High Times Names Evergreen Top 10 Cannabis College 2002 – featuring Dave O

TOP TEN COUNTERCULTURE COLLEGES | High TimesOriginally published as High Times Top Ten Cannabis Colleges in September 2002 featuring skateboarder Jen Grant on the cover. Archived version is more accurate to original and is republished – and attached as a .pdf – below for the record.

Story by Chris Simunek and Preston Peet
Photos by Comso G. Spacely

Evergreen in High Time cover

These are not party schools for stupid stoners, but places where intelligent users of cannabis can receive a quality education. What’s the difference? Smart stoners use the herb when appropriate, either as a tool to enhance creativity, or as a medicine to relieve stress, while stupid stoners abuse it through inappropriate use.

Olympia, Washington

The Geoducks

Founded in 1967

4,100 students

$12,264 non-resident tuition

Fiske rates it the #4 public liberal-arts college; student-to-faculty ratio: 22 to 1


Mother Nature reigns supreme in the Pacific Northwest. Sure, the lumber companies have been trying for years to turn its beauty into napkins and newspapers, and there are the unnatural acts committed by the odd serial murderer–Ted Bundy and the Green River Killer were both particularly fond of the Cascade Mountains–but after mankind is done carving his mark on this particular part of the Earth, the forest is sure to swallow him up body and soul. This sense of permanence is perhaps one reason Washington is called “the Evergreen State.”

Walking through the rainforest that separates the Evergreen State campus from the sea, you get the feeling that you’ve found the halfway point between Darwin and Eden. The forest is primordially damp, insects swarm your head and the terra firma beneath your feet is exploding with life. Sitka spruce and western hemlock trees arch towards the sun, dripping with vines and moss. At the same time, the rainforest is reclaiming the borrowed molecules of the dead, slowly folding them back into the soil from whence they came.

Occasionally a hairy figure can be seen darting between the flora and fauna, causing my heart to leap at the thought that I’d finally fulfilled my lifelong dream to observe a Sasquatch in its natural habitat. Upon further inspection, I’d see that the beast was actually wrapped in colorful, loose-fitting clothing and that its long hair was matted into dreadlocks–the de rigueur look of the Evergreen student. Maybe next time, I think, then continue walking.

high times dave
picture by Cosmo G. Spacely from High Times article about Evergreen State College

The leader of this rainforest expedition is Dave Olson. I first contacted Dave after a Google search of “Evergreen State” and “cannabis” spit his name across my Macintosh screen back in New York. Though his hair is kind of wild these days and a thick beard covers most of his face, you can’t pigeonhole Dave as a hippie.

He’s kind of a Renaissance guy who can speak at length on anything from ecology to music to pro hockey. A Vancouver, B.C. native, Dave is a member of what’s known as “the extended Evergreen family,” which comprises grads, non-grads, part-time students and people thinking of attending part-time. As part of his curriculum at Evergreen, he wrote, produced, directed and narrated a video documentary, The Hempen Road. The movie explores hemp from all angles, including the activist community, hemp products, food and history.

“Where’d you get the idea for your film?” I ask.

“I lived in the Pacific for three-four years, mostly Japan. I was doing hemp stuff the whole time, doing research. When I got back to America, I realized there weren’t any contemporary films that showed the products and the people and the culture. So I met this Japanese film student and we started talking about this project. He wasn’t really familiar with hemp, and was a little apprehensive about getting involved with it because of the negative connotations. I wrote up a proposal and shopped it around to different faculty.”

Though Dave found his faculty sponsor to be less enthusiastic than he would have liked, he was motivated enough on his own to see the project through to completion. He printed 2,000 copies, did a little publicity and sold them himself at hemp events.

“Before I came here I thought it was going to be an arts and literature and humanities focus, but that’s not really the case,” Dave explains. “The science stuff seems pretty heavy. There’s a lot of marine biology. A lot of people come here wanting to do stuff about forests and conservation and that kind of ‘ecosystem, organic farm and herbology’ kind of stuff. The strength is the multidisciplinary approach. It weans you into learning something that you didn’t really plan on learning, by bringing it in with something that you really want to learn.”

 “Multidisciplinary” is the buzzword at Evergreen. It basically means you choose a subject you want to study, then the school encourages you to tackle it from several different angles. You find a professor at the school who you can work with on an independent-study-type basis, then go off on your own. There’s no tests to cram for, just a final project at the end, which can be anything from a paper to a performance to a piece of art.

We finally make it through the woods to the beach, which is empty on this day because most students are busy studying for their finals. The beach is clothing-optional, Dave informs me, and on a hot day you can often find undergrads smoking herb and working on their tans.

“I spent my college years in New York City,” I inform Dave. “For entertainment we used to watch the rats outside our dorm-room window teaming through the McDonald’s trash piles.”

“Evergreen provides a country-club atmosphere at a state-school budget,” he cracks. Tuition goes for $1,008 per quarter for Washington residents, $3,588 per quarter for out-of-staters, relatively cheap when compared with other schools.

I asked a few kids I’d met to estimate what percentage of Evergreen students smoked pot, and most answered somewhere in the 80% range. Given the surroundings, it just makes sense. There are no frats and little sports, so the bonehead scene is thankfully kept to a minimum.

My head is still buzzing from the William’s Wonder we sampled before arriving on campus when I ask Dave if Evergreen is a serious school or a refuge for burnouts.

“People work hard and play hard here,” he responds. “You see them at the bars until late, and then you see them on campus working late the next day.”

From the beach, we wander back to Evergreen’s own organic farm, kind of like a living textbook for their sustainable-agriculture program. According to the Evergreen bulletin, sustainable agriculture provides instruction in “soils, plant propagation, greenhouse management, composting, green manure, the use of animal manure, equipment operation, small-farm economics, pest control, livestock management, weed-control strategies, irrigation-system design and management, basic horticulture, machinery maintenance, vegetable and small-fruit culture, marketing and orchard systems.”

I can see where that might appeal to certain HIGH TIMES readers.

We tiptoe past the chickens, through the fields and greenhouses filled with lettuce, beets, carrots, potatoes, cauliflower, broccoli, and tomatoes, until we find easygoing, bespectacled Pat Moore, professor and director of the farm. I ask him about how Evergreen differs academically from other schools. He explains that self-discipline is the key to success here.

“We get students who don’t fit in highly structured programs, and because of that, we’re going to get very bright and innovative students and we’re also going to get the exact opposite. If a student is motivated and interested in what they’re studying, they’re going to get an excellent education. If they’re trying to slide by, they’re going to find a way to do it.”

“As a faculty member, what was your reaction when you heard Evergreen had been voted counterculture college of the year by HIGH TIMES magazine?” I ask.

“Was it really? Gosh, it’s a little disconcerting actually. You probably won’t put this in your magazine, but I watch students as they arrive and what happens to them. A lot of them work for me three-four years, and it seems like they start getting a lot looser in terms of their ability to be reliable workers.”

“‘Cuz they smoke a lot of weed?”

“They don’t confide in me that way, but I wasn’t born yesterday. I’d prefer to see that than binge drinking. I mean, Washington U. had this big riot in the streets because of binge drinking, and a couple of kids died. Smoking a little pot, that’s not going to happen.”

That’s not to say Evergreen students don’t drink, and after we’re finished with the good professor, we head back to town and agree to reconvene at the Eastside later that evening to sample a few of the local microbrews.

The air alone is reason enough to move to Olympia–crisp Pacific winds that smell like fresh-cut cedar. On a clear day Mt. Rainier dominates the horizon from 100 miles away. It’s the capital of Washington, but still manages to keep a small-town atmosphere. It’s got a pretty happening nightlife scene–Fourth Avenue is plastered with flyers for reggae jams, karaoke, gay parties and retro nights. When we walk into the Eastside, it’s packed with undergrads playing pool and drinking beer. Kurt Cobain used to live here in the early days of Nirvana, and the grunge look is still alive, with flannel shirts covering parts of the crowd.

Kenny the bartender pours us a pitcher of Rasputin, a dark brew that’s as insidious as its mystic namesake. When word gets around that HIGH TIMES is in the house, I’m descended upon by so many students I can hardly remember anyone’s name. Without exception, everyone wants to tell me how cool their school is.

“I’m really glad that there’s a school like this in the world,” says Emily, a senior. “I wasn’t going to go to college. I was just out of high school. I’d spent my entire life since I was five years old in school. I wasn’t about to go back. Then I came out here, visited this school, walked around the campus, met some kids, talked to them, looked at their classes… I was like ‘dude, this place is awesome!’ It’s chill, you make your own classes up, you don’t get grades, people are mellow, it’s in a really beautiful place, there’s good herb, you know what I mean?”

Emily started out studying comparative religions, then switched to art and hopes to become an art therapist someday. When I ask her for a few tips on places to go off campus she suggests the Staircase (an outdoor nature refuge), Elwa hot springs, Mt. Rainier, and the Olympic peninsula.

I ask another senior, Sarah, what sort of an education she thought she was getting. She told me Evergreen taught her “the things that high school left out. Such as how fucked up this world is. I’m kind of a glutton for the depressing stuff, so I mainly concentrated on things like, you know, saving the world. Really simple stuff.”

I ask her the names of a few classes she took and one stands out and cracks up everyone at the table–“Whiteness, Maleness and the Immorality of Wealth.” “The big myth is that kids at Evergreen major in underwater basket-weaving or hacky sack,” she explains. “But it’s true that my roommates spent a semester building eight-foot-tall sock monkeys.”

I start the next day with a tour of the Evergreen dorms. The kids are genuinely shocked when I knock on a few doors and announce HIGH TIMEs’ arrival. It takes me literally five minutes to find the herb–in this case some B.C. commercial bud. We speak a bit about the local strains, William’s Wonder and the Gangsta being favorites.

Talk turns to the campus police, who carry guns and who’ve been encouraged to step up their profile. The campus cops even print their own trading cards, and the kids actually show me a few with cops posing next to their favorite drug dogs.

“I heard the DEA was here,” one student informs me.

“I have a hard time believing the Feds are snooping around dorm rooms,” I tell him, but he insists it’s true.

“The cops are pretty cool, though,” he continues. “A fire alarm went off and the cops came in and found some dope on a kid. His punishment was to write an article about how to hide your shit in your house!”

I have a feeling I’m being treated to a few herban myths, but it’s true that the school is not too pleased about its cannabis-friendly reputation. In fact, after I left, the traditional graduation 4:20 on Super Saturday was shut down when rumors abounded that HIGH TIMES would be there to record the event for posterity. We were 3,000 miles away at the time, but the cops chased the kids into the woods. Sorry about that.

After the dorm tour I return to Red Square, the center of campus. There I meet Conner Kenny, a political economy major from Austin, Texas, currently in his first year at Evergreen. Conner is cranking a Bob Marley tape as he tries to get students to sign a petition to close mercury loopholes in the state’s clean-water laws. There’s a strong activist community on campus. In fact, the college caught a lot of flack a few years back when they invited Mumia Abu-Jamal to give a commencement speech via satellite from his prison cell. In the last year of his life, Ken Kesey also was the keynote speaker at graduation. Declaring Evergreen “the college for all hippies,” he gave a rambling speech that ended abruptly when he realized he’d lost the last two pages.

I’m running a little late for a planned photo shoot of the favorite local cannabis strains, but before I leave campus I ask Conner what role he thinks marijuana plays in the Evergreen education.

“It’s just part of the culture. People get together who feel the same way about things. Here, people would rather spend their time doing something other than spending money, making money and worrying about making money. It’s a rejection of the norms of consumer-driven society.”

“ATG purchased” in The Olympian with comments by Dave Olson

ATG (OlyWa) Purchased from The Olympian – (pdf) 06/06/02

Scott Wyland from The Olympian article again mentions Zhonka entering the market, “Former OlyWa employee Dave Olson, also unavailable for comment, has said he wants to launch an ISP called Zhonka Broadband, which would offer high-speed connections to Web users.”

Long-distance company ATG purchased

Integra officials say OlyWa service will not be disrupted


Advanced TelCom Group Inc., a mid-sized carrier that gave callers an alternative to Baby Bells, has agreed to sell its assets to repay a chunk of its $206 million debt.

