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The "Hemp in Japan" library

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See also: The "Hemp in Japan" Library

Hemp in Japanese history and culture:
     Pictury Gallery: Nihon no Asa (Japanese Hemp)
     Hemp: a Japanese encyclopedia entry (1991)
     The emperor wears hemp clothes (1996)
     Miasa village in Nagano prefecture
     Hemp and sumo
     How the Yen got it's name
     An interview with Pon [Yamada Kaiya] (1995)
     Hemp in traditional Japanese Religion (1913)
     Hemp in medieval Japan (1991)
     "It is probably the finest hemp grown in the world" (1873)
     U.S. Department of Agriculture Yearbook on Japanese hemp (1913)
     U.S. Department of Agriculture used Japanese hemp seeds
     A visit to the Tokyo Metropolitan Medicinal Plant Garden (1994)

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Pictury Gallery

Follow this link to the pictury gallery: Nihon no Asa (Japanese Hemp)

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HEMP (asa)

Taima (asa) A general term for: taima ["tall hemp"] - karamushi - oma - ama - Manila hemp

Also the fibre made from these materials. Ropes, nets, sails and textile for clothes and shoes are made from it. Annual plant of the mulberry family. Introduced from Central Asia. Stem is square and 1-3 metres tall. Leaves are long and 5-9 fingered. Males and females occur on different plants. In summer single sexed flowers grow from nodes. Later the flowers produce seeds. Between summer and autumn the stems are cut and the fibre is extracted from the skin. The seeds are used as bird seed and can also be used as a medicine (asashijingan) as a mild laxative. Hemp is one of the sanso ["Three Plants"], along with benihana and indigo (ai). Since old times it has been cultivated all around the world. Hashish and marijuana are made from Indian hemp from India.

KOJIEN (the major Japanese encyclopedia)
4th Revision, 1991

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The Emperor wears hemp clothes

Because of hemp's association with purity in Japanese religion, hemp traditionally has been used by Shinto priests, including the Japanese emperor himself who acts as a kind of chief priest of Shintoism. Several hemp fields are cultivated on Shikoku, one of the four main islands of Japan, to make ceremonial linen clothes for the Imperial family and for Shinto priests.

Hemp is also grown in some parts of Nagano prefecture by farmers with a hemp license and the fibre is used for bell ropes and noren (ritual curtains) for Shinto shrines as well as in sumo rituals.

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Miasa village in Nagano

The village brochure of Miasa ("beautiful hemp") in Nagano prefecture shows a hemp leaf on its cover as until the end of WW2 it was one of the centres of hemp cultivation in Japan. Hemp is still growing as a weed in many parts of Japan where it was formerly grown as a textile fibre.

See also:
See also: Miasa Village
See also: Cultivation pictures, Tools in hemp museum
See also: Hemp museum, Building with Hemp

Miasa village brochure with cannabis leaf (100K)
Miasa village map This is a map of the village from the web site of Miasa Junior Highschool. The green wheel at the bottom is a spinning wheel for hemp flax (note the character for hemp). Miasa is twinned with Mendocino, California.

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Hemp and sumo

During the sumo ritual of dohyo-iri a yokozuna, the highest ranking sumo wrestler, will ritually cleanse the dohyo (sumo ring) to exorcise evil, wearing a very heavy hemp rope around his belly.

Akebono with hemp belt

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How the Yen got it's name

5 and 50 yen coins 
on a hemp string Everybody knows the Japanese currency, the yen (¥). In Japanese it is pronounced en and it's kanji also means circle, or round. There is an anecdote that this fact prompted U.S. General McArthur to set the inital yen-dollar exchange rate at 360 yen to the dollar, for there are 360 degrees in a circle.

Whatever the truth of that story, yen are called what they are called because they literally used to be circles with a hole in the middle, just like a washer. In fact two of the yen coins in circulation today, the 5 yen and 50 yen coins are still like that. The reason for the hole is that coins used to be lined up on hemp strings and carried around like that. In historic Japan (as in China before) everybody's wallet used to be a piece of hemp, the most durable and trusted natural fibre known to man.

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Liberation from the Occupation!

An Interview with Pon (Yamada Kaiya) [1]

Jiyu Ishi: At a recent university festival (at Chuo University, November 3, 1995), you held a workshop called, "Marijuana can save the world by changing consciousness." Could you tell us about the marijuana liberation movement in Japan?

Pon: First, you have to remember that most Japanese still believe that marijuana is a narcotic, and do not realize that it is the same plant as hemp, which was once as much a part of Japanese culture as rice. In a mere half century, McArthur, with the Marijuana Regulation Law, managed to totally wipe away even the memories of hemp culture, which endured for several thousand years after its beginnings in the Jomon Period. The struggle to liberate and revive marijuana is therefore a struggle to renew Japanese culture and liberate the country from the occupation policies and colonial subjugation of the United States.

Speaking spiritually, I believe this struggle is every bit as important as the movement in Okinawa today for the removal of the American bases. We are talking about physical and spiritual independence. But the right wing and left wing seem equally oblivious to this fact. At least you anarchists seem to be giving it some consideration (laughs).

Jiyu Ishi: It seems like the Japanese side passed the law forbidding marijuana without even thinking about why it was necessary.

Pon: Exactly. For that very reason the law existed on the books, but not in reality, for the first 20 years after it was passed. Nobody understood the purpose or reason. It was first used at the end of the 1960s, when the hippie movement was at its height in Japan.

The first time it was used was in the fall of 1967. Officials used it to seize about 20 stalks that we were harvesting at a commune in Shinshu (Nagano Prefecture). Then about six months later, five of my friends from the "tribe" commune were busted, and this marked the beginning of the marijuana liberation movement. In the late 1970s, one person filed a suit against the government, claiming the law was unconstitutional, and we held the first "marijuana symposium" at Kyoto University. The symposium this year was actually the second then, a full 17 years after the first.

