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Tuesday, April 24, 2001

Contraband customs Yokohama museum's forte

Staff writer

Paying less for a Louis Vuitton bag in Hong Kong may be nice, but can you ensure it's the genuine article?

A display at the Yokohama Customs Museum includes a genuine Louis Vuitton bag and a counterfeit featuring the same design.

Children at the Yokohama Customs Museum view a display of banned items seized by customs officers.

While they appear identical to the untrained eye, the precise placement of the distinctive Louis Vuitton patterns on the genuine product provide the stamp of authenticity. The genuine article has the designs balanced equally on either side of the zipper, while the fake does not.

"Bringing counterfeit brand products into Japan is prohibited," said Tatsuhisa Miura, a museum official. "It constitutes the same crime as drug smuggling. But many people don't know it." On show at the museum are items confiscated by Yokohama Customs and panels explaining the tasks carried out by the authorities.

"Importing any goods infringing on intellectual property rights, such as counterfeit articles, is strictly prohibited," said Miura, who is also a customs official.

Some counterfeit products are far harder to distinguish from the real thing than others. Real and fake Agnes b T-shirts, for example, look exactly the same, the only difference being that the genuine one has a size tag.

"It is hard to tell the difference. You should be skeptical if they are cheap," he said.

Also on display is a parade of stuffed animals and leather handbags featuring endangered creatures, international trading of which is regulated by the Washington Convention.

In addition to a stuffed leopard, wolf and eagle, there are ivory goods, a crocodile-skin handbag with the animal's head still attached and a stool made from an elephant's foot and part of its leg.

The vulgar appearance of these goods seems to reflect the nature of the people who comprise the market for them.

"African people kill elephants because things made of ivory sell well," Miura said, adding that the animal products are on display in an effort to dissuade people from ever buying items of this kind.

The museum also focuses on the rising tide of illicit drugs smuggled into Japan. The amount of drugs confiscated annually nationwide has increased considerably in recent years.

Museum exhibits show various methods employed by smugglers, one being the use of a carved wooden elephant with a hollow stomach in which stimulants were hidden.

Also on display are tins that, according to their labels, contained boiled bamboo shoots. Having been smuggled into the country from China in 1996, the tins in which drugs were concealed contained metal objects to make them heavier, Miura said.

"It is another typical way of smuggling drugs."

The history of Yokohama Customs can be traced back to 1859 -- in the late Edo Period -- when the port of Yokohama was opened up to international trade. This was shortly before Japan underwent sweeping social and economic modernization during the Meiji Restoration.

Since then, customs authorities have played an important role in promoting international trade and controlling unlawful trade.

The museum display includes explanations for each item in English and an English videotape. Pamphlets in English are also available.

The Customs Museum in Yokohama is a 15-minute walk from Sakuragicho Station. It can also be reached by taking a bus (Route 26) from the station to Yokohama Zeikan Mae. The museum is on the first floor of the Yokohama Customs annex building (Bunchosha), in front of the Kanagawa Prefectural Government building. The museum is open daily from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., except on weekends and national holidays. Admission is free. For more information, call (045) 212-6053.

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The Japan Times

Article 3 of 22 in National news

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