Hemp stakeholders in Japan launch strategy for industry revival

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Stakeholders in Japan have launched a “Campaign to Re-Open Japan for Hemp,” aiming to revive the ancient crop for agricultural regeneration and innovation. 

While hemp has a tradition in Japan going back centuries, the country has remained strictly aligned with outdated international norms that conflate hemp with marijuana.

“Our aim is to overturn the present closed situation in Japan,” said Dr. Harumi Kikuchi, Director of the Hokkaido Industrial Hemp Association, which is leading the hemp revival effort.

Goal: 20,000 hectares

“Japan, where the population is aging, is a promising market for hemp products necessary for good health. We need a strong campaign to increase imports for domestic distribution,” Kikuchi said.

Another goal is to plant 20,000 ha of hemp in the Hokkaido island prefecture, where HIHA assists stakeholders with licensing and seed procurement from abroad, and is active in research and development. The Association, with more than 70 members, also works with stakeholders at the European Industrial Hemp Association and with interests in China.

October conference

ASACON, an upcoming international conference, is a first big step in HIHA’s efforts. The conference is Oct. 11-13 in Asahikawa, Hokkaido, historic hemp growing lands in Japan. Asahikawa is also a major Japanese food production center.

“We are beginning the process of showing the Japanese government what hemp is really all about,” said Riki Hiroi of Each Japan, a Niigata-based consultancy working in support of the revival campaign. Hiroi is also Director at HempToday Japan.  

Support for entrepreneurs

“We’re keen to support Japanese entrepreneurs and innovations for the rapidly expanding international hemp markets,” said Hiroi. The campaign is actively pushing for grassroots development of innovations that can be applied both in Japan and abroad, according to Hiroi.

Representatives from Japan, USA, France, Germany, Slovakia, Thailand, Mongolia and Poland are already signed on as speakers for October’s ASACON conference, which will explore the potential for all hemp sectors in Japan. 

Fast-growth potential

Hiroi said there is potential for fast growth in the Japanese consumer market for hemp-based foods, health products and cosmetics, sectors which are of considerable size. And he notes that imports of hemp products will be the first big business opportunity. 

In one positive indicator, Japanese officials recently approved the medical CBD brand Epidiolex for clinical trials, the first such approval by the Japanese government.

Japanese hemp history

Hemp has been grown in Japan for more than 10,000 years. In Hokkaido, the government encouraged hemp and flax cultivation during the Meiji period at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries, when there were more than 80 hemp-spinning factories throughout the country.

However in 1948 after the World War II, enactment of the Cannabis Control Act put restrictions on hemp while synthetic fibers were on the rise. The current cultivation area in all of Japan is now only 10-odd hectares where hemp is grown for fiber to produce garments and instruments for traditional Shinto rituals.

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