Japan’s Ancient Forestry Technique Produces Prevents Deforestation While Producing Vast Amounts of Wood

An ancient method of Japanese forestry sets an example to the world of sustainable living without economic or natural sacrifice.

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In the tradition of remaining at one with nature, the Japanese culture has struck a unique balance between ancient culture and modernity. For centuries, Japan has appreciated nature, and continues to nurture the important role it plays in human society.

Dating back centuries, Japanese traditions have come and go with some time-honoured customs still remaining. One such well-known art is the technique of producing miniature trees with the attributes of those belonging to elms, pines and oaks, known as bonsai. As with the art of growing bonsai trees, the horticultural and arborist mastery is but a tip of the cultivation iceberg.

Similar to bonsai, yet yielding vastly different results is the daisugi, a forestry technique which dates as far back as the 15th century. Daisugi largely focuses on the Kitayama cedar tree, found in densely packed cedar forests along the stunning mountains of Northern Kyoto.

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The wood from the Kitayama cedars produces immaculate and near perfect grains that are famously used in wood roofs and beams, the Kyoto tea rooms and artistic items like ikebana, the Japanese flower arranging. The daisugi technique grows these cedars to stand completely straight and thus avoids having the knots typically found in other wild-growing trees. The daisugi timber is robust and also renown for being typhoon resistant due to its flexibility and great strength.

The daisugi technique, similar to bonsai, occurs when the forester closely prunes the parent tree every three to four years, encouraging saplings to shoot upwards. A distinct Japanese cedar results, growing what resembles its own forest on top of its trunk.

The delicate method allows for the arborists to make use of sloping land—flat land in the Kitayama region is rare—and harvest large amounts of high quality wood quickly without the need for slaughtering ancient forests for wood production. The base of the tree lasts centuries while the daisugi cedar is collected every twenty years, allowing for vast amounts of wood harvesting from just one tree.

As generations of woodcutters go by, the process of harvesting the mature lumber promotes newer shoots. This results in unique, gorgeous cedars otherwise not found anywhere else.

As Japan becomes less reliant on daisugi cedars and the demand wanes as new building techniques develop, the nation has left the cedars to develop on their own.

You can now witness the results of sustainability from an ancient culture who once mastered the balance between a growing economy and nature.

Now left to its own devices, we can see the aesthetic brilliance of established trunks with knotted limbs—a rare, otherworldly beauty found across Kyoto’s northern hillscapes—and enjoy the Ancient Cedars of Shimokuroda.

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