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FoE Japan ~Reestablishing Links with Familiar Natural Surroundings! - The

Ms. Shinohara of FoE Japan, and Mr. Hayashi, who acts as a volunteer, they are pictured here in front of a toolshed at Utsuki no Mori.

Ms. Shinohara of FoE Japan, and Mr. Hayashi,
who acts as a volunteer, they are pictured here
in front of a toolshed at Utsuki no Mori.

June's Close Up introduces FoE Japan, an international environmental non-government organization (NGO). As a member of the Friends of the Earth International network which boasts 2 million supporters in some 74 countries, since establishment in 1980, FoE Japan has worked on a range of environmental issues worldwide including global warming and energy, the preservation of forests and woodlands, and the environmental degradation arising concomitant to the economic emergence of developing nations, etc. Of the numerous activities FoE Japan undertakes, on this occasion we will introduce the "Woodland Revitalization Project." This is a domestic project for the preservation of forests and woodlands. It aims to reclaim a natural setting with which people feel familiar, and recover a woodland environment that is easily accessible. Concerning the activities undertaken at the Utsuki no Mori (Utsuki Forest) in Tokyo's Hachioji City, we were fortunate enough to speak with Ms. Yuriko Shinohara, FoE Japan's General Affairs and Operations Manager, and Mr. Hiromichi Hayashi, who acts as a volunteer leader onsite.

Q.Please tell us about the distinctive features of FoE Japan activities.

Fair Wood Café website

This is one of the FoE Japan activities aimed at citizens. On the Fair Wood Café website, visitors can buy furniture and kitchen items made from Japanese sourced timber.
http://www.fairwood.jp/cafe/

A.Ms. Shinohara: Our activities take place from the perspective of environmental issues that have arisen due to factors attributable to the Japanese population. For example, the destruction of overseas forests and woodlands is one such problem. As a nation, Japan is a massive consumer of timber products. However, unlike regions and countries such as the European Union and the United States, etc., Japan doesn't have legal statutes in place to harshly punish the illegal harvesting of timber. This means that it isn't possible to remove the risk that timber illegally harvested in Southeast Asia and Russia will be imported into Japan. This is a factor that has contributed to the loss of overseas forests. By contrast, because of pressures that encourage sales of cheap foreign timber products within Japan, there's also the problem of Japanese timber products not being sold. This means domestic forests are being left in a poor condition because not much is done to maintain them. Against this backcloth, we are acting as follows: So that illegally harvested timber products are not imported into Japan, we are lobbying government for laws that will strictly punish illegal imports. Furthermore, we are lobbying businesses so that they develop ethical procurement practices with respect to timber products. Meanwhile, we are attempting to broaden the "Fair Wood" philosophy whereby timber products are harvested in a manner that is both considerate of the producing forests and the surrounding communities. We are also trying to promote the use of domestic materials and timber products produced locally here in Japan. It could be said that our main activity is making such policy suggestions to government.

Q.How did the "Woodland Revitalization Project" start in Utsuki no Mori?

A.Ms. Shinohara: The project commenced in 2002. At around the same time, the area was designated as a nature conservation zone by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, and steps were apparently taken to recruit groups who could maintain it. Speaking personally, much of the work we handle at our offices is desk work involving overseas issues that are somewhat removed from us. Thus, at that time, I believe we probably had staff members who didn't want to be solely stuck behind their desks; rather they wanted to have some contact with natural surroundings with which they were familiar.

“Woodland Revitalization Project” Pamphlet The project is currently being undertaken in Utsuki no Mori (Hachioji City, Tokyo) and at Satoyama Guruguru Smile Farm (Ogawa Town, Saitama Prefecture). ©FoE Japan   "Woodland Revitalization Project" Pamphlet
The project is currently being undertaken in Utsuki no Mori (Hachioji City, Tokyo) and at Satoyama Guruguru Smile Farm (Ogawa Town, Saitama Prefecture).
©FoE Japan

Q.What do you aim to achieve through your activities at Utsuki no Mori?

