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Thursday, 15 September 2016

Japanese Cedar Trees and Timber Trade (JPNCEDAR)

 CASE NAME:     Japanese Cedar Trees and Timber Trade


1. The Issue

In recent years, a growing number of Japanese badly suffer from spring hay fever due to cedar pollen. It is said that 10 million, or about 10 per cent of Japanese, show the typical symptoms: runny nose, sore throat and itchy eyes ("Government Aims to Put Lid on Allergy-Causing Cedar Pollen,"Japan Economic Newswire, 22 August, 1995). The number of Japanese cedar trees is a major cause of these symptoms. Cedars have been increasingly grown after World War II, because of its rapid maturation and usefulness in meeting the domestic demand for hard woods, especially for housing. According to officials, 4.5 million hectares (11.1 million acres) of cedar trees have been planted (Sterngold, James. "Japan's Cedar Forests Are Man-Made Disaster," New York Times, 17 January, 1995) and are now mature enough to be utilized. While more and more cedar seedlings are planted each year, however, they have not been effectively utilized. Meanwhile, the amount of hard woods imported mainly from Southeast Asia has been growing due to its inexpensiveness. Nowadays, Japan is said to import "roughly half of the world's volume of traded tropical hard woods" (Kitabatake, Yoshifusa. "What Can Be Learned from Domestic and International Aspects of Japan's Forest Resource Utilization?", Natural Resources Journal, (Fall, 1992), p. 872). For this reason, Japan has been criticized for contributing to deforestation in Southeast Asia, and for protecting its domestic forests. Since Japan consumes a large amount of tropical hard woods instead of utilizing domestic ones such as cedar trees, it might seem that Japan is minimizing its environmental problems related to forests at the expense of others. Nevertheless, lacking appropriate resource management, these planted cedar trees cause serious national environmental problems, such as soil erosion and reduction of the water table, in addition to health problems for human beings. 

