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11. Japan

Country data

Total land area 1996 (thousand ha)


Total forest area (thousand ha)/% of total area


Natural forest 1995 (thousand ha)


Total change in forest cover 1990-95 (thousand ha)/Annual change (%)


Population total 1997 (million)/Annual rate of change 1995-2000(%)


Rural population 1997 in %


GNP per person total 1995 in US$


*) Source of data: FAO - State of the World's Forest 1999

General information

The Japanese economic transition after World War II can be divided into the following phases:

· The restructuring period after the war in 1945 to 1955, followed by a high growth period until two oil crises occurred in 1973 and 1978;

· The low growth period which began in mid 1970 and continued until the appreciation of the yen in the mid 1980s;

· The domestic-economy oriented growth period which began in 1987; and

· The stagnant period, since the “bubble economy” which began in 1990.

The rapid economic growth and the rise of the secondary and tertiary industries in urban areas attracted labour from the countryside, which resulted in depopulation and changes in the age demographics among upstream villagers.

In response to the experiences of the past two oil crises, alternative energy sources to petroleum, such as nuclear and LNG energy have been developed and promoted. The results show that reliance on petroleum decreased from 71.9% to 55.8% in 1995, nuclear power use increased from 0.3% in 1970 to 12.0% in 1995, and use of LNG grew from 1.2% in 1970 to 12.8% in 1995. As the economic situation was sensitive to the reliance on petroleum as the main source of energy, the efforts to find alternative energy sources will be continued, particularly after the repeated oil crises caused by the Middle East Peace Crises between Israel and Palestinian in September/October 2000.

Japan experienced a drastic land tenure system change in the late 19th century and after the devastation of its land during the Second World War. Forests cover 67% of the land area, where steep landforms are characteristic, and closely linked to the life of the Japanese people not only for wood production, but also for land and water conservation. This is the result of the people's efforts and experiences accumulated over a hundred years. 69% of the forests are privately owned and mostly managed by small-scale owners. The remaining 31% comprise national forests.

The total growing volume surpasses that of felling and is being adequately replenished. The man-made, or plantation, forests, covering about 10.398 million ha in 1995, are made up of stands in which 70% are less than 35 years old, and thus have not reached cutting age, and still need tending and thinning.

Nowadays, Japan is in a position to share its experiences and to financially contribute to forestry development in other countries. Japan has contributed substantially to forest and forestry development in other countries through several channels, including bilateral forestry co-operation (providing technical and financial support through JICA and OECF) and multilateral forestry co-operation (contributing to the efforts to achieve sustainable forest management by providing support to FAO, ITTO, ICRAF, and CIFOR).

Forest resources

According to the 1995 survey, which is carried out in every five years, the forest area of 24.23 million ha consists of planted forests of 10.40 million ha (41%) and natural forests of 13.38 million ha (53%) of the total land area respectively. The growing stock of planted forests reaches 1,892 million m3 and natural forests 1,591 million m3.

According to ownership, the forests can be classified into the following: a) private forests (58%);b) public forests (11%); and c) national forests (31%). The private forests are owned by individuals, corporations, and temples or shrines. The total owners of the private forests are 2.9 million individuals. The Forest Agency manages most of the national forests.

In order to conserve scenic areas and their ecosystems, natural parks are established under the provisions of the Natural Parks Law. In the Special Protection Zones of 331,999 ha, cutting or damaging trees are strictly prohibited. In Class I of Special Zones of 473,040 ha, trees are protected to the highest degree. In addition, Wilderness Areas of 5,631 ha and Nature Conservation Areas of 21,593 ha have been established in line with the Nature Conservation Law.

The protected areas are mostly natural forests. As of April 1999, the total area of protected forests is 513,739 ha, including the Forest Biosphere Reserve Area of 320,000 ha and the Plant Community Reserve Forests of 350 locations.

Afforestation activities are focusing on the restoration of the devastated forests caused by over cutting during the World War II in the mid 1940s and the growing wood consumption. Since 1965, the newly planted area has tended to decrease because of a shortage of suitable places for afforestation, inclination toward natural forest management, and the recent decrease in the financial rate of return in the forestry sector. The area of afforestation was 40 thousand ha in 1998.

In regard to conducting forest improvement, the composition of the forests should be taken into account as to whether they are single or multi-storied forests. Three categories of forests have been defined as follows: a) Improved Single-Storied Forests; b) Improved Multi-Storied Forests; and c) Naturally Regenerated Forests.

