Special Interview — Breathing New Life into Forests

"Forest of Toyota" Project Maintains Satoyama

Forest of Toyota Overview

To vitalize the "satoyama" (a Japanese term applied to forests in the interface between cities and nature that have been utilized by people), since 1996 Toyota has been conducting forestry activities at a company-owned forest (40ha) in Toyota City, Aichi Prefecture, Japan. Using raised levels of biodiversity and the incremental growth of trees as indicators of vitalization, and to understand their effects, "eco-monitoring" was conducted for 10 years. Many schoolchildren are visiting the restored satoyama as a place for environmental education and to interact with nature. In addition, from 1998 to 2005, in collaboration with the Japan Environmental Education Forum, the environmental education program "Eco Forest Seminar" was held by Toyota with the purpose of developing experts for satoyama maintenance, which approximately 3,000 people have attended.

Hiromi Ikegami

Professional Partner
Environment & Social Activities Group
Program Development Department
Corporate Citizenship Division
(Interviewed in 2011)

Problems Facing Satoyama in Japan

The mid-1960s saw the start of the decline of forestry in Japan, where roughly 70% of the land was covered with woods, due to the import of inexpensive foreign timber after trade liberalization. At the same time, satoyama and mountainous areas encountered problems such as population outflows to the cities, depopulation, and the aging of those who chose to remain.

Meanwhile, Toyota began its efforts in anticipation of future environmental problems. A Bio Lab was set up in the R&D Division in 1990, with "environmental greening" as its key point, and began basic research aimed at improving the environment using plant-life. In a related social context, deterioration of the environment through air pollution and so on started to become a focal issue, which led to various experiments being conducted to find the possibility of CO2 absorption and of gasoline exhaust purification with the help of plants.

This environmental greening project carried out mainly by the R&D Division evolved into the Forest of Toyota project in which the general public can participate with the aim of satoyama vitalization.

What's Most Important for the Vitalization of Satoyama?

In October 1997, the Forest of Toyota project was launched in Toyota City in 40ha of company-owned forests (about 10 times the size of Tokyo Dome, which seats 55,000 people). Using the wooded area, we began what we called a "field experiment for satoyama vitalization".
The first thing we did was to thin some of the denser parts of the wooded areas where many trees didn't get much light, which was causing poor growth. By removing more than half the trees, rejuvenation began in the copses. Accordingly, the trees did begin to grow again; and consequently, we expected them to be able to absorb more CO2. This was the beginning of the maintenance and conservation of satoyama.

Also, in order to promote these activities effectively, we worked on environmental education, as well as environmental examination by initiating eco-monitoring.
When we say "environmental education" here, we mean fostering experts who will be involved in maintenance and conservation of satoyama. We call these human resources the satoyama "interpreters", considering their core presence. "Eco-monitoring" is to scientifically clarify the degree of the improvement after taking care of forests besides solely looking at. We monitor how the forest was vitalized and how much biodiversity was recovered with numeric values.

Collection of Fallen Leaves and Litter

We then summarized 10 years' worth of results (beginning in 1998) of our various monitoring activities. For example, we monitored the changes and differences in the well-tended, somewhat tended, completely neglected and the fertilized areas. The data from these findings has been published on the company website for all to see.

Launching these multiple studies simultaneously was the secret to being able to continue these monitoring activities for 10 years (and onwards). In particular, we found that our environmental education initiatives in cooperation with local residents and civic groups ended up working out very well.

Eco-monitoring is Utilized for Educational Programs as Well

In regard to our environmental education, the "Eco-no-Mori Seminar" was launched for the general public with the cooperation of the Japan Environmental Education Forum. Approximately 3,000 people attended activities of the Forest of Toyota in the seven years between 1998 and 2004. In addition, accumulated data of eco-monitoring results have been much utilized for expanding interpreters' know-how and for building environmental education programs aimed at primary schools.

Eco-no-Mori Seminar workshop activities

These environmental studies are now referred to as "learning through experience from interaction with nature," with the number of participants having increased each year. In fact, now they take place about 180 times a year and more than 7,000 children participate. As such, it has become the main activity of the Forest of Toyota. In that sense, what our interpreters convey from results and data obtained from eco-monitoring is really important. We also plan to utilize accumulated data and results to help leverage mostly civic activities.

Growth of schoolchildren participants

Children interacting with and learning about nature

What Results Are Obtained in the Forest of Toyota?

At the Forest of Toyota, projects have been promoted from both sides of eco-monitoring and human resources development, and accumulated data and know-how are utilized in various situations. For example, in the artificial forest regeneration projects we are working on in Mie Prefecture, ingenuity was made to draw the general public. And by conducting mutual exchanges with Shirakawa-Go Eco-Institute, the interpreters are learning how to best interact with nature. In addition, the Forest of Toyota has also been used as a place for local forestry volunteer activities. Since November 1996, employees, retirees and local residents are continuing thinning and maintenance activities held once a month as the Eco-no-Mori Club.

Thinning conducted by Eco-no-Mori Club

Personally, seeing the smiles of children on a daily basis makes me realize that I am happy about what I do. And before I was involved with this job, I had almost no kindness to living things and no feelings to cherish nature. Now, I think I have a strong sentimental attachment with the environment. At the same time, a lot of expertise continues to seep in and I feel myself growing. Toyota's Forestry has had a great deal of influence on my way of life.

A maintained forest


Swamp area

Various wildlife can be seen at Yoshida Pond

Through our ideas initiated for human resource development, Toyomori began with the aim of creating a sustainable society.
Find out more

Living with the Forest: Toyomori

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