2. Description

In response to an enormous demand for housing and timber after World War II, the Japanese government launched an expansive afforestaion (Kakudai-zourin) plan in 1956. The plan focused on planting a single species, the Japanese cedar, in order for Japan to become self-sufficient in wood products. The Japanese cedar, formally known as Cryptomeria japonica, was especially attractive because of its rapid maturation and usefulness in addition to its decent scent. Since then, it has been widely planted so that it comprised 20 per cent of Japan's forest (more than 10 million acres), contributing to the country's mountainous land area that covers two-thirds of the entire country (Sterngold, op.cit.). The Japanese cedar forests, as can be seen around Mt. Fuji, are considered to be one of the most symbolic scenes in Japan. Nevertheless, the government's single-species planting policy has created both trade and environmental issues.
Even though a large amount of Japanese cedars were planted under the government's plan, Japan has become more and more dependent on tropical hard woods from Southeast Asia, especially from Malaysia. It has been reported that most tropical log imports to japan now come from the two Malaysian states of Sarawak and Sabah. In 1987, Sarawak shared 39 per cent (5.5 million m) and Sabah 50 per cent (7 million m) of Japan's total hard wood imports (Nectoux, Francois and Yoichi Kuroda. Timber from The South Seas, WWF International Publication, 1989, p.30). 
However, as log exports to Japan increase, Sarawak and Sabah suffered substantial deforestation. Moreover, the life of indigenous people in this area has been irreversibly damaged. Because of the spread of the timber industry, a growing number of indigenous people have lost the land on which they depend for their livelihoods.
On the other hand, in spite of the domestic cedar trees available, Japan does not utilize its own resources. There are two reasons for this. First, Japanese private forest owners tend to "look on their timberlands as a treasure box to be tapped at a time of special need, rather than as a resource to be managed for maximum long-run return" (Kitabatake, op.cit., p. 863). Therefore, they are reluctant to cut down the trees. Second, since the price of tropical hard woods is much lower than that of domestic cedars, Japan's hard woods have lost their competitiveness in terms of the cost of labor and of management. Consequently, Japan would rather import tropical hard woods from Southeast Asia. Though these reasons are logical for the Japanese, the worldwide consensus is that, as Kitabatake pointed out, "Japan would seem to be holding back its own reserves of timber, shifting timber cutting (and its environmental consequences) to where wood can be supplied more cheaply" (Ibid., p.873). Now that domestic cedar trees are mature, Japan should be seriously aware of the imbalances of the utilization of hard woods, and make more use of its own resources.
In fact, due to heavy dependence on imported cheap hard woods and leaving its own trees uncut, Japan is now paying the cost. As mentioned earlier, forest plantations require costly maintenance, such as clearing under growth and regular thinning. Since Japan's forests are divided into small parcels owned by many individuals, no private forest owners with such small holdings can afford to the cost. Therefore, much of Japan's cedar trees are left without appropriate care.
Such trees have caused the number of animals to decrease, reduced the water table, created the potential for landslides, heavy soil erosion, and hay fever for human beings. When mature, cedar trees grow up to 40 m high, they "prevent sunlight from reaching the forest floor and offer little food or protection for animals" (Sterngold, op.cit.). Moreover, since cedar trees "have shallow roots, they hold less water in the earth and can be felled easily by storms" (Ibid).
In addition, these rapidly maturing trees discharge huge amounts of pollen every spring, causing allergic reactions in humans. It is said that maturing cedar trees emit 1,800 to 2,000 pollen per square centimeter every spring. Humans suffer runny nose, itchy eyes, and sneezes due to cedar pollen. The number of Japanese showing these symptoms has been increasing recently, amounting to 10 million persons or 10 per cent of the population.
This, in turn, has brought an expansion of Japan's market for anti-pollen health care. For example, the sales of special eye drops for itchy eyes is growing 10 per cent annually (Ibid.). It now accounts for 10 per cent of Japan's $283 million eye lotion market (Ibid.). In addition, nose vaporizers which is another effective remedy for the allergy is sold 130,000 units every year. Since the perfect medicine for cedar allergy is not available, the demand for these products will continue to increase.
Nevertheless, such problem-causing Japanese cedar trees need to be better utilized with more tending, including weeding, removal of vines, improvement cutting and pruning. This will eventually reduce allergies in humans as well. 

3. Related Cases

    Keyword Clusters
  1. Trade Product = TIMBER
  2. Bio-geography = TEMP
  3. Environmental Problem = DEFOR 

4. Draft Author: Yoko Fujiki

B. LEGAL Clusters

5. Discourse and Status: DISagreement and ALLEGE

Though Japan has been criticized worldwide for importing a large amount of hard woods, no legal action has yet been taken against the government. Japanese people would rather enjoy cheap imported hard woods to have their "own home," which has been ranked one of the top desires for Japanese workers. 

6. Forum and Scope:

  • Forum: Japan
  • Scope: UNILAT

7. Decision Breadth: 2 (JAPAN and MALAYSIA) 

8. Legal Standing: Law

No agreement has been made at this time. However, the Japanese government has recently announced the environmental protection policy, based on the Basic Environment Law promulgated in November 1994. Under the law, Japan will offer technical assistance and human resources to the nations in the Southeast Asia. 


9. Geographic Locations

  1. Geographic Domain : Asia
  2. Geographic Site : East Asia
  3. Geographic Impact : Japan

10. Sub-National Factors: No 11. Type of Habitat: TEMP 

D. TRADE Clusters

12. Type of Measure: REGSTD 

There seems to be no regulation for wood import in Japan. Since deforestation in Southeast Asia, however, has become a serious problem, Japan should set a regulatory measure to limit its imports of hard woods. 

13. Derict vs. Indirect Impacts: Indirect

Stimulating public awareness towards deforestation in Southeast Asia and encouraging increased utilization of domestic cedars may eventually lead to a reduction in hard wood imports. 