Policy, planning and legislation

There are several important legal and institutional frameworks for sustainable forest management in Japan, including the following: a) Forest Law; b) Forestry Basic Law; c) the Law of Administrative and Management of National Forests; d) Forest Pest and Disease Control Law; e) Nature Conservation Law; and f) Natural Parks Law.

The Forest Law stipulates the basic provisions for the forest planning system, the protected forest system, and other forest related issues. This Law aims at the conservation of lands and their optimum contribution to the socio-economic development, including enforcing it, toward the achievement of the sustainable and proper development of the forest resources, and increasing the forest productivity.

The forest planning system in Japan sets a long-term and comprehensive policy direction and target for forest and forestry at national, prefecture, and local levels. It also provides guidelines for forest owners to plan their forest. The forest planning system aims at stabilising the forest products market and enhancing their various public benefit functions through promoting their viability and productivity, taking into account the long growth period of forests. It ensures effective policy implementation by showing the basic direction of government policy on forests and forestry, and at the same time serving as a guideline for forest owners and managers in implementing forest management.

To maintain the public functions provided by forests, such as conserving water, preventing natural disasters, protecting/improving the living environment and providing recreational opportunities, the Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, or the governors of individual prefectures designate some forest areas as “protection forest (17 types)” under the Protection Forest System. At present, one third of the forest areas, approximately 8.81 million ha, have been designated as Protection Forests.

Forests other than protection forests have certain public functions. The control of the development of the private forestland is carried out by the Forestland Development Control System.

Each of the prefectures has some forestry specialists and forestry extension agents who provide technical advice and knowledge concerning the forest management.

In order to promote the establishment and improvement of diverse forests as the primary sources of greenery and water, under the severe social and economic conditions currently faced by forests and forestry, national and non-national forests are managed in a harmonious and collaborative manner under common forest planning units based on river basins, in which management plans for both national and non-national forest are established at the same time, for the same period, and for similar management goals. The basic structure of forest plans in Japan is as follows:

· Basic Plan on Forest Resources and Long Range Demand and Supply Projection for Important Forest Products. The plan is formulated by the Government in accordance with the Forestry Basic Law;

· Nation-wide Forest Plan. The 15-year plan is provided every five years in accordance with the Forest Law. It is formulated by the Minister of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries in compliance with the above Basic Plan and Projection and approved by the Cabinet Council;

· Regional Forest Plan. The 10-year plans are provided by every five years in accordance with the Forest Law. They are formulated in compliance with the Nation-wide Forest Plan by prefecture governors for non-national forests, and by regional foresters for national forests;

· Forest Management Plan. The Five-year plans are voluntarily provided by forest owners for their forests, and authorised by prefecture governors in compliance with the Regional Forest Plan; and

· Local Forest Improvement Plan. Ten-year plans for the management of non-national forests are provided every five years in accordance with the Forest Law. They are formulated by the municipal government designated by prefecture governors.

In order to respond to the recent changes, as well as the prospective development of social and economic conditions surrounding forests and forestry, the “Basic Plan on Forest Resources and Long Range Demand and Supply Projection on Important Forest Products” was revised in November 1996. In this plan, emphasis is put on the enhancement of qualitative values and the public benefit functions of forests in order to ensure sustainable forest management. Also in this Plan, it is projected that the domestic supply of timber would increase in the future, based on the assumption that utilisation of timber would be expanded as an environmentally and physiologically friendly material.

In relation to the revision mentioned above, a new Nation-wide Forest Plan was established in December 1996. The Plan sets forth the basic policy directions on various aspects, including the management of planted forests and construction of forest roads, and also provides a set of guidelines for forest owners and managers. The Basic Plan on Forest Resources of 1996 classified forests into the following functions:

· Timber production

14.90 million ha

· Water conservation

14.67 million ha

· Disaster prevention in mountainous areas

5.89 million ha

· Conservation of living environment

4.32 million ha

· Cultural and recreational activities areas

5.82 million ha

The Forestry Basic Law came into effect in 1964 to set forth the policy objectives of forest management and basic measures for achieving these objectives in order to enhance the development of forestry and to improve the status of forestry workers, as well as to secure forest resources and conserve lands. The objectives set forth by this Basic Law include a) increasing production of forest products, b) achieving stable development of forestry by improving the productivity of forestry, and c) expanding the income base of forestry workers thereby improving their social/economic status. Based on the Law, the Government establishes and announces a Basic Plan for Forest Resources and a Long-Range Demand and Supply Projection for important forest products.

