Japan’s Association of Shinto Shrines has pledged to source all timber from sustainably managed woodland.
In the indigenous Japanese religion of Shintoism, trees are sacred. Most of Japan’s largest and oldest trees (some dating back several thousand years) lie within chinju no mori, the sacred and protected groves around the Shinto shrines (see photo) where the benevolent kami (spirits) dwell, watching over the local community. Caring for the trees, in return, has become a key part of traditional culture and wisdom, and so these ancient groves have been maintained over millennia, providing a precious sanctuary for plants and animals.
But the influence of Shintoism on Japanese forests spreads beyond these groves. The shrines themselves are built largely of wood and number over 80,000 across the country. Some are rebuilt every 20 years according to custom, and how this timber is sourced has wider implications for the future of Japan’s forests.
Japan’s Association of Shinto Shrines has made a pledge, in collaboration with ARC and WWF, to manage all of its sacred forests sustainably, and to buy timber for its shrines only from sustainably managed forests. They hope that this will counter the effect of cheap imported wood, which is undermining the importance of sustaining domestic sources, and in some cases leading to soil erosion where whole areas of forest have been cleared.
The Ise Grand Shrines, the most important Shinto site in Japan, are a good example of this pledge in action. Here, continuous cover mixed woodland, as opposed to clear-felled plantations, allows for natural regeneration.
The Shrines are surrounded by a vast forest stretching over nearby mountains. A large organic farm, including rice fields and a vegetable garden, provides offerings for the kami and food for the staff. – Sylvia Rowley