Hemp (asa) has a long history in Japan and was used to produce clothing and ropes from the very earliest times of the Jomon Period. During the succeeding Yayoi Period hemp use for clothing continued including among the Ainu in Hokkaido.
From the 7th century on hemp was used in the making of paper as well as for ropes for temple and shrine bells, noren curtains, bow strings, sandals, the thongs in geta and for ships' rigging.
Hemp at this time was also used to treat various ailments as part of kanpo or Chinese herbal medicine. Hemp seeds, indeed, can still be found in some supermarkets for use in cooking.
Farmers grew fields of hemp throughout Japan and a number of hemp harvest festivals (taima matsuri) survived in certain places in Shikoku, which produced hemp clothes used in ceremonies by the Imperial family and Shinto priests.
Hemp growing, indeed, was only made illegal in Japan in 1948 during the post-war American Occupation and farmers now need a special license to cultivate the plant. A number of farmers have taken to hemp production and the eco-friendly material is now used for making paper lamp shades, bedding, clothing and bags now sold in such shops as the trendy and 'naughty by nature' Oromina in Tokyo.
Nowadays Japan has very strict laws regarding hemp (marijuana; taima) use, cultivation and possession with penalties of up to five years in prison for mere possession of the smallest amounts. Paul McCartney fell victim to Japan's narcotics laws in the 1970s but was released after diplomatic pressure from Britain.
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