A.Mr. Hayashi: Concerning forested areas where work is being conducted, there are other groups that are managing sites in Okutama and Yamanashi Prefecture, etc. However, in that Utsuki no Mori offers relatively good access from the metropolitan area, we have been conducting activities here because the location is a good one in terms of initially engaging people who want contact with both forests and natural surroundings. Furthermore, in that there are also car parking facilities, people accompanied by small children can get involved. At the same time, some people want to "get strongly involved in working to maintain a forest." Thus, we want Utsuki no Mori to be a location that can cater for both types of participation. Speaking personally, I have been involved in volunteer activities since 2007, and over the last couple of years I have seen the range of activities expand to include a large variety of different people.

The Utsuki no Mori toolshed was built by volunteersThe compost heap for storing fallen leaves was also made by volunteers using locally-cut bamboo staves

The Utsuki no Mori toolshed was built by volunteers (L).
The compost heap for storing fallen leaves was also made by
volunteers using locally-cut bamboo staves (R).

Q.Why is it important to work to maintain forests like this one?

A.Mr. Hayashi: The reason that people come here is that they want to do something in a forest setting. For example, participants can enjoy using wood to make craft pieces, they can bake bread and pizzas over an open fire, or they can dig out bamboo shoots and collect chestnuts, etc. If you view such activities from the position of being somebody who is able to influence how forests can supply such bounty, then you come to realize that steps must be taken to create bamboo groves where bamboo shoots can grow, that climber weeds must be removed so that chestnut trees don't fall over, and that grass must be cut so that visitors can enjoy themselves. Concerning a lifestyle in which forests were utilized in order that their bounty could be received, such was very much the norm until the generation of our grandparents. By coming to locations such as this one and enjoying themselves and working, people reconnect with forests. There is the sense of returning to the basics of the relationship that used to connect together people and forests.

A volunteer family enjoying the packed lunches they brought with them ©FoE JapanBamboo shoots dug up in Utsuki no Mori ©FoE JapanA flowing noodles party using bamboo from Utsuki no Mori. Both the chopsticks and the bowls are also made from bamboo ©FoE Japan

A volunteer family enjoying the packed lunches they brought with them (L). Bamboo shoots dug up in Utsuki no Mori (C).
A flowing noodles party using bamboo from Utsuki no Mori. Both the chopsticks and the bowls are also made from bamboo (R).
©FoE Japan

Q.Concerning the people who visit Utsuki no Mori, what activities are popular with them?

A.Ms. Shinohara: While on one hand there are people who come because they are interested in attending events where they have the opportunity to dig out bamboo shoots, collect plums, and collect chestnuts, etc., there are others who come because they want to help with tasks such as grass-cutting and wood-chopping, etc. Even on days when we have had workshops planned, there are sometimes people who say, "I want to cut grass" (laughing).

A.Mr. Hayashi: As long as people observe the basic rules of not endangering themselves, not endangering others, and not trespassing on the private land that adjoins Utsuki no Mori, we are more than happy if somebody just wants to cut grass by themselves throughout the day. Although we do have a schedule for each day, we leave it up to individuals as to how they choose to enjoy themselves. Although grass cutting occurs when it is hot and when there are lots of insects, there are nevertheless some people who enjoy doing it. While working, if people turn around and see what they had done, there is a certain satisfaction in witnessing how the area of cut grass looks when neat and tidy. Furthermore, many people become focused on chopping wood. There is the sense that such people have a desire to engage in active exercise.

Climbing trees and using poles to collect plumbs©FoE Japaneach plumb is wiped down and the stems removed for the making of plum wine ©FoE JapanUsing a sickle to cut grass ©FoE Japan

Climbing trees and using poles to collect plumbs (L),
each plumb is wiped down and the stems removed for the making of plum wine (C). Using a sickle to cut grass (R)
©FoE Japan

Q.You mentioned chopping wood, so you cut trees down?

