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Human resources in Japanese forestry

Kiyomitsu Imamura

Kiyomitsu Imamura IS Director of Research and Extension, Forestry Agency, Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, Japan. This article is based on a paper he presented at the 11th Session of the FAO Advisory Committee on Forestry Education held in Kyoto in September 1981.

Everyone who has anything to do with forestry is imbued with the importance of having the most suitable education or training

Part 1 - The forestry situation in Japan

In Japan, forests cover about 25 million ha, about two thirds of the land area, but the forest area per caput is only 0.2 ha. These forests are mostly located on steep, mountainous slopes, 30 percent being protection forests. Man-made forests cover 9.4 million ha, 38 percent of the total forest area, with natural forest covering 15.1 million ha. The total growing stock is about 2.2 thousand million m3, of which man-made forests account for 800 million m3 and natural forests 1.4 thousand million m3.

By type of ownership, national forests account for one third (eight million ha), and public and private forests for the rest (17 million ha, including 2.5 million ha of public forests). Private forests are owned by individuals, companies, organizations, temples and shrines. Individual forest owners account for a dominant share of nearly 90 percent. The size of forest area per individual forest owner is very small. The total number of individual forest owners with more than 10 areas is 2530000, of which those who own forest of 10 ha or less constitute over 95 percent. Nearly 78 percent of these individual forest owners are farmers, and management of the forest is closely related to agriculture. Because of ownership being on such a small scale, activities such as felling and planting take place intermittently. At present, the total number of individual forest owners who live by forestry alone is barely 15000.

Forestry in Japan has been developed over the past 300 years or more with management of plantations as the central activity. Consequently, at the beginning of the Meiji Era (during the 1860s), large plantations were already in existence in various localities. From those days onward, planting became widespread over the country, especially during the years after World War II, thanks partly to the

Government's financial aid and forest extension programmes. At present, plantations in the age classes IV to VII cover a total area of 4.6 million ha and there is an acute need to thin them.

In recent years, there has been a lessening of demand for timber (compared with the rapid growth in the 1960s), and the ratio of domestic supplies (33.58 million m3) to overall supplies (109.79 million m3) has been reduced to a low 31 percent.

Such a decline is largely attributable to the fact that a large proportion of domestic plantations is still young and to sluggish felling and planting activities in private forests.

Along with the industrial growth and intense concentration of population in major cities as a result of massive economic growth and expansion during the 1960s, people are coming to expect more diversification in forestry as it relates to such public benefits as environmental protection, conservation of water resources and recreation. At the same time, an increasing need is emerging for more systematic and well-planned timber production.

In Japan, production of mushrooms - especially Shiitake species - and other by-products of forestry has been increasing, amounting to up to 282 thousand million yen in 1979. This provides a major source of income to individual forest owners who must otherwise wait for many years before they can recoup their investment after afforestation.

Private forestry activities are carried out by household members, hired labour, work teams of the forest owners' associations and by contract. Forest owners' associations number 2015 in the country, with a total membership of about 1.8 million and members' forest area amounting to about 12 million ha. According to the 1978 survey, the forest owners' association planted a total of 69000 ha (47 percent of total public and private plantations) and tended a total of 620000 ha. Total log production during this period reached 2.23 million m3. Some associations have been engaged in such manufacturing activities as sawmilling and chipping in addition to production forestry. These activities are conducted by labour teams of the associations, which consisted of 60000 workers in 1978.

The national forest was managed by 33000 regular employees and 27000 workers employed by the Forestry Agency in 1980. In 1979, total cut volume was 14.75 million m3 (standing tree volume), annual plantation 46000 ha and annual regeneration 67000 ha, with service provided under direct management and sub-contracting.

Private logging operations are carried out on a small scale by about 21000 bodies, many of which manage other businesses besides logging. By type of management, forest owners' associations account for 12 percent, with the remainder consisting of individuals and companies. Among individuals and companies, only a few (11 percent) are involved in full-time log production and most of them are expanding their operations into sawmilling, timber marketing and farming.

