Japan: Industrial Uses Targeted for Hemp

By AKIKO KOGA, Kyodo News

KITAMI, Hokkaido (Kyodo) Despite the bad impression many have of hemp due to a perceived rise in marijuana use, the city of Kitami in Hokkaido is trying to create a buzz by cultivating the plant for its many industrial uses.

The plant is grown on a plot on a hill slightly outside the center of the city, which lies on the coast of the Sea of Okhotsk, and protected by a 2.7-meter-tall fence covered with grating.

Hidetaro Funayama, 58, represents a group involved in a city development project aimed at growing hemp without a narcotic component for the production of construction materials and "washi" paper.

He has been working on the cultivation of hemp since 2006 after visiting Germany, a nation considered to be advanced in processing hemp for industrial use, in 2003. He learned that Germans widely used the plant as an eco-friendly material and interior finishing material for deluxe automobiles.

Kitami's periphery is known as a natural growth area for hemp and Funayama said the plants keep growing no matter how many times local officials try to get rid of them.

The Hokkaido Prefectural Government recognized the land as a special place for the growth of hemp for industrial use last August in response to an application filed by the Kitami municipality.

However, "It is difficult for the prefectural administration to join people in Kitami in research on growing hemp when the use of marijuana is spreading across the country and its criminality is underscored," a prefectural official said.

The import of species of cannabis plants is prohibited by the government unless they are treated to keep them from developing into marijuana.

The Tochigi Prefectural Government has developed its own variety of hemp for cultivation called "Tochigi shiro," which is used to produce ropes for use in Shinto rituals, among other uses.

Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry officials said there would be no trouble if Hokkaido comes up with its own narcotic-free species.

Funayama and his group obtained about 1 kg of seeds from a researcher in Tokyo after gaining permission from the governor of Hokkaido in 2005.

The group's ultimate goal is to grow hemp on land measuring about 1,000 hectares and turn out products at his own plant. Funayama anticipates annual turnover of ¥1 billion.

He has thus far learned that hemp could be utilized for the manufacture of heat-insulating materials, "washi" paper, compact disc cases and cooking oil.

The cultivation of the plant may also have the effect of improving soil, proponents of hemp production say.

The prefectural agricultural experiment center in Kitami is researching the possibility of utilizing hemp for purification of nitrogen because the plant grows fast and its roots go deep beneath the surface.

Those involved in growing hemp face many problems, including taking measures to ensure the plants under cultivation are not stolen and developing an inspection system to verify the plants do not contain narcotic-producing components.

Funayama said there are high expectations for hemp to promote the region and take the place of public works projects, which have declined in recent years due to the central government's belt-tightening measures.

"I want to challenge the bad impression of hemp production despite the narcotics scandals," he said.

Source: http://search.japantimes.co.jp/cgi-bin/nn20090219f2.html