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Planting Hemp

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the project in Mië Prefecture to grow hemp for fibres. That has actually started now, and there were two articles about it, in the April 24th and May 5th issues of Jinja Shinpō. There were two articles because inclement weather meant that the events did not all happen together as originally planned.

First, on April 15th, there was a meeting at the site of the Saigū, the historical residence of the sacred princess at Jingū, with two parts.

The first part was a Shinto ceremony to mark the planting of the hemp. This was originally supposed to be held in the field immediately before the planting, but it was raining, so the ceremony was moved indoors, and the planting itself was postponed. Judging from the description, the contents of the ceremony were entirely conventional, with a norito praying for the healthy growth of the hemp, but the ceremony itself was a bit unusual. Ceremonies to pray for the success of the rice crop are a standard part of Shinto, but ceremonies for other types of crop are not. I am sure that they happen, but they are not normally reported. The fact that a ceremony was both performed and reported is further evidence of how seriously the Shinto community is taking this project.

The second part of the event was a set of lectures on the role of hemp in Shinto ritual, in the local area, and at present. This overlapped a good deal with the discussions I reported in previous posts, with the same emphasis on how the hemp they are growing is no use as a drug. The talk on hemp’s role in Shinto, by Professor Sano of Kōgakkan University, went over its importance as a cloth offering to the kami, and the evidence that it was seen as having a purifying effect from early on. He also mentioned that the belief in hemp’s purifying effect can also be found across much of East Asia, in the areas influenced by Confucianism, and suggested that this might be due to the vigour with which hemp grows.

One of the curators at the Saigū museum, Dr Enomura, talked about the history of hemp in the area, and pointed out that it was originally the responsibility of a single family, who may have been sent from the Imperial court to introduce advanced hemp cultivation and manufacturing techniques to the area, and make the connected matsuri at Jingū possible. He also, later, noted that the current state of hemp cultivation in this project was really at the level of preserving traditional culture, and not yet anywhere near to being an economically viable industry.

This point was implicitly reinforced by the article in the May 1st issue about the actual planting of the hemp, which took place on April 18th. Hemp seed needs to be sown with a special machine, because it has its own requirements, and the one they used was made in 1922. This was not used because they wanted to be as traditional as possible, but because the techniques for making those machines have been lost, and the most recent ones are from the 1930s. If this project is to succeed in reintroducing hemp as an industry, it will have to revive the ancillary skills as well.

In any case, as mentioned in the last article, there are two fields at the Saigū, and the one reported in Jinja Shinpō is being used to grow hemp for ritual use. The other is for preserving and breeding local varieties of hemp, in the hope of being able to expand to commercial use in the future.

One of the problems facing contemporary Shinto is the loss of the traditional craft techniques that are used for matsuri, so it is good to see an example of a project to revive and preserve one of them.

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3 thoughts on “Planting Hemp”

  1. “the techniques for making those machines have been lost”

    Unless there’s some unusual metallurgy (which I would be very surprised by), it should be fairly straightforward to duplicate the machine. It almost certainly won’t be cheap, but I have a hard time imagining it couldn’t be done.

    1. Oh, it can certainly be done, but “fairly straightforward” almost certainly involves at least a few weeks’ work by an expert in the relevant techniques — and who is going to pay for that when there is no demand for the machines at all? Why would you special order a machine that will take six months, with no guarantee that it will appear at all (because the person you are ordering from does not, now, know how to make it), and with a requirement to pay, say, $50,000 up front, with no refund if the machine does not appear?

      It can be done in theory, but this sort of project creates the environment where someone might, realistically, decide to make it happen in practice.

  2. Pingback: More Hemp – Mimusubi

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