Sir Paul still uses marijuana

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Hemp in Japan

On January 16, 1980, ex-Beatle Paul McCartney was checked by Japanese customs on entry at Tokyo Airport. 219 grams of marijuana were found that the musician, who had been ennobled as "Sir" by the British Queen, had brought back from the then relatively liberal USA. Not for dealing, but for his personal use on a tour with his band "Wings". McCartney was arrested and interrogated for nine days before he was released and promptly expelled from custody on the intervention of an American senator. [1]
18 years later, Canadian snowboarder Ross Rebagliati was picked up by the Japanese police in Nagano at night, his accommodation was searched and he was interrogated for several hours only because a urine test shortly after his gold medal victory revealed possibly week-old traces of THC metabolites. [2] These two arrests largely determine the image of Japanese drug policy abroad. Hemp in Japan - does that even exist?

The fact is that cannabis has been rooted in Japan for thousands of years. Hemp has been around since the Neolithic Yayoi-Culture (10000-300 BC) resident in Japan. Later, when rice growing from China and Korea was introduced to Japan, hemp was the main fiber crop, supplying clothing, rope, paper, oil, and medicine. The Japanese Shinto religion the nature deities, above all the sun goddess Amaterasu, revered made hemp an indispensable ingredient for ritual cleansing. In certain rituals, hemp leaves were and are smoked, and hemp seeds are used at Shinto weddings. The main ritual in Ise Shrine, the ancestral shrine of the Japanese imperial family dedicated to the sun goddess, is still called today "Taima", Japanese for cannabis.

Miasa village tourism brochure
While most of the hemp production in the realm of the sun goddess was undoubtedly used for fiber production, the religious associations suggest that not all hemp was low in THC. Even in the far north of Japan, on the island of Hokkaido bordering on Siberia, there are still overgrown hemp plants from the time of World War II, when the war ministry forced cultivation across the country, which hemp connoisseurs agree are "pretty good". Not far from Nagano in the "Japanese Northern Alps" once grew the famous "mountain hemp", which provided the best fiber quality. In the village of Miasa ("Beautiful Hemp"), only 20 km from the Olympic runway, a hemp museum reminds us of the rich hemp tradition of this region. Mr. Nakamura, the former mayor and founder of the museum, complains that nowadays it is impossible for him to show visitors the plant that has been grown there for 2,000 years. In contrast to low-THC varieties from Tochigi Prefecture, the noble "mountain hemp" is considered to be mayaku ("Hemp drug"), the Japanese term for illegal intoxicants. Mr. Nakamura composes songs about hemp and gives tours for visitors from all over Japan, but since 1965 hemp has only grown in hidden forest clearings in the mountains in Miasa.

"Educational material" distributed by the Japanese police contains statements that could have come from the US marijuana hysteric Harry Anslinger himself:
"Habitual cannabis users suffer from imaginations and hallucinations. Sometimes they become overexcited and lose self-control, leading to an outbreak of violence. [...] Marijuana abuse causes time disturbances and the confusion of the past, present and future think that something lasting a few minutes has been going on for years. Sometimes they think of themselves as beautiful women or birds or animals. [...] Their health is deteriorating. " [3]

How did it even get that far, from the herb of the gods to the devil drug? The decisive event was probably the dropping of two atom bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which persuaded Emperor Hirohito to surrender to the Americans. Within a few weeks, their troops occupied the entire country. Until the Peace Treaty of San Francisco in 1952, the Allied occupation government under General McArthur was the supreme authority in Japan. This authority was very suspicious of what was growing in the fields along the streets, as it was the same "killer herb" that had been banned at home at the instigation of Federal Drug Police Chief Anslinger in 1937. Out of concern for the salvation of hundreds of thousands of soldiers stationed in the country, the occupation government passed a law according to which from now on hemp cultivation was only permitted with a state license.

After the occupiers withdrew, no one paid any attention to this law, the cause of which no one had understood anyway. The most important drug in Japan after alcohol and nicotine was and is Shabu, Methamphetamine, which was first used during the war by the government and later, after the ban, by the Yakuza, the Japanese version of the Mafia, was introduced to the people. People only became interested in hemp again when they found a few plants in the garden of Japanese hippies near Nagano during the Vietnam War, who of course had no license. Since then, arrests have been made, even with a single gram, regardless of whether they are music geniuses or world champions. A foreigner who has a previous criminal record of drugs is banned from entering the country.

At the same time, legal hemp cultivation continues. While there were no new hemp licenses for many years, the scene has moved in the last ten years. When Emperor Hirohito died in January 1989 and his son was to be crowned, it was needed Shinto-Tradition special hemp robes, since the emperor is also high priest. Farmers from the island of Shikoku brought in hemp, which they had grown without a permit, and nothing stood in the way of the enthronement of the new emperor. They were rewarded with a cultivation license for this. Around Nagano, hemp is still used in small quantities Shinto- Cultivated purposes. These are used to make bell ropes, priestly clothes and hemp paper, among other things.

