Cannabis Activism in Japan—Yes, That’s a Thing

Article by Alex McCandless, High Times


Japan’s reputation as having some of the harshest marijuana laws in the developed world is well deserved. Less than a gram of pot can get you five years with hard labor. But it is important to understand that the Japanese don’t single out cannabis as being particularly loathsome. In fact, it has an important place at the heart of Japanese culture. So where does this animosity toward smokers come from? And what can be done about it?

The History of Hemp in Japan

To begin to answer these questions, it is perhaps best to look at the history of cannabis use in Japan, and the history of American influence in Japan’s government.

The Jōmon period of Japan’s earliest prehistory began about 16,000 years ago and gets its name from the patterns found in pottery from this time. The name means “cord-marked” and comes from the practice of pressing rope into wet clay as decoration. And yes, that rope was made from hemp.

Author and curator of the Taima-Hakubutsukan (Marijuana Museum), Junichi Takayasu, points out that in addition to being an important food source, the plant was used for cloth, paper, fishing line and the many other benefits its strong and straight fibers are renowned for. His own personal connection to the plant came from learning how ninja used it as a training tool. Jumping over the plant as part of a young warrior’s daily training regime would ensure the apprentices were being pushed to do their best, as the plant’s rapid growth forced them to jump higher and higher each day.

In order to spread the word about Japan’s history with hemp, Takayasu has published several books about cannabis. His most recent was crowd-funded, raising over 260 percent of his goal.

His new book is dedicated to the plant’s industrial uses, but the medicinal properties of cannabis have also been widely recognized as an integral part of traditional Asian medicine for as long as these arts have been practiced. As a result, Japan’s landrace strains have a THC content averaging around four percent—more than enough to be psychoactive and indicating a long history of cultivation for potency.

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