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Way of the Gods” In the land of the Rising Sun- A look at Cannabis history in Japan


“Way of the Gods” In the land of the Rising Sun-
A look at Cannabis history in Japan

“What you don’t see is seen, what should be will be, walk with nature s-p-i-r-i-t-u-a-l-l-y “……..
**. The Zen journey of the teachings of Buddha started long ago from India to China, then were considerably altered by the Japanese who had adapted and intertwined Buddhism with their Mythological religion called Shinto. Purity and fertility are of upmost importance with the Shinto concepts in the Japanese religion.
The religion of Shinto in Japanese culture is a ritualistic expression of profound respect for the Kami (the intrinsic god-like spirit) in nature. Shinto is the ancient “way of the gods” Plants, animals, rocks and trees all possess a sort of spirit to respect and honor which can be positive, or negative, terrifying or peaceful. Cannabis is an essential symbol of the two Shinto concepts.

Cannabis is a sacred herb to the religion of Shinto in the Japanese Zen culture that has been an integral part of their lives since the beginnings of its history. The sacred herb, Cannabis was also used and praised by ancient Zen poets and Buddhist monks until cannabis culture was suppressed and banned by US occupying forces after World War II. Today, most Japanese don’t even realize that “marijuana” is the same plant as cannabis, which was once as much a part of Japanese culture as rice.

How It All Began
It is very interesting to determine how cannabis first became known and used in Japan anyways.  How did the seeds arrive in Japan?  It is unclear however, it is known that some scholars insist that cannabis was abundant in Japan before contact with China or Korea. However, other independent analysis suggests that, like much of its culture, cannabis was almost certainly imported and adapted from China. Supposedly cannabis was very abundantly used by ancient civilized people who lived comfortably and used cannabis for either weaving clothing, basket making, even the seeds were used as an important food source. Somewhere back in the period in (10,000 to 300 BC), these ancient people had existed during what was known as the Neolithic Jomon period, (“Jomon”) where cannabis was commonly used. The first thing that ever was created and used from cannabis hemp was, rope, which the term “Jomon” means “pattern of ropes”.  Apparently, a theory that supports these facts is that there is one of the earliest Japanese artworks in existence that was found in coastal Kyushuu which depicts tall stalks and cannabis leaves during the Jomon period. The painting is described to have richly colorful renderings of somewhat strangely dressed people in baggy short-pants and tall curved hats with clear depictions of horses and ocean waves. It appears in the painting traders are bringing a plant with small pairs of budding leaves or branches along where the stems are located.  It is concluded the painting clearly shows these tall plants that bear large, distinctive, seven fingered cannabis leaves at the top. With that said, historians believed cannabis seeds made their way in much in the same way that the Japanese wet-field rice made its way in from China to Japan around 300 BC. First the seed stock went to Korea, then was brought by trades across the narrow but rough channel to Japan’s southern island of Kyushu.  Since Kyushu is the closest point to the Asian mainland, it could be likely the cannabis seeds came on the same voyage at sea before or close to the same time period. In the ART world, there is one particular hieroglyphic carvings from Mediterranean cultures, which show a sun/cannabis like motif.  This art piece is similar to the ambiance surroundings in the painting that was found in the in coastal Kyushuu. Sun-like aura, possibly suggesting the continuing connection between the sun and cannabis in Shinto religion. The two paintings are striking and poses major similarities.

Before cotton was introduced in the 17th century. Hemp was a major crop used as a primary source of clothing fibre.  During the fuedal era of Japan (c. 14th-15h Century) hemp fibre was first encouraged by the fuedal lords (Daimyo).  Cultivation began because the feudal lords who wanted hempen-ware’s high resale value from the wealthy merchants in the city favored cannabis hemp for making fine clothing. Today the Japanese five yen coin still has a square hole in it, left from the days of merchants who only dealt in coins that carried their coins on hemp string.

