A Forest for the Next Fifty Years – Interviews with ARI’s Forest Management Team Members

As part of the 50th anniversary, ARI staff began preparing the 2 hectares of forested land to integrate them with the rest of the campus, including the farm and livestock areas. Wellesley College intern Madeleine Speagle interviewed two forest management staff members,  Assistant Director Osamu Arakawa and General Affairs staffer Raku Izawa. Raku also guided a tour of the forest paths and landscape. These interviews were summarized in an article for Take My Hand, but we’ve provided the interviews here for your interest. 

The interviews have been edited for brevity and clarity while still retaining as much of the original “ARI English” as possible.

Above photo: the class of 2023 with volunteers and staff after planting oak trees on the ARI campus, early September.

Interview with Osamu Arakawa and Raku Izawa

Osamu-san, can you provide a short introduction about the forest management at ARI? And what is its relationship with Foodlife?

Osamu: I’m one of the members of the forest management committee: me, Raku-san, Jack-san, and Tunny-san [Takashi Otani]. We formed the committee last year for the 50th anniversary. We had several opinions about the forest, and my opinion was to integrate the forest more with foodlife work. This is because the forest has a very important role in the ecosystem, and the circulation of life happens in the forest. 

Specialists walking through the ARI forest

Our teacher is the forest: Nobody applies chemical pesticides, nobody applies fertilizer, but plants grow very well and they are healthy. When we make fertilizers like bokashi, we collect microorganisms from the forest. We’ve integrated the forest with the farm and with livestock: for example, we collect sawdust and wood chips and utilize it for the floor of the pigpen, and also for chickens. 

We collect wood to make charcoal which we use for soil improvement and mix with fertilizers. Charcoal is an important material for making bokashi because charcoal can hold water, air, and nutrients. The structure of charcoal contains lots of large and small pores – large pores contain some air and small pores contain water, a structure very similar to humus, and it has a high nutrient holding capacity. If we use charcoal as a fertilizer, we give carbon back to the soil. It’s a “carbon sink”. In nature, if wood is rotten, then it turns into carbon dioxide and goes back into the air, but if we capture it as charcoal, we can return carbon dioxide to the soil

As a benefit, we also get fresh air from the forest. If we make paths in the forest, we can breathe fresh air in the forest. We breathe fresh “phytoncides”, which relax our spirit. There is research on the practice of “forest bathing” which is gaining popularity in the west. In Japan, it’s called “shinrin-yoku” and was developed in the 1980s – though of course wandering around in a forest is an ancient and universal art.

Did you know: what is "shinrin-yoku"? Check out this short article on the health benefits of forest walks: Getting back to nature: how forest bathing can make us feel better | Trees and forests | The Guardian

What work is the forest management committee currently doing?

Osamu: The work they are currently doing in forest management is to make paths in the forest. Before, foodlife work meant only animals and crops and vegetables, but this year we take teams out in the morning and evening for foodlife work. 

Every day we form a forest team. Using that time, we also plant trees. We plant trees that have flowers to attract bees and get honey, trees for beautification. We wanted to grow mushrooms but we still can’t because of the radiation. We used to eat forest vegetables, like shoots of the Aralia elata tree or “angelica tree”, which are called taranome in Japan. But we don’t eat these anymore either because of the radiation. Mushrooms are the most dangerous though because they absorb cesium from the soil. 

How long do you think it will be until mushrooms are safe?

Raku: 15 years is the recommendation – so, 2026. But that’s just the standard. We will continue to test [ed: ARI maintains a radiation safety standard of 40mSv, roughly 3 times more stringent than Japanese government standards of 100mSv]. That information will influence how we manage our forests. Right now, we’re not involving mushrooms in our plans, but in the future, we will. 

Osamu: We utilize the leaves of certain trees for fertilizer. We also collect microorganisms through this process: We cut bamboo in half and then make it into a “box”. We put rice inside and close the bamboo. We tie it with string and take it to the forest. We bury it under the humus for several days and it grows microorganisms, what we call IMO 1. 