Portland company

Portland-based Integra Telecom will take over most of ATG’s assets, which include property, equipment, customer accounts and labor pool.

Based in Santa Rosa, Calif., ATG two years ago bought OlyWa.net, a local Internet service provider.

ATG laid off OlyWa’s 10 employees by the time it filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in early May but continued to serve some 1,600 subscribers.

No disruptions

No disruption of service is expected under Integra, including to OlyWa customers, said Gary Cuccio, ATG executive chairman.

Cuccio said he took the helm at ATG six months ago in an attempt to turn the company around, but by then it was too late.

“We grew too fast,” Cuccio said. “We simply borrowed money that we were unable to pay back.” Integra representatives couldn’t be reached on Wednesday to discuss their plans for OlyWa.

Former OlyWa employee Dave Olson, also unavailable for comment, has said he wants to launch an ISP called Zhonka Broadband, which would offer high-speed connections to Web users.

Because of the Chapter 11 filing, the sale can’t be completed until all parties sign off on it, including ATG’s creditors, Cuccio said. That could take one day or several months.

Integra will have the option of changing the ATG name, he said. “Not much will be left of ATG.”

All told, ATG will receive about $20 million for its customer accounts and other assets, about one-tenth of what it owes 13 banks, Cuccio said. Creditors will have to eat the remaining debt, he said.

Other buyers

Three other buyers purchased a small portion of the assets: Cavalier Communications, of Richmond, Va.; Step 7, of Santa Rosa; and TelePacific Communications of Los Angeles.

ATG spiraled into the red when the slumping economy caused small to mid-size businesses — ATG’s main client base — to fold or pull back on spending, Cuccio said.

The mounting debt prevented the company from doing an initial public stock offering needed to boost capital, he said.

ATG had some success competing against big carriers such as 1/2 est, but it lacked the resources these large companies had for weathering an industry slide, Cuccio said. “I think when the downturn hits, they have deeper pockets.”

Dave Olson in “OlyWa office empty” article in The Olympian (2002)

OlyWa office empty – (pdf) 05/28/02 – The Olympian

Article by Scott Wyland from The Olympian foreshadows start-up of Zhonka, “Olson and other OlyWa team members plan to launch a company called Zhonka Broadband, which will offer DSL to customers throughout Western Washington, with the focus being on South Sound.”

Dave OlyWa office
Steve Bloom/The Olympian

OlyWa offices empty

Staff laid off, service could be cut as parent company files Chapter 11

Although OlyWa.net’s work force was laid off due to ATG’s ailing finances, Dave Olson hopes he and some other former OlyWa employees can launch a new Internet service provider.


Advanced TelCom Group Inc., which owns OlyWa.net, has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, a move that eventually could leave 1,550 local Internet subscribers without service.

Santa Rosa, Calif.-based ATG has laid off all 10 of OlyWa’s employees, plus a dozen ATG workers in its Olympia office.

Internet users who need technical support must call an 800 number.

Although ATG can solve most users’ problems over the phone, it has no one to maintain or repair the on-site equipment in Olympia, said Dave Olson, former OlyWa co-owner.

“Any hardware failures can’t be handled from afar,” Olson said. “Sooner or later something will happen.”
For instance, Monday he observed a server that handles e-commerce for a group of clients was down, he said.

To override the glitch, someone simply needed to reboot the computer — but there was no one there to do that, he said.

OlyWa is a lower priority for ATG, whose main thrust is offering callers an alternative to buying phone service from utilities such as Qwest, Olson said.

ATG will shut down OlyWa if it can’t find someone to buy the customer accounts, he said.

Two years ago, ATG bought then-5-year-old OlyWa for an undisclosed sum. One of the co-founders, Olson stayed on as a marketing manager.

Of the 25 workers who were employed locally after the merger, one or two salespeople and a phone installer remain, Olson said.

Jeannette Meyer, ATG finance director, said last week’s Chapter 11 filing would have no effect on telephone customers. That includes ATG’s subsidiary, FairPoint Solutions.

However, Meyer wouldn’t say how OlyWa subscribers would be affected.

She acknowledged that the filing compelled the company to reduce costs, including trimming staff. ATG closed offices in New York, Connecticut, Maryland and Virginia.

Under Chapter 11, ATG must reorganize in such a way that it can pay off at least a portion of the debt owed creditors.

Buyer wanted

ATG now is on the hunt for a buyer and will hold off on cutting any more jobs, Meyer said, adding that a new owner could opt to lay off more workers after the sale.

Olson and other OlyWa team members plan to launch a company called Zhonka Broadband, which will offer DSL to customers throughout Western Washington, with the focus being on South Sound.

Olson said he had been waiting for a non-compete clause, which he signed when ATG bought OlyWa, to expire June 15.

But ATG’s Chapter 11 filing has nullified that agreement, at least in spirit, he said. So he plans to rev up the Zhonka venture immediately.

Zhonka, he said, will lure OlyWa users who either will grow dissatisfied with the diminishing service or find themselves with no Internet access if ATG pulls the plug.

Olson said he decided to base the venture on high-speed connections because dial-up modems, aside from being slower and less appealing, demand more workers.

ATG’s financial ills are a symptom of the malaise gripping the entire telecommunications industry, said Dennis Matson, executive director of the Economic Development Council of Thurston County.

Given the sluggish economy, telecom carriers are having difficulty drumming up capital to expand, Matson said. If a company doesn’t show vibrant growth, it can’t attract enough investors to do an initial public stock offering.

Matson bemoaned ATG’s ebbing fortunes, saying he encouraged the company to build a network in South Sound, so residents could have more telecom choices.

“For people in Thurston County, the more options, the better,” Matson said.


OlyWa.net subscribers with problems or concerns about their service can call Advanced TelCom Group at 800- 285-6100 or e-mail atgservice@callatg.com.

Kerouac & Snyder at Mavericks via Mill Valley Historical Society

Wanna travel in Kerouac’s steps without all the mountain-y work? The house he and Gary Snyder lived in (as detailed in Dharma Bums) is gone but the folks around suggest the ghosts are there, hanging out, waiting for a yabyum.

Keep reading…

The Mill Valley Historical Society 
Original link brokenArchived Link paste follows for educational and historical use

Jack Kerouac – A Homestead Headlines Article by Chuck Oldenburg, March, 2002

Now and then, strangers knock on Maverick’s door at 370 Montford. They want to see where Jack Kerouac used to live. The house is on Homestead’s open space land which Maverick maintains. He has lived there since 1966.

A 1916 map shows that Anton S. Perry owned the 1.07 acre lot at 370 Montford. He lived in the existing house and milked cows twice a day on the Dias ranch across the valley. In the 1930’s, Tony also worked part-time maintaining Three Groves and Stolte Grove just as Maverick does today. Tony built a shack up the hill near the back of the lot close to Pixie Trail.

In 1956, the old Perry house was occupied by Locke McCorckle, a poet/carpenter. He and his family lived frugally, considering themselves refugees from American consumerism. Locke’s brother-in-law, also a carpenter, converted the shack into a habitable cabin. Locke invited Gary Snyder to stay there. Gary named it Marin-An.

Gary and Locke were beat generation poets and writers who hung out with Allen Ginsberg, Neal Cassady, Kenneth Rexroth, William Burroughs, Peter Orlovsky, Michael McClure, Philip Whalen, Gregory Corso and Jack Kerouac.

In the spring of 1956, Gary invited Jack to join him at Marin-An for rent-free peaceful living. They both took Buddhism seriously. Jack Kerouac describes the site and his experiences there in “The Dharma Bums.” Poetry readings, meditations, serious discussions and co-educational picnics and parties, always with lots of wine and sometimes with nudity. Gary left on May 15, 1956 for a monastery in Japan. His going away party, which lasted three days, was pretty wild. It is described in “The Dharma Bums.”

Jack wrote “The Scripture of the Golden Eternity ” before he left Marin-An on June 18, 1956 to take a fire lookout job in northwest Washington. In December 1956, “On the Road” was accepted for publication, almost six years after he wrote it. In 1957 he wrote “The Dharma Bums.”

The cabin was condemned in 1961 as a fire hazard and demolished. Maverick rehabilitated the house to accommodate his family. In the early 1970’s, the property became part of Homestead’s open space. Some consider it a sacred site with ghosts of the beat generation and Jack Kerouac.

Candid Conversation with Dave Olson in The Business Examiner (2002)

Candid Conversation with Dave Olson in Business Examiner 03/04/02 – Business Examiner (Tacoma, WA)

Q & A with Kamila McClelland of the Business Examiner and Zhonka co-founder Dave Olson discussing mergers, Internet marketing, and new business plans.


Dave Olson was marketing director and partner in Olympia-based Internet service provider OlyWa, which was acquired by ATG, a telecommunications company that has Olympia and Tacoma locations. In the following question-and-answer, the Canada native shares the trials, tribulations and rewards of selling a business in which you’ve invested blood, sweat and tears.

Q: How did you first get involved with the founders of OlyWa?

A: I met the three founders of OlyWa at Evergreen’s Super Saturday shortly after I arrived in Olympia. They were selling tie-dyes and I was selling hemp backpacks.

They invited me down to the office to check out this Internet business they had started about six months before. They had already laid a solid technical foundation and gone through the initial ramp-up growth spurt. To complete the stew, OlyWa needed someone who could focus on customer service and marketing tasks.

Q: How much did OlyWa grow after you joined it in 1996?

A: When I joined, the foundation had been laid for fast growth. We went from 500 customers to 1,500 overnight, it seemed. We ran into some growth slowdown while we waited – and waited – for the phone company to install fiber into the building.

During that time, rather than sign up new customers, we kept a waiting list that grew to over 400 prospects. We didn’t sign up new customers until new lines were turned up in order to maintain our current customer’s high-level quality of service.

While we did miss out on some customers, it turned out to be great PR as customers truly appreciated it and carried their @olywa.net e-mail address like a badge of honor.

Q: What was your market niche?

A: OlyWa’s focus was on home power-users and community organizations. By freely extending support to community groups from KAOS Radio to the Food Bank to AIDS and Cancer organizations, I think the general public could see that we were both technically high-performance and genuinely community-focused.

Q: What image do you think OlyWa built for itself by the time it was sold?

A: High performance in every facet – technology, customer service and community support. In particular, we had a reputation for deploying new Internet access solutions first and in a high-quality and reliable manner. Bear in mind that OlyWa wasn’t the first ISP in the area, but certainly we were the most innovative by leading the way with 56K, DSL, Cable, Burstable T1.

Q: How many customers did OlyWa have when it was sold?

A: Depending on how you count them – e-mail accounts, unique billing customer, number of dial-up/DSL lines, etc. – 3,000 is a good round number. Most were residential users, followed by organizations/agencies and businesses third.

Q: What were the conditions in the company and the economy that led you and the other partners to believe the time was right to sell in 2000?

A: It was really more of a condition of our internal growth curve. We hadn’t totally saturated our local market but knew there were other products and markets to pursue, and also that we had the knowledge and experience to expand OlyWa into other markets throughout the Northwest.

We drew up a plan and shopped options, from venture capitalists and private investors to being courted by communications companies who had designs on merging with, or outright purchasing OlyWa.

Q: Was it a smooth transition?

A: Immediately after the merger, not much changed as we worked with our new parent company to devise a plan that ensured that the customer experience was not diluted but rather enhanced.

A problem arose when the parent corporation didn’t immediately incorporate a clear plan or have a defined interest in fully serving home users. Our input and ideas were mostly ignored or unbudgeted.

The business customers were a bit surprised about the pressure to change to an integrated telecommunications package, including a long-term contract, especially since OlyWa had never really used a sales force and certainly not any kind of high-pressure sales that had become the norm.

There were also a number of deployment and billing issues, both internal and external, that certainly left a few disenchanted customers. These service discrepancies were frustrating for us, since we were used to finding ways to satisfy the end-user.

As for the supported community non-profit organizations, most of them were cut or sent invoices. That was perhaps the most painful for me personally, since it is something I took pride in.

Q: What have you done with your share of the proceeds from the OlyWa sale, which was two-thirds stock and one-third cash?

A: The two-thirds stock sits in my safety deposit box, mocking me, and the one-third cash was used to pay bills, a few home improvements and a bit a traveling with my lady friend.

