Friday, August 07, 2015

Taiwan and Cocaine in the Japanese era

Fill er up.

There's a blurb in George Kerr's immortal Formosa Betrayed where he discusses the tons of coca leaf that vanished when the KMT took over Taiwan in 1945. That little remark is a clue to vast network of coca growing and processing that helped fund the Japanese colony in Taiwan, but was also part of a larger worldwide explosion of coca growing in the colonies of imperial powers of Europe as well. Consider:
The rapid rise of the Dutch to prominence in the world coca and cocaine trades took interested parties by surprise, especially the Peruvians, who until 1900 felt they enjoyed a natural birthright to the world coca market. In 1904 the Dutch island of Java (now part of Indonesia) exported only 26 tons of coca leaf; this figure soared to 800 tons in 1912 and 1,700 tons in 1920, glutting the world the world market. The Dutch built an especially productive and integrated industrial cocaine regime, but it was dismantled by decree almost as quickly as it arose.(p332)
The British also took an interest in coca production in India, but German chemists produced the cheapest cocaine out of Peru, driving most other nations out of the business at the turn of the century, and making the nation the world center of coca leaf and cocaine production. Even the Japanese bought land in Peru, and a thriving expat community helped run the cocaine business in that country.

According to the Gootenberg book cited above, Japan's interest in cocaine grew out of the State's involvement in the production of drugs. A Japanese chemist who had worked for Parke-Davis during heyday of its production of cocaine (as an anesthetic) returned to Japan and brought his expertise in cocaine manufacture with him. By the 1910s Japan's big sugar interests in Formosa had begun to invest in coca production. By the 1930s Japan was one of the largest makers and sellers of cocaine in Asia. Gootenberg observes that you can view Japan's production of cocaine as part of the larger Japanese policy of economic self-sufficiency and state-capital marriage (recall that Japan didn't define some drugs as legal and others as illegal like the US; it had no "drug problem"), or you can see it as something increasingly sinister and illicit. The latter view predominated in the US and among nations interested in stamping out the trade after 1930.

Gootenberg writes in another paper:
By 1920, Japan itself produced more than 4,000 lbs. of cocaine, which then doubled to 8,000 by 1922 (see TABLE 4). Official figures for the 1930s shrunk to just under 2,000 lbs., if considered by some historians and contemporary League officials as doctored for international consumption. (This is a hard charge to prove, though Karch has tried by putative estimates of coca-alkaloid capacity.) Exports across Asia officially dropped to negligible levels, though complaints registered about Japanese firms and reporting, as well as cases of deliberate smuggling (such as the “Fujitsuru” and “Taiwan Governor” brand vials in India). Other specialists have noted growing diplomatic cooperation between Japan and international drug officials, at least until the invasions of Manchuria and China, when opiates became a major issue. The firms making cocaine and morphine were among Japan’s largest: Hoshi, Sankyo, Koto and Shiongo Pharmaceuticals, and enjoyed growing links to major trading trusts (such as Mitsui and Mitsubishi) and to interlocking governmental, colonial and military officials. In 1934, we know that Taiwan’s [Chiayi] district kept 694 acres under intensive coca cultivation (by Taiwan Shoyaku and Hoshi); earlier plots on Iowa Jima and Okinawa fall off the record. About 300,000 pounds of Formosan leaf were harvested annually in the late 1930s.
In yet another work, Gootenberg says that by the late 1920s Taiwan was producing 3 tons of cocaine per year (Columbia produced 350 tons in 2010 according to the UN), a figure he questions in one of his books (below). The major producers were Sankyo and Hoshi Pharmaceuticals, which combined had 684 acres under cultivation in Chiayi.  Jennings' book on Japan's opium policies in Korea says in a footnote...
By the mid-1920s, Hoshi's Taiwan plantation was producing an average of 40-50,000 pounds of dried coca leaves per year, while his Peru operation average 20-25,000 pounds a year. The raw coca was shipped to Japan for processing, and most of the cocaine probably wound up in the illicit traffic in China.
Hoshi was thick with the Opium Monopoly in Taiwan and knew Goto Shinpei. In Taiwan he bought semi-refined morphine from the Opium Monopoly, shipped it back to Japan, and processed it into heroin, perfectly legal in those days. Having vanquished the opium laws, Hoshi then branched into cocaine. Gootenberg says that Formosan coca leaf had three great advantages: the Foreign Office handed out permits for it like candy, it was much cheaper to ship it to Asia than Peruvian cocaine, and it had more alkaloids than Peruvian leaf (in fact yielded twice as much cocaine as Andean coca). Gootenberg writes:
Once the refined cocaine was produced in Tokyo, Japanese law made disposing of the cocaine an easy matter. Smugglers did not even bother to repackage the standard 700-gram packages they bought from wholesalers. As a result, the brand names of the Japanese manufacturers such as Hoshi Pharmacueticals, Dai Nippon, and Sankyo Pharmaceuticals, were as well known in Calcutta as they were in Tokyo, even though medicinal cocaine exports to India were nil. 
Hoshi would also be involved in attempting to set up cinchona production for quinine in Taiwan's mountains, cultivating the first cinchona trees in 1922 and producing the first quinine in 1934 (link).

For a period in the late 1920s and early 1930s, according to Gootenberg, the Taiwan military government took over production of cocaine at one of the local firms, supplying its own label for the packaging which said "Taiwan Governor General, Central Factory." That label eventually supplanted the other leading Japanese label in India, and the British Governor-General there complained loudly about it. The Imperial Military was deeply involved in the drug trade, as papers unearthed by the US Occupation showed, escorting tramp steamers laden with opium and apparently, carrying cocaine from Taiwan to China after the war began.

Gootenberg also presents some simple calculations based on South American and Javanese examples that the Japanese were vastly underreporting their cocaine production in Taiwan, which he contends should have been nearly 7 tons annually. The Japanese "cooked their books" as the US Occupation showed; during the 1920s Japan was importing a million pounds of coca leaf from Java alone, and Japanese also operated coca plantations on Iwo Jima and Okinawa. In fact after the 1920s Japan's problem was disposing of all this production, since cocaine became little used in medicine.

The war ended this "autonomous" Japanese sphere of cocaine production; the fact that Japan's production was beyond western ability to control was likely the real driver of US complaints about Japan's cocaine trade. The British also feared competition with opium from cocaine, while the US, the moral crusader on drug use, coincidentally had no colonies which produced cocaine.

Coca plants will grow most anywhere; it is something of a historical accident that today South America and not Taiwan or Java is the world center of the trade, a result of the US victory in WWII and Japan's destruction of the coca plantations in Java. Imagine the alternate universe where I am posting pictures of coca plants on farms in Chiayi during my rides there...
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Okami said...

Was firsthand experience and experimentation part of this post? I heard they discovered some coca plants on a university campus here, but the location escapes me.

Vasudevan said...

Thats a great article.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the informative article, that's a lot to think about over a cup of Coca-cola. It is said that a certain Stephan company in New Jersey imports around 100 tons of coca leaves from Peru and a bit less than 100 from Bolivia to process for Coca-Cola, the multinational company from USA. It is one of the 260 companies registered with DEA to legally import coca leaves, so those coca leaves are well withing Western control, and so all those tons of the coca leaves and all the cocaine extracted for medical uses are all right, right? But the real question is, do the Coca-Cola produced in Taiwan also contain coca leaf extracts (with the alkaloid removed)?

Mike Fagan said...

It would be interesting to have these former coca plant farms in Chiayi mapped, and compare with what is there today.