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Pictures of Hemp Farming

See also: Old prints about hemp farming
See also: Kiseru pipes
See also: The floating world
See also: Miasa village (Nagano prefecture)
See also: Hemp in Gunma prefecture
See also: Hemp in Tochigi prefecture
See also: Hemp and sumo
See also: Asa no ha
See also: Other hemp images

See also:
See also: The "Hemp in Japan" Library

Hemp: for thread, rope, nets, sails and clothes. Woodcuts of Hemp (asa)
from Nômin Seikatsushi Jiten (Historic Encyclopedia of Farmer's Lives)

    "Hemp: for thread, rope, nets, sails and clothes."

Hemp has been farmed in Japan since the prehistoric Jomon era. Many old prints bear witness of its significance to traditional Japanese culture.

The Nômin Seikatsushi Jiten (Historic Encyclopedia of Farmer's Lives) where these old prints here were found had the following to say about hemp and its applications:

    "Asa (hemp) is a fibre plant that has been used since old times and used to be called kingusa [lit.: clothes herb]. Before cotton it was the main source of material for clothes for people. Already in the Middle Ages it was a commercial product. The Hokuriku [Northwestern] area was the major growing area. In modern days it was gradually overtaken by cotton, but since its fibre was very strong it continued to be used for nets, ropes, tatami (straw floor mats), kaya (mosquito nets) and summer clothes. Major growing areas were Yamato (around Nara), Omi [around Osaka] and Echigo [around Niigata]."

The process described in the following prints is far more sophisticated than the dew or water retting processes commonly employed in Europe or the U.S. at the time and should have produced an almost colourless fibre of very high quality. See photographs of how this process is still in use today for hemp grown for shrines in Japan and for the Imperial household:

See also: Hemp in Gunma prefecture

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I. Kaze ire (ventilating)

Walking through hemp field
    "Ventilating: Entering hemp field to admit air."

This is an unusual picture and a puzzling explanation: Hemp fields are not normally ventilated as suggested in this print. It could be that Japan's humid climate that easily causes mold could be behind this procedure. The only other reason people walked into hemp fields other than to extract male plants that matured before female plants (and no harvesting is shown here yet) is to collect resin from the plant tops and leaves for hashish, but that would suggest cultivars that are rich in psychoactive cannabinoids.

II. Asa kiri (hemp harvest)

Hemp plants torn out for harvest
    "After the 18th day before autumn equinox [that is, around September 3], hemp is torn out with the roots."

Hemp plants were harvested by tearing them out of the ground as this was easier than trying to cut their strong stems.

Roots are cut off

III. Roots and tops are cut off

    "Tie the stalks in bundles, cut them to the same length with an oshikiri"

The roots are cut off the mature stalks and the stalks themselves are cut to matching size to simplify further processing.

Boiling in water

IV. Niru (boiling)

    "Put in yukakeburo (bath) and boil it."

Stalks are boiled in water filled tubs in prepration for the retting stage. This will make it easier to separate the outer bark from the stalk to release the bast fibres in between.

V. Hosu (drying)

Drying in the sun
    "Dry thoroughly in the sunshine. Gets 'star' (stains) if it gets wet with rain."

The slow drying starts the fermentation process for the purpose of separating the outer bark from the bast fibres and stem. The drying stalks rest on wooden poles so they do not directly touch the ground, unlike in Europe and the U.S. where freshly cut stalks were simply left to lie on the ground for two weeks for direct retting.

VI. Arau (washing)

Washing hemp in the river
    "Tie into bundles and wash in the river, then dry them again."

After the drying hemp is washed in the river to clean it.

Drying hemp

VII. Tokomawashi (fermenting)

    "Soak in water, cover it with straw mats, leave it for one or two days."

After washing, the soaked fibres are left to slowly ferment for one or two days. The straw mats help to keep the stalks moist during that time.

Hemp stalks soaked in tub

VIII. Asafune (hemp boat)

    "Put it into a hemp tub (lit.: hemp boat) filled with water and leave it for two days."

IX. Asahagi (peeling)

Bast fibre extraction
    "Break off two or three sun (6 to 9 cm) at the bottom and peel skin and divide it from ogara (husk).

The stalks are manually separated into bark, bast fibre and hurds.

X. Hosu (Drying)

Hemp fibre treatment
    "Bleach the peel with rice ash or lime and dry it. Then spin it into yarn, just like cotton."

The separated bast fibre is bleached with alkaline minerals such as potassium carbonate or calcium hydroxide. This breaks down the glue holding the strands of bast fibres together and gives them a cotton-like appearance and a pale colour before spinning and weaving.

The same "cottonization" process was developed industrially in Europe only in the early 20th century.

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Hemp offering

Harvest time hemp offering

"At harvest time farmers offered some hemp to the gods to express their gratitude."

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