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I'm hiking a lot in Japan. Japan has, next to other animals, lots of black (everywhere) and brown bears (in the north). Needless to say, I'd like to protect myself. Pepper sprays have been proven to be very effective. Thus I always carry a big spray when hiking. On my hiking backpack I carry it outside in a side pocket which is kind of a net, so see thorough (partly). So you might be able to see it. Well I doubt that bears will go and sue me but: afaik Japan has a concealed carry law that applies to pepper spray as well. This article backs me on this, I think: https://izumi-keiji.jp/column/houritsu-gimon/goshin-spray

So I wonder:

  • What exactly is concealed in this case?
  • Do I violate the law when carrying while hiking?

And more broadly not totally related to the question:

  • What if I take a train from/to the mountain? do I have to display the can at all times? Am I even allowed to carry it at all?
  • what if I spray someone, like that Joker guy recently, for self defense while on the way from/to the mountain?
  • what if I carry the can to a friend to lend it?

Disclaimer: my Japanese is very bad and I have no legal background

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    If you're carrying your pepper spray in a way that could be considered "concealed", it will almost certainly take too long to use if you're attacked by a bear. Try the following test: have a friend stand a safe distance behind you and shout. When you hear the shout, draw your pepper spray, take the safety off, and aim it at them while they time you. If it takes longer than two seconds, you need to re-think how you're carrying the spray.
    – Mark
    Commented Jan 21, 2023 at 3:52

3 Answers 3

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It's against the Minor Offense Act to carry pepper spray if you don't have a good reason.

A 2009 issue of Tokyoweekender offers this column:

Are there any substances that are legal to carry in the West (e.g. Mace or pepper spray), but are illegal to carry in Japan, even if you can buy them here?

And the answer is...

Article 1-2 of the Minor Offense Act states that “a person who secretly carries around, without justifiable reason, knives, iron rods, or items that are used to harm another person’s life or body” shall be fined or punished by temporary imprisonment. If a woman carries pepper spray with a rational purpose such as to defend herself, such act shall be justified. However, it still may be punishable under the Minor Offense Act if she carries it without any necessity.

So, what is this Minor Offense Act? Luckily there is an English tranlation. So Article 1, paragraph 2...

軽犯罪法1条柱書

「左の各号の一に該当する者は、これを拘留又は科料に処する。」 2号「正当な理由がなくて刃物、鉄棒その他人の生命を害し、又は人の身体に重大な害を加えるのに使用されるような器具を隠して携帯していた者」

Article 1.

Any person who falls under any of the following items shall be punished by detention or fine.

(2) A person who carries a knife, iron bar, or any other instrument that can be used to injure another person’s life or cause serious bodily harm without a justifiable reason

Pepper spray can cause temporary to permanent blindness, cause pulmonary problems, and in general, is an awful substance to even inhale if not getting it into the face directly. So... The default is, that carrying pepper spray is illegal if your carrying doesn't qualify for a justifiable reason. It is up to you to prove that your reason to carry it is justified. However, what is a justifiable reason?

Well, as Tokyoweekender said: if you are not able to defend yourself and you are in a bad area, or if you are stalked, or if you go into the mountains where there truly are wild animals, you might be understood justified. However, you gamble there: you'd need to convince the police that you have justification, and the Japanese police does not like people carrying any such items at all. It's not upon the Japanese police to prove you didn't have a reason, it's on you to prove you have justification for the exception!

In the case that was discussed in OP's link, someone that was regularly transporting large amounts of money was under suit for carrying the pepper spray hidden on them. One of the main factors in the assessment was the fact that the accountant was transporting large amounts of cash money, which made it socially acceptable that he might need to protect himself (and the money) with the spray. The accountant then accidentally put the spray in his pocket when cycling and was met by police, resulting in the suit. The judge ruled, as far as I understand it, that on the job with money the spray was ok. However, the judge in the very case also noted that self-defense isn't a justification in itself, and that in large crowds there couldn't be a justification.

およそ護身用であれば、催涙スプレーの携帯が一般的に「正当な理由」を充たすと判断するものではない

If it is for self-defense, we [the court] do not judge that carrying pepper spray generally satisfies "just cause".

また、これといった必要性もないのに、人の多数集まる場所などで催涙スプレーを隠匿携帯する行為は、一般的には「正当な理由」がないと判断されることが多いと考える

In addition, I [the judge] think that it is often judged that there is no "justifiable reason" for the act of concealing and carrying pepper spray in a place where many people gather, even though there is no particular need to do so.

Akin to the laws regulating swords - where you need to prove you want to collect swords before buying them - you'd best inquire with the police before and ask for a certification that you require it for a specific reason - such as to defend against bears on a hiking trail or to protect the valuable goods you transport for work.

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  • Given that the Japanese police are loathe to arrest someone they don't think they'll have a 100% chance of convicting, which is why their conviction rate is so high, would you really need to be that cautious?
    – nick012000
    Commented Jan 22, 2023 at 11:15
  • Thanks I checked your answer given the link. It matches my state of research but I couldn't find the translation.
    – steros
    Commented Jan 22, 2023 at 22:45
  • @nick012000 Japanese police also loathes anyone from having any dangerous item on them - If you go to Kendo training, having a Bokuto on you is ok. If you just bought it and are straight going home, it's ok. If you want to go through the shopping district before going home after buying it, you can get a really stern talking about why you lug around the wooden sword. Even if you buy kitchen knives, you likely get the knife in a sealed box, to make absolutely sure that it is not seen as a dangerous item and that it is clear that you just bought it and so you can continue shopping.
    – Trish
    Commented Jan 22, 2023 at 23:13
  • @steros thanks, I did work myself through the article you linked (again), managing to add some more foundation - the crux is, you need to establish that you have a socially acceptable reason to carry the item, such as "I carry this money from the shop to the bank" or "I am on this dangerous trail known for its rabid wolves"
    – Trish
    Commented Jan 22, 2023 at 23:15
  • @nick012000 the tricky part with the cutlery is: it's not carried if it's not accessible, so even as you carry (=transport) a knife it is not carried(=handy, accessible)
    – Trish
    Commented Jan 22, 2023 at 23:19
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They indeed sell it in lots of places around Japan, online and outdoor stores, so it is not illegal to purchase.

The vast amount of information I’ve seen points to you needing to have a valid use. E.G. carrying in the countryside vs in Shinjuku at 2am.

I have been looking in to getting some since I had a bear encounter recently while hiking in Japan. It was totally fine, we just saw two bears about 10-15 meters away down a ravine - we backed away slowly and nothing happened. But it made me more aware of the possibility of coming face to face with one and it’s always good to be prepared!

I would personally only carry deep in my bag on the way to the trail, then outer pocket when I reach the trail.

This is a good article on it, less so law focused but still worth a read.

https://www.hikemasterjapan.com/bears-in-japan

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Yes, it’s illegal

Owning pepper spray is illegal in Japan. Find another way to deal with the bears.

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  • Sorry but I don't think it's illegal. First of all, normal shops sell it. Second, even the article you linked doesn't say it's illegal. It says it's illegal to carry it concealed. Hope that's what you meant. So please update your answer. But I can't check it anyway, that article is not a trusted source really ^^
    – steros
    Commented Nov 2, 2021 at 0:21
  • The law is about carrying, not owning.
    – Trish
    Commented Jan 21, 2023 at 1:55

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