In 1989, Emperor Hirohito passed and a coronation ceremony was held for his heirs. It was Hirochito’s son who was to become the new Emperor. As we now know, In the Shinto Japanese religion cannabis is the symbol of purity, and it was tradition for the new Emperor to wear cannabis hemp garments since the Emperor himself is held in such high regard as a direct descendant of the gods and acts as a sort of high priest in the pagan Shinto belief. Hirohito’s son now became the “living entity of God”, and yet because of the introduction to cotton in Japan, he was not able to wear ritualistic hemp garments due to the unavailability of hemp over the course of his father’s long rule. The ritual was able to continue thanks to a group of Shinto farmers in Tokushima-ken who had thought ahead and planted a symbolic yet subversive crop, and presented the Emperor with his new clothes made of pure local hemp They are still producing this crop for the exclusive use of the Imperial family.

At Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples, certain objects are symbolically made from hemp. For example, the thick bell-ropes must be hempen, as is the noren, a short fabric curtain divider which acts as a symbolic purification “veil”, meant to cause evil spirits to flee from the body as the head brushes lightly beneath it.
In another old tradition, rooms of worship were purified by burning cannabis leaves by the entrance. This would invite the spirits of the departed, purify the room and encourage people to dance.
The element of purity is stressed again as undyed hemp fabric was an important part for the household of the new bride. This undyed hemp came to symbolize the “womanly virtues” of faithfulness, chastity and obedience. Like the undyed cloth, an old saying goes, the woman must allow herself to be dyed any color her husband chooses.

In Japan some believe Geisha’s were given the name Cannabis Goddesses because you will find many Japanese art pieces and paintings that almost resemble the Geisha Goddess relaxing and smoking a bowl between (or with) their customers.
Ancient Shinto creation stories tell of the Japanese islands rising from volcanoes and hot springs. A Goddess and God figure descended to people the country with their direct descendants.
This first pair then begat the founding goddess-figure, Amaterasu Omi Kami (Sun Goddess). She is enshrined at the holiest of places, the Ise Shrine (Ise Jinja).
At that shrine on the Ise peninsula, the special prayer given for the founding Goddess of Japan is called “taima”. Taima was a town located in kitakatsuragi District, Nara Prefecture, Japan.  It was on October 1, 2004 Taima merged with the town of Shinjo, also from Kitakatsuragi District to form the new city of Katsuragi. Apparently to some Japanese, “taima” means “cannabis”. Cannabis, salt and rice are the sacred staples that are used as part of all the rites at the shrine.
In fact, cannabis, mulberry fibre, and cloth and paper made from them are offered to the gods at all Shinto shrines, along with salt, sake and rice.
In olden times, wandering pilgrims were obliged to leave an offering of cannabis leaves and rice to the pathside phallic-fertility statues of the Sahe no Kami (protective deities) before embarking on a journey.

Another Shinto tale tells that every October, all the divine, supernatural deities from around Japan gather at a sacred site in rural Shimane prefecture, at Japan’s largest shrine called Iizumo Taisha, in Izumo City which is one of the oldest Shinto Shrines in Japan.
Shimane is far out of the way of any urban center, located in the Chugoku region on the main Honshu Island, which Oki Islands in the sea of Japan are also a part of Shimane Prefecture. This sacred landmark Shimane Prefecture is known to be the “Home of the Gods”, it was home to bounteous cannabis harvests up until about 50 years ago. During this month, the rest of the nation is left unprotected from calamity while the gods hold a harvest festival and match-making celebration.

Buddhist temples are the most numerous, famous and important religious buildings in Japan. “Tera” is the Japanese word for a Buddhist temple. There are many minor temples and famous temples. As in the case of a Shinto Shrine a Buddhist temple is not just used primarily for a place of worship, its most important buildings are used for the safekeeping of sacred objects ad are not accessible to worshipers. Many” Gods” have spent a great deal of their lives connecting with their inner selves in these sacred temples practicing Shinto and Buddhism.  “Shonto gods” are called Kami.  They are sacred spirits which take the form of things and concepts important to life such as wind, rain, mountains, trees, rivers, and fertility. The Japanese believe that humans become Kami after they die and are revered by their families as ancestral Kami.  The Sun Goddess Amaterasu is considered Shinto’s most important Kami.  In Shinto beliefs, there are no absolute right and wrong, and nobody is perfect. Shinto is an optimistic faith, as human are thought to be fundamentally good, and evil is believed to be caused by evil spirits.  The ultimate purpose of most Shinto rituals is to keep away evil spirits by purification, prayers and offerings to the Kami. Shinto Shrines is a place of worship and home of the Kami.

