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Shinto is the ancient spiritual heart of Japan, closely linked to the national identity and history of the country. It is not seen as a religion so much as a way of experiencing and interacting with the world. This outlook on life has many faces. Shinto contains countless stories, customs, and philosophical ideas, not least when it comes to our relationship with the natural world. In this presentation, we focus on a special aspect of Shinto culture both past and present: the spiritual role played by fibre hemp.
What does the kanji 麻, pictured here, stand for? All characters in kanji (one of the three Japanese scripts) express one or more concepts. The specific meaning of the character depends on how it is pronounced.
If pronounced asa (ah-sah), it refers to the cannabis plant. For thousands of years, hemp has been used in Japan as a raw material for textiles, food and medicine. If pronounced nusa (new-saw), it denotes items made with hemp fibres. Such items are described in ancient texts on Shinto and used by Shinshoku (people who serve at a Shinto shrine) in rituals.
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