It is very difficult to estimate precisely the total number of forestry workers because of their engagement in other types of operations as side jobs and intermittent forestry activities. According to the Prime Minister's Office, the total number of forestry workers was 190000 in 1980, comprising 30000 self-employed workers, 20000 household dependent workers, 90000 company workers and 50000 temporary workers. The majority of the work-force is getting old, and there is a need to train young people to replace it.

Machinery employed in Japanese forestry


Number of units



Small yarders


Large yarders




Brush cutters


Log loaders




Forest industries

Timber is the most popular material for construction in Japan and contributes to a thriving business in forest products industries. The total number of wood industries such as sawmills and plywood mills is about 25000 and marketing of the products is carried out by about 17000 medium- and small-scale companies.

During the period of high-paced economic growth in the 1960s, a large quantity of logs was imported from abroad to meet the growing domestic demand for timber and secure the source of stable supply. But, from 1974 onward, as business slackened, and the growth rate slowed down as a result of the oil crisis, demand began to diminish. In addition, exporting countries took steps to tighten their restrictions on exports of logs to encourage local processing and to expand domestic job opportunities. The Japanese wood industry has been affected greatly by these moves which have triggered the upsurge in the price of imported logs and increased the import of timber products.

Under these circumstances, it is becoming increasingly necessary for Japan to adjust its course accordingly and to take into account the trading policies of these exporting countries, followed by a gradual, prospective increase in the supply of domestic timber, mainly from thinning.

Activities in the wood industries sector can be summarized as follows.

Sawmills. At present, about 22500 sawmills are in operation in Japan, producing about 40 million m3 of timber products. Most of the mills are small-scale, with total power output of 1528 million kW and employing an average of 198000 workers. There is a recent downward trend in the number of mills. However, this has been offset to some extent by the increased power output of sawmilling machinery through the introduction of labour-saving machines.

Plywood industry. In the past there have been notable developments in the plywood industry owing to the employment of building techniques which encouraged the use of more plywood, but recently there has been a drop in demand as a result of a slump in the building industry.

The total number of plywood mills is 596. Total output is 1449 million m2 ordinary plywood and 444 million m2 of special plywood.

Forestry research organizations. Forestry research in Japan is carried out by universities, colleges and some private research institutes in addition to systematic studies conducted by central and prefectural government institutions.

The national institution, namely the Forestry and Forest Products Research Institute, is under the Forestry Agency and has 5 branch stations staffed with 500 researchers. Its headquarters is located at Tsukuba Science City and consists of the following departments: Forestry Management, Forestry Mechanization, Silviculture, Forest Protection, Forest Influences, Forest Products Chemistry, Wood Technology and Wood Utilization, Research Coordination and General Affairs. The Institute conducts both basic and applied research. The branch stations consist of Management, Silviculture and Forest Protection Divisions.

A FARMER IN HOKKAIDO LOADS POLES FROM HIS OWN SMALL FOREST extension training is designed for him, too

Coordination of the work of the research institutes in the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, including the Forestry and Forest Products Research Institute, is the responsibility of the Research Conference of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries.

The Research Institute provides education and training to about 40 trainees sent from prefectural governments and private organizations, and about 30 overseas trainees annually.

There are 50 research institutes of prefectural governments throughout the 47 prefectures of Japan, staffed with a total of 600 researchers. Organizations differ in individual prefectures, but most of them have departments such as Management, Silviculture and Forest Protection. The research institutes of prefectural governments carry out research focusing on the development of practical technology in order to promote forestry in each individual district.

Of these prefectural research institutions, 12 prefectures have research departments for forest products, two of which are running independent research institutes where both basic and applied research activities are undertaken. Many of the prefectural institutes have educational facilities for disseminating research results. They have a staff of about 100 forestry specialists in extension.

