Hemp in Japanese history and culture:
Report of the Commissioner of Agriculture for the year 1873 (pages 372-373)
AGRICULTURE IN JAPAN - HEMP & FLAX
Hemp is raised on valley-lands, which are dug up and flooded the same as for rice, and the same kind of fertilizers are used, that is, rape-seed or fish oil-cake, straw-manure, sea-weed, or liquid manure from closets. The hemp is not sown broadcast as with us, but is planted in March in drills 16 inches [40 cm] apart. As soon as the plants are well up they are hoed, and in addition to the manure worked into the soil previous to the planting, two or three times each month liquid manure is applied to the roots of each plant. Between these drills some kind of vegetable is grown and thoroughly fertilized. The ground is completely flooded several times by means of the ubiquitous irrigating ditches. In August the hemp is pulled, not cut, and is placed in the water-ditches and alternately soaked a few days and then dried for a time, till the external coating is thoroughly rotted; it is then beaten on a board or plank platform with a bamboo stick till the fiber is entirely cleaned. Another method for separating the fiber is by holding a number of the stems near their tops with the left hand, (an equal number at each time,) and with the right hand breaking them short off and stripping the fiber from the stems. This leaves it in hanks of uniform size, which is retained through the whole process until baled for market. To relieve the fiber of its glutinous coating is a very simple process. A thin piece of bamboo, about 3 inches [7.5 cm] wide and 2 or 3 feet [60-90 cm] long, is stretched over two bridges in a manner similar to the hairs on a fiddle-bow, so as to render it elastic; this is fastened in a convenient manner a little inclined. The hanks of hemp in the damp state are laid upon this as they are stripped, then another piece of bamboo, curved like a currier's scraper, is run down over this several times till the fiber is entirely clean. These hanks are then hung over bamboo rods to dry. It is then pressed into bales of 100 pounds each, and sent on pack-horses to market. It is probably the finest hemp grown in the world. The great length, fineness, glossiness, and strength of the staple are unequaled.
I have been unable to ascertain the average yield of hemp per acre. It is sold very low in the market at present, but when the proper machinery is invented for working this fiber it will prove a mine of wealth to Japan.
Flax is grown on the same soil as hemp, and manured the same, and prepared in like manner for market. It is also noted for its excellence. These two crops are raised by rotation, that is, are never grown two seasons in succession on the same ground.
Report of the Commissioner of Agriculture for the year 1873 (pages 372-373)
by Hon. Horace Capron, Formerly U.S. Commissioner of Agriculture
published in 1874
Quote supplied by John E. Dvorak
Hemp, called "asa" in the Japanese language, is cultivated chiefly in the provinces or districts of Hiroshima, Tochigi, Shimane, Iwate, and Aidzu, and to a lesser extent in Hokushu (Hokkaido) in the North and Kyushu in the South. It is cultivated chiefly in the mountain valleys, or in the north on the interior plains, where it is too cools for cotton and rice and where it is drier than in the coastal plain. That grown in Hiroshima, in the south, is tall, with a rather coarse fiber; that in Tochigi, the principal hemp-producing province, is shorter, 5 to 7 feet (150-210 cm) high, with the best and finest fiber, and in Hokushu it is still shorter.
Seeds from Hiroshima, Shimane, Aidzu, Tochigi, and Iwate were tried by the United States Department of Agriculture in 1901 and 1902. The plants showed no marked varietal differences. They were all smaller than the best Kentucky hemp. The seeds varied from light grayish brown, 5 millimeters (1/5 inch) long, to dark grey, 4 millimeters (1/6 inch) long. The largest plants in every trial plot were from Hiroshima seeds, and these seeds were larger and lighter colored than those of any other variety except Shimane, the seeds of which were slightly larger and the plants slightly smaller.
In an effort to support the industry in the face of foreign competition, the USDA ran an aggressive hemp breeding program under the direction of Lyster Dewey. Germplasm was collected from around the world, and breeding selection was initiated in 1912. Several types of hemp were recognized by their points of origin:
[...] that cultivated in Kentucky and having a hollow stem, being the most common. China hemp, with slender stems, growing very erect, has a wide range of culture. Smyrna hemp is adapted to cultivation over a still wider range and Japanese hemp is beginning to be cultivated, particularly in California, where it reaches a height of 15 feet [450 cm]. Russian and Italian seed have been experimented with, but the former produces a short stalk, while the latter only grows to a medium height. A small quantity of Piedmontese hemp seed from Italy was distributed by the Department in 1893, having been received through the Chicago Exposition....
The hollow, fluted stem of the Kentucky landrace was a favored characteristic for good fiber hemp (Fig. 1). Dewey initiated his breeding program using the Kentucky type together with the internationally collected germplasm. Progress was steady:
Chapter I: Part II
To ward off ills caused by demons, especially the demons of disease, the ancient Japanese sought the protection of a particular group of gods, the Sahe no Kami, or "preventive deities", who are invoked in an old liturgical text to defend the worshippers against the "hostile and savage beings of the root country," such as the "hags of Hades" who pursued Izanagi.
These deities were represented by phalli, often of gigantic size, which were set up along highways and especially at cross-roads to bar the passage against malignant beings who sought to pass. In the liturgy referred to, one of these gods is called "No Thoroughfare" (Kunado, or Funado), the name of the staff which Izanagi threw down to prevent his pursuing spouse from breaking out from Hades into the world above; two others are the prince and princess of the eight cross-roads. They had no temples, and were worshipped at the end of the sixth and twelfth months - the time of the semiannual lustration - and on occasion at other times, for example, on the outbreak of a pestilence.