National forest management objectives set by the Law of Administration and Management of National Forests are to maintain and promote public functions provided by National Forests such as conserving land as well as to achieve a sustainable and reliable supply of forest products. This will contribute to the promotion of the local industries and the welfare of the local people living in and near the forests by effectively using National Forest resources.

The Administrative Law specifies that the Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries must present a 10-year basic management plan for the National Forests every five years. The Director General of the Regional Forest Office crafts a 5-year plan for the operation and management of the National Forest every 5 years based on the 10-year basic management plan.

The Government implements various measures for controlling and managing pests, diseases, and harmful vertebrates which would damage the soundness of the forests under the Forest Pest and Disease Control Law.

The Nature Conservation Law stipulates basic policies for nature conservation and provides measures for conservation. The Environment Agency responsible for the conservation of natural environment develops administrative measures for nature conservation in accordance with the purpose of the law.

The Natural Park Law aims at conserving scenic areas and their ecosystems, enhancing their sound utilisation, and promoting the health, recreation and the culture of the people. There are three types of natural parks in Japan, i.e. national parks, quasi-national parks, and prefecture natural parks. Areas with beautiful natural scenery are designated as natural parks, regardless of the type of ownership. Thus, many private and natural parks are included in this category.

Forestry in Japan has become stagnant due to an increase in imported wood products and the decline in the industry's profitability. These factors have lowered the management level and the wood supply will be obstructed. Hence, the public function of forests will be curtailed. With regard to the various functions of forests where emphasis is given to tourism and recreational aspects, water conservation, and the biological diversity, prevention of global warming, the Government has rearranged the forestry approaches as follows: a) to promote sustainable forest management; b) to strive for the maintenance of stability and dynamics of the forest ecosystem, and c) to fulfil a variety of needs in co-operation with the public.

In order to make full use of the various public functions provided by the National Forests, its management purposes are divided into three categories as follows: a) forest for soil and water conservation; b) forest for coexistence between forests and humans, and c) forest for cyclic utilisation of resources. The forest for lumber production has been reduced from 54% to approximately 20%. The forests for full utilisation of public functions increased from 46% to 80%. Consultation with and the participation of the public, both at national and local levels, should be enhanced during the drafting and approval of the National Forest plan document.

Global warming

In regard to the Kyoto Protocol, the Government established a “Headquarters on Measures to Arrest Global Warning” for which the Prime Minister inaugurated the chief of the office. A Guideline for Promotion of Efforts to Prevent Global Warming was finalised in June 1998. Subsequently, the Central Forest Council recommended a comprehensive policy called “Future Direction of Forest Use: Forest Culture for the 21st Century and the Creation of a New Society”. It gives directions toward the fostering of forests as one of the measures against arresting global warming, to protect foothill forests near villages with the help of local people, and to propel a national land afforestation movement with public participation.

In order to cope with various demands for forest functions from the public, the Government has undertaken the following measures: a) education for understanding the forest environment; b) activities that encourage people's visits to forests, such as woodlands near settlements and protecting the environment; c) direct public participation in planting trees and establishing forests; and d) development and active use of forest recreation sites and facilities to provide good physical and mental health.

Within the National Forests, 1,270 recreational forests have been delineated. These include the “Recreation in Nature Forests” where people can appreciate the natural beauty of forests throughout the four seasons, outdoor sports facilities where people can enjoy skiing and camping, and “Nature Observation and Education Forests” for observing nature and wild birds. In 1998, 160 million people visited these recreational forests.

Forest fires

In 1998, about 1,900 cases of forest fires occurred in Japan and approximately 800 ha of forests burned down. Most of the fires were caused by the imperfect extinction of bonfires and cigarettes butts. In regard to forest fires, several measures have been undertaken by the Government, including the following: a) forest fire prevention campaigns to make people more conscious of forest fires; b) arranging protection/operation systems by establishing forest patrol teams and distributing forest fire prevention equipment; and c) developing fire break forests and forest roads.

Public participation in forest management

Several approaches/schemes have been introduced to promote public participation in forest management including: a) profit sharing forests; b) a land afforestation campaign; and c) providing opportunities for voluntary participation in forest-related activities.