In order to promote these research and technological development activities systematically and effectively, the Forestry Agency annually sponsors the Forestry Technology Development Promotion Council which is subdivided into the central council, the regional council and the prefectural council and is composed of forestry specialists in technological development, forest owners and men of learning and experience. The Council endeavors to achieve the systematic promotion of the development of forestry technology at the prefectural' regional and national levels.

Other prefectural research institutions providing guidance in wood products technology include the woodworking training institute, the industrial experiment stations, and the handicraft experiment stations.

Private research activities are on a smaller scale in the timber industry, and few of the mills and companies have their own research institutes, but in the plywood industry and in some other sectors where gluing and coating technologies have been introduced, independent research institutions have also been established. In addition, pulp and paper companies have installed their own research institutes, departments or sections for conducting extensive research into the advanced utilization of wood, development of plastics, construction materials and printing technology.

Part 2 - Education and training for forestry and forest products industries

Education and training courses in the private forest sector are provided at universities and high schools which are under the control of the Ministry of Education, at the Training Institute of the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries and at various research and guidance organizations under the control of prefectural governments, like forestry experiment stations and forestry technical training facilities.

In addition to the above, training courses and seminars are provided by various forestry organizations. Also, the training institutes of the Forestry Agency offer education and training to national forest employees.

Universities and high schools. There are 24 universities which have forestry and forest products departments in the faculty of agriculture for professional education in forestry and forest products. Of these, 22 universities have a master's course and five universities a doctor's course. Among high schools, 70 offer a forestry course and provide the fundamental knowledge required by intermediate-level forest technicians.

High schools are producing about 3200 graduates from the forestry departments, and universities and colleges about 1200 forestry graduates annually.

In recent years, notable developments have taken place in the timber processing sector, and universities and colleges have responded to these developments by laying emphasis on the training of specialists and engineers in the processing of forest products and have endeavored to organize their forest products departments.

As an outcome of these efforts, the number of universities having forest products departments, which stood at only two at the state university level in 1963, has increased to seven, with a total enrollment of 240 students, thus helping to meet the demand for trained industrial manpower.

On the other hand, in order to build up a young cadre in forestry and to educate forestry leaders, several prefectures have established forestry educational institutes (college equivalent), where students receive education in forestry and forest products with emphasis on practice and experimentation in close cooperation with universities and research institutes.

However, the number of high-school graduates securing employment in forestry dropped dramatically from 1061 in 1968 to 398 in 1979, reflecting changes in the economic system of local communities and the sluggish production activities in forestry.

Education and training for private forestry

Extension work. In Japan, private forests have been split into small lots. Consequently' vocational education and training courses are offered through the forestry extension organizations of the prefectures. The forestry extension project was launched in 1950 for the purpose of actively promoting forestry research, and for contributing to the development of Japan's forestry, using the results of such research.

The Forestry Extension and Guidance Organization consists of forestry specialists (444) and county agents (2229) assigned to 380 forestry extension and guidance districts across the country. These specialists and agents are employees of prefectural governments, but their salaries and wages are subsidized and their activities financed by the Government. The forestry specialists provide, as their major duties and responsibilities, guidance to county agents with respect to specialized technical matters comprising eight fields of forestry: management, silviculture, protection, mechanization, processing of minor forest products, forest products chemistry and wood processing, and methodology of forestry extension.

The principal duties and responsibilities of county agents are to get in touch with forest owners and workers and their successors so as to impart expertise in forestry and to give guidance in the management of forests.

In the case of private forests, county agents play a major role in educating and training forest owners and workers. However, forestry specialists assigned to prefectural governments or prefectural research institutes educate and train such workers as the need arises, especially when they have to deal with highly complex technical problems.

Training is provided individually through house-to-house visits or collectively in groups, including forestry research groups (3300 across the country). To achieve this, extensive technical information, audio-visual aids and materials are offered. The activities include field training in the forest, lectures at research institutions and inspection tours to advanced forestry regions.

In addition to these common extension activities, other key extension projects undertaken with high priority include the following.

Practice-oriented facilities have been installed for the purpose of providing forest owners and workers and their successors with sophisticated mechanized technology, practical skills and forest management capability.

