How to Check if You Can Bring Your Medication into Japan
By Skywing Knights // January 23, 2024
If you’re like me, you might have several prescription medications that you take on a regular basis. So it might pique your interest to know that Japan… is a bit more strict when it comes to their prescription medications and what it allows guests of the country to bring in. For example, try the fun rule that if you bring Adderall in, it’s treated the same way as Opium or Heroin. Basically you risk jail time (or worse). Or, if you’re lucky, you’ll only be banned from entering Japan for 10 years. Otherwise, you might never be allowed in again (a true horror, seriously).
So if going to Japan is important to you, you’re going to want to make sure your prescription medications, and this includes even your OTC medications are compliant with Japanese laws. Unfortunately however, Japan’s rules on if you can bring a medication into Japan are difficult to understand at best. And they are impossible to understand at worst. So today, let’s go through how you can find out if your medication is allowed in Japan. This way you don’t have to rely on random articles and incomplete sets of information from different government entities.
Please remember, I am writing this as a frequent traveler to Japan, NOT as a medical expert. (For all my love of bloody cosplay photoshoots, I squirm at the sight of donating real blood). I have however spoken with pharmacists and many doctors on this subject. As such, this is the knowledge that I have gleaned from discussions with them. It also includes insights from my personal research and experience.
That said, PLEASE do not take anything I write as Medical Advice. ALWAYS talk to your doctor and pharmacist if you have questions regarding your medications.
This article is meant to be a guide on how you can determine if you can bring medication into Japan legally and act as an outline of possible options you may speak to your doctors and pharmacists about in the event you are taking a medication that is prohibited in Japan.
First, know the “Categories”
Japan has essentially 2-3 categories for drugs/prescriptions/OTC medicines. These include what I term as:
- Controlled Substances (2 Categories)
- Banned Substances
- “Yunyu Kakunin-Sho Required” Substances
- Limited Supply Substances
Let’s go over what these each mean:
Controlled Substances are any drugs/prescriptions/OTC medicines that the country of Japan heavily regulates the import of. There are 2 categories in which Controlled Substances fall into:
- Banned Substances
Banned Substances are NEVER permitted in the country of Japan. It doesn’t matter who you call or who you are, they are not allowed. If you decide to attempt to bring these into Japan, you risk arrest and deportation. You will find complete lists of these items on Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labour, and Welfare of Japan’s website. Additionally, you can find them on Japan’s Narcotics Control Department’s website (These will be linked below!)
- “Yunyu Kakunin-Sho Required” Substances
Yunyu Kakunin-Sho Required Substances are any drugs and prescription medications that are permitted ONLY with written consent from the Japanese government. To obtain permission from the government (a Yunyu Kakunin-Sho), one must fill out a Yunyu Kakunin-Sho Request Form. It is important to note that just because you submit a Yunyu Kakunin-Sho Request Form to Japan, it does NOT guarantee that you can bring your medication into Japan. (Link below under Next Steps: Point #2!)
Limited Supply Substances
These are prescription medications, and some medicines that are Over-The-Counter (also called OTC medicines), that you are allowed to bring into Japan for personal use only and are NOT considered ‘Controlled Substances’. (In other words, these are anything you do not see listed on Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labour, and Welfare of Japan’s website or Japan’s Narcotics Control Department’s website as a Controlled Substance.)
Depending on the type of substance, there are various limits to the amount you can bring in. For example:
- Prescription drugs, including injectable drugs – limited to 1 month supply.*
- Drugs for external use (excluding prescription drugs) – limited to 24 per item.*
- Other drugs (non-prescription drugs, often OTC medicines, vitamins, probiotics etc., not for external use) – up to 2 months supply.*
The important catch here is that even if you have been prescribed the amount detailed above, you may only bring up to the amount listed above into the country of Japan.
For these substances, it is not required for you to bring your doctor’s prescription as proof of the legitimacy of these kinds of prescriptions. That said, if you wish to bring one anyway for a prescription, it doesn’t hurt to do so. That said, I personally have never heard of anyone having to provide proof that they need to take any medications that fall into this category upon entering the country of Japan.
