Hemp in Japanese culture

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Hemp has always been a popular agricultural product in Japan. In fact, after World War II, the Dupont and cotton cartels of the time wanted to kill off hemp as a matter of strategic economic importance.

Foreign troops were amazed at the amount of hemp growing in Japan, both wild and cultivated. US Army General Douglas Macurthur and his colleagues rewrote the Japanese constitution to include the Torishimari Taima, the Hemp Control Act.

The Hemp Control Law was first enforced during the 1967 harvest, when 20 stalks were seized from a farming collective in Shinshu, in the Nagano region. Around that time, a person filed a lawsuit against the government, alleging that the law was unconstitutional. Thereafter, the “marijuana symposium” began to be held at Kyoto University, marking the start of the hemp liberation movement. Today these conferences are attended by a diverse group of lawyers, doctors, students and farmers, who are lobbying the government for more research.

Many Japanese citizens may be eager to resume legal hemp cultivation, frustrated by the lengthy and often unsuccessful application process. However, various varieties of hemp continue to proliferate in the countryside, the majority wild, but also cultivated by farmers who perpetuate the ancient tradition of their culture.

Since 1991-2, Japan has had to swallow its pride and acknowledge massive agricultural failure after years of subsidies and reliance on chemical farming methods, often in the form of failed crops in areas where rain is not expected.

Complete reliance on foreign oil, overcrowded cities, toxic oceans, nuclear reactors, an aging population, and an absurd amount of golf courses, with less and less farmland, has left the country searching for new options for the next generation.

What few benefits such circumstances have can be found in the resurgence of organic agriculture and a return to an agricultural heritage that encourages the application of sustainable production methods, including the industrial cultivation of hemp.

Japan is realizing how hemp could affect the country’s culture, taking significant steps towards recycling and reducing energy consumption, mainly in products derived from wood; drawing on the traditional arts of the land along with their modern manufacturing and marketing skills.

Hemp and marijuana have not always been unpopular products in Japan. In fact, they were highly regarded by Japanese culture. One of the traditional uses of hemp was to make ceremonial clothing for the imperial family and Shinto priests. They included the Emperor of Japan, who acts as the chief priest of the Shinto culture. Other common uses include Washi (a very delicate paper), Noren (ritual curtains) made of hemp fiber, and bell ropes for Shinto shrines and sumo rituals.

Actually, hemp has been known to grow in Japan since the Neolithic Jomon period. Jomon means “rope patterns”, which were made of hemp. According to archaeological evidence, hemp seeds were a source of food during this period (10,000 to 300 BC). This hunter-gatherer society led a civilized existence, using hemp to make clothing and weave baskets. What is not very clear is how and when the seeds arrived in Japan.

It is often difficult to differentiate the true facts of history from the widespread myths of the Shinto religion. Although unbiased analyzes suggest that, like much of their culture, hemp was probably imported from China or Korea, many scholars insist that this plant was already abundant in Japan before they came into contact with these two countries.

In order to better understand the journey of these early hemp seeds, one should consider other notable imports that have played a significant role in shaping Japanese culture and the norms of its civilization. Buddhism, rice fields and washi paper; the latter is easier to trace, since it is written on the paper itself.

“AD 105 – paper as we know it was invented by Ts’ai Lun, a Chinese judicial official. Ts’ai is believed to have mixed mulberry bark, hemp, and rags with water, crushed it all into a mass, wrung out the liquid, and hung the thin mat to dry in the sun.Thus paper was born, and this humble mixture would unleash one of the greatest communication revolutions in human history.Literature and the arts flourished in China.

610 AD – Buddhist monks gradually spread this art in Japan. Paper making became an essential part of Japanese culture, where it was used as writing material, fans, clothing, dolls, and as an important household utensil. The Japanese were also the first to use the block printing technique. “

More than 80 varieties of paper spread throughout Japan in the 50 years after the arrival of the Korean monk Doncho, who produced a piece of paper made from hemp and mulberry bark, as in the Chinese tradition.

Another Japanese staple, the rice crop, arrived from the Middle Kingdom to Japan around AD 300. The seeds first made their way to Korea, from where they were carried by traders across the Shimonoseki Strait to Kyushu, the southernmost island. Japan, and the closest point to the Asian continent. Hemp likely made the same journey before or around the same time. Seeds from prehistoric periods have been discovered on the island of Kyushu, indicating that this communication took place before the Common Era; but scientific dating techniques have trouble pinpointing the exact date.

Supporting this theory, a rock painting found off the coast of Kyushu depicts the tall stems and leaves of hemp, and is also dated to the Jomon period. It is one of the first works of art discovered in Japan. In its entirety, the image appears to represent merchants transporting a plant by boat. Along the stem, there are a few small pairs of budding leaves or branches. The plants are tall and with the characteristic large seven-fingered leaves of hemp.

Surrounding the top of this plant is a sun-shaped aura that seems to indicate the connection between the sun and Shinto hemp, and is very similar to hieroglyphics in Mediterranean cultures that show a similar sun/hemp motif. .


Hemp has a very important function in Shinto mythology, or the “Way of the Gods”, as the ancient Japanese indigenous religion is known. Shinto is the spirituality of Japan and its people, it is a set of practices that are carried out diligently, in order to establish a connection between Japan today and its past. Plants, trees, rocks, and animals have a kind of spirit that can be terrifying or peaceful.

Their practices were first documented and codified in the historical records of the Kojiki and Nihon Shoki during the eighth century.

Hemp was used in these practices to purify and expel evil. Ceremonies at large shrines involved the burning of Taima (cannabis). Hemp seeds were also used in Shinto wedding ceremonies, and hemp leaves were also sometimes burned as an “invitation to the spirits.”


Many hemp products continue to be sold to the Japanese, such as cloth and curtains made from Chinese and Korean hemp, and some products from Western manufacturers are starting to catch on. Given the Japanese enthusiasm for traditional American fashion, this could become a thriving industry if restrictions were relaxed.

Today, there are several shops selling hemp products, such as Asakoii, a traditional hemp trade in Kyoto that has been operating since the 17th century, despite wars and prohibition. Perhaps most significant about this store is its emphasis on the ancient relationship of spirituality and art and agriculture, an important example of Japan’s rich hemp history. Their sign says in Japanese; “We only know about hemp, but we know everything.”

Like many governments, the Japanese parliament is unaware of the benefits of extensive hemp cultivation, and while the current legal status allows its cultivation, the process can be long and futile.

On the other hand, as international trade advances and brings with it an exchange of new ideas, both business and activism, the hemp market will have no choice but to thrive. With many young Japanese entrepreneurs looking to expand this exciting field, and some US companies already starting to turn a profit.

Whether or not Japan continues to develop and adapt its attitude and knowledge about hemp, including law and regulation, the possibility of the country reaping the benefits of this versatile plant as it has in the past is something that is yet to come. about to see. What is clear is that hemp has had enormous cultural and agricultural importance in the development of Japan as a nation.

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