Table Speech

Traditional Architecture and Forestry

November 14, 2018

Mr. Kiyomitsu Moroto
President, MOROTO Forest Co., Ltd.

 Aiming to become a tourism-oriented country, the transportation system and accommodation facilities are being dramatically upgraded recently in Japan. Today, I’ll talk about the relation between conservation of traditional architecture and forestry, focusing on the hinoki cypress tree.

 First of all, let me tell you the current situation of forestry. Generally, 3,000 trees are planted per 1 hectare of land, then after the process of weeding, trimming, thinning and logging, trees are planted once again. This one cycle takes about 50 years.

 Timber production peaked in 1980 with total output reaching 1 trillion yen, but now it has dropped to 230 billion yen. Price of hinoki timber marked 76,400 yen per 1 square meter, but now it dropped to less than a quarter to 17,300 yen.

 It costs 2.3million yen (national average) to manage 1 hectare of artificial forest for 50 years, yet the profit earned by selling 50-year-old timbers for general housing is only 900,000 yen. In order to generate a decent amount of income every year, we need to manage forests, in a cost- efficient manner, with a size large enough to make a rotation for at least 50 years. However, 90 % of foresters in Japan own less than 10 hectares of land, and those who own more than 50 hectares account for only 1.4%. The Forestry Agency is trying various policies, as aging of forest workers is also a serious issue and young foresters are not motivated to maintain forests with such a low profitability.

 Coming back to the main theme of my speech today, high quality timber used for traditional architecture is normally more than 100 years old and has dense texture and even cell walls. Cyprus used for kabuki stages is 100 years old, a protruding stage of Kiyomizu Temple is 200 years old, and timber for the main pillar of the 5-storied pagoda of Horyuji Temple is as old as 400 years.

 Aged hinoki is not only used as timber but its barks are used for thatched roofing. There are about 700 structures with hinoki bark roofs designated as important cultural properties. Just to maintain these 700 structures requires 3,500 square meters of hinoki barks a year. In total 3,000 hectares of forest is needed to maintain all the structures with hinoki bark roofing.

 Nurturing foresters capable of managing high-quality timber as well as those who can harvest hinoki barks is a pressing issue. It is of utmost importance that we reconstruct a system that ensures sustainable management of our cultural assets.