We bring back the microorganisms (ie white mold) and culture them with crude sugar, then put it into a jar. For two weeks to one month, we leave it and it becomes a black liquid. That’s called IMO 2. We culture it again with rice and soil to make IMO 3 and we use that in Bokashi and compost. 

There are several farmers in Japan who are used to collecting microorganisms from the forest. A Korean named Cho Han Kyu also studied this practice in Japan and Korea, and he talks about it in his writings on the concept of “Korean Natural Farming.” He visited ARI, which is how I learned about it.

What is ARI’s history of forest management?

Osamu: Before I came here, ARI had planted many trees on campus. We also have another outside forest plot in Bato Town. Bato Town lent ARI one mountain on a contract, and we planted trees there with volunteers in 1986 or 87. That forest is a community forest. Former community members planted those trees for the future generation, for us.  We collect logs to grow mushrooms and collect timber and we can sell the trees. The outdoor amphitheater by Oikos Chapel was built with timber from Bato forest. 

Raku: At Bato, we’re busy maintaining that forest, to take items such as timber, and firewood. So we didn’t maintain our forest here on campus so much. With a lack of staff hands, we think about how it would be appropriate for ARI to incorporate our “school forest” into the learning of participants. Rather than the forest we have a bit farther away, we should use the forest on campus.

What are your future plans for ARI’s forests?

Osamu: We’ve already made the Meditation Path through the forest. Then we have “Zoning”.

Raku: One of our supporters is a forester. He suggested that we have zoning – three zones or six zones. Depending on his advice, we zoned the forest, and came up with three ideas: nature exploration, integrated farming, and what we are tentatively calling the climate change action forest. 

Did you know: what is integrated farming? Integrated farming means not just us growing crops and vegetables but also integrating kitchen waste and livestock waste and forest.

Osamu: We have the concept of agroforestry, slope area landscape technology, plant trees on the contraline, stop erosion, plant crops and vegetables in the forest while the trees are small and young. For participants who live in the mountains, they need this kind of technology. 

At the same time as stopping erosion, Leguminous trees can sequester nitrogen, and they also have good leaves for the livestock to feed. For example, the mulberry trees, the goats love them. In the winter, there’s no fresh grass, but bamboo grows so we can use bamboo as feed for goats.

Are you planning to expand ARI’s forests?

Osamu: The main goals are to manage the forests within the campus and create good circulation. Bato forest is too far and too big for us to manage. But we can still use it for learning purposes. We can learn how to harvest trees, and remember about previous staff and volunteers.

Participants Yohannes, Yeyen, and Mithun working on a forest path.

2023 participants Yohannes (Indonesia), Yeyen (Indonesia), and Mithun (Bangladesh) making the forest path.

A Forest Walk with Raku Izawa

Starting at: The hill ARI is built on, Gongenyama 

Gongenyama is a bit far from the local community, and locals tend to say if children are naughty, they’ll take you to Gongenyama. So according to them, Gongnenyama was originally a “marginalized place”.

ARI is a place for the rural leaders, who are fighting for marginalized people in the world. I’m not sure why God prepared for ARI to be here, but this is a place where we have to nurture rural leaders, and we have 1,399 graduates. 

To celebrate the 50th anniversary, we started to think again about our forest. We are doing “integrated farming” to train rural leaders. This 50 year anniversary would be a good time for us to think about, not only the fields and the livestock, but also the forest – all connected as  “integrated farming”. 

We want to divide the forest into three pathways for each zone: right side of Onsen shrine, left side of Onsen shrine, and back of women’s dorm. All three pathways were cultivated by the participants. Participants are divided into 3 foodlife groups. One person per group works on forest management.

Did you know? Intern Madeleine produced a map of the ARI forest, and we've used snippets of it here. See the whole version in the latest issue of Take My Hand, which you can find on the website of our US partner, American Friends of ARI!

