Japan’s entertainment world that National Police Agency chief Takaharu Ando appealed to companies managing entertainers to help prevent such crimes.
He told a press conference in August, shortly after Sakai’s arrest: “Drug cases involving celebrities have a large impact on society. We are particularly concerned about their influence on youth.”
Eradicating drugs in the entertainment world, he reasoned, could help to stem the spread of drug abuse among young Japanese.
Criminal organisations are believed to be largely behind the supply of illegal drugs in Japan.
In an address this Wednesday to a meeting of government prosecutors dealing with organised crime, Justice Minister Keiko Chiba described the rising incidence of drug abuse in Japan as “alarming”.
Many Japanese are said to be ignorant of the fact that possessing or smoking marijuana is a crime.
Reports late last year that students from prestigious private universities in Tokyo such as Keio and Waseda had been arrested for drug abuse shocked the nation.
Several members of a well-known rugby team from Kanto Gakuin University, a private college outside Tokyo, have also admitted to smoking pot.
At Doshisha University in Kyoto, the authorities sent out e-mail messages to all its 26,000 students to warn them against using drugs after one student was found with marijuana at home.
According to police figures, 1,446 people were arrested in the first half of this year in marijuana-related cases, up by 254 over the same period last year.
Of the number, 63.2 per cent were young people, including college and high school students.
Professional sportsmen, including sumo wrestlers and one tennis player, have also been found guilty of drug abuse.
The ease of purchasing illegal drugs off the streets, typically from Iranian drug peddlers, has apparently contributed to the rise of drug abuse among young people.
Seeds for growing marijuana plants are also easily available through Internet vendors as “ornamental seeds”.
In a survey conducted in May last year at Kansai University in Osaka prefecture, one in three students claimed to have been able to get hold of drugs if they wanted to.
Meanwhile, Sakai has received several offers of up to 100 million yen (RM3.6 million) from China to sing in a concert and do an exclusive interview, according to media reports.
Sakai was very popular in China during her heyday in the 1990s.