Societies and religions have utilized cannabis for centuries, lending to the perception it is an easy path to illumination. Indeed, its psycho-active capabilities seem almost perfectly designed for those cultivating spiritual understanding. It’s a reliably useful asset for those widening the “mind’s eye.”

Some even believe the “kaneh bosm” from the Book of Exodus refers to cannabis. The non-psychoactive hemp plant has been utilized in religious practices equally as long. Cannabis has been used in religions within India, China, Tibet, Ancient Greece, and Jamaica. Taoists, Hindus, Buddhists, Scythians, Assyrians, Muslims, Shintoists and Rastafarians have all used marijuana. This doesn’t even include the religions that have been formed around cannabis.

Hemp has been used as a spiritual aid within a variety of cultures and religions. And this is to say nothing of its industrial use!

Shinto, a Japanese Religion

Shinto Shrine in Japan

One of its deepest histories involves the religion of Shinto, wherein its role is as varied as the plant’s many uses. Shinto (or, Shintoism) is a Japanese religion that connects present and ancient Japanese practices. Its creation was due to the need to distinguish the indigenous Japanese cultural practices from the Buddhist practices beginning in the sixth century.

The religion encompasses a wide variety of rituals, of which many utilize hemp. The polytheistic, animist religion reveres nature as godly. It preaches that all is connected through the spirit referred to as kami.

Kami are somewhat like spirits and can be good or evil. At the same time, everything contains kami. The concept of kami is associated by many Japanese with the Western concept of God. However, kami are often less god-like and more like human beings. They are flawed and are not omnipotent.

Hemp’s Role in the Shinto Religion

Izumo Taisha Shrine

Shinto regards hemp as pure. This is why the Emperor wears it.

The plant is used to exorcize, cleanse and protect. It’s used to decorate the Shinto shrines in a number of ways and is considered an appropriate offering at roadside shrines. Food and money are used as offerings as well.

It is used in exorcisms and ceremonies, and fashions the clothing worn by the Imperial family and Shinto priests. Priests even decorate their wands with gold-colored cannabis stalk. Similar to the way hemp has been used in other cultures; it solves both the practical and spiritual.

The plant is still used in Japanese weddings today.  While the groom traditionally gifts the plant to the bride’s family, it is also used in the ceremony and wedding games.

Hemp is used in both the bell ropes and decorative paper of shrines. The “shimenawa” rope is used in the entrances of holy places to ward off evil and is made of hemp. Burnt hemp is used to welcome the spirits of the dead. Some people also hang the shimenawa on their front doors.

The Shinto association was later allowed the license to grow the hemp in April of 2018.

Hemp in Japan

Matsuo Basho

Hemp isn’t only used in Shinto. Within Japan, the plant has been used in Buddhism, ninja training (the fast-growing nature of the plants meant the ninjas had to jump increasingly higher to clear it), bow strings, fishing line, clothing, weddings, military, and industrial uses.

Its entwinement with the Japanese culture began in ancient times. Hemp has grown in the country since the Neolithic Jomon period which lasted until 300 BC. Hemp migrated from Korea around this time. In fact, the term “Jomon” means “pattern of ropes.” One of Japan’s earliest pieces of art – a cave drawing– portrays hemp, while its cultivation is described in its oldest collection of poems.

The poet Basho said:

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!

Most commoners wore hemp clothing up until the 1600s. The plant was grown year-round and all over Japan. Hemp fiber was referred to as “asa,” the same word used for cotton. Other than (and before) cotton, hemp was the fiber most used by commoners. Technology advancements meant that cotton would eventually replace hemp as the most used fiber. Cotton was in part preferred because it produced softer garments.

Cannabis proved indispensable during World War II. It was used in both parachute cords and navy ropes. Still, it was made illegal under American control through the taima torishimari ho, or Cannabis Control Act.  This was done in 1948; a few years after Congress passed a similar law in America. It was first enforced in 1967, following a long period of the Japanese government largely balking at the law.

Cannabis farming

The policy was thought to originate in American petrochemical interests and the desire to sabotage Japanese military efforts. Since the introduction of the policy, Japan has ranged from viewing the law with skepticism, circumventing it, outright ignoring and lately enforcing it vehemently. Though the cultivation of hemp is currently illegal in Japan, it is grown exclusively for their imperial family. Licenses are given to those allowed to grow the plant.

It is also used in some industrial products. For example, some cleaning and kitchen products are still comprised of foreign-grown hemp today. The popularity of hemp oil infused food and drinks is increasing as well.