I have written before on this blog about hemp. Hemp is historically important in Shinto ritual, being used in traditional offerings and purifications, and it is also the plant that produces cannabis. This has caused problems, because Japan’s anti-drug, and anti-cannabis, laws are really strict. They are so strict that, until very recently, it was essentially impossible to get new permission to grow hemp with no psychoactive content. There were a few growers who had been grandfathered in, but they were not finding successors, and sometimes were being strangled by over-enthusiastic enforcement of the regulations.
The Shinto establishment has been involved in lobbying to get the regulations loosened so that non-psychoactive hemp can be grown in Japan for both industrial and ritual use. (As a side note, I am aware of no evidence for the historical use of psychoactive hemp in Shinto ritual, even in the parts that were shamanic, and even in rituals restricted to individual jinja. I am aware of evidence for the historical use of actual sex in local matsuri, and so I take the fact that I have not come across evidence of the use of psychoactive hemp as evidence that it was not used. Sometimes, absence of evidence is evidence of absence.) A government panel issued a report a while ago recommending that the rules for industrial hemp be loosened, and that local prefectural authorities start issuing licences to new producers.
Recent issues of Jinja Shinpō have reported on events connected to this. The first report was in the March 27th issue, and concerned a study group held in the Diet members’ office buildings in Tokyo. This study group was hosted by an NGO, the Organisation to Create and Develop Hemp Industries, and supported by both Shinto Seiji Renmei and the affiliated group of Diet members. The meeting presented the various uses of hemp, including its importance to Shinto ritual, its potential for reducing greenhouse gases, and its use in textiles, foods, housing, and medicine. Two projects to grow it were also mentioned, including the one I will talk about later in this post (the other is in Hokkaido). A couple of Diet members (from the conservative ruling LDP) addressed the group, and I suspect that Diet members were one of the primary targets. One of the two who spoke at the meeting specifically said that it was a shame that Chinese hemp had to be used in Shinto ritual, as there was not enough Japanese hemp available — there are a lot of issues involved here.
The next article was on the front page of the April 3rd issue, and reported on the start of hemp cultivation in Mië Prefecture, near Jingū at Isë. This is called the “Isë Hemp Promotion Project (Amatsusugaso Project)”. “Amatsusugaso” is a reference to the Ōharaëkotoba, which mentions, using those words, the use of textiles — probably hemp — in purification. Moves towards this project have been reported before, but it was having trouble getting the necessary legal permissions. Those obstacles have now been overcome, as was explained at the ceremony to mark the start of cultivation. The national law on hemp seems likely to be changed in the near future, as a result of the government report, and Mië Prefecture has proactively loosened its standards for licensing hemp cultivation within the existing law, and given permission for this project.
The cultivation is taking place a short distance outside Isë, in and near the site of the residence of the sacred princess, the Saiō, who represented the Tennō at Jingū from the late seventh to early fourteenth century. There are two plots. One is for the preservation of native varieties of hemp, growing more of them, and experimental cultivation of industrial hemp. The other, which is actually within the grounds of the ancient residence, will grow hemp for use in Shinto ritual.
This area has a long association with growing hemp, and with hemp in ritual. Kan’omihatadono Jinja is nearby, and is the tutelary jinja for the hall where hemp cloth is woven for presentation to Amaterasu Ōmikami in one of the important annual matsuri at Jingū. (The kami is simply known as the protecting kami for the hall of the loom for the kami’s hemp — I am not aware of any personal name.) The tutelary jinja for the site of the residence, Takë Jinja (written “Bamboo Jinja”, but the whole area is called “Takë”, so that is probably not what it actually means), apparently enshrines kami associated with hemp, but it was created in 1911 by merging 25 jinja in the area, so it enshrines a lot of other kami as well. While this project will look at broader industrial uses for hemp, it is clear that its primary goal is to produce hemp for use in Shinto rituals. I hope that this will also produce the environmental benefits they are hoping for.