Japan’s Clandestine Affair with Cannabis (Taima)

Japan not just frowns upon marijuana; it scowls, snickers, even screams; and then it severely punishes those who are found in possession of weed. It’s said that Japan has some of the harshest laws against possession and consumption of cannabis. Drugs are a social taboo in Japan and so a Japanese who smokes, sells, or grows cannabis can expect not only to be severely punished for his transgression, but also to be castigated socially.

The question that many Japanese and other pro-cannabis people are asking today is: Did the Japanese not consume marijuana in past? When India, China, Egypt, and Africa were already using cannabis to facilitate their connection with divinity by transcending to higher planes of consciousness, when these ancient civilizations were busy experimenting with cannabis for medicinal, spiritual, and even recreational purposes, were the Japanese totally oblivious to its charisma?

History suggests otherwise.

Cannabis in Japan – The Historical Connection

Japanese Sun with Shintoism Symbol and Marijuana (Taima) leaf.

Quite like China, Japan too boasts of a 12,000-year-old history when cannabis fiber (hemp) was used for making clothes, bowstrings, and even fishing lines.

Shintoism or the Shinto religion, almost exclusively followed by the Japanese, has certain cleansing rituals that use cannabis.

For instance, in one of the Shinto rites, hemp leaves were burned in front of house-entrances. As this rite was done at the time when the hemp plants were flowering and producing resin – it’s fairly obvious that this was done for the psychoactive properties of hemp. Also when going past the Shinto shrines, travellers made offerings of the hemp leaves to the ancient gods.

As Shintoism an old religion (which is anywhere between 2000 and 12000 years old,) it can safely be said that historically the Japanese have been using cannabis either as hemp fiber or as a psychoactive drug, for a very long time.

Today, the Japanese government controls the production of cannabis, and while cannabis plants are still grown in the rural areas of Japan, the Japanese law specifies that high-THC marijuana plants may not be grown. However, until 1940, marijuana could be grown legally, and in all probability it was the high-THC resinous cannabis that can still be found in rural Japan.

All this implies that in Japan too, cannabis has been produced and consumed for centuries.

But when and how did cannabis first arrive in Japan?

  • Could it have arrived there around 8th Century AD, the time when the rituals and rites of the Shinto religion were first being written down? and
  • could cannabis have tagged along with Buddhism, which arrived in Japan from India around the same time?

It is said that when Buddha was trying different methods to gain the divine knowledge, he had once decided to go without food for a very long time. During that period he ate nothing but bhang seeds. For this reason bhang or cannabis is considered holy by the Buddhists.
(Source: The Great Book of Hemp by Rowan Robinson.)

It’s quite probable then that along with Buddhism, Japan also received the seeds and the art of cultivating cannabis, from India.

It’s also true that quite like in many other countries, cannabis was freely cultivated and smoked by the peasant community in Japan (at least prior to 1940 after which the draconian anti-cannabis laws made it almost impossible for anyone to legally cultivate and use marijuana,) mainly because it’s more inexpensive and less cumbersome to produce than alcohol.

But most Japanese would prefer to set the historical logic aside and say that cannabis is a western evil, which was brought into Japan only about a century ago. The Japanese don’t really care for the recreational use of marijuana, but in the wild, the hardy plants of marijuana refuse to die. The Japanese government annually sends out their weed-killers to kill the wild marijuana plants (those being grown without the permit,) but despite these annual attempts, the plants continue to thrive.

Perhaps, marijuana’s hardiness and immortality truly marks it a gift from the gods – and none of the feeble governmental efforts can really stop it from being our natural spiritual ally.

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