Q: What kind of restrictions did you have to adhere to as part of the sale?

A: I and the other operating partners had to join the parent company as employees and work specifically on migrating customers to the parent company’s network, which turned out to be a tricky proposition.

Q: What caused you to leave your job at ATG last June?

A: It seemed there was internal and cultural confusion on how to handle the OlyWa “tribe,” and what credence to give our ideas, plans and whatnot – kind of a square peg-round hole situation.

Some of our Internet colleagues at corporate HQ were squeezed out. We began to feel we were unwitting  pawns, rather than “bright, innovative Internet minds,” which is how they’d described us when we were negotiating the merger.

Long story short, we negotiated a “divorce” that included a non-compete and mutual non-disparagement agreement.

Q: What are you doing now?

A: The job market is quite lean these days, so I am following my entrepreneurial instincts and brewing up a few new business plans and ideas.

Ideally, I will do something in either public relations or marketing for business and artists. I have also considered completing a law degree, focusing on intellectual property laws, something I became more interested in during the merger.

Q: Is there any room left in Thurston, Pierce, Lewis or Mason counties?

A: Absolutely – in all those markets. I don’t see ISPs being particularly innovative in their service offerings. Additionally, the wait and complications for DSL service are frankly quite absurd.

Further, no ISP is providing Internet access in a wide variety of ways – DSL, Cable, Burstable T1, Frame relay – ensuring all customers can get broadband access. I particularly think that residential customers are underserved, as most ISPs in the marketplace are only after business clients, leaving home users at the mercy of either inconsistent national cable providers or local dial-up providers.

Q: How would you say the local business climate for ISPs has changed over the past three years?

A: The biggest change is the rise – and subsequent decline – of CLECs (Competitive Local Exchange providers). When these providers came in, there was a “shakedown” in which some smaller providers disappeared through assimilation or lack of business. Yet the bigger corporations from out-of-state entering the market haven’t increased the range and quality of service for the end user.

I think there is a desire from the customers for a return to both personalized, local customer service and more streamlined process to high-performance Internet.

Q: What’ve you learned from all this?

A: Before the merger, I felt we were a big fish in a small pond and wouldn’t be as successful in a bigger market. Perhaps the biggest lesson I learned is that our talents and experience were advanced enough to play in the big leagues.

I also learned lawyers make good money no matter how the deal goes down.

Practical Guide to Hemp Cannabis – Guide for Policy Makers

Created and published by hemplobby.org in June 1999 – over a decade before legalization of cannabis would come to the USA – this collection of history, agricultural information, plant botany, legal frameworks, factoids and further readings was distributed to legislators, policymakers, teachers, and activists around the world but primarily in Washington (State and DC) and Oregon.

Now that legislative change is sweeping across America – focused primarily on medical and recreational use – it’s important to also remember the benefits of low/no THC industrial hemp which can be made into literally thousands of different products and help negate many conundrums around modern agriculture, climate change, and survival of family farms.

While much of the information is out of date, take a read through to see where Cannabis legalization and education were at the end of the last century.

Created by Ed Saukooja, Dave Olson and David White.

Hempen Culture in Japan at Japanhemp.org

“Hempen Culture in Japan” as published at JapanHemp.org (formerly Taima.org)

Definitive research about the history of hemp cannabis in Japan. Traces many uses from Neolitic to modern times. Published in several magazines, first in the July 1997 issue of the Journal of the International Hemp Association (The Netherlands), then in the August 1998 issue of Cannabis Culture (Canada).

There are many small images to see along the pages here, but to go right to image gallery.

to taima.org main page

Hempen Culture In Japan

 See also: Hemp comes to Japan
 See also: Hemp in Japanese history
 See also: Hemp in Religion
 See also: Zen and the Martial Arts
 See also: The Hemp Control Act
 See also: Hemp in the Japanese Language
 See also: The Japanese strains of hemp
 See also: Hemp in the Rural Areas
 See also: The Emporer’s Hemp Clothes
 See also: Cloth, Paper and the Arts
 See also: Food and Medicine
 See also: Contemporary Products and Entreprenuership
 See also: Changing the Laws
 See also: Current Agricultural & Economic Issues

Cannabis in Japan – A vocabulary primer
Cannabis Culture in Contemporary Japan


Source: Hempen Culture in Japan

Hempen culture in Japan | Cannabis Culture

Hempen culture in Japan

Cannabis has been an integral part of Japanese culture since the beginnings of its history. Cannabis is a sacred herb to the religion of Shinto, and was also used and praised by ancient Zen poets and Buddhist monks.

Cannabis culture was suppressed and banned by US occupying forces after World War II, and today most Japanese don’t realize that “marijuana” is the same plant as cannabis, which was once as much a part of Japanese culture as rice.

Yet now Japanese cannabis culture is making a comeback. Many Japanese youths have learned to enjoy marijuana while travelling overseas, while farmers and universities are researching and experimenting with industrial hemp. Activists and scholars are educating the Japanese people about cannabis’ history and beneficial uses, and more Japanese are seeing the prohibition of cannabis as part of unwelcome American influence.

With the burgeoning growth of cannabis culture in Japan and around the world, perhaps Japan will lead Asia in shaking off prohibitionist dogma, and once again honouring cannabis as a sacred and beneficial plant.



Japan’s Ancient Hempen History
Hemp since the Jomon

Cannabis has grown in Japan since the Neolithic Jomon period (10,000 to 300 BC). The term “Jomon” itself means “pattern of ropes”, which were certainly made of cannabis hemp. These ancient people lived a civilized, comfortable existence, and used cannabis for weaving clothing and basket making, as well as using the seeds as a food source. What isn’t clear however, is when and how the seeds arrived in Japan.

Some scholars insist that cannabis was abundant in Japan before contact with China or Korea. However, impartial analysis suggests that, like much of its culture, cannabis was almost certainly imported and adapted from China.

Seeds from Korea

The Japanese staple of wet-field rice made its way from China to Japan around 300 BC. The seed stock first went to Korea, then was brought by traders across the narrow but rough channel to Japan’s southern island of Kyushu, which is the closest point to the Asian mainland. It is likely that cannabis seeds made the same voyage before or around the same time.

In support of this theory, a cave painting found in coastal Kyushuu depicts tall stalks and cannabis leaves. It too is from the Jomon period, and is one of the earliest Japanese artworks in existence.

Ancient pot graffiti: Korean traders bringing cannabis to Japan.

Ancient pot graffiti: Korean traders bringing cannabis to Japan.

The richly coloured painting depicts several somewhat strangely dressed people in baggy short-pants and tall curved hats. Horses and ocean waves are also clearly rendered.

The picture apparently depicts Korean traders bringing a plant by boat. Along the stem of the plant are small pairs of budding leaves or branches. The plants themselves are tall and at the top bear large, distinctive, seven-fingered cannabis leaves.

Surrounding the top of this cannabis plant figure is a sun-like aura, suggesting the continuing connection between the sun and cannabis in Shinto. This is strikingly similar to the hieroglyphic carvings from Mediterranean cultures, which show a similar sun/cannabis motif.

Feudal hempen cultivation

During the fuedal era of Japan (c. 14th-15th Century) hemp fibre cultivation was encouraged by the fuedal lords (Daimyo), cannabis cultivation was encouraged by the feudal lords (Daimyo), wanting hempen-ware’s high resale value from the wealthy city merchants, who favoured cannabis hemp for making fine clothing.

Japanese merchants dealt in coins which had square holes in the centre, and were carried on strings of hemp. The Japanese five yen coin still has a hole in it, left over from this practice.

Cannabis was a major crop and the primary source of clothing fibre until the 17th century, when cotton was introduced. Cotton began to replace cannabis as a fibre crop because of high yields by heavy fertilizer use and the development of mass processing methods.

Yet sturdy cannabis hemp continued to be used for a variety of specialized purposes, including long-line eel fishing lines and packaging ropes to name a couple.

The Emperor’s Hemp Clothes

When Emperor Hirohito passed on in 1989, a coronation was held for his heir. The Emperor himself is regarded as a direct descendant of the gods and acts as a sort of high priest in the pagan Shinto belief.

Since Hirohito’s son was becoming the “living entity of God”, there had to be a special Shinto ritual. In Shinto, cannabis is the symbol of purity, so the new Emperor had to wear cannabis hemp garments, which had become unavailable over the course of his father’s long rule.

A group of Shinto farmers in Tokushima-ken had thought ahead and planted a symbolic yet subversive crop, and presented the Emperor with his new clothes made of pure local hemp They are still producing this crop for the exclusive use of the Imperial family.

Cannabis in Shinto & Zen

Purity and fertility are paramount shinto concepts, and cannabis is an essential symbol of both.

In the long journey from India to China, the teachings of the Buddha were considerably altered. The Japanese further adapted and intertwined Buddhism with their traditional mythological religion of Shinto.

Shinto is the ancient “way of the gods”, a ritualistic expression of profound respect for the kami (the intrinsic god-like spirit) in nature. Plants, animals, rocks and trees all possess a sort of spirit or reverence which can be terrifying or peaceful. Purity and fertility are paramount Shinto concepts, and cannabis is an essential symbol of both.

Geisha relaxing and smoking a bowl between (or with) their customers.

Geisha relaxing and smoking a bowl between (or with) their customers.

The Cannabis Goddess

Shinto creation stories tell of the Japanese islands rising from volcanoes and hot springs. A Goddess and God figure descended to people the country with their direct descendants.

This first pair then begat the founding goddess-figure, Amaterasu Omi Kami (Sun Goddess). She is enshrined at the holiest of places, the Ise Shrine (Ise Jinja).

At that shrine on the Ise peninsula, the special prayer given for the founding Goddess of Japan is called “taima”, which literally means “cannabis”. Cannabis, salt and rice are the sacred staples that are used as part of all the rites at the shrine.

In fact, cannabis, mulberry fibre, and cloth and paper made from them are offered to the gods at all Shinto shrines, along with salt, sake and rice.

In olden times, wandering pilgrims were obliged to leave an offering of cannabis leaves and rice to the pathside phallic-fertility statues of the Sahe no Kami (protective deities) before embarking on a journey.

Hempen Purity

At Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples, certain objects are symbolically made from hemp. For example, the thick bell-ropes must be hempen, as is the noren, a short curtain which acts as a symbolic purification “veil”, meant to cause evil spirits to flee from the body as the head brushes lightly beneath it.

In another old tradition, rooms of worship were purified by burning cannabis leaves by the entrance. This would invite the spirits of the departed, purify the room and encourage people to dance.

The element of purity is stressed again as undyed hemp fabric was an important part for the household of the new bride. This undyed hemp came to symbolize the “womanly virtues” of faithfulness, chastity and obedience. Like the undyed cloth, an old saying goes, the woman must allow herself to be dyed any color her husband chooses.

Hemp Seed for Food

While soy and rice have long been Japan?s nutritional staples, cannabis seed was also an important part of the diet, used mostly as addition to vegetables or else as gruel.

When the armies of the fuedal age went to war, they subsisted on balls of ground cannabis seed and brown rice gluten to keep them strong.

In contemporary Japan, ground cannabis seed remains in the diet in Shichimi (seven spices) used for flavoring Udon noodles. Unsterilized cannabis seed bird food is readily available as well.

The Gods’ Harvest Party

Another Shinto tale tells that every October, all the dieties from around Japan gather at a sacred site in rural Shimane prefecture, at Japan’s largest shrine called Iizumo Taisha.

Shimane is far out of the way of any urban center, and besides being “Home of the Gods”, it was home to bounteous cannabis harvests up until about 50 years ago. During this month, the rest of the nation is left unprotected from calamity while the gods hold a harvest festival and match-making celebration.

Zen Hemp Haiku

Zen, the meditative, Taoist influenced branch of Buddhism, was also influenced by cannabis, in the forms of marijuana and hemp. Samurai and scholars who followed Zen’s subtle tenets express cannabis’ inspiration in arts like Haiku (short poems).

In the following Haikus, the feeling of cannabis is clear. The wandering Zen poet Issa Kobayashi writes:

The cannabis around my hut
also has suffered
From summer thinness.
Just when I hear
The sundown bell,
The flower of this weed.

