Friday, January 27, 2017

Great Expectations: Cypresses, Kabuki, and Biodiversity of Acorns in Kanagawa Prefecture

Since we are in the suburb of Tokyo, residential housing is still a big business in Kanagawa Prefecture. Yet, we do not have forests large enough to meet the demand ... our self-sufficiency rate of wood is less than 1%, and we harvest fewer logs than Tokyo whose forest coverage is 20% smaller than ours. A rumor: the previous Governor of Tokyo, Shitaro Ishihara, who took a peculiar approach for solving “environmental” problems, once ordered to “eliminate pollen producing bastard trees.” … Hearing this, I felt déjà vu to the pandemonium in the relocation of Tsukiji Fish Market

Well, Lovers of Niiharu does our share of thinking
the way to maximize the utility of cut trees.
We have “paved” a muddy path
within the Ikebuchi Open Space
with logs we harvested last March.
They were first cut into shorter logs to fit into dug-down ground.
Then, we peeled the cambium to make them last longer
… I did not know
leaving the cambium could let the logs be rotten faster.
Next, we paved the ground with the logs …
like this, and filled the surface with the soil
of the amount just enough to cover the logs underneath.
My seniors told me too much soil will make the structure unstable.

The current prefectural policy for forest management is going along the line of national policy. In 2005, at the time of formulating prefectural Forest Environment Tax, the local government resuscitated the support for maintenance work in forestry roads to carry thinned trees out from the formerly abandoned water source forests. Now the prefecture has several subsidy schemes such as for introductions of the latest technology machines, skill-trainings for foresters (about 300 “survive” in Kanagawa now) and architects, and consolidation of forest lands among small title holders. City of Yokosuka is planning to operate a biofuel plant for power generation in 2019, which is the first in Kanagawa. Events for promoting wood housing are held several times a year in many parts of the prefecture. Mr. Masaaki Nagai from the Forest Rejuvenation Section of the Prefecture told us as of 2016 harvestable trees in Kanagawa are increasing 160 thousand cubic meters per year. Out of them, only 30 thousand is actually procured for wood products. As a policy, the local government does not intend to expand the chopping down further, but maintains the rest for intensive care of water source forests. Having said that, the forest cooperative and the prefectural government try jointly to establish “Kanagawa brand wood” as superior quality of handsome prices. One of the flagship projects was the supply of the best cypress boards to Kabukiza Theatre in Tokyo.

A notice board in Tanzawa
about local policy for water source forests

In Tanzawa Mountains, the area surrounded by trekking roads for the main peaks from Yabitsu Pass is (1) Quasi-National Park in the higher elevation, and (2) the lower altitude area as the property of Moroto Holdings Co., one of the largest forestry companies in Japan. When Kabukiza was renovated in 2013, Moroto Holdings provided the best cypresses as stage boards from their property in Tanzawa, processed after biodrying. Cypress has been the most expensive wood material for centuries in Japan. During Tokugawa Shogunate period, only a handful of Noh and Kabuki theatres that were registered as “official” could use cypresses for their stage. So, there is a Japanese lingo; “Hinoki butai (cypress stage)” = “The top-rated stage only the best and brightest shall stand.” When Kabukiza chose the trees from Kanagawa, people in-the-know danced for joy as the pride of our home town.

Over there is a property of Moroto Holdings.

And here, we return to the matter of baby trees. The strictly controlled supply of coniferous seedlings ensures the genetic origin of artificial forests in Japan. With the regime, Dr. Saitoh of Kanagawa Prefecture managed to establish a supply system for cedar seedlings of fewer pollens. He’s trying to do the same for cypresses. Good. A snag is, within the Prefecture the demand for the seedlings is limited, i.e., to replace less than 30 thousand cubic meters of commercial trees. (Not all the deforested areas are afforested by new cedar seedlings, you know.) As it takes at least 3 years to prepare coniferous tree seedlings in Kanagawa - 1 year for preparing the soil, and 2 years for a seed to become a seedling strong enough to be transplanted, the matter could wait somewhat … though, it may not be enough for seedling farmers who themselves are a kind of endangered species within the Japanese economy. At the moment, Tokyo is crazy for cutting their trees. So, many baby cedars from Kanagawa are planted in Tokyo these days. After all, Kanagawa is currently the only prefecture in Kanto Region who can produce pollen-controlled cedar seedlings. Whether this continues to be a viable option for seedling producers in Kanagawa is something we have to watch … Meanwhile, younger people, in their 40s and under, are searching for newer possibilities. How about replacing artificial coniferous forests with broad-leaved trees that dominated Japanese mountains before the start of massive deforestation 80 years ago? The national and local subsidies are to enhance environmental sustainability in the forests, which means we don’t have to stick to commercial trees as our great-grandpas did, do we? Incidentally, we have a well-established system of preserving local biodiversity in coniferous trees by controlling the movement of seeds and seedlings. Why not applying it to all the trees for afforestation in Kanagawa?

Fruits for fewer pollen cedars in
Kanagawa Natural Environment Conservation Center
Not all the seedlings in
Kanagawa Natural Environment Conservation Center
are coniferous trees.

The majority of Japanese, especially older folks, still talk with misty eyes their adventure, like “This weekend I took an airplane to join a tour for planting acorns from our town in such-a-far-away place.” But, it seems to me, the consensus for the afforestation would change within 10 years or so when the new generation takes the pole position. “Locality” may be the key for everything in the post-globalization of Kanagawa’s forest. … Somebody may accuse us of being “closed” as always happens for Japan … But it’s not about opening or closing, but for scientific consideration of biodiversity of the entire planet … Forest is a long-term thing. 10 years is short for a tree that can live for centuries. Let’s wait what happens, eventually ;-)

After tree-planting exercise in Hakone this autumn.
Come to think of it,
in a mountain once the cedars grew for commercial purpose,
we did not plant coniferous trees,
but seedlings of broadleaved Quercus accutissimaand serrata purchased with the money from the Emperor.
Pruning also has more emphasis on environmental sustainability,
these days in Kanagawa.
Before the work, the inside was that much congested.
We pruned the forest …
The forest floor is definitely brighter, and more ventilated.

The contact address for Kanagawa Natural Environment Conservation Center 神奈川県自然環境保全センター is

657 Nanasawa, Atsugi City, 243-0121 2430121 厚木市七沢657
Phone: 046-248-0323

You can send an enquiry to them by clicking the bottom line of their homepage at

No comments:

Post a Comment