Forests of Yoshino cedar and Japanese cypress with a thin curtain of mist
Appearing out of the fog was scenery that seemed to be a reproduction of Hasegawa Tohaku’s screen paintings, Shorin-zu-byobu (Pine Trees). I stepped into a thicket of trees that had been standing for about 50 years. In this grove are cedars from which all but the canopy has been removed; they stood perfectly straight, side by side. Yoshino's afforestation method is called “dense planting”. In this tightly packed forest drifts the mist that follows the rain, creating a truly divine scenery that reveals a balance between nature and human activity.
Yoshinocho is famed for its high quality Yoshino cedar and cypress, and there’s a reason. The trees grow slowly because they are planted so densely that very little sunlight reaches each one. Their growth rings are narrow because of this slow development, and the grain is both fine and homogeneous. Because the trees are grown slowly, it takes a long time before they can be shipped to customers, but the people of Yoshino have always grown Yoshino cedar and cypress this way.
Seventy percent of Japan’s land is covered in forest, but 40% of that is planted forests. When we hear the term “man-made” or “artificial”, we think of something in conflict with nature, but man’s activity has not been inherently incompatible with nature. Both the man-made and the natural are part of “life activity”, and there are areas of mutual resonance. I felt that perfect equilibrium in Yoshino’s forests. To the extent that the steep mountain roads surrounding the forests are maintained so that people can safely walk on them, Yoshino may well become famed as a hiking destination.
Stacks of lumber adorn the sawmills dotted about town. Logs are expertly milled into lumber and left to dry for a time. Both cedar and cypress have the faintest grain and are distinct for their red tint. Next, they are processed more precisely and shipped as materials for architecture and furniture. The ends trimmed away in the production of rectangular lumber are used as material for disposable chopsticks; every last bit of this raw material, which took so long to grow, is used.
For the 2016 HOUSE VISION exhibition, we teamed up with Airbnb, the architect Go Hasegawa and Yoshinocho to build the Yoshino Cedar House. This two-story house, showcasing the beauty of the wood, has two bedrooms on the second floor and a dining/living room on the first. After the exhibition, the house was dismantled and reconstructed here. This building, which offers a superb overnight experience, has drawn many people from far away and has become a valuable focal point for the people of Yoshino.