keeping old laws on the books–and enforcing them

I wanted to send some rice by mail to the US, so I went and bought 5k of some that I like to eat, put it in a box and got ready to send it off. Then I got to wondering, maybe the US would not like Japanese rice because of pest issues.

I called US Customs in Tokyo, and asked the very helpful Mr. Cox there if it would be alright to send rice to the US. He said that it was just fine. I said that I was worried about pest problems, so I called to make sure that it was alright. He said that the US has no problems with rice from Japan coming in, but that I would not be so successful sending rice to Japan. No problem there. Japan has a lot riding on its rice crops, and if some beastie got in and ruined a crop, that would be disastrous.

My box of rice and I headed to the post office, and when asked what was inside, I said rice. The gentleman at the desk asked if it were prepared in some way, like cooked into sembei or something. I said no, just genmai rice. He said that I needed a special form to send rice overseas from the Japanese government. “What?” I asked incredulously. He said that I have to go to some government office and get a form that says that I can ship the rice outside the country. I told him that I asked the Americans and they didn’t have problems with it. He said that wasn’t the issue. I would have to get permission from the Japanese government to send my 5k bag of rice.

There were no good explanations I could come up with for this kind of regulation. I couldn’t go to the government building, so my wife went, and found that they didn’t really know why the regulation was still on the books either. It was a law made around 50 years ago, and that it stays on the books, and is still enforced, though no one really knows why. There was some speculation what it could be about, but nothing for sure. My wife got the form and went to the post office with the form. She filled out all the paperwork to send the rice out, and got the post office to accept the package. Maybe it will arrive, though I have no confidence in that outcome, either.

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