Soccer-World-Japan magic mushroom dealers await soccer fans
By Tim Large
TOKYO, May 24 (Reuters) - Japanese purveyors of magic mushrooms, facing an end
to a loophole that has let them operate with impunity, say they expect few
difficulties offloading their stocks as thousands of soccer fans arrive for the
Due to a bizarre legal twist, the mind-altering fungi are now openly available
in Japan, a country known for some of the toughest drug laws in the
"We get a lot of foreign customers anyway so I think we'll sell to soccer
supporters," said the branch manager of Psychedelic Garden, a basement shop in
Tokyo's Nishi-Shinjuku district.
"I have no idea what we'll do if hooligans come in."
Psilocybin -- the chemical that gives them their "magic" properties -- is
banned but the mushrooms themselves are not.
That has allowed vendors to hawk them from sidewalk stands and via the
Internet. Magazines can run advertisements for such exotica as Hawaiian
toadstools without facing trouble.
In recent years, chains of the stores known as head shops and with names such
as Herb on Air and Whooppee! have sprouted in big cities, offering substances
that would be considered Class A narcotics in many parts of the world.
But fans hoping to do some World Cup scoring of their own will have only until
June 6, when it will become a crime to sell or possess mushrooms containing
The World Cup, being co-hosted by Japan and South Korea, kicks off in Seoul on
May 31 and climaxes in Yokohama, near Tokyo, on June 30.
With nine matches arriving in venues around Japan before the ban takes effect,
some vendors say turning their remaining inventories into cash should be a
piece of cake.
"We'll get a lot of foreigners in here," said a sales assistant at Freak
Brothers, a head shop in Tokyo's Roppongi nightspot.
"Stocks are getting low, but we're not putting up the price."
Roppongi's neon-bathed jungle of hostess clubs, brothels, sports bars and other
watering holes is expected to act as a magnet for the hundreds of thousands of
fans heading to Japan.
Many visitors will no doubt be drawn to the psychedelic interiors of head shops
such as Freak Brothers, which along with magic mushrooms and Peyote cacti,
offer a range of pipes, bongs and whacky T-shirts.
Police said magic mushrooms were low on their list of possible headaches.
"I can't say people won't buy them and get high, but we're not too worried,"
said an official at Azabu Police Station in Roppongi.
"Most people who come to Roppongi will be tourists, not hooligans. Alcohol is
more of a worry."
In a society not known for recreational drug use, Japan's laxity over magic
mushrooms has been the exception to the rule.
Drug control is so strict that even some over-the-counter cough medicines are
routinely seized by customs officers because of the stimulants they contain.
Japan's most high-profile drug bust was the 1980 arrest of former Beatle Paul
McCartney at Tokyo International Airport for possession of 219 grams (7.7
ounces) or marijuana.
He was held in jail for nine days before being deported. If convicted, he could
have faced up to seven years in prison.
05/24/02 05:21 ET
David W. Fischer
~check out audio samples from my new CD at www.ixnygraphics.com
Coauthor, "Edible Wild Mushrooms of North America" and
"Mushrooms of Northeastern North America"