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© Robert Clarke.

© Robert Clarke.

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Hemp bark

In Tochigi prefecture north of Tokyo, fibre hemp is grown for seima (literally ‘sacred cannabis’), which is used in Shinto rituals. Seima refers to the almost transparent, golden-coloured hemp bark, which is scraped off the stalks and bundled into narrow strips almost two metres long. Harvesting the leaves and flowers is forbidden here, so only the stalks leave the land.

The belief is: the lighter and brighter the colour of the bark, the greater its power of purification. That bright colour was perhaps seen as purity in its most clarified form. By touching it, people may have felt a direct connection with the kami. As an offering, hemp contains the soul and spirit of the kami. Hemp is very expensive these days, and often a cheaper fibre is used as an alternative.

Many of the images on the Hash Marihuana & Hemp Museum website are available for reproduction. Please contact us for more information.

Growing the sacred hemp

Hemp seeds are planted at the end of March and beginning of April. As the distance between the plants affects the quality of the fibre, they are always sown the same distance apart. After about four months – from mid-July to early August – harvesting is possible.

Once cut, the stalks are immediately submerged in boiling water for a few minutes, before drying again in the sun. Retting, a process in which the stalks are moistened so that the fibres and bark soften and are easier to process, then takes place in a special field.

This picture shows a Shinshoku with an onusa in his hands. Besides white strips of paper (shide), some hemp bark strips are attached to the ritual object. One particular use of hemp bark can be seen to this day at some Shinto festivals or ceremonies, where shinshoku (Shinto priests, of any gender) have a ribbon of hemp bark tied around their heads.

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