Zone 1 – Forest Education

The first area (right of Onsen Shrine) is called the “education pathway” for forest education.  Here, we can even walk barefoot. We want this space to be for the nature experience of the children. We’re going to cut the trees around here and make a large space to hold programs. We can invite people from outside, the elementary school or kindergarten children, to enjoy nature on ARI campus. We can have collaboration with other organizations, who can build community and share the values which we have, who may want to utilize this environment. Not only the ARI training purpose. We can deliver them to those people.

However, in Japan, the situation for livestock is beginning to be sensitive. For the nature experience forest, I didn’t mention it, but we have some kind of space between the nature experience forest and livestock. Outside people can carry livestock diseases and should stay away. Bird flu and pig cholera. 

The ARI forest contains many cedar trees – sugi in Japanese. Many of the trees which the former staff planted, especially the Japanese cedar trees, are useful in a financial way. But due to the lack of hands, those trees are thin and not so useful for sale. But the cedar tree is good for making charcoal. We’re also doing that. One section of trees were planted in order to make mushrooms. But due to 3/11, we cannot grow mushrooms.

In this area, the moisture is low. Trees with the pink ribbon are kept on purpose. That tree, that maple tree in the center, could be a “symbol tree” for this area. 

From left: associate director Osamu Arakawa, forest expert & guest lecturer Tetsuya Tsukamoto, livestock staff Takashi Otani, general affairs staff Raku Izawa, in Zone 1.

Can you tell me more about any of these special trees?

Yeah! For example… Here’s a holly tree, for Christmas. We can take care of these. We haven’t yet considered much how forest management can collaborate with other sections, but we can also sell forest products like these holly wreaths with cookies, or other goods. We can keep this. This one grew up naturally in the forest, which means it’s suitable for this forest. We can keep it and make a description of this species, which will make it easier for organizers who are going to have programs here to explain for the children.

In one area, we have straight Japanese cedar trees. Those were intended to be cut after 40-50 years. But at the same time, former staff planted trees for mushrooms and to prepare multilayers of plants. The first year, the cedar trees are planted, second year, smaller trees are planted, etc., protected by the first layer, continuing for generations. I think in English we call it forest succession. But that kind of carefully planned succession takes hands, which we don’t have. They planned it, but it did not succeed, and now you see.

The 50th year anniversary is good timing for us to consider how our local resources can be beneficial to us. Lack of hands is also, not just a negative thing, but positively, an opportunity for us to ask help from other people. We can have a collaboration. We can make these trees beautiful and beneficial together with outside people, such as participants and supporters. We tend to have the mindset, “we will take care of it.” This is our property, we need to maintain it to keep good value for the participants. But the past 50 years taught us that we need to consider collaboration with others. This kind of mindset could be shifted to how to utilize our local resources to better “live together”.

In such a way, the nature exploration forest can help us connect with other organizations.

Zone 2 – Forest Integrated with Agriculture

The second part, from the left side of the shrine, you can see the individual fields where the participants work, and the goat grazing lands. This side is designated as an integrated farming forest. The livestock staff manages beekeeping for honey. We can use trees for this as well. Integration of beekeeping and goats. The male goats live in this pen in the forest. They are kept separately from the female goats. The male goats are given the opportunity to enjoy the forest by themselves. 

This second forest also has trees that weren’t planted but grew on their own. There’s a tea tree. Aoki, green tea. Those trees are grown up, not planted, but come up naturally. In addition to harvesting the trees, livestock staff is taking care of the backside of the mountains. Tunny-san is keeping them alive. Trees are also good for stopping soil erosion. Makes the mountain stronger. Teach about how to prevent soil erosion. Having livestock, keeping them together. This part is not finished yet.

To maintain it, we can also collaborate with outside organizations. They are waiting to have programs for practicing bamboo satoyama. That kind of topic is really a good example of common values between ARI and the community.

ARI staff walking along the steep cliffside of Zone 2.
Did you know: what is Satoyama? There are many academic theories and debates about the concept, but in simple terms: It is a concept in Japan linking villages (“sato”) with mountains (“yama”) – with nature and the forest. 

