Friday, July 8, 2016

Ferocious Rain Forest, even it is temperate: thinning (BMI) ctd.

You may remember it. Niiharu Lovers thinned chamaecyparis obtusa and pisifera last March, near Zone C. Carrying out the logs continues as of July 2. Well, granted, we are doing it by hands with minimum intervention of machine. However! more than 4 months to complete the job testifies this thinning is really a large project. After joining the troop for this task, I became more aware of the forest maintenance news, and learned thinning is becoming a huge problem in Japanese forests everywhere.

Late June in Niiharu

First, I apologize for the wrong information I posted at the very beginning of this blog. The reason why every spring we suffer hay fever with chamaecyparis obtuse and cryptomeria japonica was not due to a stupid decree of Japanese Imperial HDQ during World War II. It was because of economic force in the post-war reconstruction. Thanks to very diligent carpet bombings by the US B-29s, all the houses in any cities of Japan were burnt down by 15 August 1945. When the war was ended, the first thing people thought was food and shelter. There came a huge demand for housing materials. Unfortunately, Imperial HDQ drafted every possible resource in the archipelago, including woods in the forests. E.g. there was a very famous beautiful pine-tree in Nokendo of RokkokuToge Hiking Trail. The tree was often the subject of haiku, paintings, etc. for hundreds of years. Then, during the last war, the HDQ ordered to cut it in order to extract pine oil for fuels of fighter airplanes, a kind of renewable biomass energy for war. Old 200 pine trees were thought to produce fuel for a Zero to fly 1 hour that was enough for a Kamikaze suicide attack. Our great-granpas were desperate but not that fool. The idea was scrapped, but the deforestation was done anyway. So, when people needed roof over heads at the time General Douglas MacArthur came, there were not enough woods in the mountain. Those landlords who still had some did a wonderful business in the housing market, and owners of deforested spaces planted chamaecyparis and cryptomeria massively hoping for striking big as their neighbors did. It was about 70 years ago, and now is the time to harvest them. 

Satoyama scenery in Niiharu.
The middle is an artificial forest of huge
chamaecyparis obtuse.

Unfortunately, in the 21st century Japanese timbers cannot compete with cheap imports from the US and Canada. (The latest stats can be found here.) Moreover, many landlords were elderly people who, like landlords of Niiharu as Mr. Asaba met in the late 1990s, have not taken care of the trees for decades due to labor shortage for forestry. It makes the trees not-good enough for the market. A good timber for Japanese hand-made house (I mean not 2-by-4 American style) is harvested from woods that have been taken care of for 50 years at least. When they are still 3-5 years old, the thinning and pruning must be started and continued annually until they became tall enough, say 30 m high. Otherwise growth in a crowded ground shall be stunted, as we can find in some area of Zone C of Niiharu. In addition, the tree-trunks will have gnarls and lots of branches that make the logs unsuitable for robust and straight enough pillars that can stand even with strong earthquakes. A standard MBA thinking says business under the high labor cost environment must offer high-quality products. Japanese forestry cannot provide the quality corresponding to the labor cost … and hence they are kept abandoned. From the 1990s, freak storms are attacking Japanese forests large and small. The abandoned trees were struck by thunders, bended / broken by violent winds, and washed away by spontaneous streams. The forests became a mess. Small earthquakes, of like magnitude 3-4 (er, they are small for Japanese, mate), easily caused landslides. It became serious problems, especially in cities where people live densely near the disaster sites. It was the time some people became spontaneously Yokohama forest volunteers. Those who were able to operate chainsaws entered the neighborhood forests and treated the dangerous situation without charge. And that’s why wielding chainsaws is a kind of “badge of honor” in Yokohama’s citizen forestry. Now, Niiharu Lovers Volunteers cut the over-grown Chamaecyparis obtusa and pisifera a lot in order for the veggie field of an abuelita landlord receiving enough sun-light. The trend continues. After the Great Tohoku Earthquake, some young people begin to re-think Japanese forestry as one of the 21st century’s sustainable economic activities that can maintain the forest resistant to landslides. (For new business in Okutama of Tokyo, an article is here. This is an example in trials in Tohoku. About self-harvesting housing in Shikoku, a newspaper article is here.) Niiharu Loveres also meet teenagers and parents of elementary school kids who come to see what we are doing in the forest. So, our on-going project with logs may be at the vanguard (wow, “Really!?”).

The tree with damaged core
does not have market value.
Volunteers pruned the branches at the time this tree was cut.
So, it has lots of marks and
the market value of this log is very low.
Volunteers who are “almost pro” of wood curving are grinning.
Such branches are practically “thin-version” of the trunk.
They accumulated the growth of the tree
in a more packed way than the body.
The texture becomes denser but suave,
which made them ideal for small wood sculptures.

