Japan in face of resources: When 70% of the territory is forests

By Carmen Grau Vila

Kameyama, Japan, Dec 17 (EFE).- The abundant wood from Japanese forests has clothed the culture and fueled decades of urbanization and industrialization in Japan, but the country now faces the new challenge of managing large forest areas at risk of degradation.

Forests make up two-thirds of the mountainous archipelago and 41 percent of these forest resources were artificially planted, a booming industry after World War II.

Now domestic demand has fallen in favor of cheaper timber imports, foresters are declining, and in a country with an aging population and frequent disasters, maintaining large forest areas is a challenge.

Kameyama is a lush mountain of cedars and cypresses in the heart of the Boso Peninsula east of Tokyo, a planted forest and model of private forest management in the country.

On an afternoon in December, Kameyama combines, on 47 hectares, autumnal hues of trees of different ages with extensive clearings of mountain recovering from a typhoon that devastated it in 2019.

This is one of 74 forests in Mitsui Bussan Forest, a Japanese company that owns 44,000 hectares, from north to south of the archipelago, or 0.1 percent of the surface of Japan, in turn part of Mitsui and Co, a conglomerate with various lines of business such as mining, construction or food.

It is the private company with the most forest resources in the country, where 70 forest professionals work to make the forests profitable and maintain, taking care of a cycle that includes planting, cultivation, felling and use.

“In our forests there are no surveillance cameras, we only fence access, but there is no illegal logging,” said Tomari Hironobu, business director of the company in charge of Kameyama for seven years.

The archipelago’s ecosystem depends on the correct management and conservation of the forests, a well-cared forest purifies the water and provides nutrients to the oceans while preventing landslides, he said.

On the contrary, a degraded forest increases risks and landslides in a country with frequent torrential rains.

“Disasters are a challenge. We lost part of the forest in the 2019 typhoon, but we are recovering it,” Tomari said. “The forest is degraded if people do not take care of it. A damaged forest has to be cleaned, cleared or cut down and we do it with our hands, just like replanting.”

With the dual purpose of doing business from selling wood and conserving forests, Mitsui uses the profits to maintain and regenerate them.

“We manage forests with the environment, wood and profitability in mind. We recently looked to go beyond the sale of trees, so we are evaluating how to get more profitability,” said Yasuko Ofukutani, Mitsui and Co’s Corporate Sustainability Divisions Deputy Director.

Mitsui wood represents 0.1 percent (50,000 cubic meters) of Japan’s annual demand, according to company data. A portion is also earmarked for two biomass power plants in Hokkaido, in the north of the country, where the group has also invested. EFE


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