A.Mr. Hayashi: Yes, one way to describe this area of Musashino is mixed woodland. In order to maintain a forest offering both a healthy range of vegetation and good soils, best practice is felt to be a repeated cycle whereby trees are cut down every 20 years or so and the next generation of growth is allowed to develop. Accordingly, in this area as well from autumn through to winter we have a program of tree-felling. However, if novices want to help out, we only allow them to cut down trees with a trunk girth of about 10 centimeters. Furthermore, in that the timber harvested represents a resource, we consider how such timber will be used and only the necessary tree numbers are felled. Because of this stance, we also have trees that have grown beyond the point of harvesting. Furthermore, an issue to consider while maintaining such a forest is how to unearth enough demand for timber within the context of the annual growth that occurs within the forest.

Harvesting increased amounts of bamboo and making bamboo holders ©FoE JapanHarvesting increased amounts of bamboo and making bamboo holders ©FoE JapanIf recycled tempura oil is added to a bamboo holder, a candle is created ©FoE Japan

Harvesting increased amounts of bamboo and making bamboo holders (L and C). If recycled tempura oil is added to a bamboo holder, a candle is created (R). These candles convey a message of "Recycling and Energy Conservation" from Utsuki no Mori.
©FoE Japan

Q.In what ways do you currently use the timber that is harvested?

A.Mr. Hayashi: We have created a stamp card system called "Satoyama Points" that allows people who participate in our activities to collect stamps on a card. Once enough stamps have been collected, people can then take home some of the harvested wood. The amount is limited to what an individual can carry by themselves. This is a program that we have started. For example, if somebody receives a prize for perfect attendance at our regular events during the course of a year, they can obtain enough firewood to run a wood stove throughout the winter. If such a volume of firewood were to be purchased by other means, it might cost around ¥100,000. Thus, I believe that participants are happy to participate in this points system, them being half-driven by a sense of enjoyment, and half-driven by a sense of potential gain. If a good balance between supply and demand could be established, I believe there would be many people interested in using wood that was harvested here in Japan. I think it would be good if a system was created whereby locally-harvested wood and timber products could be used cheaply, or if such products were offered free of charge to those willing to carry them away themselves.

There are also volunteers who participate because they like to chop wood ©FoE JapanWood stacks located close to the toolshed at Utsuki no Mori. It will be used as fuel for wood stoves ©FoE Japan

There are also volunteers who participate because they like to chop wood (L).
Wood stacks located close to the toolshed at Utsuki no Mori.
It will be used as fuel for wood stoves (R).
©FoE Japan

Q.Please offer a message to those people who read this article and who are interested in your activities.

「まずは休日のレジャーとして参加してください」と語る林さん。

Mr. Hayashi: "As a place to start; please participate as if it was a holiday leisure activity."

A.Mr. Hayashi: As a first step, I think it would be good even if people just came here and spent some time in the forest. It would be good enough for them to get more involved once they realized they wanted to. If people want to learn more about grass, or how to use a sickle, or anything else for that matter, there is always someone available who can teach them. I should point out that our volunteers vary greatly both in terms of age groups and gender composition. Indeed, the biggest attraction of doing volunteer work here is that visitors can develop new relationships with a range of people who differ from those they meet in the course of their everyday lives. Moreover, I feel that it is almost equally important that people be active in a natural setting such as this one.

「どんなことをやりたいか、何ができるかわからない方は、まずはここに来てみてほしい」と語る篠原さん。

Ms. Shinohara: "I want people to start by coming here, those who are uncertain about what they want to do, or what they can do."

A.Ms. Shinohara: I want people to start by coming here. They can meet with a great variety of people of different ages and interests. They can also view how people interact with the forest in different ways, and search out within a broader context a sense of personal enjoyment. If people come to Utsuki no Mori and become interested in the activities, some of them will become interested in other environmental issues and get further involved. One of the features of FoE Japan is that we are not just a group involved in woodland preservation. In that we can offer a wide range of other opportunities, I want people to use this opportunity as a starting point for further involvement.