Basho the Haiku Master writes:

The cannabis- How wonderful it is!
The summer drawing room.
Trees and stones, just as they are.
Ah, how glorious!
The young leaves, the green leaves,
Glittering in the sunshine!

And one more, author unknown:

When all things are hushed,
suddenly a bird’s song
arouses a deep sense of stillness.
When all the flowers are departed,
suddenly a single flower is seen,
and we feel the infinity of life.

(All haikus quoted from Drake)

The Hempen Arts

A common pattern in fabric is the traditional “asa no ha” (cannabis leaf), where the seven blades of the leaf intersect to form a mandala-like pattern. This pattern is often seen in curtains, quilts and kimono (seen on background)

This pattern is also commonly seen in paintings depicting the “floating world” of Geisha. These colourful art prints often depict the subject’s kimono with this geometric leaf pattern, as well as relaxing and smoking a long slender pipe while between customers (opposite page). Another interesting artifact from that world is a hair comb, detailed with cannabis and what are likely Japanese maple leaves (below).

A widely celebrated painting from 1929, Shimizu’s Taima Shukaku (Hemp Harvest), depicts farmers cutting down thick, dense hemp fields, surrounded by a vibrant valley. This painting was a finalist for a kind of national “painting of the year” award from the government.

Wood-cut prints from a 1979 artistic agriculture grow book show the same dense fields. One caption explains how one must walk through the fields to “ventilate” the plants. Other captions include a three-step water-retting technique, and a means of bleaching with potash and lime.

Archery & Sumo Wrestling

The bowstring used by Zen Archers is specifically made of cannabis, which reflects a connection with the meditative practice of Zen as well as verifying hemp’s toughness as a fibre.

Sumo wrestling involves an elaborate pre-bout ceremony called dohyo-iri, in which the reigning champion carries a giant hempen rope around his ample girth to purify the ring and exorcise the evil spirits. This purification ritual continues even to this day, with the approximately 30 pound hempen belt being worn by Hawaiian-born sumo champion, Akebono.
Leaping Ninjas!

A well-known folk story tells of a technique used by elite ninja assassins to improve their jumping skills.

The learning ninja plants a batch of cannabis when he begins training, and endeavors to leap over it every day. At first this is no challenge, but the plants grow quickly, and so must the diligent ninja’s jumping ability. By the end of the season, the warrior can alledgedly clear the full grown stand of cannabis. This certainly attests as much for the plant’s vitality as to the ninja’s leaping ability.

US Cannabis Suppression in Japan

Cannabis cultivation came to a legal halt in Japan during the post WWII allied-forces occupation. Allied troops lived in Japan and helped to rebuild and reshape the nation which had been battered by the destruction and poverty of wartime. The foreign troops were certainly surprised at the abundance of cannabis, growing both wild and cultivated.

When American General Douglas MacArthur and his colleagues rewrote the Japanese constitution in 1948, they were sure to include the Taima Torishimari Ho, the Cannabis Control Act.

Western companies seized upon this new, tightly controlled post-war market, and offered new synthetic products to replace the traditional. The cannabis plant was almost completely eradicated, and thousands of years of growth and breeding were greatly diminished under an avalanche of post-war change.

Hemp for Victory

Ironically, it was the Japanese Imperial Army’s invasion of the Philippines a few years earlier that had acted as catalyst for the US “Hemp for Victory” campaign to replace the Manila-hemp used by the armed forces.
Japan had also relied on domestic and Southeast Asian cannabis crops to make their uniforms, helmet linings and other war accessories for their Imperialist campaigns, until WWII.

Loss of memories

Despite the intentions of the centralized government and the Cannabis Control Act, cannabis was still cultivated and growing wild in cities, especially along railways, until the mid-50’s. As was the case in many other countries, most farmers had no idea that this outlawed plant “cannabis” was the familiar crop they still used for everything from bird seed to fine woven cloths.

Most Japanese believe that marijuana is a narcotic, and do not realize that it is the same plant as cannabis hemp, which was once as much a part of Japanese culture as rice. In a mere half century, MacArthur’s Cannabis Control Act managed to almost totally wipe away the memories of cannabis culture, which had endured for several thousand years after its beginnings in the Jomon Period.

The Japanese term for cannabis, asa, still has a familiar sound to the Japanese people, most of whom just assume that it has just been replaced by new, better fibres. Fortunately, much information survives in art, books and stories. Wild cannabis also continues to grow in abundance, now a weed in areas where it was once a valued crop.

Government permits

Like other governments, the Japanese parliament continues to be hesitant and under-informed about the benefits of extensive cannabis cultivation. Yet the current legal status still allows cannabis to be grown, with a permit.

However, the permit application process is lengthy, frustrating and futile, as the government rarely issues permits. It has been so long that most civil servants respond simply with a blank look.

Cheeba Cheeba on Hokkaido Island.

Cheeba Cheeba on Hokkaido Island.Hemp Stores

Hempen household accessories like washcloths and curtains continue to be sold in Japan, made from Chinese and Korean hemp. More recently, new hemp products from western manufacturers are taking off. Given Japan’s enthusiasm for traditional, rugged North American fashion, this will be a burgeoning industry should the restrictions relax.

There are now several stores carrying cannabis hemp products, including the Earth Shop and Cheeba Cheeba run by expatriate American Neil Hartman on the island of Hokkaido.

In Kyoto, a traditional hemp shop called Asakoji has continued to serve patrons since the 1600’s, surviving wars and prohibition. Perhaps more importantly, the store emphasizes the age-old connection of spirituality, art and agriculture, a vital example of cannabis in Japan. Their hemp noren sign boasts in Japanese “We only know about cannabis, but we know every detail.”

Cheeba Cheeba: owned by expatriate American Neil Hartmann

Cheeba Cheeba: owned by expatriate American Neil HartmannAt Taimdo (cannabis shrine) in Tokyo, a hemp shop sells mostly imported hemp goods and is a centre for activism and research. Citizens are increasingly using political means, as well as spiritual, to restore cannabis cultivation in their homeland by distribution of information and products.

Changing the Laws

For two decades following the passage of the Cannabis Control Act, the law seemed to exist only on the books. Many farmers still grew hemp and the law was not enforced.

Earth Shop on Hokkaido Island.

Earth Shop on Hokkaido Island.

Outside pressures built up, and in 1967 the Cannabis Control Act was enforced for the first time, when 20 stalks were seized from a farmer’s collective in the Shinshu, Nagano region. The ensuing legal proceedings sparked the cannabis liberation movement in Japan.

Symposiums in the 70’s

In the early 1970s, the first modern cannabis symposium was held at Kyoto University and a court challenge was filed to argue that the ban was unconstitutional. The cannabis movement became a struggle not only against cannabis laws, but also against the pressing thumb of US influence, symbolized in the continuing occupation of Okinawa by US military forces.

Cannabis conferences are now attended by a diverse group of lawyers, doctors, students, and farmers who are lobbying the government and encouraging research.

In Iwate prefecture, an association of hemp farmers promotes a festival in which they invite the public to join in the harvest.

Earth Shop: also owned by Neil Hartmann.

Earth Shop: also owned by Neil Hartmann.Tests and Research

Research and test cultivation of low-THC hemp has been going on at many Japanese universities for several years.

In Tochigi prefecture, a group has recently begun producing and marketing rugged, refined paper made from pure, domestic cannabis hemp. This handsome paper is available in limited supply and is being used for printing cards and book-covers.

Shinshu University in Nagano is also cultivating, and various projects are underway in Iwate and Fukui prefectures and on Hokkaido, showing cannabis’ potential in many latitudes and climates.

Earth Shop Manager, Haruko

Earth Shop Manager, HarukoBlitzing, Challenging, Building Houses

Shizuoka lawyer Hidehiro Marui has been representing marijuana arrestees for much of his 20 year career, and also owns a coveted permit to cultivate cannabis for personal research. He and his colleagues are blitzing the mass media, publishing research and dissertations in popular magazines to encourage public education about cannabis and its potential products.

Cannabis’ potential as a building material is especially intriguing to this group, who plan to construct hempen houses throughout Japan, reducing their massive importation of wood as well as showing a useful application of hemp.

Before 2000, Marui’s group plans to challenge the Cannabis Control Act and test its constitutionality. This could have a resounding impact on this island nation, and will certainly call the Japanese people to debate at many levels.

Pot Prices in Japan

Pot is more expensive in Japan than North America, but so is everything else, with a cup of coffee going for as much as $7cdn.

Police always quote a “street price” of 6000 yen ($65cdn) for a gram of marijuana, but the actual price is usually about half that. An ounce sold to a friend goes for $600 to $900cdn.

On the northern island of Hokkaido marijuana grows wild, so it is very rare that anyone spends money to get it. People there are very friendly and will often give big bags full to their friends. Since it is wild the quality is not world class, but it is free.


Marijuana Smokers in today’s Japan

While smoking marijuana is not as wide-spread in Japan as it is in Canada, Japanese cannabis culture is certainly alive and well.

The most popular drugs in fast-paced Japanese society are nicotine, alcohol and caffeine, followed by amphetamines. In 1995, there were almost 20,000 arrests for speed, compared to about 1,500 for pot.

In the big cities, it isn’t hard to find buds or hash in small quantities. It is nonchalantly viewed as a trendy western drug by many casual urban users. Something you do a couple times before you “get serious” with your life. The chunks of hash are primarily sold by Iranians in the parks or train stations, but the police are rounding up many of these people and deporting them for visa violations and minor infractions, in actions that often seem racially motivated.

The commercial product comes mostly from the Phillipines and Thailand, smuggled in by boats, the packages tied to off-shore buoys and passed off to the locals. It also comes in from Hawaii, brought in by smugglers posing as tourists.


Ross Rebagliati: Hempen Hero

The 1998 Winter Olympic games are over and done, but their effect is still being felt in Japan and around the world. After snowboarding for ten years, hosting my own TV program on snowboarding, and learning to speak fluent Japanese, I was given the honour of having the best possible seat for the first ever Olympic Snowboard Halfpipe competition.

The competition began on February 8, with minimal presence from Japanese media, who are known for only covering events with Japanese competitors. Since there were no Japanese snowboarders, their media turnout was rather weak for Ross Rebagliati’s gold medal performance.

That all changed on February 9 however, when it was announced that Rebagliati would lose his medal due to a pot-positive pee test. The Japanese media had finally found something they could cover, and for the next two days the papers were filled with articles concerning the decision. Debates were held on TV with panels ranging from professors to actors. One of the most common wrap-up comments heard from reporters was something to the effect of “loose morals in other countries can lead to problems like this.”

The overall opinion of the Japanese media? Marijuana is bad and Rebagliati should have his medal taken away. Even after his medal was reinstated, TV shows rambled on endlessly about how the Olympic Committee had made a big mistake and the medal should definitely be taken away. Many argued that Rebagliati should face charges in a Japanese court.

It is unfortunate that such uninformed people should be in a position to create and influence public opinion, but in Japan it is very difficult to voice an opinion that goes against the laws.

During the two days before the medal was returned, I spoke to many of the Japanese staff involved in the snowboard competitions. Not once did anyone question why marijuana was even being tested for. The only thing anyone ever said was “mottainai” (what a waste) or “Taima suttei baka da ne” (he’s a fool for smoking marijuana). The most common comment was “snowboard ga image warukunaru ne” (now snowboarding will have a bad image). Again and again I was reminded how far Japan has to go towards proper marijuana education.

Yet all in all what happened was not only good for Japan but for the hemp/marijuana movement world wide. Thanks to Ross Rebagliati, the movement to legalize cannabis got a big boost and some great press. He proved to Japan and to the world that you can smoke marijuana and still win a Gold Medal and be a hero for your country.

? By Neil Hartmann, Earth Shop, Hokkaido

Miasa-muras town brochure. Residents there are eager to grow legal cannabis.

Miasa-muras town brochure. Residents there are eager to grow legal cannabis.Homesteading Hempsters

In the mountains and countryside, the situation is somewhat better as the skills of growing are still practiced. Unfortunately, it’s hard to meet growers and smokers out in the countryside (that’s why they live there). Several people I met there had moved from the big cities to homestead and grow in the rural areas.