Within the profit sharing forest scheme, people under contract with the Government plant trees in National Forest sites. Profits gained from the sale of lumber is shared between the Government and the contractor. This system promotes co-operative efforts between the upstream and downstream communities such as improvement of headwater forests and the fishermen's forest system.

Through land afforestation campaigns such as the “Forestry Fund for Green and Water” and “Green Feather Fund Raising”, the Government encourages the public to participate in afforestation activities, including National Arbor Days and silvicultural festivals. These activities will pave the way to a better understanding of coexistence between forests and humans, prevention of global warming, and the role of forests in the socio-economic and environmental development of the country.

Starting from 1999, one or two “encountering forests” are to be established in each Forest District Office so that people can voluntarily participate in fostering forests.

Wood production and trade

Japan is one of the worlds's largest importing countries of wood, where 70% of the domestic wood consumption is imported. The import of logs has decreased while the import of sawn wood has increased. Production of wood from domestic forests has tended to decrease.

Wood consumption was 117 million m3 in 1973. It reached only 92 million m3 in 1998. Japan was the biggest tropical wood importing country, amounting to 12% of the domestic consumption in 1998.

Wood production has gradually decreased; it was 52.741 m3 in 1967 and 19.33 million in 1998. The number of forestry employees was 140 thousand in 1985, but only 86 thousand in 1995.

Imports of timber have shifted from logs to processed wood products. In 1989, the import of logs was 35.192 million m3, sawn wood was 12.882 million m3, and plywood was 4.312 million m3. In 1998, the import of logs was only 18.597 million m3 (decreasing by 53% compared to imports in 1989), sawn wood was 10.582 million m3, and plywood was 6.082 million m3 (increased by 238%).

Under the Uruguay Round Agreement, Japan committed to reduce tariffs by approximately 50% of the base rate on trade-weighed averages, equivalent to an approximately 30% decline from the applied rate when the Agreement was made in 1994. It was implemented progressively every year from 1995 to 1999.

In regard to global environment issues, the next trade negotiations on wood products of Japan should be carried out as part of comprehensive negotiations and due consideration has to be given to the global environmental issues and sustainable resource use.

Wood prices increased in 1996 due to an increase in house building demand. But overall the trend continued to decrease. ITTO conducts a special monitoring of wood prices in Japan and elsewhere. The ITTO web site can be visited for more details.

International co-operation

In providing development assistance to developing countries, the environmental factor is the most important consideration. This was clearly stated at UNCED in 1992. In addition, Japan is implementing the ODA on forest and forestry matters through multilateral organisations, such as UNEP, FAO, CGIR, and ITTO.

At the UNGASS in 1997, Japan announced and introduced the “Kyoto Initiatives” and the Initiatives for Sustainable Development (ISD) which established that Japan would continue to actively support policy works on sustainable forest management and to assist the developing countries to undertake measures against the Global Warming. However, the Japanese Government is of the view that it is important for each country to make further efforts to achieve sustainable forest management.

In regard to bilateral co-operation, Japan is implementing different approaches, including project-type technical co-operations, development studies and yen loans. The amount of bilateral ODA in the field of forestry was Yen 15.8 billion in 1991, Yen 16.9 billion in 1993, Yen 25.2 billion in 1995 and Yen 22.3 billion in 1997. Recently, Japan has agreed to support four countries in the Region, China, Myanmar, the Philippines and Thailand to launch a project on Model Forests.

In regard to criteria and indicators, Japan has been actively involved in the development of criteria and indicators (C&I) for sustainable forest management for the temperate and boreal forests (Montreal Process). One of the unique efforts carried out by Japan is a project in two watershed areas to develop criteria and indicators at the local level and the monitoring methodologies. In addition, a new nation wide Continuous Forest Inventory (CFI) has been initiated to monitor and assess forest resources and their dynamics using unified methodologies, taking into consideration of its compatibility with C&I of the Montreal Process.

Focal point
Ichiro Nagame
International Forestry Co-operation Office
Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries
1-2-1 Kasumigaseki, Chiyodu-Ku
Tokyo, 100 Japan
Tel: (813) 3591 8449; Fax: (813) 3593 9565


No man will find the best way to do a thing unless he loves to do that thing
(Japanese proverb)

Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm.

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