Japan’s forests: From lumber source to beloved resource

There was a sharp decline in demand for firewood and charcoal from the mid-1950s as energy needs were increasingly met by fossil fuels. At the same time, demand for construction materials, including pulp lumber, soared as the Japanese economy rapidly expanded. To cope with this, the Forestry Agency launched a massive forest-expansion campaign to clear-cut buna forests and replant them with fast-growing conifers like Japanese cedar and cypress, which would provide more economical lumber for building. This policy, it was believed, would ensure future supplies of lumber.

Venerable buna more than a century old were relentlessly cut down over a broad area. It only takes five minutes for a chainsaw to cut through a tree 50 centimeters in diameter, but new plantings cannot grow fast enough to replace the felled trees. And in the snow country of the northeastern regions, the newly planted conifers failed to grow. Needless to say, the campaign was an utter failure.

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