14. Relation of Measure to Environmental Impact

  1. Directly Related : No
  2. Indirectly Related : Yes
  3. Not Related : No
  4. Process Related : Yes
The excess of cedars in Japan causes health problems. Also, since a large volume of hardwood has been exported to Japan, Sarawak in Malaysia suffers deforestation. 

15. Trade Product Identification: Raw Wood Products 16. Economic Data

Japan has been dependent on hard woods from Malaysia. The two states in Malaysia, Sabah and Sarawak, are the main suppliers. Though imports from Sabah have been decreasing from 9.2 million m in 1978 to 7 million m in 1987, imports from Sarawak have been increasing, reaching to 5.5 million m in 1987 (Nectoux, op.cit., p.31). 

17. Impact of Measure on Trade Competitiveness: NA (This environmental problem derives from free-trade) .18. Industry Sector: Durable Manufacturing Lumber and Products [WOOD] 

19. Exporter and Importer

  • Case Exporter : Malaysia
  • Case Importer : Japan
  • Leading Exporters (US $) : 
  • Leading Importers (US $) : 


20. Environmental Problem Type: DEFOR

In spite of deforestation, Sarawak still continue to depend on the timber industry. Since it has brought cash and enormous jobs in that region. 

21. Name, Type, and Diversity of Species 

  • Name: Cryptomeria japonica 
  • Type: Plant
  • Diversity: Forest 
When mature, cedar trees discharge pollen at an average of 2,000 grains per square centimeter every spring. In the spring of 1995, the average became doubled due to the extreme heat in last summer. It causes allergic symptoms in human beings, such as runny nose, itchy eyes, and sneezes. A complete cure for these symptoms has yet to be discovered. The best thing is to prevent pollen discharge, covering noses with masks, and refraining from being outside. 

22. Impact and Effect 

  • Impact: MEDIUM
  • Effect: STRCT 
While the problems of deforestation and hay fever are becoming more severe, the main impact of current trade structure is the dislocation of indigenous people. 

23. Urgency and Lifetime: 

24. Substitutes: LIKE

Japan is encouraged to utilize more of its domestic cedar trees. Up to now, domestic cedar has been put into special use only, such as for the construction of traditional Japanese houses. Japanese cedar is considered to be high in quality compared to many imported woods.

VI. OTHER Factors

25. Culture: Yes 

Cedar trees have been very familiar to the Japanese. For instance, the most popular mountain in Japan, Mt. Fuji, is covered by cedar trees. Moreover, as early as ninth century, many temples were built in cedar mountain regions. Since temples are regarded sacred, the cedar mountains, too, are considered to be mysterious, noble areas that should not be touched. 

26. Trans-Border: Yes 

27. Rights: Yes 

As timber industry prevails in Sarawak, Malaysia, many indigenous people have been forced to change their lifestyle and lost their land. 

28. Relevant Literature

"Forests Need More Care." Daily Yomiuri, (15 May 1995). 
"Government's Aims to Put Lid on Allergy-Causing Cedar Pollen." Japan Economic Newswire, (22 August 1995).
"Hay Fever to Attack with a Vengeance." Mainichi Daily news, (20 February 1995).
Kitabatake, Yoshifusa, "What Can Be Learned from Domestic and International Aspects of Japan's Forest Resource Utilization?" Natural Resources Journal, (Fall, 1992): 855-81. 
Nectoux, Francois and Yoichi Kuroda. Timber from The South Seas (WWF International Publication, 1989). 
Statistics Bureau, Management and Coordination Agency. Japan Statistical Yearbook (Tokyo, Japan Statistical Association, 1994). 
Sterngold, James. "Japan's Cedar Forests Are Man-Made Disaster." New York Times (17 January 1995). 
Varley, H. Paul. Japanese Culture (Honolulu, The University of Hawaii Press, 1984).

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