Japanese cannabis culture has a vociferous advocate in Koichi Maeda, outspoken author and successful entrepeneur.
Maeda is author of Marijuana Seishun Ryoko (A Young Man’s Marijuana Travels), which has sold 75,000 copies in Japan. The book draws from Maeda’s adventures while travelling in over 50 countries.
In 1998, Maeda opened a cannabis cafe in Tokyo. “Asa” is the Japanese word for cannabis, and in an interview with Cannabis Culture, Maeda described his Asa Cafe as “the biggest and most delicious hemp restaurant in the world, with more than 50 kinds of hemp dishes including 100% hemp tofu.” The cafe also features hemp placemats and hemp particle board walls. Maeda confesses the cafe doesn’t yet turn a profit, but he subsidizes it with the revenue from his nearby hemp clothing and paraphernalia shop called Taimado.
Maeda explained how he was inspired in part by Vancouver marijuana advocate Marc Emery, founder of the now-defunct Hemp BC and Cannabis Cafe. “I met him when I visited Hemp BC several years ago,” says Maeda. “He encouraged me to open a hemp restaurant in Tokyo.”
Maeda opened his cafe on the anniversary of Japan’s surrender to the Allies at the end of WWII. “I opened on August 15 to commemorate Japan’s defeat,” he said. “Hemp was legal in Japan until the end of Word War II, when it was banned by the occupation forces. It was a part of our culture, it was used in Shinto rituals. For the last 50 years we have been alienated from our hemp culture, we are still ruled by the American occupation.”
Maeda’s cafe and book have been featured in articles in Tokyo’s Japan Times and the Daily Yomiuri, and both of these major newspapers gave him favourable coverage and mentioned cannabis’ industrial and medicinal benefits.
Cannabis is praised in a number of ancient Zen haikus, and hemp ropes and garments were used by Shinto priests. The reigning champion sumo wrestler wears a massive hemp belt as a symbol of his rank, and even the Emperor must wear hemp clothes during the Shinto ritual which enshrines him as a living god.
The Japanese character for the verb “to rub” is made up of the symbol for “hand” and the symbol for “cannabis”.