Anyone exploring the shops and cafes of Japan’s major cities in the past two years has certainly noticed the explosion of CBD products on retail shelves, online shops and in a growing number of cafes. CBD consumer products range from tinctures and gummies to cosmetics and even pet products, some imported and some manufactured in Japan using CBD raw materials primarily from the U.S., China and the EU.

While CBD products are a major current trend, interest in the Japanese market for a variety of hemp-derived products has grown dramatically in the past few years.Hemp seed and hemp seed oil appear poised for growth in the Japanese health food sector; longer term, there may be opportunities for hemp fiber in construction, insulation and plastic.

Meros recently teamed up with the U.S. Embassy Japan to develop a series of reports on the Japanese market and import regulations for hemp-derived products, to serve as a resource for U.S. exporters planning their business development in Japan.  The 2018 U.S. Farm bill  legalized the production of industrial hemp in the U.S., defined any cannabis plant or derivative thereof, that contains not more than 0.3 percent delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (“THC”) on a dry-weight basis. This authorization of production in the U.S. has brought optimism that a new commodity crop can be developed in the U.S., with a wide range of uses in industrial, feed and wellness markets and potential for export to global markets.

While Japan has a long history of hemp cultivation, today Japan’s domestic hemp use is mainly limited to fiber for traditional uses linked to the Shinto religion, such as shimenawa ropes decorating shrines or the belts of top ranked sumo champions. To grow cannabis in Japan, a cultivation license is necessary and as of 2019 there were only 35 licensed cannabis cultivators, primarily in Tochigi Prefecture, and a total of 9 hectares under cultivation. There is little expectation that this number will increase in the near term.

And yet industrial hemp has a wide potential range of uses in Japan from seeds for human and animal consumption, fiber for use in apparel, building insulation, plastics and construction materials to hemp extracts such as CBD and other cannabinoids in cosmetics and wellness products.  It is expected that these raw materials will need to be imported to Japan; this makes it essential for potential hemp product suppliers to have a deep un

Under Japan’s legal regulatory framework, the Cannabis Control Act bans importation of “cannabis”. The Act defines ‘cannabis’ as “the cannabis plant (Cannabis sativa L.) and its products. However, mature cannabis stalks and products made from stalks (excluding resin, which is illegal), as well as cannabis seeds and products made from the seeds are excluded from this legal definition of “cannabis”. Japan has a zero-tolerance level for tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) in any product.

The Cannabis Control Act does not explicitly mention THC, however, in practice, the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare (MHLW) interprets the presence of THC in a product to mean that parts of the cannabis plant other than mature stalks or seeds were used.Unacceptable parts include flowers, buds, leaves, immature stalks, or roots.

Exporting hemp products to Japan, therefore, requires various documentation and administrative steps in order to comply with the import regulations for legal hemp products.

In this new series of reports, Meros not only looks at the current market dynamics of each product category, but also examples of the import flow and documentation required for hemp fiber, hemp seed, hemp seed oil, CBD and hemp extract products.

Further regulatory changes are expected Japan’s hemp product market in the coming years, so success as a supplier to Japan’s hemp product markets will require on-going observation of the changing dynamics of each market and potential changes in regulation. As always, strong relationships with importers and partners in Japan will be critical for suppliers to navigate these dynamic markets.

The series of reports can be found at the following links:

The Japanese Market for Hemp Fiber

The Japanese Market for Hemp Seed and Hemp Seed Oil Products

The Japanese Market for CBD and Hemp Extracts