May 27, 1999
From The Daily Yomiuri
By Darron Hargreaves, Daily Yomiuri Staff Writer
SPEAKING OF WHICH
Entrepreneur Koichi Maeda is Japanís most vociferous and dedicated
hemp advocate, for several reasons.
There is the obvious one, which he makes no bones about. He is the
author of "Marijuana Seishun Ryoko" (A
Young Manís Marijuana Travels), a book that has sold 75,000 copies in
Japan. In it, he draws from his travels
in 50 countries to describe various adventures and experiences.
"I first became interested in a certain part of the hemp plant about
30 years ago," says Maeda, who is coming
up on 50. "But over the past six or seven years, I have become
interested in the entire plant."
Maeda is convinced that hemp is one of the most valuable, versatile
plants in the world and he is continually
amazed that its cultivation has been outlawed in Japan and many other
parts of the world. He will point out that
hemp is used to make clothing, rope, paper, building materials,
cosmetics and medicine.
He is not alone. Hemp activists around the world are clamoring for the
legalization of "industrial" hemp. Its
benefits are numerous and varied. According to an information package
produced by the Environment Centre
of Western Australia, hemp has enormous economic and environmental
benefits. In summary, it claims that
hemp has a very high yield, needs very little herbicide or pesticide,
reduces pollution, reverses the greenhouse
effect and stops deforestation. Hemp would create jobs and reduce
Australiaís trade deficit.
It would no doubt work similar wonders in Japan. Plus, it makes pretty
good eating, believe it or not. On Aug.
15, 1998, Maeda opened Tokyoís first hemp restaurant--Asa Cafe--in
Shimokitazawa. Itís a cozy little place
that features hemp placemats, a hemp particle board wall, hemp flower
designs and a menu comprising things
you would never imagine could be made from hemp. Pizza, pasta,
burgers, 100 percent hemp spring rolls, tofu,
marmalade, hemp oil for the salads and even hemp milk to wash it down.
The hempburger, served with
vegetables and a bowl of hemp soup is surprisingly tasty and almost
too nutritious for your own good. The
milk, on ice, is delicious. Itís hemp heaven, but for one niggling
technical point necessitated by law. The THC
content--the active ingredient in marijuana--of the menu items is
But that was hardly the point when Maeda opened Asa Cafe, 53 years to
the day after Japan surrendered to
the Allies to end World War II. He opened the restaurant to
demonstrate the versatility of hemp and protest
what he feels is the governmentís weak-kneed approach to hemp
"I opened on Aug. 15 to commemorate Japanís defeat," he said. "Hemp
was legal in Japan until the end of
Word War II, when it was banned by the Occupation Forces. It was a
part of our culture, it was used in Shinto
rituals. Even today, the Emperor wears hemp clothing on some
occasions. For the last 50 years we have been
alienated from our hemp culture, we are stilled ruled by the American
According to Maeda, the only place where hemp plants can be legally
grown in Japan is in Tokushima
Prefecture, on a group of islands near Osaka, where it is allowed only
if a special permit is obtained.
"The government seems to think hemp is the most dangerous plant in the
world, but the Health ministry has
never investigated it," he said. "Never. So why prohibit it? It is
very stupid, yet they put heavy fines on the
people who grow or use it. It is ridiculous."
Maeda, who also runs a similar restaurant in Osaka, admits he doesnít
make money on Asa Cafe. "I never
planned on making a profit," he says. "I just want to lose as little
A few blocks from the cafe he operates a hemp clothing and
"paraphernalia" shop called Taimado. "Now, this
place makes a profit," he said with a quick grin as he stood among the
handbags and T-shirts and various
smoking implements and accessories.
Of great interest to Maeda is the possibility that the U.S. federal
government may legalize the use of
marijuana for medicinal purposes in December. Some states have already
approved it, but a federal ruling, he
feels, may prompt some action in Japan.
"We always follow the lead of the United States," he said. "I believe
that eventually (legalization) will happen
here, but it will be a very slow process. Maybe 100 years."
In the meantime, there are hempburgers to be had. Funny thing though,
once youíve munched down a few
hemp dishes, you get this overpowering urge to light up a smoke....
The Daily Yomiuri
May 27, 1999