Due to the scarcity of equipment and the high cost of electricity, most crops are outdoors in clearings on steep hillsides in the dense forests. The genetics come from various seeds brought back from vacations to Thailand, Jamaica, Amsterdam or BC, and then worked into the Japanese soil.

Some growers in villages use small greenhouses alongside their house, hoping no one stops by to see what’s growing.

Expansive wild and semi-cultivated crops of cannabis grow in the vast rolling hills on the cold northern island of Hokkaido. Young city folk often try to harvest the rugged fibre for personal smoking use, with little success and often legal problems. The police know this trick and station roadblocks during harvest season, often catching people with their trunk full of plants.

The government’s gold medal crops

In February of this year, the Nagano region of Japan hosted the Winter Olympic Games. Yet despite all the media frenzy around Canadian pot-puffing gold-medal snowboarder Ross Rebagliati, the local hempen heritage received no exposure.

The best example of local Japanese cannabis culture is the town of Miasa-mura (beautiful hemp town), located in Nagano-prefecture, amongst the foothills of Japan’s Northern Alps.

When asked how much cannabis used to grow in this region, one farmer responded by asking “Do you see these rice fields?” He pointed to the vast checkerboard of rice fields he’d been cutting and bundling. “Before the war, we didn’t grow rice here, we grew cannabis.”

Miasa-mura’s town brochure even features a distinctive cannabis leaf. The town educates visitors with a hemp and flax museum and spinning equipment on display.

Many residents are anxious to resume legal hemp cultivation, and are frustrated by the long and always unsuccessful application process.

The Nagano government administers the growth of one or two closely monitored hemp fields, of exactly one thousand plants each. They are grown at different locations in rotating country villages. The local authorities count the plants at the beginning, middle and end of the growing season, to ensure that none have been taken.

The hemp fibre isn’t used at all, but the seeds are harvested to maintain a fresh seed stock in the town coffers. The hemp crop is then completely burned in the field. Although a waste, at least Japan’s acclimatized strains aren’t extinct, as has happened in many other countries.

The feds’ private stash

The federal government also continues to maintain its own private stash of cannabis seed and plants for posterity and experimentation.

The Tokyo Metropolitan Government’s Medicinal Plant Garden has maintained a seed stock and bred varieties of “asa” for research since 1946, when cannabis hemp was in short supply due to the war. Given the Japanese knack for detail and research, their large, secure complex in suburban Tokyo is likely a valuable cache of information and genetics.

While the original intent of the compound seems to have been to advance the medicinal use of cannabis, this motive has been lost under a cloud of paranoia, even though the use of seeds for health and medicine is common information.

The director, Torao Shimizu, maintains that the plants are just to teach people what cannabis looks like, so they can destroy it should it be found growing in their area.

International Cannabis Culture

In these rural areas, cannabis culture grooves on with an international twist. It is wonderful to pass a bong around in a foreign land, knowing that you are among folks with the same understanding of the plant as you. This is especially true in Japan, which is so often seen as a crowded, neon, worker hive. It feels great to meet people living a life like yours in so many ways: same tunes, same thoughts, same ganja.

One friend told me about Bob Marley’s visit to Japan about two years before he died. Bob’s entourage hadn’t brought any weed with them to Japan, so Bob was excited to meet this friend who was able to provide Bob with buds from his apartment closet grow system. Bob stayed at his apartment for a couple of days and gave him a percussive gourd as a gift.

Japanese strains of hemp

According to a 1912 US Department of Agriculture comparison study, Japanese strains of hemp were taller and bigger than European and Chinese strains.

“…Japanese Hemp is beginning to be cultivated, particularly in California, where it reaches a height of 15 feet. Russian and Italian seed have been experimented with, but the former produces a short stalk, while the latter only grows to a medium height.”

The USDA continued experimenting with Japanese strains with remarkable success. A strain from Tochigi-prefecture grown in Virginia even broke the USDA height record.

Since definitive research on Japan’s crop volume was destroyed in WW2 fire storms it is difficult to arrive at a clear estimate of how well these strains grew in their native soils.

Japanese Pot Cops

Japanese police still work hard at catching pot people, especially importers. Police literature quotes from a book called “What is Marijuana”:

“Marijuana abuse causes disorder of time concepts, confusing past, present and future. Addicts sometimes see what can not be seen, or sometimes see themselves as beautiful ladies, birds or animals. Sometimes they fall into a state of lethargy.”

Japan’s anti-pot establishment also targets famous people to publicly defame. In 1995, one of Japan’s most popular rock singers, Tsuyoshi Nagabuchi, was caught with under 2 grams of grass. He was jailed, fined millions, had his concerts canceled and had to publicly apologize.

Remember that the Japanese jailed Paul McCartney for two ounces in the early seventies, and it was only with great diplomatic pressure that he was released.

Japanese have also been at the other end of the rope, as the Phillipines hanged a Japanese convicted of smuggling several ounces of pot in the early 1990’s.

the kanji for cannabis means `big hemp.`

the kanji for cannabis means `big hemp.`Cannabis in the Japanese Language

In Japan’s beautiful and bewildering language, cannabis is expressed by an ideogram character, adapted from Chinese, and pronounced “asa”. This character is read “ma” in Chinese and represents two plants hanging upside down from the rafters of a drying shed. Note that only marijuana plants would be hung to dry in thus fashion, as cannabis grown for fibre is field-retted after harvest.

Since the decline of cannabis cultivation, “asa” has become a sort-of catch-all term for replacement crops such as jute, sisal, flax linen, as well as cannabis, making it a bit confusing. However in any dictionary or other languge resource, it is unmistakable that the asa character means cannabis.

A character which refers to cannabis more specifically is “taima”. “Tai” (or “Dai”) means “tall” or “big”, while “ma” is the original Chinese reading of the “asa” character. This is the “official” word for the plant used in the law that prohibits its cultivation.

There is an amazing piece of linguistic proof that the ancient japanese were very aware of cannabis’ enlightening uses. The japanese character for “to rub” consists of “cannabis” and “hand”. Of course, you rub cannabis only to get hashish.

Cannabis culture also lives on through family names such as Asada or Asahara (hemp field) and given names like Asako (little hemp child) or Mamiko (hemp flower).

the kanji for `to rub` is made of `cannabis` and `hand`.

the kanji for `to rub` is made of `cannabis` and `hand`.Other Cannabis Culture terms used in Japan

marifana ? Common slang adaptation of the Mexican/American word for cannabis.
choko ? A modern Japanese slang for weed. Similar to ganja, which is also used.
kusa ? “Grass” as in “You got any grass?”
dozo ? This is the way to say “here, take this” as you pass the joint.
happa ? “Leaf” A common term used the same way as “weed”.
maku ? The verb “to roll.” Try “happu o maku” for “roll up some weed.”
happachu / happaboke ? “Weed junkie”, used a bit lightheartedly sometimes, as the suffix also refers to harder drugs.

Social Stigma & Good Bud

To be caught smoking weed in Japan is a very big deal. Their justice system is efficient and precise at measuring out your sentence, no matter how much influence you may have in another country. There are many foreigners languishing in Japanese jails who were caught bringing in a stash to get them by while they were living and working in Japan.

It is a social stigma to be caught and many Japanese parents fret that if their child goes overseas to visit or study they will become either pregnant or start smoking pot and then not be a proper worker/citizen. Marijuana is considered by many to be as bad as any other drug, and smokers are referred to as “happachuu” (leaf addict) the same as a junkie.

For several years, Japan has had a working holiday visa arrangement with Canada, Australia and New Zealand, so it has given many young Japanese a chance to explore the world and try many new things, and then take their new foreign habits back home to share with their friends. To many young Japanese who feel stifled by the rigors of their society, Vancouver is known for snowboarding, good music and good bud.

Emerging from the Shadows

With total dependence on foreign oil, crowded cities, toxic-patches of oceans, hazardous nuclear reactors, aging population, exessive golf courses and little farmland, Japan will quickly have to look for new options to carry itself into the next generation.

Japan is starting to realize this and has begun to take steps towards meaningful alternatives such as recycling and reducing consumption, especially with wood products.

With Japan’s traditional skill at arts of the land and soul, combined with their modern prowess in manufacturing and mass-marketing, it will be exciting to see what impact the resurgence of the cannabis plant will have upon the nation’s economy and culture.

As Japan realizes its role as a global leader, Shinto’s sacred herb can help reconnect them with their past, and guide them towards a clean and sustainable future.


? A longer and more complete version of this article, including a thorough bibliography citing all sources, can be found online at:

? Please contact for permission before quoting or publishing any part of this research.

? Thanks to Joe Wein of Kanto region, Japan who has an excellent collection of articles and resources about hemp in Japan available at: http://www2.gol.com/users/joewein/hempjpn.html

? Thanks also to Hidehiro Marui, author of What is the Ganja and Asa and Human Culture. Marui’s Japanese web page is at:

 “Hemp culture in Japan” in Journal of Industrial Hemp Association, 1997

As published in Journal of the International Hemp Association Vol. 4 No. 1 June 1997

Hemp culture in Japan

Since the neolithic Jomon Period, hemp has been grown in Japan.  Jomon means ‘pattern of ropes’.  These hunting and collecting people lived a civilized, comfortable existence and used hemp for weaving clothing and baskets (Mayuzumi 1996).  Cannabis seeds from prehistoric sites have been uncovered on the island of Kyushu (Marui 1997).  While the origins of hemp are not entirely clear, like much of Japan’s culture, hemp was most certainly imported from China.  Hemp made its way from the Middle Kingdom around 300 BC, before (or along with) another staple: wet-field rice (Rathburn 1993).  Hemp had first gone to Korea, then was brought by traders across the narrow, but rough channel to Japan’s southern island of Kyushu.  A neolithic cave painting from coastal Kyushu depicts tall stalks with hemp-shaped leaves.  Strangely dressed people, horses and waves are also in the painting, perhaps depicting the Korean traders bringing hemp to Japan.   The hemp plant figure itself reflects the sun/plant image, similar to the hieroglyphic likenesses used by Mediterranean cultures (Bennet 1997).

 “Ventilating: entering hemp field to admit air.”

        As time went on, more people arrived on Japanese shores from China and Korea, carrying Japanese culture into the Yayoi Period, producing major changes in Japan as foreigners imported more advanced practices, and the indigenous Japanese quickly adapted their ways.  Most significant was the spread of agriculture and clan societal structure.  Hemp successfully adapted to the Japanese climate and spread throughout its latitudes.  Hemp was already a well-established crop by the time written language and recorded history appear during the Yayoi Period.   The indigenous Ainu on the northern island of Hokkaido made their colorful costumes from hemp fiber during this period, circa the 3rd century AD (Constantine 1992).   These people lived in patriarchal clan groups and wore clothes of hemp and bark.   Also, the complex Shinto system of multiple patriarchal deities developed as numerous clans each adopted a patron saint. (Hooker 1996)
A few centuries later, Bukkyo (Buddhism) made a similar journey starting from India across the Himalayas to China, on to the Hermit Kingdom of Korea, and ending up in Japan.  In the long migration from India to China, the teachings of the Buddha were modified.  However, from China to Korea, the basic tenets remained unchanged.  Upon arriving to Japan however, the natives adapted and intertwined Buddhism with both the traditional mythological religion of Shinto and their reverence for hemp.  Shinto is the ancient ‘way of the gods’, a ritualistic expression of profound respect for the kami (the intrinsic god-like spirit) in nature.  Purity and fertility are held paramount, and hemp is considered a symbol of both.
The Kojiki (the native chronicle of Japan) relates that after creating Japan, the ‘primal pair’ consulted each other saying, “We have now produced the great eight-island country, with the mountains, rivers, herbs and trees.  Why should we not produce someone who shall be lord of the universe.” (Moore 1991)  This pair then begot the founding goddess-figure, Amaterasu Omi kami (sun goddess) who is enshrined at the Ise jinja (shrine).  The prayer recited at the shrine is called Taima (hemp).   Hemp [seed], salt and rice are the sacred staples that are used as part of all the rites at the shrine (Yamada 1995).  The emperor himself is re-garded as a direct descendant of these gods and acts as the high priest of the folkloric Shinto belief.
Japan’s largest jinja, called Iizumo Taisha, is located in rural Shimane Prefecture (Honshu Island, south of Tottori).   As the story goes, every October all the Gods of Japan gather at this sacred site and the rest of the nation is left unprotected.  There, the deities hold a harvest match-making ritual and celebration.  Epic stories relate the feats of the gods as they amused themselves here in the ‘Home of the Gods’ (JNTO 1997).  Shimane Prefecture is far from any urban center, and until about 50 years ago, had the bounteous hemp harvests.

