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Brighter Future of Japanese Beech Born in A Snowy Country

April 8, 2022

Minami Takamatsu

Japanese Beech, a indigenous tree in Niigata Prefecture has created a new market in the traditional furniture industry.

Niigata faces the Sea of Japan and there is a heavy snowfall area with an average of 462 cm in winter. A program called Snowbeech Project utilizes the Japanese beech in the sustainable way. The project team, led by Tomohiko Kamitani, a professor of forest ecology at Niigata University, consists of craft writers, architects, and other local people from sawmills and furniture makers.

What is Japanese Beech?

Japanese beech is a tree that represents a snow country, and until about half a century ago, people living in mountainous villages processed beech into firewood and charcoal as energy source to support their livelihoods. However, oil and natural gas have been replaced and beech trees are rarely used now. On the other hand, most of the furniture made from beech sold domestically is made from European beech. In other words, in Japan, domestic beeches are rarely used any more.

To utilize this traditional Japanese tree more, the Snowbeech Project was launched in 2015 with the desire to add a new value to beech trees by creating new furniture and crafts to revitalize the forestry in Oshirakawa, a heavy snow village. Project team aims for the branding of a new name “snowbeech.” Also, in general, beech trees often have holes in the center or become darker in color due to the disease of Apriona japonica, but Japanese beeches in Oshirakawa have no worm-eaten and discoloration. It is white like "snow". This is because the ancestors have continued to improve the beech forest over the years.

Impact of Snowbeech Project

Snowbeech project has two major features. The first is to find the utility value of the Japanese beech and the second one is to link the utility value to the people’s lives in the future.

As for utility value, Asakura Furniture, a local company is a major driver of this project. They merchandizes dining table, chair, and study desk, made of beech lumber.

The product in this picture is called Makanai Stool. “Makanai” means meals for employees provided by employers, often offered in backoffice. To save the cost, makanai meals are often made from the leftover materials. In case of Asakura Furniture, craftsmen made use of beech woods with color changed and eaten by bug to produce the casual stool. By not to waste the trees like    

meals, this effort leads the    curtesy: Asakura Furniture sustainability. The sales price is 12,100 yen.

Utility Value To The People’s Lives In The Future.

Also, this will revitalize the local forestry industry to attract the next generation, which leads to the sustainability of the local community.

To pass it on to the next generation, it is critically important whether appropriate profits are able to be distributed to stakeholders involved in forestry. By avoiding unequal distribution, the younger generation will be involved in forestry.

To secure a fair distribution, it is important that any opinion of stakeholder is not ignored. Many stakeholders starting from forestry workers to retailers are involved in the value chain of furniture, however, for now, forestry worker cannot get appropriate profits. If this situation does not change, it is difficult to pass the forestry to the next generation. Also, to pass forestry, it is important to change the current image of hard and dirk work to much brighter one. The potential of forestry in the future will depend on how attractive the forestry can be told on to the next generation.

Sustainability tends to focus on the "environment", but can the industry continue not only in terms of “environment” but also in terms of "human resources"? Focusing on this “human resources” aspect will lead to the creation of a sustainable society for the first time.






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