Improvements are aimed at restructuring existing training facilities, and providing training materials and training facilities for special forest products, tractor driving, training facilities for woodworking, and training machinery and equipment.

Development of manpower. In view of the importance of building up young manpower that is expected to have an important role in the future of domestic forestry, the following projects have been implemented:

· Individual forest owners having high technical skills in forestry are certified as "Forestry Consultants" and entitled to assistance which may help them to promote their activities.

· In order to foster young forestry leaders and to promote village women's understanding of forestry, "Forestry Classrooms" are held. Forestry research institutions are usually used for this project with forestry specialists and county agents as instructors. Such classrooms are attended by about 4000 young students each year.

· The third project assists forestry owners' study groups in promoting their educational activities, their intra-group exchange and other activities such as forestry contests, together with installation of meeting facilities for their group activities and implementation of programmes designed to develop group leaders.

· In addition, a system has been introduced by which young men who have achieved excellent results as students in the "Forestry Classrooms" and other forestry lecture courses, or who have acquired leadership expertise and techniques, are qualified as "Young Forestry Experts."

Training extension personnel. In order to provide effective vocational education and training to forest owners and workers in private forests, it is important to improve the quality of forestry specialists and county agents.

As for forestry specialists, the Government has been carrying out training for them at the central training institute, the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Training Institute, where they take basic and applied courses in technical fields they specialize in. As a general trend, educational emphasis has been on the curriculum of new subjects in relation to changes in forestry and forest products industry, and to progress in technology.

As to county agents, training has been offered at prefectural institutes by forestry specialists and staff of forestry research institutes, universities and colleges. However, special training has been provided at the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Training Institute for county agents, giving guidance in specific technical fields for chiefs and newly appointed county agents.

Forestry specialists and county agents are given opportunities to at tend a symposium for forestry extension staff at which the attendants report on activities for discussion and study.

The Government also provides training opportunities to prefectural government officers who are responsible for forest road construction, maintenance, erosion control, protection forests, tree breeding, afforestation, forest planning, and permit systems for forest land development, etc. at the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Training Institute every year.

In Japan people are coming to expect diversified roles for forestry that will benefit the public. At the same time a need is emerging for more systematic, well-planned timber production.

Technical education and training seminars

Forestry. Forest owners' associations provide education and general information to their members in order to improve their skills and techniques in forestry and their knowledge of the activities of the associations, in addition to silviculture, logging, processing and sale of forest products and goods purchase activities. Technical guidance to the forest owners' associations has been provided by prefectural forestry extension staff.

On the other hand, Japan Forest Technical Association educates and trains forestry experts for the purpose of upgrading the level of forestry technology and fostering qualified experts and specialists based on the policy of the central Government.

In recent years the number of forestry workers suffered a drastic reduction. It now stands at 190000. Furthermore, the average age of the forestry workers is increasing as a result of a decrease in the number of young workers. The year 1981 saw the start of a project designed to provide resourceful young forestry workers with specific technical qualifications or licenses through advanced education, and to grant to young workers in local forestry the title of "Green Master". In the implementation of this project, prefectural governments provide a six-month training course, with subsidies granted by the Government, to forestry workers aged below 40 and with an experience of not less than three years for the purpose of allowing them to acquire skills and techniques in felling and planting and special qualifications under the Labour Safety and Hygiene Law governing logging. The training is to be provided to 250 potential forestry experts throughout the country.

Forest industries. The Prefectural Federation of Lumber Associations, which is a prefectural organization of sawmillers, holds an occupational training course for personnel from the industry in sawing, saw-sharpening and sorting and grading. Those who have completed the course are granted the titles of Engineer in Sawing, Saw-sharpening and Sorting-grading. Another training system of the same concept is held by the All-Japan Federation of Timber Associations. The subject taken up by this national federation includes timber-grading techniques for wood-frame houses and timber with insect-control treatment. Those who have completed the course are given the title of Qualified Grader of Timber for Wall Forming or Insect-proof Treatment.