        “At Shinto jinja (shrines) and Buddhist tera (temples), certain objects are symbolically made from hemp.  For example, the leg-thick bell ropes, and the noren, a short curtain that hangs over the doorways and brushes the top of the head as one enters the room, must be hempen.  The noren acts as a symbolic purification rite, meant to cause evil spirits to flee from the body.” (Robinson 1996)

Indeed, the Shinto priests and faithful used hemp fibers as symbolic elements in their religious ceremonies.  One such use was the waving of a gohei (a short stick) with undied hemp fibers attached to the end.  Shaking these asa fibers above the patron’s heads apparently drove the evil spirits from the soul.   Further, hemp was a symbolic gift of acceptance and obedience from the groom’s family to the bride’s in times of matrimony (Robinson 1996).
Historically, the priests dressed in hemp robes as well.  It is in death that Shinto and Buddhism blend into a common braid.   The relatives continue to visit the graves, leaving offerings and praying in the Buddhist way.  Yet at home, a family shrine with the departed’s picture and memorabilia is tended in the Shinto tradition with hand claps, incense, and worshipping of the kami (deity) within.
The Japanese traveled long distances searching for salt, seeking enlight-enment and following pilgrimages.  In olden times, these merchants, wandering pilgrims and traveling believers were obliged to leave an offering to the sahe no kami (protective deities) before embarking on a journey.

        “These deities were represented by phalli, often of gigantic size, which were set up along highways, and especially at cross-roads, to bar passage of malignant beings who sought to pass . . .  Standing as they did on the roadside and at cross-roads, these gods became the protectors of the wayfarers; travelers prayed to them before setting out on a journey and made a little offering of hemp leaves and rice to each one they passed.”(Moore 1991)

In another old tradition, rooms of worship were purified by burning hemp leaves by the entrance.  This would invite the spirits of the departed, purify the room and encourage people to dance.

        “On the first evening, fires of hemp leaves are lighted be-fore the entrance of the house, and incense strewed on the coals, as an invitation to the spirits. At the end of the three days, the food that has been set out for the spirits is wrapped up in mats and thrown into a river. Dances of a peculiar kind are a conspicuous feature of the celebration, which is evidently an old Japanese custom; the Buddhist elements are adscititious (derived from outside).” (Moore 1991).

This ritual took place as part of a Buddhist holy day for “giving respect and making amends with departed ancestors”.   The current tradition at this August O bon festival involves the similar practice of leaving offerings of the departed’s favorite foods on the grave, perhaps to purify or satisfy the restless soul.  At some time in the past, hemp leaves were likely a part of this ritual as well.

Asakiri (hemp harvest) “After the 18th day before autumn equinox
[that is, around September 3], hemp is torn out with the roots.”

        Zen (the meditative Taoist-influenced branch of Buddhism) was especially influenced by hemp.  Samurai (elite warriors) and scholars who followed the subtle tenets of Zen express hemp’s inspiration in arts like haiku (short poems), aikido (a martial art), kyudo (archery) and chanoyu (tea ceremony).  A well-known children’s adventure story tells about a technique used by ninja (warriors) to improve jumping skills.  The student ninja plants a batch of hemp when he begins training and endeavors to leap over it every day.  At first this is no challenge, but the hemp grows quickly everyday and so does the diligent ninja’s jumping ability.   By the end of the season, the warrior can clear the 3-4 meter high hemp.  This certainly attests as much for hemp’s vitality as the ninja’s ability (Mayuzumi 1996, Masuda 1996).  The formal dress of the Samurai warriors was hempen as were the training clothes of meditators and martial artists.  In kyudo (archery) the bow’s string is specifically hemp, which reflects a connection with the meditative practice of Zen as well as hemp’s toughness as a fiber (Mayuzumi 1996).
In an elaborate, pre-bout ceremony called dohyo-iri, the reigning Sumo wrestling grand champion Yokuzuma carries a giant hemp rope around his ample girth to purify the ring and exorcise the evil spirits.  This continues even today, as the belt worn by Hawaiian-born champion Akebono is also made of hemp (Wein 1996-97).
Trade and communication between China, Korea and Japan faded over the next few centuries as each country followed it’s own secluded path.  However, Japan did continue to send scholars and students to learn medicine, agriculture and science from the Chinese and bring the best of it back home.   Japanese doctors incorporated the ancient Chinese pharmacopoeia and utilized many forms of the hemp plant to treat a variety of illnesses.  Hemp preparations are especially used as a laxative, to treat asthma and poisonous bites, to worm animals, counteract skin ailments and as a general tonic to promote vigor. (Drake 1970)
During the Shogun (feudal) era, hemp cultivation was encouraged by the daimyo (feudal lords) wanting hemp wear’s high sale value to the wealthy city merchants, who favored hemp for making fine clothing.   This brought economic strength and power to the daimyo of the area, who were actually often in debt to the merchants (Stearns et al. 1992).  The merchants had an interesting position in feudal society.  They were ranked near the bottom of the social ladder, but by building unions and creative marketing, they were soon the wealthiest class.  Samurai forbade themselves to handle money, as they thought it was unclean.  However, the merchants had learned the use of money from foreigners.

        “Merchants dealt not in rice but in coin, and utilized four metals: gold (obankobanichibu kin), silver (choginmame-itamonme), copper (zeni),and iron.  They had square holes in the center based on the Chinese system, and were carried on strings of hemp.” (Hidden Variable 1997)

While the farmers were supposedly given rights and privilege by the Samurai, they were in fact kept poor, busy and occupied with the agricultural process, which was labor intensive in low-tech rural Japan.  Even then, space was at a premium and the farmers began terracing the hillsides, as they had learned from the Chinese.

Roots and tops are cut off “Tie the stalks in bundles,
cut them to the same length with an oshikiri

        Hemp, along with silk for the wealthy Samurai class, was the primary source of clothing fiber until cotton was introduced in the 17th century.  Cotton began to replace hemp as the fiber crop for the new urban working class because of high yields (accompanied by heavy fertilizer use) and the development of mechanized processing methods.  Hemp was still used for a variety of specialized purposes, including the straps of geta (high wooden sandals), long-lines for eel fishing, and packaging ropes (Mayuzumi 1996).
Hemp is also an ingredient in making the fine paper known as washi (Taki, no date).  This technology also came from China, but the Japanese refined it and elevated it to a Zen-like craft.  These traditions are acknowledged by a modern paper maker.

        “AD 105 – Paper as we know it was invented by Ts’ai Lun, a Chinese court official.  It is believed that Ts’ai mixed mulberry bark, hemp, and rags with water, mashed it into a pulp, pressed out the liquid and hung the thin mat to dry in the sun.  Paper was born and this humble mixture would set off one of mankind’s greatest communication revolutions.   Literature and the arts flourished in China.

AD 610 – Buddhist monks gradually spread the art to Japan.  Papermaking became an essential part of Japanese culture and was used for writing material, fans, garments, dolls, and as an important component of houses.   The Japanese were also the first to use the technique of block printing.” (Mead Corporation 1996)

Hemp soon became a somewhat exclusive fabric used for special garments by the upper classes.  Hemp’s durability allowed the same fibers to be reused several times for recycled clothing, rags and finally paper.   As class structure made labor-intensive hemp economically unreachable for many, they tried to imitate hemp’s properties with cotton.  In fact, the summer yukata (cotton kimono) was the common person’s adaptation of the yukatabira (absorbent hemp bathrobes) that the wealthy wore after soaking in the hot springs (Mayuzumi 1996).
After short periods of limited trade with some European countries (primarily Holland) in the early 17th century, Japan once again solidly closed the bamboo curtain to the West.  In 1853, the US Navy’s Commodore Perry and a fleet of black gunboats pried open Japanese ports for trade and began a new era of change, trade and conflict.  Japan, a still feudal and warring nation, scrambled to learn the secrets of these strange “bearded barbarians” and take stock of their impact.  Realizing they had been caught in a very vulnerable position, Japan embarked on an intense, rapid industrialization program.  In the ensuing chaos, the young emperor Meiji was restored to the throne and the Samurai class dissolved.  Japan quickly engineered trains, steam-ships, silk factories and mining operations.   Surpassing in a few decades, the growth of industry that had taken Europe and America close to a century to achieve.
Shortly after their hasty ushering onto the world stage, Japan sent its first diplomatic mission to the USA, sailing across the Pacific only a scant four years after first seeing an ocean-going vessel.  Among the crew, serving as Captain Kimura’s personal servant and translator, was Yukichi Fukuzawa.  He tells in his account of the journey, about the crew all receiving a pair of hemp sandals to make the passage.  He goes on to say that some crewmen were a bit embarrassed when they arrived in San Francisco and saw how different their footwear and customs were.

        “All of us wore the usual pair of swords at our sides and the hemp sandals.  So attired we were taken to the modern hotel . . .  Here the carpet was laid over an entire room and upon this costly fabric, walked our hosts wearing the shoes they had come in from the streets!  We followed in our hemp sandals.” (Fukuzawa 1960)

Young Fukuzawa went on to found Kieo University and inspire Japan’s new educational system.  His face is now on Japan’s 10,000 Yen bill (which also probably contains hemp).
Regardless of the fact that Japan had become a world entity, the country ‘s farmers still bore the brunt of the labor, working long days in treacherous conditions to supply essentials for an increasingly urban population.   From the humid summers to the freezing winters, hemp provided rugged and functional clothing.  In the Meiji and Taisho eras (19th century), hemp fiber was combined with other plants like seaweed and broom-straw to make circular, pointed snow hats (Rathburn 1993).  These hats are a solid helmet of hemp fiber intertwined with seaweed, perhaps to let the snow slide off the sloping, conical peak.  The farmers also utilized similar materials in making pack-like back support pads for hauling heavy loads down steep mountainsides.  You no bi (the craft skill of traditional artisans) endures (Rathburn 1993).  This tactile feeling of ‘beauty in utility’ evokes a sense of the rugged simplicity and deliberate, elegant workmanship that blends so well with the hemp aesthetic.  During this same era, while country people fashioned rugged work wear, the textile artists continued using hemp to a different end.  The skill of the Japanese textile makers is seen in hemp kimono (traditional clothing) worn especially in the summer.  Often dyed in vats of fermented ai (indigo), the fine, almost sheer weaves show the versatility of hemp.  Weaves are so fine that the fibers look more like raw silk or fine flax.  Certainly, Japan’s previous experience with silk complemented the spinning and weaving of such fine diameter hemp thread into a fabric more usable than that of the silkworm (Kolander 1996).

Niru (boiling) “Put in yukakeburo (bath) and boil it.”

        Legal hemp cultivation came to a halt during the post-W.W.II occupation by allied forces.  Allied troops lived in Japan and helped to rebuild a nation battered by the destruction and poverty of wartime.  The foreign soldiers were certainly surprised at the abundance of hemp growing both wild and cultivated.  In 1948, when American General Douglas MacArthur and his colleagues rewrote the Japanese constitution, they included the Taima Torishimari Ho, the Hemp Control Act (Constantine 1992).