Last year's event was co-sponsored by the Association to Revive Hemp, which we founded two years ago, along with students from Chuo University, and it was especially pleasing; after all, I didn't expect that we would really find sympathy among college students today. More than 200 people showed up. Many were from the countryside, too, and it was a cheerful event.

Jiyu Ishi: Have things changed internationally in the 30 years since the 1960s, when the repression started and the marijuana liberation movement was launched?

Pon: Well, of the six panelists at our symposium, half had never even smoked marijuana. This is because in recent years hemp has come to be seen not just as a mood enhancing drug, but also as a precious natural resource, which can be used for clothing, pulp, food, and fuel, and an alternative to our fossil fuel-driven society. Why has hemp gotten a second look from ecologists? Well, in addition to the obvious fact of environmental degradation, it has been revealed that the movement to eradicate hemp was an economic strategy of the United States. Who was behind the extinction of the hemp industry, which was a major industry in the United States in the 1930s? It was a combination of Dupont, which worked in artificial fibers, the newspaper baron Hearst, who was investing in forest resources, and the chemical and pharmaceutical industry. Hearst's newspapers ran a vicious campaign at the time, describing how "marijuana is used by black jazzmen to lure white women."

It is worth noting that beginning in the 1970s there were increasing moves to liberalize marijuana in places like the Netherlands, Spain, Italy, and more recently Germany, since these places are not under the control of the U.S. In the Third World, however, tight restrictions are given as one concession in exchange for U.S. assistance. In Southeast Asia, for instance, there are places where its use is punishable by death. It's hard to think of any other substance on earth where the value is so different -- in one case death, in another acquittal. In any case, views on marijuana are almost a barometer of a country's democracy. In this respect, Japan is on the level of Third World countries.

In that respect, the marijuana liberation movement is not just a movement for smokers, but is finally gaining citizenship as a people's movement for an alternative vision of society. Unfortunately, however, for many years our movement experienced discrimination at the hands of other citizen's movements. In citizen's movements, I kid you not, there are people who are more frightened of marijuana than they are of nuclear plants! (laughs)

Hemp Can Save the World

Jiyu Ishi: We can understand what you mean by saying that liberalizing marijuana means liberation from U.S. domination, but if you place hemp within the context of Japanese traditional culture, it sounds like you're talking about Shinto and Shukendo. What is the relationship between hemp and the imperial family?

Pon: Well, the prayer given at the Ise Jingu, which is the shrine to Amaterasu, the founding god of the Imperial family, is called taima, or marijuana. Hemp and rice are two sacred things which are part and parcel of the rites conducted at Ise Jingu. This is because hemp and rice were the staple products of the Jomon and Yayoi cultures, respectively. This means they were the most sacred things to these people. The Imperial tribe, which was an invading people, took possession of these two sacred things and made them into instruments of control. This is a common strategy of rulers. What this means is that the aim of the U.S. occupation forces as they exterminated hemp (and are now trying to exterminate rice as well) was to rob the emperor of his spiritual power, make him into a robot following their commands, and ultimately to enslave the whole of Japan. If we look at the question of hemp, it appears as if Japan, the "economic superpower," is in reality no more than a subordinate of the U.S. Even as the U.S. conducts its anti-marijuana campaign, its elites understand the importance of hemp, and they continue to conduct research on it. In fact, in places like China, where it is almost impossible to exterminate it, the U.S. has gained exclusive buying rights for products made from hemp. For instance, Japan gets hemp products from China, but they are first exported to the U.S., which naturally takes a cut.

By contrast, Japan has done no more than conduct experiments into developing an inferior type of hemp, without the active ingredient THC. This single example shows how different things are, from consciousness to valuation and logic, between the imperial power and its colonial domain.

The quest of the Association for the Revival of Hemp is therefore to liberate hemp, a sacred object to the indigenous people of Japan, from the control of the Americans and the imperial family, promote the revival of hemp throughout Japan, clear marijuana of the dirty name it has been given, and to build a future where we can coexist with hemp. This might seem megalomaniac... It might just be the effects of hemp (laughs).

Jiyu Ishi: One of the points of this year's symposium was that "hemp can save the earth." Is it really such a useful plant?

Pon: Hemp hardly requires any fertilizer or agricultural chemicals, and its fiber is softer than wood, so there's no need to use organic toxins like dioxin to turn it into pulp. It can thus save forests. In addition, it can be used in the place of plastic as a packaging material. If the methane gas it releases is harnessed as a fuel, it will become a replacement for gasoline and hence will help stop acid rain. In addition, it has deep roots, and can stop land erosion. The seed contains good oils and protein, and can be made into butter, cheese, and tofu. It's a surprisingly virtuous plant. But more than this, there are the psychotropic effects, which can help to relieve the stress and psychic damage of modern civilization, as well as to relieve the pain of people suffering from cancer and AIDS. Humanity will not be able to exterminate hemp, and I think it is just a question of time before it is liberalized.


Hemp is an extremely sturdy plant, and can be found from tropical to temperate regions. In fact, it has been called the apex of the plant world. If plant species are weeded out, it is certain that hemp will be one of the survivors. One could create a self-sustaining society with hemp. It's like a great lifeboat for mankind. For this reason, the fate of the whole Japanese nation lies in the hands of the Association for the Revival of Hemp (laughs).

From Tokyo Observer #15

[1] This interview appeared in the December 1995 issue of Jiyu Ishi, an anarchist publication.

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Next chapter:
See also: Hemp in Japanese history and culture (part 2)

See also:
See also: Hemp in Japanese history and culture
See also: Hemp prohibition in Japan
See also: Other Japanese hemp-related sites

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