|Restoring Hemp to Natural Place in Japan's Culture|
|Posted by CN Staff on November 08, 2002
at 09:25:41 PT|
By Angela Jeffs
Source: Japan Times
Even as a child, Yasunao Nakayama knew of the importance of hemp, called "suna" in Japanese but most commonly known as "asa." His grandfather grew a plot of the stuff, for use in ritual Shinto ceremonies.
Yasunao Nakayama, the first person in Japan licensed to grow industrial hemp, calls the plant central to Japanese culture from the earliest times.
Growing up in Hamaoka, Shizuoka Prefecture, Yasunao also became familiar with the problems of having a nuclear power station operating in close proximity. "Animals miscarried. There were strange mutant fish. It was a big issue in local politics."
While at junior high school, he continues, he had a vision of a field of hemp. "The plants were gentle, giving off a good energy. I nearly died, but came back, vowing to make hemp my lifework."
Meeting in Tokyo en route from Shizuoka to Oshima Island, where he lives with his parents, he carries a bag made from hemp fiber, with a very familiar logo of a leaf. His "tabi" (five-toed socks) look like cotton but are also made from the annual herb Cannabis sativa. "I ate hemp seeds for lunch. You can eat them whole or grind them, as with sesame. They're very nutritious."
Yasunao is the first person in Japan to be granted a license to grow what is called industrial hemp. "There are some 100 farming famili! es that have grown it traditionally for centuries, including the Miki family in Shikoku, who supply the Imperial family. Licensing, however, is new. I applied through my prefectural office, who applied to the appropriate ministry. The plot is only small, around 4 tsubo, but adequate to my needs. It's symbolic as well as practical."
Native to Asia and extensively cultivated in other parts of the world, the plant is largely grown for the fibers to be extracted from its stems, and the drugs hashish and marijuana. In Japan, it is legal to be in possession of stems and seeds, but illegal to be found with leaves and flowers. Hence the need for a growing license.
"Hemp tends to get stronger in its effect when it goes wild," Yasunao explains. "The plants that grow freely as weeds in Hokkaido are very different to the hemp I grow."
The purpose of his plot is for research. The word must have gone out, because soon after he gained his license in the 1990s he was busted for posses! sion. "After I explained to the police the significance of he! mp in Shinto rites and ancient Japanese culture, they let me go."
The plant, he believes, has spiritual as well as practical properties. Regarded as a purifying agent, a baby's umbilical cord used to be tied off with hemp before being cut. During the Bon festival for the dead, the plant was burned in tribute to ancestors. While during the war, because hemp grew quickly, and had associations with Shinto and therefore the divinity of the Imperial cause, it was used for making military uniforms and parachutes.
"You will find that the hemp leaf traditionally used in designs for obi sashes and baby clothes," he says. "Also the rope pattern used to decorate pottery by Japan's prehistoric Jomon people is hemp-based. It's no accident that the fiber is used to craft the twisted rope (yokuzuna) worn by sumo's top champion yokozuna. It signifies its importance."
Archaeologists -- pushing back the boundaries of history since the death of the Showa emperor -- have found considerabl! e quantities of hemp seeds on Jomon sites, he adds. "Hemp was always central to Japanese culture."
His book on the subject, titled "Makoto no Hanashi" ("Story of Truth"), was published in October last year by Hyogensha -- a strange but fascinating meld of historical fact and New Age fiction, now in its second printing. There are shadows of a new nationalism, even though he insists that the subject -- hemp -- is universal. "The Celts had a tradition of using the plant. You can find it throughout ancient cultures all over the world."
At the same time he postulates that hemp's importance in Shintoism means that Japan led the way, as the source of all wisdom. "Japan was a hemp culture."
Many Japanese of his age, born postwar but torn between embracing and rejecting Western values, seek to raise their country above the shame of surrender and occupation. They are outgoing, cosmopolitan and believe themselves open to the world, and yet they seek with a certain desperation to ! re-create Japan's spiritual heart in order to regain their cu! ltural pride and personal self-esteem.
Yasunao has established what he calls "a Jomon energy center" on Oshima. Its aim is to investigate the history and properties of hemp and discover how ancient people used it. "We need that kind of wisdom today." There's a similar interest in many countries, he says: Germany, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Canada.
He seeks to research and promote not only the many commercial properties of the plant -- clothing, oil, building materials, medicines -- but the cosmic relationship of human beings to its powers. "Hemp makes us find ourselves. I see the possibilities of a one-nation-on-Earth future."
There is a new global consciousness, he decares. Last year he visited the United States (to talk hemp, naturally). This year he drove from the north to the south of Japan in a car fueled with hemp oil. "Check out my home page in English: www.hemp.co.jp .
"The Korean written language, Hangul, which has its origins in Japanese, is hemp connect! ed," he continues with growing enthusiasm. "Hemp is globally connected. We talk about the Silk Road. I talk about the Hemp Road."