Forests and Human Culture
Japan's forests are deeply entwined with Japanese culture. It should be remembered that among the major functions of forests is that of nurturing human culture. Mitsui is actively engaged in ensuring that the preservation of forests also contributes to the preservation of regional cultures and traditions.
Using the Forest to Protect Ainu Culture
The Saru Forest, which is Mitsui's second largest forest, is located near Nibutani, a locality in the Hokkaido municipality of Biratori which legend holds to be the birthplace of Ainu culture. Ainu people have inhabited and made use of the forest for many generations.
In April 2010, Mitsui concluded an agreement with the Biratori Ainu Association under which action is being taken to stimulate the preservation of the culture of the Ainu people, who are the original inhabitants of the Saru Forest.
Specifically, because of a declining trend in the Manchurian elm, which provides the material for the attus, the traditional dress of the Ainu people made of tree bark, it has been decided to plant and nurture Manchurian elm in the Saru Forest.
Meanwhile, to restore the chise, which is the traditional Ainu dwelling, the lumber needed to build it is to be supplied from the Saru Forest. A further major aspect of the agreement is the protection of Ainu places of worship located in the Saru Forest and cooperation in surveys of cultural relics.
In September 2010, a further agreement was concluded with the municipality of Biratori under which Mitsui will cooperate in a municipal project to recreate an iwor (traditional Ainu living territory) and will collaborate in measures to stimulate industry.
Using a Forest to Protect Kyoto Traditions
The Kiyotaki Forest, situated at Saga in the north of the city of Kyoto, is in a much-visited area famous for its colorful foliage in autumn and its beautiful cherry blossom in spring.
To allow the Kyoto Modelforest Association to engage in action to protect and nurture Kyoto's forest, Mitsui concluded an agreement in 2008 with the association and Kyoto Prefecture under which part of the Kiyotaki Forest is made available for a ten-year period free of charge. As part of the agreement, Mitsui supports two traditional Kyoto festivities, the Daimonji Gozan Okuribi (Daimonji Bonfire) and Kurama no Hi-Matsuri (Kurama Fire Festival), by providing firewood and supplying Japanese red pine and azalea to make torches. Mitsui will also make a site available for the Forestry Experience Workshops organized by the association for the benefit of the regional community.
As part of the Forestry Experience Workshops, members of the association participate in forest maintenance for cultivation of the Japanese red pine and azalea, while members of the Daimonji Preservation Committee and the Kurama Fire Festival Preservation Society, which are affiliates of the association, volunteer in the felling of deciduous trees and Japanese red pine. Thanks to these activities, in 2010, materials from the Kiyotaki Forest supplied all the pine needles and one-tenth of the firewood needed for the Daimonji Bonfire and one-tenth of the torches used in the Kurama Fire Festival.