Determining Which Category Your Medication Falls Into
So, now you know the various categories that a drug/prescription/medicine can fall into. So how do you know what category my prescription or OTC medicine falls in? Unfortunately, neither Japan or the US make it easy to figure out which prescriptions fall into which category. The exception is that they do call out a select few substances, as they do in the infographic below:
As you can see, very few substances are mentioned by name though. Not only that, they only focus on substances that are outright banned and they include rather vague descriptors. So how do you determine if your prescription is allowed in Japan? And how do you know what category it falls into if it’s not listed in this infographic?
Here’s a Step by Step Guide:
1. Access Japan’s Controlled Substances List and Banned Substances List
Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labour, and Welfare and Japan’s Narcotics Control Department have two lists which detail all of the various substances that are outright illegal to bring into the country. Japan’s Narcotics Control Department’s list also details those that require individuals to submit a Yunyu Kakunin-Sho form to request permission to bring certain substances into the country.
You can access both of these lists below:
Any medication on the above list is banned. It does not matter if you have a prescription for any of these substances. You face criminal charges and deportation if caught attempting to bring any of these substances into Japan. You can NOT submit a Yunyu Kakunin-Sho form to bring these into Japan. If you do, you WILL be denied permission (so don’t waste your time).
This list is a more extensive list of all of the substances that fall under the camp of a “Controlled Substance” in the country of Japan. Any substance on this list requires individuals to submit a Yunyu Kakunin-Sho form to bring them into the country. The exception to this is if there is a checkmark by a substance in the far right hand column. These checkmarks indicate the item listed is a banned substance and again, you may NOT bring it into Japan even if you submit a Yunyu Kakunin-Sho. (Again, if the substance falls into this camp, do NOT bother with a Yunyu Kakunin-Sho. It will be denied and you will be wasting your time).
2. Check Your Substances’ Ingredients
The lists above may be confusing to decipher upon first glance. That is because the substances listed are all written out in their ‘generic’ names. For example, Adderall is not listed. BUT Adderall’s generic names, Amphetamine and Dextroamphetamine, are listed instead. That’s how you know Adderall is a banned substance and you can not bring that medication into Japan.
Why are they listed this way? Simply put, this list is for an international audience. Brand names of prescriptions vary from country to country at times, but the ‘generic’ labels do not.
So how do you figure out if your prescription or OTC medication is banned or controlled if it does not list the generic name?
The best resource I have found for determining the generic names of medications is Drugs.com:
Again, lets go back to our Adderall example. When you search it up on this website, clicking on its “profile” will reveal the prescription’s generic names. These would be Amphetamine and Dextroamphetamine. It also shows any brand names, as seen below:
Similarly, if you search in “Zoloft”, you will see the Brand Name of “Zoloft”. Meanwhile, you also see that the generic name is “Sertraline”.
Tip #1! For OTC medications especially, check the ingredients labels for a complete list of active ingredients. For example, you may think of Tylenol and Tylenol Cold as both being just ‘Tylenol’ (generic name: acetaminophen). But Tylenol Cold has additional active ingredients (Acetaminophen plus Chlorpheniramine, Dextromethorphan, Pseudoephedrine), which you would also want to check against the lists above. 🙂
3. Cross Reference Your Substances with the Lists
Once you have found the generic name of your medication, cross references both of the above lists with BOTH the generic names and the brand names of your medication JUST IN CASE. If you find a match, then your medication falls into one of the two Controlled Substances Categories (Banned or Yunyu Kakunin-Sho Required). And as always, be sure to double check your work!
Tip #2! If you’re still confused or concerned about if you are cross referencing these lists using the correct terms, ask your pharmacist or doctor for a complete list of the active ingredients/generic names of your prescriptions. You can also bring the lists to either of your doctor or pharmacist. With the lists, they can help you check if there are any matches. Remember, they are there to help you!
Tip #3! If you bring the lists to a pharmacist or doctor, have them look past page 1. Page 1 lists a number of substances they have likely never heard of. Further down the list, they will likely start seeing substance names they are more familiar with. 😉
Your next steps will be based on the status of your prescription. So let’s talk about what you can do.
1. My Medication is a Banned Substance
There is no bringing these substances into the country, as stated many times above.
