Importing Alcohol

This article briefly explains laws and regulations concerning imports of alcohol into Japan.

1 General Information

When importing alcohol, the relationship with the Alcohol Business Act, the Liquor Tax Act, the Pharmaceutical Affairs Act, and the Fire Service Act can be problematic.

2 Liquor Tax Act

The Liquor Tax Act defines alcoholic beverages as those with an alcohol content of one degree or more. Items that are not for drinking, such as alcohol disinfectant solutions (pharmaceuticals), do not fall under the category of alcoholic beverages.  On the other hand, medicinal nourishment wine and other products are often classified as alcoholic beverages even when they fall under the category of pharmaceuticals1.

Alcohol with an alcohol content of 90 percent or more corresponds to the Alcohol Business Law and not to the Liquor Tax Law; however, if the alcohol is used in the manufacture of liquor, it exceptionally corresponds to the Liquor Tax Law.

3 Alcohol Business Law

The Alcohol Business Law regulates the sale, use, and import of alcohol.  The Alcohol Business Act regulates alcohol above 90 degrees, which is usually too strong to drink, so no liquor tax is charged at the time of importation. 

Behind this is the value judgment that it is not appropriate to impose a liquor tax on alcohol that is not intended for drinking, such as alcohol used for disinfection in medical facilities.

However, since the ingredients are the same as the main ingredients of alcoholic beverages, they can be diluted and used in alcoholic beverages.  If alcohol imported in a form that is not subject to liquor tax is used for bootlegging and consumed, the government will lose revenue from liquor tax. Therefore, the Alcohol Business Act establishes regulations on the manufacture, sale, import, and use for alcohol over 90 degrees.

Manufacture

Permission is required to operate as a business (Article 3).

Import

A permit is required. However, imports may be made with the approval of the Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry only for the purpose of use in testing, research and analysis (Article 17).

Sale

A license is required for sales as a business. Non-professional sales require the approval of the Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry (Article 22, Paragraph 1). In addition, in principle, alcohol cannot be transferred to anyone other than those who have obtained permission or approval for its use (Article 22, Paragraph 2).

Utilization

Permission is required for industrial use, and other uses are permitted only when approved by the Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry for use in testing, research and analysis (Article 27).

Dilution

Manufacturers, importers, distributors, and approved users shall not dilute alcohol to less than 90 percent alcohol by dilution, except when the approved user dilutes the alcohol in the process of use or as otherwise permitted by law (Article 35).

If the manufacturer or importer transfers the alcohol as “specified alcohol,” the restrictions on the sale, use, and dilution of alcohol listed in the table above will not apply, but the manufacturer or importer will be required to pay a fee to the government (Article 31).

4 Pharmaceutical Affairs Law

When a product falls under the category of pharmaceutical products, such as alcohol disinfectant solutions, it is necessary to comply with the provisions of the Pharmaceutical Affairs Law.

5 Fire Service Act

Basically, alcohol above 60 degrees falls under the category of hazardous materials. Therefore, it is necessary to pay attention to the regulations pertaining to the handling of hazardous materials.

1 If you want to know the detailed distinction, the section in Article 2 of the Interpretation Notice of the Liquor Tax Law is helpful.


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