Pubdate: Thurs, 27 May 1999
Source: Daily Yomiuri
Copyright: 1999 The Yomiuri Shimbun
Author: Darron Hargreaves, Daily Yomiuri Staff Writer


Entrepreneur Koichi Maeda is Japan's most vociferous and dedicated hemp
advocate, for several reasons. There is the obvious one, which he makes no
bones about. He is the author of "Marijuana Seishun Ryoko" (A Young Man's
Marijuana Travels), a book that has sold 75,000 copies in Japan. In it, he
draws from his travels in 50 countries to describe various adventures and

"I first became interested in a certain part of the hemp plant about 30
years ago," says Maeda, who is coming up on 50. "But over the past six or
seven years, I have become interested in the entire plant."

Maeda is convinced that hemp is one of the most valuable, versatile plants
in the world and he is continually amazed that its cultivation has been
outlawed in Japan and many other parts of the world. He will point out that
hemp is used to make clothing, rope, paper, building materials, cosmetics
and medicine.

He is not alone. Hemp activists around the world are clamoring for the
legalization of "industrial" hemp. Its benefits are numerous and varied.
According to an information package produced by the Environment Centre of
Western Australia, hemp has enormous economic and environmental benefits. In
summary, it claims that hemp has a very high yield, needs very little
herbicide or pesticide, reduces pollution, reverses the greenhouse effect
and stops deforestation. Hemp would create jobs and reduce Australia's trade

It would no doubt work similar wonders in Japan. Plus, it makes pretty good
eating, believe it or not. On Aug. 15, 1998, Maeda opened Tokyo's first hemp
restaurant--Asa Cafe--in Shimokitazawa. It's a cozy little place that
features hemp placemats, a hemp particle board wall, hemp flower designs and
a menu comprising things you would never imagine could be made from hemp.
Pizza, pasta, burgers, 100 percent hemp spring rolls, tofu, marmalade, hemp
oil for the salads and even hemp milk to wash it down. The hempburger,
served with vegetables and a bowl of hemp soup is surprisingly tasty and
almost too nutritious for your own good. The milk, on ice, is delicious.
It's hemp heaven, but for one niggling technical point necessitated by law.
The THC content--the active ingredient in marijuana--of the menu items is
practically nil.

But that was hardly the point when Maeda opened Asa Cafe, 53 years to the
day after Japan surrendered to the Allies to end World War II. He opened the
restaurant to demonstrate the versatility of hemp and protest what he feels
is the government's weak-kneed approach to hemp legislation.

"I opened on Aug. 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. Even today, the Emperor wears hemp clothing on some occasions. For
the last 50 years we have been alienated from our hemp culture, we are
stilled ruled by the American occupation."

According to Maeda, the only place where hemp plants can be legally grown in
Japan is in Tokushima Prefecture, on a group of islands near Osaka, where it
is allowed only if a special permit is obtained.

"The government seems to think hemp is the most dangerous plant in the
world, but the Health ministry has never investigated it," he said. "Never.
So why prohibit it? It is very stupid, yet they put heavy fines on the
people who grow or use it. It is ridiculous."

Maeda, who also runs a similar restaurant in Osaka, admits he doesn't make
money on Asa Cafe. "I never planned on making a profit," he says. "I just
want to lose as little as possible."

A few blocks from the cafe he operates a hemp clothing and "paraphernalia"
shop called Taimado. "Now, this place makes a profit," he said with a quick
grin as he stood among the handbags and T-shirts and various smoking
implements and accessories.

Of great interest to Maeda is the possibility that the U.S. federal
government may legalize the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes in
December. Some states have already approved it, but a federal ruling, he
feels, may prompt some action in Japan.

"We always follow the lead of the United States," he said. "I believe that
eventually (legalization) will happen here, but it will be a very slow
process. Maybe 100 years."

In the meantime, there are hempburgers to be had. Funny thing though, once
you've munched down a few hemp dishes, you get this overpowering urge to
light up a smoke....

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