Saturday, 10 July 2010

Seeing neither wood nor trees?

There's an interesting report from Terrie Lloyd – a long-time business operator in Japan, originally from New Zealand (and my old boss) – about foreign ownership of Japanese forest, and Japanese mis-management of the same. On the one hand the Japanese are planning on restricting foreign ownership of private forest; on the other, the Japanese-owned land is apparently mostly mis-managed. Where's the balance? Is this more Japanese inexperience with foreigners plus more inadequate indigenous-care of the countryside. Or are the Chinese simply buying up Japanese private forest land for wholly undesirable reasons and it's a good plan to stop them? (If the topic interests you, more here.)

The article reminds me of two asides on the subject.

There's a added sadness to Japan's contemporary under-management of forest land. According to Jared Diamond in the excellent Collapse: How societies choose to fail or succeed: "An outsider who visited Japan in 1650 might have predicted that Japanese society was on the verge of a societal collapse triggered by catastrophic deforestation…". Yet Japan pulled back from the brink, and top-down coordination and edicts established by the shogun in the following years meant that Japanese forest was maintained, understood, and re-forested so that a wood-consuming human society and forest land could survive together. A lesson that we all could learn from now (or Easter Island could have learned from in the past!) One legacy is that 68% of Japan is officially regarded as forest land today. (For comparison Finland is about 72, Germany or New Zealand about 31, the UK a mere 11%.)

Doubly sad, then, that it's not well managed in the current era. And that leads to the second aside: those living in Japan consume an inordinate amount of throwaway wooden chopsticks (waribashi) – made almost entirely from imported wood (so other countries' forests are consumed). There was a small trend toward the eco-friendly by promoting the carrying your own, re-usable chopsticks with you, to save on the waste. But at least one Japanese expert suggested to continue using the throwaway ones, but sourcing them in Japan. Since they are made from cheap bits of wood, they can be made from the cleared wood of managed forests. To source the disposable chopsticks in Japan wold mean maintaining and clearing the forests, then, and you could kill two birds with one stone: reintroduce the knowledge of how to manage a forest and stop relying on other counties' forests for Japan's mass consumption. So far, nothing has happened.

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