The Wood Technological Association of Japan, which consists of woodworking researchers and engineers, provides two-day technical training courses for personnel from member enterprises in bonding and seasoning. Those who have completed the course and passed the tests after the training are given the title of Bonding Expert or Seasoning Expert. The Association, in addition to sponsoring seminars for various purposes, issues trade journals and other publications, thereby making a major contribution toward improving the quality of engineers in the timber processing industry and enhancing close ties between research and industry.

The Japan Timber Preservation Association, which mainly consists of enterprises related to control treatment against decay and insect damage, holds training courses for personnel from member companies on a fixed curriculum. It gives education and training on the subject necessary for timber preservation, and those who have completed the course and passed the tests after training are awarded the title of Timber Preservation Expert. The training courses have been attended by 200 trainees annually.

All these are voluntary activities of private organizations and the titles awarded are not national licences.

Some important Japanese wood products: output and number of mills

Wood chips

Laminated wood



Particle board



1000 m3

1000 m2

1000 t









Number of mills







Training in safety. The Labour Safety and Hygiene Law and Rules instituted for the purpose of preventing labour accidents lay down provisions for the implementation of safety and hygiene training and of employment requirements. These statutory regulations not only require education and training of employees immediately after recruitment or after a change of job but also provide for special training to ensure the safety of workers engaged in hazardous work such as operating yarders. They also lay down procedures for qualification requirements such as acquisition of licences, attendance at lectures, practical training or other special educational courses for any workers who may be engaged in the operation of cranes, forklifts and tractors, and in loading/unloading, felling specific trees, etc., and for foremen in charge of various operations.

Pursuant to these provisions, the Association of Forestry Labour Accident Prevention provides training courses in safety in forestry and forest products industries, and carries out many educational activities, some of which are described below. The figures in parentheses represent the number of persons trained in 1980.

Training courses for licences are for senior operators of lumber processors (5398) and senior timber stickers (1204).

Special safety and hygiene training is given for chainsaw operators (7624) and yarder operators (1777).

Other courses include:

· Training courses for licensing yarder operators and sawmilling safety controllers (1513).

· Retraining of senior lumber processor operators (4961) and senior forestry cable yarding engineers 11589).

· Training courses for safety instructors and safety promoters (360).

· Pre-test training course for senior forestry cable yarding engineers (1070).

In addition to the above activities, publications, posters and safety operation manuals and other reference materials have been distributed.

Also, in order to prevent diseases caused by vibration due to using machines such as chainsaws, patrols assigned by the heads of municipalities provide field guidance and instruction to workers who operate these vibrating machines, especially in districts where a large number of workers are involved.

Forestry Agency staff

Education and training of Forestry Agency staff who engage in administration and management of national forests are conducted at the Central Forestry Training Institute attached to the Forestry Agency, and at 14 regional training institutes of regional forestry branch offices under the control of the Forestry Agency. In Hokkaido, the regional office of the Central Forestry Training Institute has been installed to provide special training designed for the particular climate and other natural conditions prevailing in Hokkaido.

Practical training in the use of machinery and equipment is conducted at the Forestry Mechanization Centre, Numata District Forest Office.

Forestry training institutes. The national forestry training programme consists of a training system for prospective jobs and a training system for present jobs, each designed to improve the quality of the agency staff.

This training system consists of five courses, comprising (a) a field management course designed for chief rangers, (b) a middle management course for assistant directors of the district forest offices, (c) a senior management course for deputy directors of the district forests offices, (d) a technical course for experts in mechanical engineering, forest conservation and civil engineering, and (e) a specialist's course providing the equivalent of a two-year college course to prospective middle-level managerial staff. Of these five courses, the field management course is given by regional forestry training institutes, and other courses by the Central Forestry Training Institute to ensure nationwide, uniform training.

This training system provides a newly recruited staff training course, a managerial staff training course, an operational training course, and a technical training course as major training programmes and also includes a correspondence course and an assigned training course.