        “First, you have to remember that most Japanese still believe that Cannabis is a narcotic, and do not realize that it is the same plant as hemp, which was once as much a part of Japanese culture as rice.   In a mere half century, MacArthur, with the Marijuana Regulation Law [Hemp Control Act], managed to totally wipe away even the memories of hemp culture, which endured for several thousand years after its beginnings in the Jomon Period.” (Yamada 1995)

Ironically, it was the Japanese Imperial Army’s invasion of the Philippines a few years earlier, that had catalyzed the USA’s ‘Hemp for Victory’ campaign to replace the Manila “hemp” used by the allied armed forces.  Japan relied on both domestic and Southeast Asian hemp crops to make uniforms, helmet linings and other war accessories.  Western companies seized the post-war market opportunity in Japan by offering new synthetic products to replace traditional ones, and the hemp plant was almost completely eradicated under an avalanche of post-war change.  However, despite the intent of the newly installed central government to replace hemp, it was still cultivated and growing wild in cities, especially along railways, until the mid-50’s (Mayuzumi 1996).  As was the case in other countries, most farmers had no idea that the outlawed plant ‘hemp’, was the familiar crop they used for everything from bird seed to finely woven cloth.
In Japan’s beautiful and bewildering language, hemp is expressed by a kanji (ideogram) character, also adapted from Chinese, and pronounced “asa”.  According to Joe Wein (1997): “There are so many ancient connotations to hemp, it’s incredible.  For example, the kanji for ‘to rub’ consists of ‘hemp’ and ‘hand’.  You rub hemp [Cannabis] to get hashish.”   Another explanation is that ‘hemp’ harvesting and processing involves a large amount of ‘hand’ work.  Since the decline of Cannabis hemp production, the term asa has become a catchall term for alternative fiber crops such as jute, sisal, and flax, as well as true hemp.  Referring to Cannabis hemp more specifically is the word, taima.  Tai (or dai) simply means ‘big’ or ‘tall’.  (Ta ma is the original Chinese name of hemp.)  As in other lands, reminders of traditional hemp culture live on through family names such as Asada or Asahara (hemp field) and given names like Asako (sweet, little hemp child) or Mamiko (sweet, hemp flower).  Asa still has a familiar sound to the Japanese people, most of whom assume that it has just been replaced by new, better fiber.

Hosu (drying) “Dru thoroughly in the sunshine.
Gets ‘star’ (stains) if it gets wet with rain.”

        Little is remembered in common lore of this hidden heritage.  Fortunately, much information survives in art, books and stories.   In the 1991, 4th edition of Japan’s major encyclopedia, Kojien, the entry for asa (hemp) states;

        “. . . Ropes, nets, sails and textile for clothes and shoes are made from it.  Annual plant of the mulberry family.   Introduced from Central Asia. . . .  Leaves are long and 5-9 fingered. . . .   Also, along with benihana (a type of ginger preparation) and ai (indigo) they make the sanso (three plants).  Since olden times it has been cultivated all around the world.  Hashish and marijuana are made from Indian hemp from India.” (Kojien 1991, Wein 1997)

According to USDA comparison studies, Japan’s strains of hemp were tall and vigorous, out-performing both European and Chinese strains.

        “. . . Japanese hemp is beginning to be cultivated, particularly in California, where it reaches a height of 15 feet.   Russian and Italian seed have been experimented with, but the former produces a short stalk, while the latter only grows to a medium height.” (Dodge 1896)

The USDA continued experimenting with Japanese strains with remarkable success.  Growing in Virginia, a hybrid variety resulting from crossing with a strain from Tochigi-Prefecture broke their height record.

        “The three best strains, Kymington, Chington and Tochimington [named after Tochigi Prefecture in Japan] averaged, respectively, 14 feet 11 inches, 15 feet 5 inches, and 15 feet 9 inches, while the tallest individual plant was 19 feet.  The improvement by selection is shown not alone in increased height but also in longer inter-nodes, yielding fiber of better quality and increased quantity.” (Dewey 1920)

A clear estimate of how well these strains grew in their native soils under the care of talented Japanese gardeners is difficult to determine.  Hemp still grows in abundance as a weed in some areas where it was once cultivated as a fiber crop.  Written and oral reports of expansive, wild and semi-cultivated crops of Cannabis in the vast rolling hills of the cold northern island of Hokkaido, have persisted for years, and have more recently been substantiated (Gakujin et al. 1994, Masuda 1996).  Miasa-mura (beautiful hemp town), is located in Nagano Prefecture (north central Honshu island) amongst foothills and valleys in the shadow of the Japan’s Northern Alps, and is one of the former centers of hemp cultivation.  When asked how much hemp was grown in this region one farmer responded by saying, “Do you see these rice fields?”.  Pointing to the vast checkerboard of rice fields he had been cutting and bundling, he continued: “Before the war, we didn’t grow rice here, we grew hemp” (Gakujin et al. 1994).  In 1998, this area will host the Winter Olympic Games, and perhaps this hemp heritage will receive global exposure.  Miasa-mura’s town brochure features the distinctive seven-fingered serrated-edge hemp leaf.  The town educates visitors at a hemp and flax museum with spinning equipment on display.  Many residents in the town are anxious to resume legal hemp cultivation and are frustrated by the requirement of a long and always unsuccessful application process.  However, a variety of hardy strains of hemp continue to abound in the quickly shrinking backcountry.  Most of this hemp is feral, but some is cultivated for use by farmers carrying on the old ways (Gakujin et al. 1994).
However, in this area of Nagano Prefecture, the local government allows the growth of one or two closely monitored hemp fields of exactly one thousand plants grown at a different location in a rotation of villages (Miasa, Ogawa, Shin-shushimachi, Omachi, Nakajo) every year.  The local authorities count the plants at the beginning, during and end of the growing season to ensure that no hemp has been taken.  The hemp fiber isn’t used at all, in fact, after the plants mature and bear seeds, the seeds are harvested to maintain a fresh seed stock in the town coffers and the hemp crop is burned completely in the field (Gruett 1994).  This is certainly a waste of fiber, but at least the acclimated strains have not become extinct, as has happened in other countries.
Also, in this same area, an American expatriate farmer and craftsman has stepped back a few hundred years and “reopened” a village.  The hamlet of Gonda was founded about 600 years ago by monks who settled when they found a clear water spring in this secluded mountain valley.  The area, several days walk from the nearest trade village, thrived as a farming community of several families.  As Japan entered into foreign wars, Gonda’s young people were drafted from the farms to fight for the Emperor, and many never returned.  This migration continued for close to 50 years.  During the post-war poverty period, poor country people migrated to the cities to seek work.  Most fled the rural life, except for the oldest child of each family, who must remain to carry on the family traditions of maintaining the graves, tending the elders, and serving as lord of the house.  By the early 1970s, Gonda was still half a century behind modern Japan with no utilities, roads or public services.  Households were bursting with long-living elderly, but had scant few workers.  Since only old folks remained, city officials moved them into city condos, rather than provide them with infrastructure and services.  The area stood vacant for a decade, silent and fading back into the hills, except for an occasional relative bringing ceramic saucers of sake and oranges to the graves.
Steve Gruett and his family re-settled the village and homesteaded there, tending the area and again realizing the bounty of the mountains.  As a result of their hard work and smartly planned organic agriculture, Gonda’s fields once again bloom with life and they are discovering the rich agricultural history of the area.  When Steve first arrived in the early 1980’s, he saw film footage from circa 1970 of farm grandmothers hand-harvesting and retting hemp.   The film showed the grandmas pulling the long, fiber strands from hemp plants and shaking the seeds into woven baskets.  The film was presented by a local school teacher at a town meeting to discuss the old ways, some of which are now illegal (Gruett 1994).

Arau (washing) “Tie into bundles and wash in the river, then dry them again.”

        Hemp is also being grown in Nagano Prefecture for making the bell ropes, curtains and other essential goods for Shinto and Buddhist houses of worship (Maeda 1995).  In this area, the hemp tradition lives on in festivals and dance.  The Japan National Tourist Organization tells about this in their on-line brochure:

        “Oasahiko Shrine: Just walk-ing to this quiet shrine is a lovely experience.  On either side of the road are 400 to 500-year-old black pines designated a Prefectural Natural Monument.  Several wonderful festivals are held here: . . . a lion dance (shishi mai) in November to honor the god who brought hemp and cotton to the province . . .”

On the smallest of the four main Japanese islands (Shikoku) hemp is grown for the use of the imperial family.  When emperor Hirohito died in 1989, a coronation was held for his heir.  Since Hirohito’s son was succeeding him as the ‘living entity of God’, there was to be a special Shinto ritual.  In Shinto beliefs, hemp symbolizes purity, and the new emperor was bound by tradition to wear hemp garments, which had become unavailable over the course of his father’s long rule.
When a new Emporer ascends the throne in Japan, specific, symbolic rituals and ceremonies usher in the passing into the new era.   Even the years in modern times are measured by the Emporer’s years of reign, indeed history is divided into eras of rulers.  As hemp is a symbol purity in the Shinto traditon, the Emporer wears hemp robes for many of the ceremonies.  The prinicpal ceremony is called “Daijotsu” (great rice offering) and while the details are a secret, there must be a roll of hemp waiting at the foot of the royal futon at the end of the day.
Since the last occurance of the Daijotsu, (pre W. W. II, Emperor Hirohito) hemp had been criminalized.  A group of Shinto farmers in Tokushima-ken had thought ahead, planted a symbolic yet illegal crop, and presented the emperor with his new clothes made of pure local hemp (Gruett 1994, Bennet 1997).   They are still producing this hemp crop for the exclusive use of the imperial family.
In the village of Koyadaira-mura and Yamakawa-cho town, the country people spun and wove the cloth into the sacred fabric called “aratae” (fine cloth) 13 meters long and 34 centimeters wide.   The villagers presented it to the Imperial family so the Daijotsu could go on (Bennet 1997).
These farmers were rewarded for their efforts and continue to cultivate pure hemp exclusively for the Imperial family on their semi-tropical island between the “Seto-ki” (Inland sea) and the Pacific Ocean.
Ordinary Japanese are still able to buy hemp clothing and household accessories that come mostly from China, Korea, and more recently the US and Canada.  Hemp and its breezy feel is particularly favored as summer apparel in the muggy heat.  The domestic Japanese hemp is especially fine-woven and some weaves have a unique sheer, yet crisp crepe-like quality.  Occasionally, very small quantities of Japanese hemp make it to the market-place where it is sold by international high-end silk fabric dealers in amounts suitable only for collecting and research, and not as a commercial venture of consequence (Kolander 1996).
Kyoto has always been the center of the arts, humanities and spirit of Japan, and because of some well-timed discouragement from a US Diplomat, Kyoto was not seriously bombed during World War II (Atomic Bomb Museum 1994).   Thus, the traditional textile arts are carried on in the old capital and artists continue to use hemp for making sheer woven cloth, hand-dyed curtains and screens, paintings and quilts.  These arts often specifically require hemp cloth as it works best with the natural dyes and wax resist methods of dying.  Obtaining true hemp is difficult and the replacements simply do not perform as well.  A common pattern used in curtains, quilting and kimono is the traditional asa no ha (hemp leaf), featuring a mandala-like pattern of intersecting diamonds forming a stylized hemp leaf (Takeuchi 1996), and in the colorful art prints of the day, usually depicting plays and concubines.  The kimono of the artists portrayed frequently show this geometric leaf pattern, and it is still commonly created by textile artists today.
One of the most celebrated paintings of its time, Shimizu’s Taima Shukaku (Hemp Harvest) painted in 1929, depicts farmers cutting down thick, dense hemp fields, surrounded by a vibrant valley (Marui 1997).  Woodcut prints from an artistic agricultural text of 1979 show the same dense fields.  The caption explains how one must walk through the fields to “ventilate” the plants.  Other captions explain various well-evolved processes including a three-step water retting technique and also explain a means of bleaching with alkaline chemicals like potash and caustic lime (Wein 1997).

Tokomawashi (fermenting) “Soak in water, cover
it with straw mats, leave it for one or two days.”

        The use of ground hemp seed persists in the Japanese diet in the shichimi (seven spices) used for flavoring udon noodles.  While soy and rice have long been the nutritional staples, hemp seed was often part of the diet, used mostly as an addition to mountain vegetables or else as gruel.  In recent times, even brown rice has virtually disappeared from their kitchen in favor of processed foods and foreign dishes.  Certainly, Japan’s skill in soy foods like tofu and miso will adapt well to hemp, which exceeds so many of soy’s health benefits.  Unsterilized hemp seed bird food is also readily available in Japan.
Household accessories such as washcloths and curtains continue to be sold, but are made from Chinese and Korean hemp.  More recently, new hemp products from Western hemp manufacturers are “taking off”.   Given Japan’s enthusiasm for traditional, rugged North American fashion, this should become a burgeoning industry.  As more international exchange takes place, a blending of new ideas in business and activism is taking place.  This is bound to increase the markets in both countries.  With resources like the World Wide Web making borders and time zones less relevant, and young Japanese entrepreneurs looking to expand into an exciting field, some American companies are beginning to reap the rewards of this vast potential.  Of course, some Japanese realize this is an indirect trade.