When I saw the slope after the thinning last March, the place became really bare. I asked my seniors, “Will the ground recover? It is now exposed … The veggie field will have more sunshine, but the slope with only stamps could be dried up, couldn’t it?” They laughed and said “Well, you don’t know the forest here. You’ll see what happens very quickly.” They are damned right. By the end of June, the place, including the logs left on the top of the slope waiting for us to be carried out, is covered, really COVERED, with grass. Puerania montana, commelina communis, gynostemma pentaphyllum, lxeris japonica … ferocious. Some even have thorns. Their seeds, rhizomes, roots … were sleeping silently under the seemingly naked ground when the volunteers cut the trees. Once the sun shines merrily, and the monsoon season comes with abundant rain, they spring awake and grow savagely to out-compete the opponents for the better positioning of sunshine and water. Every weekend, the first thing we do to take out the logs is identifying the size of the logs under the cover of thick grass. We cut, pulled-out the part of the rhizome, and pushed them out from the logs. Then, the next week, the same thing we have to do: the “weeds” simply don’t care.

The seemingly green hill on the right is
actually a pile of branches we made last March.
It looked like this in April.
Baby hemp palm is sprouting!
I didn’t know there was a seed for trachycarpus fortunei
… or is it from birds’ droppings?
Well, OK. The scenery has a kind of charm.

The Lovers are loading the logs in a tiny truck to carry them out. The field next to the place has now good sunshine and the landlord grows beautiful eggplants. The abuelita will plant another veggie once the logs are taken out to Lovers’ work shed. But she has to wait. We stuff the truck by hands, as always. The volunteers resort to teamwork and put the logs one-by-one on the bed with ropes and fire hooks. Although after being left for a couple of month on the ground they are dried somewhat and must be lighter, they are still HEAVY. Lovers have two trucks both of which were donated by a supporter of Lovers in Tokyo. They are designed to carry less than 350 kg, whose limitation we are sure is violated in this project. Moreover, the truck does back and forth between the field and the shed at least 3 times in one volunteer activity morning. Some volunteers are worrying if the suspension of the truck can sustain under the pressure ... But it is impossible to take the huge logs out without a car, which is definitely cheaper than borrowing a horse in Yokohama.

The aubergines she planted look like bigger than
the standard Japanese eggplants in supermarkets …
Are they of different kind, or, a-hem, thanks to our labor?
Lumber yard, now. It will be veggie field later.
An “excavated” log is first roped,
and dragged to position at the loading site.
We hook the supporting logs on the bed of the truck …
and rope the log using a fire hook.
This log is ready to be pulled.
Though, constant vigilance is necessary to load a log.
This one could be stuck on the right so that
the person with a fire hook pulled it slightly to the left.
During the adjustment, the team must balance the log with ropes.
"Pull here, but relax there, one-two-three, now!”
The teamwork is essential.
I am also very impressed with smart usages of fire hooks.
The principle of leverage works everywhere without brute force.
Though, unless the operation is executed cleverly,
serious injuries could occur. Hmmmmmm.
How to load the logs is also important.
The route between the field and the working shed
goes through private farmlands,
narrow commuter roads within a residential zone,
and a steep slope.
Collapsing cargo is definitely No-No.
The proper rope works for safely laid logs are the Must.

The plan is, with the logs possible to be lumbered we are going to make picnic tables, benches and materials for trekking road maintenance at the work shed. Because of the long term neglect, not all the logs are suitable for processing so that those failed to pass the “inspection” of senior volunteers will become fire woods. Majority of the product will be used within Niiharu Citizen Forest, but, frankly, the amount of logs will exceed the capacity the Forest can utilize for hikers and kids at festivals. We fantasized to build beautiful log houses for our meeting places, new working sheds, bath-tubs made of fragrant hinoki cypress … “Who gonna pay for carpenters, then?” “Ha, ha, nobody.” Lovers are joking we will have enough life-time supplies of fire woods. So, any customers are welcome! At the moment, a lady from the downtown has reserved a picnic table that will be used for BBQ parties at her place. Fire woods can be also on sale. They are definitely cheaper than you can find in internet; the price, and design, is negotiable. Your purchase will support our volunteer activities in Niiharu! Er … we do not have delivery service, though. You have to come to Niiharu and carry them by yourself. If any of you want to have them, please call Mr. Okawa, at 045-934-9898 (Japanese only), or come to see us during our weekend activity morning. Activity calendar for FY 2016 is downloadable from here. We meet at Ikebuchi Hiroba (A-4) at 9:00 of activity morning. … By the way, if you want to have a product from those logs, you have to wait till next spring (at least in principle). Reason? For a good Japanese lumber, the cut logs are left to stand to be dried before processing. My mother’s side is in the west of Japanese archipelago, and there people wait for at least 3 years after cutting to use the trees for anything. My senior at Niiharu told me this part of Japan is much wetter so that we cannot leave the logs that long. “They will be molded and become unusable.” The standard of lumbering in Yokohama is one year of waiting so that the trees cut in last March will be processed coming spring. Forest takes its time. ;)

The logs are left to stand for one year
in front of the working shed of Lovers of Niiharu.
They can be a nice log house, honestly …

If you find a problem in the Niiharu Forest, please make a contact with

Office for the Park Greeneries in the North 北部公園緑地事務所
Yokohama Municipal Government Creative Environment Policy Bureau 横浜市環境創造局
Phone: 045-311-2016 (I guess in Japanese only)
FAX: 045-316-8420 (I hope there is somebody who can read English …)

Niiharu Administrative Office / Satoyama Exchange Center 新治管理事務所・里山交流センター
Phone: 045-931-4947
Fax: 045-937-0898

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