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Rogue Online Pharmacies and the Japanese Market

Recently, LegitScript has begun taking a look at the Japanese Internet pharmacy market. (We already monitor the Internet pharmacy market in multiple countries including the US, Canada, Australia, multiple EU nations, Russia, and elsewhere.) It should come as no surprise that Internet pharmacies, including illicit ones, would target Japan: the country has the second largest pharmaceutical market in the world, valued at $96 billion in 2010.

So how big of a problem are rogue Internet pharmacies in Japan? Are there legitimate ones? And what does it mean for an Internet pharmacy targeting Japan (that is, selling to Japanese residents) to be “legitimate”?

Today’s blog post focuses on the last question –– what it means for a Japanese Internet pharmacy to be legitimate. As we recently tweeted, we’ve been adding some Japanese Internet pharmacies to our database, and will be stepping up our monitoring of the Japanese search space to help Japanese residents who choose to fill a prescription online make informed decisions to protect their safety and health. We’ll also be working with Registrars and ISPs to help them identify violations of their Terms and Conditions.

What makes an Internet pharmacy legitimate (or, alternatively, “rogue”) in Japan is surprisingly similar to standards in other countries. Here are a few highlights.

Want prescription drugs? Better have a prescription

Japanese law states that it’s illegal to sell prescription drugs without a valid prescription. (Article 49, Pharmaceutical Affairs Law.) Like most places, a physician must examine the patient before issuing a prescription. (Article 20, Medical Practitioners Law.) Consequently, Japanese online consultation Internet pharmacies –– websites that allow you to fill out an online form without ever seeing a doctor –– will be classified as rogue Internet pharmacies in LegitScript’s database.

Want to sell prescription drugs? Better be licensed in the Japanese prefecture

As in nearly every other country, if you want to sell prescription drugs to Japanese residents, you have to be licensed and physically located in a Japanese prefecture. (A “prefecture” is like a US state or Canadian province.) (Article 4 and 24, Pharmaceutical Affairs Law.) So, entities selling prescription drugs to Japanese residents will be classified as rogue if they don’t have the legally required licenses.

Selling Prescription Drugs from outside of Japan? Almost always illegal

Like many countries, Japanese law allows for some flexibility on the physical importation of prescription drugs. But as in the US, Canada and elsewhere, this flexibility was written to apply to situations where a person is physically entering the country –– for example, flying into Narita Airport near Tokyo –– and has their foreign medication with them, physically on their person. (See the Japanese government’s guidance on this, which clearly applies to physically entering the country with a month’s worth of medication on you for your own personal use –– not ordering over the Internet.) The faux “Canadian” Internet pharmacies and their defenders, which have a financial interest in convincing customers that Internet importation is legal and safe, incorrectly argue that wholesale importation over the Internet is either legal or ignored by authorities. The same dynamics can be observed regarding foreign rogue Internet pharmacies targeting Japan, who incorrectly argue that they are operating legally under Japanese law.

Japanese authorities have warned about importing prescription drugs via the Internet into Japan. Moreover, Japan’s Customs Law contains requirements about obtaining certification for most prescription drugs, including showing a valid prescription. (Article 70-1, Customs Law.) And, even if theoretically a month’s importation were allowed, that doesn’t change the requirement that pharmacies dispensing to Japanese residents be physically located in a Japanese prefecture and require valid prescriptions. (Article 4 and 24, Pharmaceutical Affairs Law.) Consequently, LegitScript will classify as rogue or unapproved websites whose business model focuses on dispensing prescription drugs into Japan from foreign locations.

So who are the biggest offenders in this space? We see the multi-national (not really defunct) criminal network as operating numerous Japanese rogue Internet pharmacies such as Smaller criminal network eDrugNet has made a play into the market with individual websites like And some networks, such as Hampstead Corporation / Oz International (using websites like, which hides its domain name registration information...never a good sign), actually have a corporate presence in the United States but ship prescription drugs from unapproved locations into Japan.

There are, unfortunately for Japanese residents, plenty more rogue Internet pharmacies targeting Japan. Over the coming months, we look forward to notifying Registrars, ISPs and the .JP registry about these illicit websites that put the health and safety of Japanese residents at risk.