ARTICLE- Japan x Cannabis
One of the earliest plants cultivated in Japan was Cannabis hemp, approximately 6,000 to 10,000 years ago during JOMON period. The common word for hemp in Japanese is ‘Taima’ 大麻.
The plant was grown as a food source and for its fibers, which were used to create clothing, rope, nets, and washi, traditional Japanese paper. Cannabis hemp fibers were also used by Shinto priests for ritual cleansing and to exorcise evil spirits, a practice that continues still til this day.
By the early 20th century, cannabis-based cures for insomnia and muscle pain could be purchased in Japanese drug stores. Its ritual uses also continued, when Japanese travelers would present cannabis leaves as offerings at roadside shrines to ensure safe travels. Hemp was also a strategic war crop for Japan during the Second World War, as it was for the United States and Europe, and was used to make rope and parachute cords. But later the Japanese hemp industry was banned by the American occupation forces after Japan’s defeat in World War II for several reasons, including concerns about the influence of the hemp industry on Japanese society and the potential for the drug to be used for recreational purposes. Apparently that was the purpose of the Cannabis Control Law, however some speculated that American petrochemical interests may have sought to restrict the hemp fiber industry in order to open Japan to foreign-made polyester and nylon, noting that the sale of amphetamines was permitted until 1951.
In any case, the opening of the Japanese economy under the occupied government saw the country flooded with foreign synthetic products that replaced many traditional Japanese goods, and effectively eliminated hemp cultivation in Japan in all but the most remote regions of the country. Spontaneous wild cannabis growth in urban areas (particularly in open environments along railway tracks) persisted until at least the mid-1950s, while wild cannabis growth persists in parts of Hokkaido; in 2003, Hokkaido’s health and welfare bureau cut down 1.47 million wild cannabis plants, amounting to roughly 80 percent of the total wild cannabis.
The plant itself has deep roots in traditional medicine all across Southeast Asia and beyond. Japan is not the only place that has used cannabis as a sacred offering, it is just one of many countries and cultures that hold this plant in high regard, with respect, for its many contributions to our planet. Thankfully, with the advent of medicinal cannabis, traditional medicine is back on its way into the world.