Three forms of teachings such as, Zen, The Meditative, and Taoist, yet influenced the branches of Buddhism which many gods in Asian history used in their spiritual lives influenced by cannabis, in the forms of marijuana and hemp.

Kanji, which means Zen Buddhism in Japan that developed in China during the 6th century as( Chan). From China, Zen spread south to Vietnam, northeast to Korea and east to Japan. The word Zen is derived from the Japanese pronunciation of the middle Chinese word (dzjen) (Modern Mandarin:Chan), which in turn is derived from the Sanskrit word dhyana, which can approximately be translated as “absorption” or meditative state. Zen often practiced in US culture as a form of meditation as well as many locations abroad in the world that practice Mahayana Buddhism such as, India, China, Korea, Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Tibet, Bhutan, Mongolia, Nepal, and Russia. Zen teachings are known as the Ten Ox-Herding of Tozan, Three Mysterious Gates, and The Four Ways of Knowing that include various teachings of Mahayana thought which brings the attainment of enlightenment and the personal expression of direct insight in the Buddhist teachings. Zen also de-emphasizes mere knowledge of sutras and doctrine and favors direct understanding through Zazen and interaction with an accomplished teacher.

The Meditative path is a gentle way to awareness, with concentration and serenity that allows you to realize your own true beautiful nature thru meditation practices which will still the mind, reduce stress and tension, harmonize the psyche, cleanse the mind and provide a sense of calm and tranquility for inner balance to ultimately reach the experience of Pure Consciousness or in tuned with Cosmic Reality. With our human quest for body, mind and spiritual awareness to find light inside our psyche, the meditative process has been known to offer simple exercises to balance theory and practice in a gentle way to awareness, concentration & serenity which will ultimately give spiritual fulfillment or “soul consciousness” for a meditative mind & life.

Throughout Chinese history Taoist was nominated as state religion in the 17th century and has influenced the surrounding societies in Asia.   The keystone work of literature in Taoism is the Tao Te Ching which is a book comprised of the concise teachings of Laozi (Chinese:Pinyin Laozi: Wade-Giles: Lao TZU together with the writings of Zhuangzi
It is these texts that build the philosophical foundation of Taoism which individualistically by nature, is not institutionalized. Over time institutionalized forms had evolved over time and schools such as the School of Naturalists had synthesized the concepts of yin and yang and the five elements. Taoist schools traditionally refer to Laozi’s teachings that emphasize, Wu-wei (action through non action), “naturalness, simplicity, spontaneity, and the three Treasures: compassion, moderation, and humility.
Japan today- The Japanese Cannabis culture is making a comeback and making history. In the past, if the Japanese found out you were a smoker, you were referred to as “happachuu” which means, (leaf addict).  Many parents feared  their children would go overseas and either become pregnant or start smoking pot.  Today, the youth in Japan have learned the only way to enjoy MaryJane was to do just that, travel overseas.  Things have changed drastically in Japanese culture over the years. Farmers and universities are researching and experimenting with industrial hemp! The Japanese people are actually getting an education on the benefits of cannabis and its history thru the knowledgeable activists and scholars. More and more Japanese are opening their eyes to the prohibition of cannabis as part of the once, unwelcomed American influence. Perhaps Japan will lead Asia in shaking off prohibitionist dogma, and once again honoring cannabis as a sacred and beneficial plant.

In Western Culture we have accepted and made practical, & effective use of the Asian influential practices of Buddhism teaching, spirituality, religious enlightenment, history and culture, belonging to time long past, still we continue to follow the “way of the  Gods” ancient footsteps with traditional uses of cannabis even with the legal obstacles many have faced over cannabis within our US governmental system of rules and guidelines we call laws, they call the Forbidden Leaf.

Long Live tradition, long live life, long live the historical truth about cannabis.


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