Forest Management

The December 6th issue of Jinja Shinpō carried the second article in the series about sacred forests. This one was interesting because the topic had little direct connection to a jinja. There is a jinja in the area, but most of the forest that was being discussed is in a municipal park in Suita, Osaka Prefecture. The park apparently surrounds the jinja, so it is possible that the whole area was originally part of the jinja’s precincts, but if so the article does not emphasise it.

In any case, in 1989 the city issued a plan for the park, which involved installing fountains and many other artificial structures. A group of residents formed to oppose this, and pushed to retain the more natural forest environment. Unusually, they convinced the city, and the plan was totally changed. Part of the park is now set aside as a “preservation area”, where the woodland is left entirely to its own devices, and a “Satoyama area”, which is managed in various ways. “Satoyama” is written with the kanji for “village” and “mountain”, and refers to the areas of mountains near a village that are exploited and managed to support the villagers. This used to be a very important environment in Japan, but as the social structure has changed since the war, it has become much less common.

Part of the management of that area in the park involved cutting down evergreen shrubs that were shading the floor and preventing azaleas, for which the area used to be famous, from flowering. That worked to some extent, but another grass took over, and needs to be cut back every year. The park was also badly affected by boring beetles that attacked the Japanese oaks, and by a typhoon in 2018 that did a lot of damage, including uprooting an entire stand of pine. These are things that the people looking after the area simply have to adapt to, of course.

The citizen volunteers who do a lot of the work are now getting old, and while there were forty of them in the beginning, there are only about twenty now. There has, it seems, been quite a lot of change of personnel, but they have not managed to recruit any young people, so they are concerned about the future.

These activities seem to have little direct link to Shinto or sacred forests; the forests being managed are, after all, not sacred forests themselves. The article was, I think, published because one of the people involved is a director of the group concerned with sacred forests that is responsible for the series. That said, I do think that it would be a good thing if more jinja were actively involved in this kind of activity. If such active management to improve biodiversity and restore older ecosystems were common across Japan, it would, after all, have a positive effect on the environment.

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