Approaches for Developing Urban Forests from the Cultural Context of Landscapes in Japan

Ryohei Ono

Graduate School of Agricultural and Life Sciences, University of Tokyo


As it has often been said, we need to consider the delicate balance between human activities and the natural environment for the sustainable develop­ment of our living world. What seems to be important here is that in dis­cussing this balance, we need to take into consideration the cultural aspects of the relationship between humans and nature as well as the physical as­pects.

Each city stands in a place (see e. g., Relph 1976; Tuan 1977) with its unique historical background, and it is irreplaceable. However, after the Industrial Revolution, some cities were developed as “industrial facilities”, their only function being production and distribution. These cities could stand wherever functional spaces (not places) were available, and they didn’t need the support of accumulated layers of history.

Now in this post-industrial age, the problems of handling these kinds of cities are very challenging. Actually, converting these industrial spaces, so-called brownfields, into green fields such as forests may be viable. However, it seems to us that the problems cannot be solved by anti­industrial thinking such as “back to nature” or “ecological city” unless we also consider the historical or cultural characteristics of the places. The aim of this paper is to show how such cultural aspects can be included in the discussion about the problems of forests in cities. In other words, how can these new types of forests become the new landscape woven into the fabric of cultural context (Spirn 1998)?

These problems are really universal issues all over the world, so it is all the more necessary to consider the diversity of each culture. For instance, in Japan, as a part of the Asian region, many communities in the villages, towns, or cities have coexisted with forests for a long time, unlike in typi­cal and traditional European cities. In Japan, there are many traditional

Kowarik I, Korner S (eds) Wild Urban Woodlands.

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2005, pp 221-230

woodlands (nature of the first or second kind as defined by Kowarik 2005) within cities, as mosaics of green. The aim of this paper is to review the historical background of this coexistence in Japan, and to discuss some problems regarding managing forests in the future, from the viewpoint of the cultural context of landscapes. It is, of course, true that the Japanese have not always been kept lush forests across the whole of Japan. There have been eras of exploitation or destruction of forests for timber or fire­wood in Japan also (Totman 1989). However, these cases were mostly in the peri – or non-urban woodlands, and the scope of this paper is the cul­tural relationships between city people and the urban woodlands within cit­ies.

Updated: October 14, 2015 — 5:49 am