Yakushima Old-growth Japanese cedar forest

Yakusugi

About the Japanese cedar: Sugi (杉)

Cryptomeria japonica, commonly called Japanese cedar or Sugi, is a slender, pyramidal, evergreen conifer with tiered horizontal branching, which is slightly pendulous at the tips.

Sugi is a commercially important softwood species widespread within Japan from the northern end of the main island to Yakushima Island, and is commercially grown for many construction purposes, accounting for 75% of the wood use in Japan.

Botanical name:

Cryptomeria japonica. An evergreen tree from the Cryptomeria family, a specialty of Japan.

Afforested Japanese cedar mountain

Afforested Japanese cedar

Sugi is a very large evergreen tree may attain 50 meters (164 feet) or more in height and a circumference of 5 meters (16 feet). It is pyramidal, with dense, spreading branches in whorls about the trunk.

The heartwood is typically light to dark reddish brown. Sapwood is straw colored and clearly demarcated from the heartwood. Knots are common.

The grain is straight; medium, even with texture with a moderate natural luster. It has a distinct, lingering, cedar-like odor.

The drying process is fast, and it is generally easy to work with hand or machine tools. Responds poorly to steam bending. Glues, stains, and finishes well.

Because the wood is soft and easy to work with and not difficult to obtain a straight log, it is widely used in Japan for construction such as, ships, bridges, lamp posts, siding, paneling, fences, furniture, barrels and small specialty items.

The bark is used for roofing. The leaves are very aromatic and are used as incense sticks.  

Trees are also often used as garden trees, hedges, bonsai, etc.

Sugi logs

sawn sugi timber

Japan boasts an abundance of old-growth trees of a variety of species. 

The best-known giant of the Japanese forests is undoubtedly Yakushima’s ancient Jōmon Sugi, a towering Japanese cedar estimated to be between 2,000 and 7,200 years old and protected as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

“The venerable Sugi of Mount Haguro” (Yamagata Prefecture); “Nikko Suginamiki Kaido” (Nikko Cedar Avenue) in Nikko City, (Tochigi Prefecture); “Sugi no Osugi” at Yasaka Shrine in Otoyo-cho (Kochi Prefecture); “Itoshiro no Osugi” in Gujo City, (Gifu Prefecture); and "Yakushima Old-growth Japanese cedar forest " (Kagoshima Prefecture), all of these famous specimens of old-growth Japanese cedar are have been designated as World Natural Heritage Site.

Akita, Mount Amagi in Izu, Tenryu River Basin, Kii Peninsula (Yoshino, Kumano), Kochi, Miyazaki (Obi) are famous production areas, and it is said that there are subtle differences as for the width and the wood itself. 

Akita cedar, Yoshino cedar and Yakusugi are the most well-known production areas.

Sacred tree 

Sake Barrel

Japanese Cedar is the national tree of Japan. 

It’s significance extends beyond that, as its impact on Japanese culture is reflected by the fact that it is found planted at numerous scared sites throughout the country.

There are many examples of shrines and temples using sacred tree throughout the country, and one of the most famous ones since ancient time is the Fushimi Inari Shrine in Kyoto City where branches of cedar called shirushi no sugi are sold during the Hatsuuma festival as a lucky charm. 

In Heian times, when the Kumano pilgrimage was popular, people starting out from Kyoto would stop off at Fushimi Inari to take a sprig of cedar from the hill, because it was considered sacred (the whole hill was imbued with kami). 

They attached this to their robe as a sign they were on pilgrimage and showed it to the priests in Kumano to be blessed. 

On their return to Kyoto, they headed again for Fushimi Inari and planted the sprig on the hill. If it took root and started to grow into a new tree, then their wishes would come true.

 

The cedars of Miwayama in Sakurai City, Nara Prefecture are famous for being sung in the Manyōshū and Kokin Wakashū (Japanese classical poetry compilations) as well as the cedar with 500 branches of Toyouke Daijingu in Ise City, Mie Prefecture, the sacred cedar tree called Ayasugi at Kashiigu shrine in Fukuoka City, and the old cedar forest at Kashima Shrine in Ibaraki Prefecture which are also well known.

 

In the olden days, sake brewers would hang one Sugidama, (literally cedar ball) outside their door to signal that fresh production was on its way. Boughs of fresh cedar branches tied together and clipped into a perfect sphere. Sake makers would hang up a fresh green Sugidama in November or December, right after they pressed sake made from the new rice harvest. 

Customers knew that a few months later, when the Sugidama turned completely brown, the sake was ready to drink. 

These days, you are most likely to spot a Sugidama outside your better class of sake seller and restaurants that pride themselves on a great selection of nihonshu (sake).

Sugidama

Soy sauce Barrel

Bento Box made by bending very thin boards of Sugi

Lately,

Japanese cedars and other coniferous trees were planted as a national policy to secure industrial roundwood in the post-war and 1960s, but domestic demand has decreased due to the influx of low-cost imported wood, labor costs have risen, and

the aging of forestry workers has made the decline in Forest management power and the devastation of the mountains a problem.

In addition, seasonal allergic rhinitis (SAR) caused by Japanese cedar pollen (sugi-pollinosis) is the most common disease in Japan and has been considered a national affliction. It has been estimated that approximately 15% of the Japanese population (or more than 20 million people) develop pollinosis by breathing sugi pollen.

For this reason, the majority of the sugi-pollinosis countermeasures implemented by the Japanese administration consist of fundamental research, the development of treatments and the improvement of airborne pollen forecasting technology as well as renewable energy from biomass and growth optimization in sustainable productive forest management, boosting local production and consumption, and promote the education of young forestry managers, so sales not only in Japan

but also overseas can gradually increase.