        “The struggle to liberate and revive hemp is therefore a struggle to renew Japanese culture and liberate the country from the occupation policies and colonial subjugation of the United States.  Speaking spiritually, I believe this struggle is every bit as important as the movement in Okinawa today for the removal of the American bases.  We are talking about physical and spiritual independence.” (Yamada 1995)

The national government also continues to maintain its own seed reserves.  Since 1946, when Cannabis hemp was in short supply due to the war, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Medicinal Plant Garden has maintained a seed stock and bred varieties of asa for research at a large secure complex in suburban Tokyo.  Given the Japanese knack for detail and research, it is certainly a valuable cache of information and genetics.  The director, Torao Shimizu, maintains that the plants are just to teach people what hemp looks like so they can dispose of it should it be found it growing in their area (Lazarus 1994).  While the original intent seems to have been for medicinal use of Cannabis, this motive has been lost under a cloud of paranoia, though the use of seeds for medicine is common information.  “The seeds are used as bird seed and can also be used as a medicine (asashijingan), as a mild laxative” (Kojien 1991, Wein 1997).

Asafune (hemp boat) “Put it into a hemp boat (tub) filled with
water and leave it for two days.”

        Like other governments, the Japanese parliament is under-informed about the benefits of hemp, and continues to be hesitant to support extensive cultivation.  The actual current legal status still leaves the opportunity for application to cultivate hemp.  However, this is a frustrating, lengthy, and nearly always futile process, as the government rarely issues permits.   It has been so long since the last one was issued that most civil servants respond simply with a blank look (Gruett 1994).  For the first two decades, the law seemed to exist only on the books.  Farmers still grew hemp for community uses and the law was not enforced until the out-side pressures of ‘internationalization’ caught up.   Internationalization is the closest translation of Japan’s approach and attitude towards creating their niche as a responsible major world player.  Continued American military and business occupation, coupled with massive internal government scandals and instability, made creating an international identity difficult.  During the economic gravy days of the last few decades, the world’s view of Japan has been obscured by a massive corporate face.  Anyone can quickly name several well-known Japanese companies, but it is difficult to name a famous individual.  There is little room for individual thought against the mainstream policy.  This may begin to change as Japanese people continue a sort-of environmental reawakening.
The Hemp Control Act was first enforced during the harvest of 1967, when 20 stalks were seized from a farmer’s collective in the Shinshu, Nagano region (Yamada 1995).  The ensuing legal proceedings sparked the hemp liberation movement in Japan.  In the early 1970s, the first modern hemp symposium was held at Kyoto University and a court challenge was filed to argue that the ban was unconstitutional.  The hemp movement became a struggle not only against hemp laws, but against the pressure of the United States’ influence, and the continuing occupation of Okinawa by military forces.  Hemp conferences are now attended by a diverse group of lawyers, doctors, students, and farmers who are lobbying the government and encouraging research.
In Kyoto, one traditional hemp shop, Asakoji, continues to serve patrons since the 1600s, having survived wars and prohibition.   Perhaps more importantly, Asakoji shows the Japanese community a vital example of the age-old connection of spirituality, art and hemp agriculture in Japan.  Their hemp noren sign boasts in Japanese “We only know about hemp, but we know every detail.”  At the Taimado hemp shrine, a hemp shop owned by Koichi Maeda, sells hemp goods (mostly imported), and is a center for activism and research.   Maeda’s business cards are proudly printed on Japanese-grown hemp paper.   Citizens and customers are increasingly using political means, as well as spiritual, to restore hemp cultivation in their homeland (Maeda 1997).
Hidehiro Marui, a lawyer and writer from Shizuoka-ken has published several articles in prominent magazines and has challenged the courts.  He also holds a unique “loophole” permit allowing him to grow hemp at his home for research purposes.  Marui and his colleagues are also “blitzing” the mass media, publishing research and dissertations encouraging public education about hemp and its potential products.  Further they challenge the publicly owned broadcasters to give equal time to covering hemp’s positive impact along with negative Cannabis drug reporting.  Hemp’s potential as a building material is especially intriguing to this group, who plan to construct hemp houses, reducing Japan’s massive importation of wood. (Marui 1997)

Asahagi (peeling) “Break off two or three sun (6 to 9 cm) at the
bottom and peel skin and divide it from agara (husk).

        Before the year 2000, the Taima Torishima Ho (Hemp Control Act) will again be called for review to test its constitutionality (Marui 1997).  If hemp is given fair time, this will have a resounding impact and will certainly call the Japanese nation to debate at many levels.   In a country of political indifference, farmer’s cooperatives have been a vocal, organized political force since the Shogun periods.  Increases of low-cost crop imports, reductions in subsidies, and difficult weather have made many farmers look for a change from growing rice year after year.  This has also led to a re-emergence of sustainable, organic farming techniques that will speed the implementation of industrial hemp cultivation and rejuvenate the tired soil.
At several universities around Japan, research and test cultivation of low-THC hemp has been carried out since the early 1990s.  In Tochigi Prefecture, a group has recently begun producing and marketing rugged, refined paper made from pure, domestic hemp.  This handsome paper is available in limited supply and is being used for printing cards and book-covers.  Shinshu University in Nagano Prefecture is also cultivating hemp, but information is not being widely published.   Various projects are underway in Iwate and Fukui Prefectures and on Hokkaido island, showing hemp’s potential in many latitudes and climates.  Furthermore, in 1997 at least two permits have been granted to individual growers for crops in Shizuoka Prefecture, much closer to the urban centers of Japan.  One permit went to a young farmer couple and the other permit to a lawyer for personal research, following extensive legal wranglings.
Whether Japan will follow the hempen path along with Pacific Rim trading partners such as Australia, New Zealand, Thailand and Canada remains to be seen.  Perhaps Japan will reaffirm its place as a regional leader and embark on a hemp cultivation program that will be a model for other Asian nations.   Japan’s economic growth provided an example that many other Asian nations are now emulating with staggering success.
An often startling fact to foreigners who have never visited the scenic Japanese countryside is that it is 80% forested, and much of that is in steep, sharp mountain ranges.  While Japan maintains its own forests in a sustainable and responsible manner, their companies and consumers continue to be a major detrimental force in the wholesale destruction of foreign forests to feed a thirst for mass media publications and information.  Particularly affected are forests in Malaysia, Guyana and Canada’s British Columbia, where the majority of the cut trees is pulped and made into newsprint and household paper.
Recently, Japan is starting to realize this and is taking steps towards meaningful alternatives, such as recycling and reducing consumption, especially with wood products.  Considering Japan’s skill at the traditional arts of the soil and spirit, combined with their modern prowess in manufacturing and mass-marketing, it will be exciting and inspiring to see what new impact the hemp plant makes on this country’s culture.  As Japan realizes its role as a global model, hemp will emerge from the shadows to greet the future in the ‘Land of the Rising Sun’.

Hosu (drying) “Bleach the peel with rice ash or lime and dry it.
Then spin it into yarn, just like cotton.”


  • Asakoji  1997.  pers. comm.  quoted from the store’s banner sign in Kyoto, Japan.  Translated by Misa Nakanishi.
  • Atomic Bomb Museum  1994.  Hiroshima, Japan.
  • Bennet, Chris  1997.  pers. comm.  Vancouver, B.C.
  • Constantine, Peter  1992.  Japanese Street Slang, Tengu Books, Tokyo, Japan.
  • Dewey, Lyster H.  1920.  USDA Bureau of Plant Industry, Report of the Chief: No. 26.  from www.presenter.com/~davewest/fiberwars.
  • Dodge, C. A.  1896.  A report on the culture of hemp and jute in the United States.  USDA Office of Fiber Investigations Report No. 8: 7.
  • Fukuzawa, Yukichi  1960.  Autobiography of Yukichi Fukuzawa translation by Eiichi Kiyooka.  Columbia Univ. Press, NY, NY.: 112-113.
  • Gakujin Inoue, Poli Kondo and Hiro  1994.  pers. comm.  Nagano, Japan.   Farmers, artists, crafters, healers and naturalists in the Shinshu area from whom I learned and lived the old ways of Japan.
  • Gruett, Steve  1994.  pers. comm.  Nagano, Japan.
  • Hidden Variable  1997.  Japanese History, Exploring Japanese Fuedalism Arcata, CA  from http://www.holdit.com/hidden/japan/toc.html
  • Hooker, Bruce  1996.  World Cultures: Ancient Japan, Jomon & Yoyoi Washington State University from www.wsu.edu:8000/~dee/AncientJapan/AncientJapanYayoi.html
  • JNTO  1997.  Japan National Tourism Organization, On-Line tour guide. www.jnto.go.jp/05regional/tokushima/experience.html
  • Kojien  1991.  4th edition of Japan’s major encyclopedia, Kojien
  • Kolander, Cheryl  1996.  pers. comm., Portland, Oregon  author of Hemp for Textile Artists 1995 Mama D.O.C., Inc. Portland.
  • Kotaru, Kyoshi  1996.  (How to make an) Asa Noren from www.kyoto-inet.or.jp/people/franz/noren2.html
  • Lazarus, David  1994.  Sumertime and the Pot Farming’s Easy, Japan Times, August 7 from Joe Wein at http://www2.gol.com/users/joewein/hempjpn.htm
  • Maeda, Koichi  1995.  interview in Andrulli, Sim “The Grass is Greener”, Kansai Time-Out (English Language Weekly), Kobe, Japan.   June.  Thanks to Dominic Al-Badri. http://www.kto.co.jp/kto.html
  • Maeda, Koichi  1997.  pers. comm.  Vancouver, B. C.
  • Marui, Hidehiro  1997.  pers. comm.  “What is the Ganja” & “Asa and Human Culture”, Shizuoka-ken, Japan.  Thanks to Asada Yutaka at http://www.asahi-net.or.jp/~IS2H-MRI/
  • Masuda, Eiji  1996.  pers. comm., Tokyo, Japan and Olympia, Washington.
  • Mayuzumi, H.  1996.  pers. comm., http://www.ict.co.jp/
  • Mead Corporation  1996.  History of Paper.  Dayton Ohio.  from www.mead.com/mead/history.html
  • Monk  1996.  pers. comm.  from a lecture by an unnamed buddhist priest at The Evergreen State College, Cultural Transformation in Modern Japan program.   Fall quarter
  • Moore, George Foot  1991.  Religions of Japan. from http://www.calyx.net/~schaffer/hemp/hemprefs.html
  • Rathburn, William J.  1993.  Beyond the Tanabata Bridge, Traditional Japanese Textiles.  Seattle Art Museum, Seattle Asian Arts.  Exhibit guide for a Seattle Asian Arts Museum exhibit on Japanese textiles.
  • Robinson, Rowan  1996.  The great Book of Hemp.  Park Street Press: 91.
  • Stearns, Peter N., Michael Adas and Stuart B. Schwartz 1992.  World Civilizations: The Postclassical Era Chapter 19: Spread Of Chinese civilization-Korea, Japan, and Vietnam from http://www.calyx.net/~schaffer/hemp/hemprefs.html
  • Takeuchi, Yasuko  1996.  Osaka, Japan. www.mimuclub.com.yasuko/
  • Taki, Chosuke  (no date).  A Handbook on the Art of Washi: A Collection of Questions and Answers.  All Japan Handmade Washi Association from www.datt.co.jp/origami/Info/washi.html
  • Wein, Joe  1996-97.  pers. comm., Kanto region, Japan.  Joe Wein has a wonderful trove of information on hemp in Japan and Germany on the WWW from which much info was gathered and shared.  See http://www2.gol.com/users/joewein/hempjpn.htm
  • Yamada, Kaiya  1995.  Tokyo Observer magazine #15, An Interview with Yamada Kaiya.  This interview first appeared in the December issue of Jiyu Ishi.   www.twics.com/~anzu/15-Hemp.html

Woodcut prints from the Nômin Seikatsushi Jiten (Historic Encyclopedia of Farmer’s Lives) courtesy of Joe Wein.

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