If it is ABSOLUTELY necessary that you are on a prescription to treat a certain ailment and you must go to Japan (either for work or because it’s a dream), the best course of action is to work with your doctor to try to find an alternative medication that IS allowed for your trip to Japan. Remember, even a medication that requires you to submit a Yunyu Kakunin-Sho could be a more favorable option than going off your medication entirely, depending on the ailment your medication is treating.
If it is NOT necessary for you to be on your medication, you can talk to your doctor about if you can go off the medication during your trip. (This may be the case in particular for those with ADHD or ADD). However, make sure you have a full understanding of possible ramifications of going off of your medication if you must in order to go to Japan.
2. My Medication Requires a Yunyu Kakunin Sho (permission from the government)
If you find a match on the Controlled Substances List by the Japan Narcotics Department, but it is not a prohibited drug (or a banned substance), then you can bring it into the country IF you submit a Yunyu Kakunin Sho Request Form and receive approval from Japan prior to your departure (the Yunyu Kakunin-Sho itself).
To request information on how to obtain and submit a form requesting a Yunyu Kakunin-sho, you can visit Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare website OR email [email protected] . (I recommend doing the latter as the process has recently been going through some changes. As a result, sometimes, applicants can now apply through an online portal).
According to Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labour, and Welfare (Page 4), it only takes a few days to issue a certification for your Yunyu Kakunin-sho once they receive your submission. However, the best course of action is to ALWAYS submit your form as soon as possible.
Additionally, remember that submitting a request for a Yunyu Kakunin-Sho DOES NOT GUARANTEE that you can bring your medication into Japan. So while you are waiting for a response, reach out to your doctor to discuss possible alternative medications that you can bring into Japan that do NOT require a Yunyu Kakunin-Sho JUST IN CASE. And again, finally, if all else fails, discuss with your doctor if going off of your medication for your trip is possible/wise.
3. My Medication (and its ingredients) are not on the controlled substances lists, but are prescribed or are OTC medicines/substances.
In this case, your medication likely falls into the Limited Supply Substance category. Remember, this is made up of 3 types of medications/substances, which are listed above and have a range of 24-day to 2 month limits. Lucky, lucky you! Depending on the type of substance and your length of stay in Japan (assuming your stay length is under the importation limit for your medication), you can simply bring in the necessary amount of medication into Japan without worry. So go ahead and pack for your trip. You’re good to go!
But what if you will be in Japan for over the time/importation limit for your medication? In these cases, you can still bring in more than the specified limit. How? To do so, you will ALSO need to apply for a Yunyu Kakunin-sho. This is regardless of if your medications or medicines are not on the controlled substances lists. (See Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labour, and Welfare’s FAQ on page 2, Q2).
Medications are important. There is no denying this. No matter what, ALWAYS listen to your doctor. And that’s even if you may not like what they have to say, such as “Sorry, you need this and it’s prohibited in Japan, you shouldn’t go.” However, oftentimes, doctors can work with you to find alternative medications or courses of action/treatment.
For example, some medications are not always needed while you travel to Japan, especially if you are going on vacation. For example, ADHD medications, many of which are not permitted or require a Yunyu Kakukin Sho, are not always necessary for individuals to take all of the time. In cases such as these, you may consider if it is vital for you to bring these medications with you and discuss your quandaries with your doctor.
On the other hand, there are some medications that are vital for individuals to take, such as pain relief medications or blood pressure medications. In these cases, it is ESPECIALLY important for individuals to be proactive in talking to their doctor and pharmacist to determine what the best solution would be for them in the event that their medication is not permitted in Japan or even if it requires a Yunyu Kakukin Sho. And the sooner you can figure this dilemma out with your doctors, the better!
Absolutely consult with your doctor if you are considering altering your intake of any medications. Doing so without talking to your doctor is EXTREMELY unwise.
If I were to speaking from personal experience, I have found that I prefer to switch to a medication or medicine that is not a controlled substance rather than apply for a Yunyu Kakukin Sho as I find it to be a much easier option. This is especially true because again – YOU CAN NOT GUARANTEE your application for your medication to be permitted into the country will be approved EVEN IF you send in a request for a Yunyu Kakukin Sho.
If you have plenty of time, it doesn’t hurt to try to apply for a Yunyu Kakunin Sho. But if you are on a time crunch, switching just might be easier for you instead of applying and biting your nails as you wait for a result. Because if it comes back negative, you would likely be in a bind financially at that point and risk not being able to go to Japan.
