Japanese History: Hemp in Prehistoric Times

Image from Hempen Culture in Japan.

"Since the neolithic Jomon Period, hemp has been grown in Japan. Jomon means ‘pattern of ropes’. These hunting and collecting people lived a civilized, comfortable existence and used hemp for weaving clothing and baskets (Mayuzumi 1996). Cannabis seeds from prehistoric sites have been uncovered on the island of Kyushu (Marui 1997). While the origins of hemp are not entirely clear, like much of Japan’s culture, hemp was most certainly imported from China. Hemp made its way from the Middle Kingdom around 300 BC, before (or along with) another staple: wet-field rice (Rathburn 1993). Hemp had first gone to Korea, then was brought by traders across the narrow, but rough channel to Japan’s southern island of Kyushu."

-Retrieved from Hemp Culture in Japan on August 3, 2012.

"Another Japanese staple, wet-field rice, made its way from the Middle Kingdom to Japan around 300 BC. (Rathburn) The seed stock first went to Korea, then was brought by traders across the narrow but rough channel to Shimonoseki, Japan's southern island of Kyushu which is the closest point to the Asian mainland. It is probable that hemp made the same voyage before or around the same time.

There are reports of seeds from prehistoric periods that have been uncovered on the island of Kyushu (Marui) which would suggest this passage definitely took place before the common era; yet scientific dating techniques would have a hard time putting an accurate date on such a small artifact.

[A] cave painting found in coastal Kyushuu depicts tall stalks and hemp leaves. It too is from this Jomon period, and indeed is one of the earliest artworks uncovered in Japan. The richly colored painting depicts several, somewhat strangely dressed people in baggy short-pants and tall curved hats. Horses and ocean waves are also clearly rendered in the cave art. In all, the picture seems to depict Korean traders bringing a plant by boat. Along the stem of the plant are small pairs of budding leaves or branches. The plants themselves are tall and at the top bear large, distinctive, seven-fingered hemp leaves. (Personal Collection) Surrounding the top of this hemp plant figure is a sunlike aura suggesting the connection between the sun and hemp in Shinto and strikingly similar to the hieroglyphic carvings from Mediterranean cultures which show a similar sun/hemp motif. (Bennet)"

- Retrieved from Hempen Culture in Japan on August 3, 2012.

Kyushu Cave Painting of Hemp Plant
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