The phallic form of the end post of a balustrade or a bridge has a similar meaning; it keeps evil influence from passing. The apotropaic virtue of this symbol - a virtue which it has in many other countries, notably among the ancient Greeks - is due to the association of virility with manly strength, power to overcome invisible foes as well as visible, and to protect those in need of help. Standing as they did on the roadside and at cross-roads, these gods became the protectors of the wayfarers; travellers prayed to them before setting out on a journey and made a little offering of hemp leaves and rice to each one they passed.
These gods had nothing to do, so far as the evidence shows, with fertility or the reproductive functions; no peculiar rites were observed in their worship, and however objectionable to the taste of a more refined age, the cult was in no sense immoral or conducive to immorality. In modern times, out of regard to the prejudices of Europeans who connected obscene notions with them, they have been generally removed from the roads, remaining only in out-of-the-way corners of the empire.
Chapter II: Part II
From the 13th to the 15th of July an All-Souls feast is kept, at which time it is believed that the souls are permitted to return to their kindred and be entertained by them. A staging of bamboo canes is erected in one of the rooms of the house, on which food and lanterns are placed for the spirits, and a Buddhist priest reads a mass before them.
On the first evening fires of hemp leaves are lighted before the entrance of the house, and incense strewed on the coals, as an invitation to the spirits. At the end of the three days the food that has been set out for the spirits is wrapped up in mats and thrown into a river. Dances of a peculiar kind are a conspicuous feature of the celebration, which is evidently an old Japanese custom; the Buddhist elements are adscititious.
At this season the graves are decorated, and frequent visits are paid by the kinsfolk. For those who have no relatives living a mass is said in all the temples for "the hungry devils."
World Civilizations: The Postclassical Era
The Era Of Warrior Dominance
Despite the chaos and suffering of the warlord period, there was much economic and cultural growth. Most of the daimyos clearly recognized the necessity of building up their petty states if they were to be strong enough to survive in the long run. Within the domains of the more able daimyos, attempts were made to stabilize village life by introducing regular tax collection, supporting the construction of irrigation systems and other public works, and building strong rural communities. Incentives were offered to encourage the settlement of unoccupied areas, and new tools, the greater use of draft animals, and new crops - especially soybeans - contributed to the well-being of the peasantry in the better-run domains. Peasants were also encouraged to produce items such as silk, hemp, paper, dyes, and vegetable oils, which were highly marketable and thus potential sources of household income. Daimyos vied with each other to attract merchants to their growing castle towns, and a new and quite wealthy commercial class emerged as the purveyors of goods for the military elite and the intermediaries in trade between Japan and overseas areas, especially China. As in medieval Europe, guild organizations for both craftsmen (carpenters, thatchers, smiths, potters, etc.) and merchants were strong in this era. They helped provide social solidarity and group protection in a time of political breakdown and insecurity.
Torao Shimizu examines the gray sky and gives the brown earth a little kick. "This is good climate for marijuana," he says. "It grows easily here." On the other side of a high double fence, safeguarded by motion detectors, a row of tall green pot plants sway gently in the morning breeze.
Nearby are the remains of poppies --heroin quality poppies-- that Shimizu will be burning soon to make room for a new batch. His visitor wonders if anyone ever tries to steal Shimizu's drugs. "About seven years ago someone got over the fence and took some marijuana leaves," he admits. "Since then we've improved security." He places a hand on the fence, as if to test its readiness. "If you now tried to cross the fence, a guard would be here within minutes," he warns.
The elaborate security for the pot and poppies is the only forbidding aspect of the Tokyo Metropolitan Medicinal Plant Garden, located about an hour out of the city center in suburban Kodaira. Otherwise, the 32,000 sq.-meter facility is exceedingly pleasant, with a variety of of outdoor exhibits and a large greenhouse teeming with green, leafy flora.
The Garden was established in 1946, at a time when synthetic medicines were in short supply. Tokyo authorities wanted to create a place where medicinal plants could be gathered and studied, and where a collection of seeds and genetic samples could be maintained for future use. There are now about 1,600 different types of plants from 44 countries, mostly connected with forms of traditional Chinese medicine, or "kampo."
Shimizu, 55, has been director of the facility for the past year. Before that he oversaw the city's issuance of permits to drug companies. He is a licensed pharmacist. Shimizu appears to take genuine pride in his work. Standing before a plant identified as rauwolfia serpentina, which has large leaves and little pink flowers, he explains that this can be used to lower blood pressure. An ivy-like plant called uncaria rhynchophylla is helpful in reducing stress, he days, fingering the part of the stem that herbalists employ in their concoctions. "We used to concentrate just on the effects of each plant," Shimizu says. "Now we are also looking at the germs inside these plants. In future, these germs might have some value."
The poppies are cultivated for a different purpose. "We want people to understand how to recognize safe poppies and harmful poppies," Shimizu explains. "Sometimes Japanese will try to bring back poppies from overseas because of their flowers. We want them to be able to tell the difference."
The marijuana, similarly, is meant as a cautionary lesson for those who might find that hardy weed in their gardens. "You should know what it looks like so you can get rid of it," Shimizu says. "It is very illegal."
He heads back to his office, stopping along the way to explain how this plant can cause heart troubles, or how that plant is dangerous to pets. On Shimizu's desk is a scientific beaker holding a tall stalk topped with exotic purple flowers. He is asked what this particular plant is good for. "The lilies?" Shimizu says. "They're not good for anything. But they look nice, don't you think?"