However, I never give up on treating an ailment entirely. And I don’t recommend you do so either. My health (and your health) is farmore important than a trip to Japan.
Never EVER choose to stop taking a medication without consulting your doctor. Your life is worth far more than a trip to Japan and not taking medications as prescribed can be dangerous. ALWAYS work with your doctor. They have your best interests in mind and want to make sure you are healthy!
And remember, your life is worth FAR MORE than a trip to Japan. Don’t take it lightly. Take the steps you need to in order to travel to Japan (with appropriate prescriptions) safely!
The Legal Status of Common US Medications in Japan (as of January 2024)
Below are some of the most common prescriptions and OTC medicines used in the United States, what they treat, and which of the above categories they fall into based on my own research.
Remember, this list was made and loaded as of January 22nd, 2024. ALWAYS check the lists and do NOT use this chart as a definitive guide for what is currently allowed.
Are there any medications that treat certain ailments that are more likely to be either banned or require a Yunyu Kakukin Sho?
Heavy duty pain medications, Anti-depressents, medications to treat Blood Pressure ailments, Seizures, Migraines, ADHD or ADD, Panic Attacks, and medications to assist with Weight Loss seem to be currently the most common medications prescribed in the United States that may include ingredients that are either banned or require a Yunyu Kakukin Sho. These medications are especially important to check. Some insomnia medications are also at a higher risk for being on these lists.
Anti-depressants which treat Depression AND Anxiety are less likely to be controlled substances or prohibited substances. But it never hurts to check the list.
Additionally, Japan is particularly concerned with medications that are Narcotics, Psychotropics, or Stimulants or derived from Cannabis. If your medication(s) fall into any of these camps, it is especially important to check them against these lists.
Why is Japan as strict as they are when it comes to drugs?
I’ve been asked this question many times. The thing is, there are many reasons as to ‘why’. However, it boils down to the fact that Japan, just like any other country, is concerned about keeping their citizens safe. Unlike many other countries, including the United States, though, Japan’s culture is also far more partial to using more natural remedies rather than man-made prescriptions, drugs, or medicines. While I can not be sure, I suspect that this mindset has trickled into Japan’s policies regarding drug/substance importation.
This can be incredibly aggravating to those of us who have grown up very used to or who are comfortable using medications or medicines developed in laboratories. It is normal for those in this camp to trust the majority of their regular medications as a result and find Japan’s rules restricting and frustrating.
It also means that many OTC medicines that we regularly take, we have developed a bit of a tolerance for. So even when we go to Japan and find the ‘equivalent’, we may find that the Japanese rendition of the medicine is too weak for us as foreigners due to our tolerance. (Don’t ask me about my first time of the month while living in Japan. I thought I was going to die.) DX By contrast, it is a good dose for the Japanese. This is because they do not often use OTC medicines and avoid them.
Final Thoughts on bringing Medication into Japan
It can be easy to say, “Well Japan should get over their worries!” However, I advise against this attitude. Just because another country does things differently than how your country does things, it does not make it wrong. For example, trying to stay at a lower dose of a pain medication than the max means your tolerance for the medication will not be as high. Then, if you suddenly need a VERY strong pain medication, you can take the same medication at the maximum dosage without worrying that it won’t be strong enough for you.
By contrast, sometimes hesitancy with man made drugs can possibly be a detriment. In the case of dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, (regardless of how effective the vaccine ultimately was) Japan delayed about 10 months before finally approving the Pfizer vaccine for use. It then took another year or so to really get the whole population on board with the idea of being vaccinated. This was incredibly risky as if the vaccine did work, then waiting would only cause more deaths to occur as a result in a population with about 30% as of 2021 being 65 or older/at risk.
In short, there isn’t really one way “right judgment call” all the time across the board, for everything. As a result, it is important to be understanding, patient, and respectful of the rules of other countries that might be different from those in your own country regarding medications.
So when it comes to traveling to Japan with your medications/drugs/prescriptions/OTC medicines:
Do your research, talk to your doctor and pharmacist, and take the steps you need in order to be in compliance with their rules and regulations. I hope this has helped you navigate the wonderful world of importing your meds into Japan legally and safely. And let me know what your experience has been when bringing a medication into Japan!
Till next time,