In 1997 the hemp shop owner Yasunao Nakayama received a coveted cultivation license and brought in the first harvest in autumn. He was helped by the lawyer Marui, a long-time hemp activist who himself obtained a research license for hemp. Numerous other entrepreneurs in the hemp industry and activists from the environmental and hemp movement are interested in new licenses. There is also interest in research licenses for the medical use of hemp for multiple sclerosis, cancer and other diseases; cannabis was a common medicine in Japan until it was banned.

Hemp as a stimulant is still a taboo subject, which even activists touch as little as possible. Attempts are made to sell hemp mainly through its environmental compatibility or as a medicine. The urge to decriminalize is still very weak, probably also in view of the relatively low number of arrests: While almost 700,000 marijuana arrests were made in the USA last year, in Japan (with almost half the population of the USA) it was in recent years " only "1,500 and 2,000 per year. Behind these numbers hides not only a lower popularity of hemp compared to hard drugs such as "speed" and extremely harmful solvent sniffing, but also a very great incentive for hemp users not to be conspicuous by the police. Japanese prisons are notorious for their harsh conditions and strict discipline (Japan is not yet a signatory to the UN Convention against Torture). 98 percent of all criminal proceedings in Japanese courts result in convictions. The maximum penalty for marijuana "offenses" is 7 years and penalties of several years are the norm for smuggling. Many of those arrested are couriers from Southeast Asia or traders who are served by mail parcels from Thailand. Many are foreigners from Asia or Africa with an expired visa, often from Iran, who finance their stay in Japan with hashish or marijuana trafficking. There are also indications of large-scale smuggling companies weighing hundreds of kilograms, but hardly any police successes of this magnitude. Black market prices are between 2,000 and 3,000 yen per gram, around 25-40 marks.

Many Japanese grow their hemp themselves outdoors or increasingly at home instead of getting involved in risky trade and paying high prices there. The seeds increasingly come from Holland, Canada or Thailand.
The Japanese climate is ideal for hemp and Tokyo is on the same latitude as the Afghan Hindu Kush mountains. There are hemp shops all over the country, some of which also function as head shops. One of them is "Taimado" in Tokyo, where, in addition to clothing and other products, they also sell pipes, bongs, chillums, cigarette papers and the American "High Times". Owner Koichi Maeda estimates that over two million Japanese people have tried cannabis at least once, many of them during stays abroad in Europe, North America, Australia or New Zealand. The number of active consumers is likely to be at least several hundred thousand. Maeda also recently opened a restaurant called "Asa" (Eng. Hemp, linen), which serves as a meeting place for the young hemp movement. Hemp seeds are not only used in the kitchen, the furniture here is also made from hemp (chipboard).

With Japanese-language websites on the Internet, activists such as Maeda and lawyer Marui are disseminating information about hemp. One of the main problems is the language barrier, because after decades of criminalization and taboo, much information is only available in English or in other languages. Few Japanese speak English fluently.
There are now several groups of activists who advocate the liberal use of hemp, from more cultivation licenses to decriminalization as a drug. The Internet, which is also becoming increasingly popular in Japan, serves as a key medium, because the established mass media hardly question the existing drug policy. Their own hemp press does not yet exist. However, once the buried and suppressed knowledge about hemp is made available, it is only a matter of time before Anslinger's legacy in Japan will come to an end.


[1] High Times, July 1980

[2] Cannabis Culture, August 1998

[3] Shizuoka Prefecture Police website

MA / asa characters

Stamp with
TAI and MA signs

Asa, Taima: Hemp. "Ma" is the Chinese word for hemp and "Dai" or "Tai" means "big". "Taima" ("Big Hemp") is the specific term for cannabis hemp while "Asa" is also used for flax or Manila hemp.

Marifuana: Marijuana in Japanese pronunciation.

Happa: "Leaves," the most common term for marijuana.

Happa o maku: Roll a joint

Happa o suu: Smoking weed.

Happachu, Happaboke: The term "grass addict" is not taken very seriously among smokers.


Hemp fiber and hemp paper in Shinto shrine
in the mountain village of Sami in Gifu Prefecture

Hemp rope in Saitama Prefecture's oldest Shinto shrine

Hemp bell rope

Cooking hemp stalks to break up fibers.
"It is probably the best hemp grown in the world. The fiber length, fineness, luster and strength of the product are second to none."
(the US Secretary of Agriculture in 1873 on Japanese hemp)

Hemp harvest in Miasa (Nagano)

'Lover in Mosquito Net' by Yoshitoshi (1826-1902).
Mosquito nets made from hemp or silk have been around for a long time
an effective remedy against the mosquito plague
in the sultry Japanese summer.

'Lovers' by the painter Chôki (ca.1800)
with Japanese kiseru pipes

See also:
Hemp Library, main index