December 23, 2008


New Website Connects People with Forests

Keywords: Newsletter 

JFS Newsletter No.75 (November 2008)

JFS/ (Japanese) : Copyright

A new website called (Japanese only), launched earlier in 2008, is aimed at getting people to feel connected with forests. Some who hear the Japanese words "watashinomori," which means "my forest," some may think, "My forest? There is no forest in my neighborhood, and I don't have even a tree in my yard." Here we look at what kind of website it is and why it was given this name.

The website is a means of communication to connect people's thoughts and their daily lives with forests. Launched in March 2008, it's the brainchild of Junko Edahiro, co-chief executive of Japan for Sustainability and the president of e's Inc., who first thought, "Let's create a communication website that provides information on the seasonal or current conditions of forests, introduces impressive forest activities, and connects the thoughts of citizens to forests, so that people can once again enjoy the benefits of forests in their daily lives, like in the past. Through this activity, let's link our thoughts and daily lives to forests, and help connect people's thoughts and money with forests."

Restoring Cycles: Forests and Our Daily Lives

The website is jointly operated by e's Inc. and Gram Design Inc., a website design agency. Madoka Akaike, the executive director of the agency, describes here the birth of the website. "Ms. Edahiro told me that she wanted to create a website on forests, so I did some research.

I found that forests were facing many problems, so my first impression was that this is a very negative topic."

She continued, "But, Ms. Edahiro said, 'If we think about forests, this will eventually lead to happiness. I want to encourage people to spend more time thinking about forests.' Her remarks helped me come up with the idea that the website should serve as a gateway for people to think about forests and identify more closely with them. This is why we used the words, 'watashinomori' [my forest], for the website's name. We also used 'jp' [the Internet domain name for Japan] in order to emphasize that watashinomori indicates a forest in Japan."

They hope that when people think about their own favorite forest, they will next think of other people's forests, and then everyone's forests.

Akaike thought that, in this way, if more and more people become aware of forests, the situation of forests in Japan would surely be improved.

What is the current state of forests in Japan? While it is an industrial country, Japan is also a forested country, with forestland accounting for 67 percent of the nation's land area. Planted forests, such as cedar and cypress, represent about 40 percent of the forested area. Recently, however, these planted forests have increasingly become unmanaged and abandoned due to declining demand for domestically-grown timber, which has been replaced by imports of inexpensive foreign timber. Another problem is the aging of the country's forestry workforce. What will happen if the planted forests continue to be neglected? If the forests become too thick with cedar or cypress trees, the forest floors will be dark even in daytime, preventing the growth of the underbrush that helps maintain soil quality. Without rich soil, the water-storage capacity of forests will decline. Species diversity also decreases in extremely dense forests.

Meanwhile, forests are expected to serve as a carbon sink. Under the Kyoto Protocol, Japan is obligated to reduce its emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gases by 6 percent compared with the 1990 level. Of the 6 percent, Japan is counting on a 3.8 percent reduction to be achieved by its forests absorbing carbon, but unhealthy forests cannot absorb as much CO2 as they can when growing normally.

Restoring the connections between forests and people's lives, taking more care of Japan's forests and making more effective use of forest resources -- these efforts will help protect Japan's lush forests.

Encouraging Imagination

Akaike, website designer and director of content and production, has long been interested in the Internet as a communication tool. With over ten years of experience in design, interface, and marketing, she is fascinated by communication and design on the Internet.

As she created the website, she came to realize the difficult problems related to forests. That's why she consciously tried to create a positive atmosphere through the website's main themes: the Japanese mind, fresh air, and the smells of the forest.

There are many non-governmental and non-profit organizations (NGOs and NPOs) working on forest protection and revitalization in Japan. "Most of these organizations, however, are just stirring the sense of crisis or sending information in a formal way rather than conveying the attractive aspects of forests, perhaps because they are anxious to inform the public about the difficult situations of forests and to get them to do something," said Akaike. "That is why I pay more attention on how to express our thoughts towards forests."

Thus, Akaike pays attention to features ranging from web design and texts to creating an atmosphere that encourages site visitors to imagine, even if only slightly, what is happening to forests. To do this, she always keeps one thing in mind, as she explained, "The more information people get, the less deeply they think, and vice versa. That is why it is necessary to leave a margin for imagination when giving information."

Naomi Anzai of e's Inc., which serves as host for the site, is responsible for responding to questions from site visitors and registering forest-related NPOs and NGOs on the site to promote their interrelationships. She is also in charge of introducing the wood products of Japanese companies and other organizations on the site, after first researching and confirming that they meet the site's standards in safety and traceability. "We can immediately communicate with people far away through the Net, who we can't usually meet. I think it's interesting that forests give us the chance to build relationships with people," says Anzai about the site's operation.

It's one of the great attractions of the Internet that people and groups who do not actually meet in real life can still communicate with each other, and this type of communication can greatly contribute to the promotion of forest protection. Through the keyword "forests," activities across Japan are introduced to the public and people can feel a sense of community and unity. As well, through the website, people already involved with forests are encouraged, which attracts more people to the website.

KINOKORO, Building Blocks

Which page on the website is most popular with site visitors?

According to Akaike, it is the one introducing the products made of wood, such as the wooden mouse pad that has a slight scent of wood, unpainted building blocks made of Japanese cypress, and a spoon made of mountain cherry wood.

"There is nothing that conveys information in a compact package more effectively than a product, and much information is evaluated in monetary terms. That is the reality we cannot ignore. At the same time, however, we can communicate various types of information to the public through products. Actually, product information can reach the people whom the information about forests reaches least or the people who live farthest from forests," says Akaike.

Even if people buy the wooden products without thinking about forests, the money spent on the products will be used to benefit forests. In addition, the users of the products, who may not think about forests at all at the beginning, may start to think about them little by little as they use the products. The website serves as an effective gateway platform to guide such buyers and users to find out more about where the products came from.

Ever-expanding Ideas

The website was established with the help of Tokyo Electric Power Co. as a founding sponsor. In September, half a year after the launch, new pages were added to the site, including "Using Forest Energy -- The Pellet Stove," "Playing in Forests -- A Guide on How to Enjoy Forests," " Photography Club -- Let's Make a Photo Book for Everybody," and "Diary of Little Tami, Daughter of a Forest Keeper in Yoshino-kawakami Village." Actually, not all ideas generated for the website have come to life yet. The "To Do" list for the website includes items like creating a system in which people can enjoy forests by being involved in real-life, not virtual, activities like product planning or tours to visit forests.

JFS/Forest in Aomori Prefecture
Forest in Aomori Prefecture: Copyright Photography Club

Asked about future prospects, Akaike answers, "People in the old days had wisdom about their relationships with nature. In the modern age, the sense of distance and time back then cannot be applied now to the relationship between people and nature. That's why a new type of relationship with forests needs to be designed for people in this age."

Anzai is also forward-looking, saying, "This website has the power of place, where visitors can feel something about forests. We want to let more people know about it."

The website started off being created from the sense of crisis that Edahiro felt about forests. "My major activity is to inform and connect people. 'What can I do to help connect people's daily lives and thoughts with forests?' This question was the genesis of the website."

It may be difficult today for people to have a life deeply connected with forests, but the forests in Japan may be able to regain their vitality when people's daily lives and thoughts are reconnected to them.

Did you think about forests today?

(Written by Yuko Kishikami)