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May 27, 1999
From The Daily Yomiuri
daily@tokyo.yomiuri.co.jp
http://www.yomiuri.co.jp/main/main-e.htm
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 practically nil.

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 legislation.

"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 occupation."

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 as possible."

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


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See also: The Cannabis Control Act


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