Cannabis’ Deep-Rooted History in Japan

illustration of japanese farmer smoking by branches

Japan has some of the strictest cannabis regulations worldwide. The penalties for possession can extend to as much as five years of incarceration. Medical marijuana researchers are forced to conduct studies abroad, and recreational use is highly stigmatized. Considering all this, it’s intriguing to note that Japan has a rich and extensive history with cannabis.

According to one study, only 1.4% of Japanese people will try marijuana in their lifetime, compared to 20-40% of Americans and Europeans. This makes marijuana’s long history in Japan all the more interesting, and ironic.

The History

The earliest evidence of cannabis in Japan dates back to the Jomon Period (10,000-200 B.C). This makes Japan one of the countries in the world with the most extended history with the plant. According to Junichi Takayasu, Japan’s leading cannabis rights expert, it was used historically as a fabric and thread—for bows, clothing, and fishing lines.

Takayasu is one of the few vocal hemp rights activists in Japan, and the founder of the Taima Museum—the sole museum dedicated to the history of cannabis in Japan. Visitors can view legally grown cannabis crops and learn about its long history in the country.

By examining 8th-century Japanese texts, historians have uncovered drawings and writings depicting stories of ninjas training for combat by jumping over tall marijuana plants. There’s evidence of ancient looms for weaving hemp and historians have found 17th-century woodblock prints of women spinning hemp fibers, as well as farmers trimming plants.

Medicinal Use & Prohibition

Up until the 20th century, medicinal marijuana in Japan took many forms: tinctures, extracts, teas, and others. After their surrender to the U.S. in 1945, the country was influenced by the American norms, and there was pressure to ban cannabis in Japan. The Cannabis Control Act was passed in 1948 and remains core to Japanese law today—prohibiting recreational and medicinal use.

The law devastated the more than 25,000 cannabis farms in Japan growing the plant for medicinal and textile purposes. The ancient knowledge of cultivation from seed to loom was essentially lost to Japanese culture. Today, fewer than 60 farms are permitted to cultivate cannabis in Japan, at minimal THC levels.

Was cannabis smoked in Japan?

Experts aren’t sure. Since historical texts focus on the upper class, who favoured Sake as a status symbol, there is, to date, no documentation of marijuana being smoked in historic Japan. Some speculate that the masses, who did not have access to Sake, may have chosen marijuana as their substance of choice.

Despite firm prohibition, remnants of Japan’s historical ties to marijuana still exist. Every year, the offspring of ancient marijuana plants grow wild in the hills and plains of Japan, frustrating Japanese authorities who battle to eradicate the unyielding plants. Activists like Junichi Takayasu and Nagayoshi Hideo argue for the preservation of these plants and their use as medicine.

Japan’s current regulations on cannabis are a stark contrast to the plant’s undeniable role in Japan’s historical tapestry. While anti-cannabis laws in Japan continue to tighten, activists highlight the enduring existence of the plant’s place in Japan, as well as its medical benefits. With persistence, the role of cannabis in Japanese society may someday be reconsidered.

© Kanab Inc. – Kanab Inc. is a Toronto based cannabis retail company that honors the historical significance and uses of the cannabis plant across cultures and civilizations. Kanab has now opened its first cannabis dispensary at the intersection of Don Mills Road and York Mills Road in North York region of Toronto, Ontario (South of 401, West of 404 / Don Valley Parkway, and East of Leslie). For more info, please visit:

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