The newly recruited staff training course is divided into the junior, middle and advanced class according to the job classification of the new recruits. The junior training course is given to new recruits at regional forestry training institutes and the middle and advanced course trainees' study is designed to acquire basic field knowledge.

The managerial staff training programme consists of four courses designed to improve the administrative and managerial capabilities of senior managers of district forest offices and regional forest offices, and has been held at the Central Forestry Training Institute.

The operational training course consists of a variety of courses covering every field of the national forest activities and has been implemented at the Central Forestry Training Institute and at regional forestry training institutes.

The technical training programme provides various courses covering field operations such as silviculture, production, etc. as part of the field operational education programme designed for the technical staff and workers.

Mechanization Centre. Installed for the purpose of promoting forestry mechanization and improving forestry management, the Forestry Mechanization Centre carries out tests for on site availability of newly developed and improved machinery and equipment, field practice of forestry workers and extension of mechanized forestry.

The activities include field training of mechanical engineers of national and private forests, and cover 30 courses attended by about 400 trainees each year.

As extension activities, the Mechanization Centre organizes exhibitions of new machinery and equipment for trainees and for about 4000 visitors annually from home and abroad. It also explains working methods and procedures by means of colour slides and films for the promotion of forestry mechanization and introduces new machines, equipment and working methods through articles in forestry journals and publications.

The Centre has a training room for dismantling and maintenance of forestry machinery, a lecture room, an exhibition room, a training hall, a driving practice yard and dormitories which can accommodate up to 30 trainees. The exhibition room has about 50 types of machines, totaling 200 units. The Centre has developed a new training system and is applying it to the current training programme.

The new approach features a programmed instruction system in which audio-video-based training is integrated with teaching materials and provides education and training in the sequence of observation of a model operation with the aid of 8-mm film, training in a model operation using colour slides and explanatory sheets, and acquisition of practical skills on driving simulators (yarder and tractor), chainsaws, yarders and tractors on the practical training course and on cable logging.

This system enables trainees to set their own pace in learning and to get accustomed to the proper working methods.

Training in safety. In the administration of forests at the national level, measures against prevention of labour accidents are taken in accordance with the Guidelines of the National Forest Service's labour accident prevention measures, which are issued every five years. In view of the fact that most labour accidents in national forest services are due to workers' behaviour in operation, efforts have been made to inspire safety consciousness through safety and hygiene training and education with particular emphasis on the development of proper working techniques. Within this established policy, the regional forest offices carry out safety education and guidance in the following manner:

1. Safety controllers are given guidance in such a way that they may educate field workers in safety consciousness and technical attainments.

2. Field supervisors and foremen receive training in practical skills and methods for safety at work. In addition, they are taught safety and hygiene laws and regulations, and standard operational procedures.

3. Field staff and workers are given, at each ranger office and logging station, safety education and guidance, that is,

· practical training of basic operational requirements using brief textbooks and case studies on occupational accidents, and audio-video-based education using VTR, colour slides, etc. to ensure performance of operations in a safe and proper manner;

· guidance to ensure thorough awareness of operational standards;

· special training for handling new types of machinery and equipment.

International cooperation. For the purpose of contributing to economic development in developing countries and to the improvement of public welfare, the Japan International Cooperation Agency has launched a technical cooperation programme for forestry. It stresses forest development and afforestation.

The Agency has technical cooperation projects in afforestation in the Philippines and in South Sumatra in Indonesia, in mechanized logging in Arakan Yoma in Burma and the hill forests in Central Java in Indonesia, in forest development in Paraguay, and in cooperative research in São Paulo in Brazil. These projects involve dispatch of experts and specialists, supply of materials and equipment, and fellowships.

Fifty trainees from 14 countries were accepted by Japan in 1980. Group training in afforestation is organized under the Colombo Plan and individual training courses cover subjects such as silviculture and mechanized logging. Trainees have also been accepted by the Forestry Mechanization Centre and by forestry research institutes. A total of 145 persons received training between 1977 and 1980.

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