Essentially, a lifestyle in satoyama means that humans and non-humans live together and eat together, so our lives are intimately connected with the forest.

We have this maple tree, planted 10 years ago. We have many trees that are planted to look nice. We asked the gardener for suggestions of plants to help us enjoy the scenery. Japan has four seasons, each season beautiful. We have flowers for each season. For example, the maple tree is beautiful in the autumn, when it turns red. The hydrangea is lovely in June and early July. We try to keep plants flowering for each season. We especially focus on the season when we have participants, April through December.

Also, in January-March, when participants aren’t here, many of the visitors will be coming on campus. We are also trying to keep the campus beautiful in the winter. Here, by staff houses, we are planning to have a variety of flowers and trees as well. Next to the chapel, we can plant sakura and other trees that will bloom in the season when participants are here. Here, far away from the participant community, we’ll plant flowers that bloom in Feb/March. Another one of our supporters is a gardener. We walked around campus with him and suggested this idea.

Zone 3 – Carbon Sink Forest

Originally, here, Osamu-san was planning to have charcoal making here, using the bamboo – carbon sink or decarbonization could be the feature. Next to it is a space where the former director is planning to donate trees. This is the place for normal forestry. Maintain trees for timber, firewood, cutting, and selling – hopefully mushrooms, in the future.

I want to talk more about the vision for the forest, and the many uses the committee is thinking of.

The participants provided together under the process of opening up the pathway. Material for us to learn together and work together – meaning, the participants, but not only them, also the outside people, how do you use forest projects. Before, we viewed forest management on campus as a problem of ARI. We couldn’t figure out what to do, how to deal with it. Once we came to see this as a resource, it came to be an opportunity and this makes ARI have more learning material for the participants. 

Woah! So the forest area ARI owns is actually really big! It’s bigger than I realized!

We won’t go there today, but our path will be connecting to another [neighborhood] shrine, Nogi Shrine. So people can enjoy this meditation pathway, with a calm environment, thinking about those plants, the livestock, enjoy the environment, and come back to campus this way. We want to tentatively call the whole path we’ve walked today the “meditation pathway.” 

On the campus map, many things are not written. So maybe 30 minutes ago, you thought you knew everything on campus. But the pathway we walked through is definitely a different side of campus. 

2023 participants planting oak trees in Zone 3 early in the morning.

So I was wondering, do a lot of other farms in Japan have this connection to a mountain, or a forest?

So, the concept of “satoyama” comes from ancient times – 1300 years ago. But about 700 years ago or so, was a big milestone of the process of satoyama – people started to think about the forest near the community, getting firewood, maintaining things – maybe unintentionally; they were just doing the things that were needed for their life. But eventually, that kind of activity keeps the forest nearby the community, and becomes the satoyama, the community-forest collaboration that is almost the same with the ecosystem nearby, including the paddy field. 

Is satoyama still practiced very commonly today?

The concept is still here, but due to the problem of having fewer hands in rural areas, and people getting older, it’s difficult for rural people in Japan to maintain satoyama. That’s why many of the problems due to the decrease of the population happen anywhere in Japan. Many of the social issues which come up are rooted in that.

You’ve already talked about this a lot, but do you want to sum up and maybe give me your favorite of the value that the forest has to the world, or that you’re really passionate about?

Change in the world comes from the edge of the marginalized area. And ARI is the rural leaders’ training center that nurtures the leaders that work for those marginalized. And then, many of the rural areas need to think about the environment, and forests having big space among them. So, not only the participants who work specifically for the forest, but also for any of the rural communities, need to care about the ecosystem, and the whole picture of their community.The participants who are rural leaders from their area can think of the materials in their local area as good local resources if they recognize. They might just throw away the fallen coconut or the stem of the corn, but not only those crops and vegetables, but forest, can also be a local resource for them. 

We went to the blank spaces, which are not written on the campus map, but actually have so much value. The social impact is given from outside of the scope. Forest management could be one interesting symbol, for example, for us to consider how, even at ARI, the training center for rural leaders, we can still have things outside of our “scope.” There is tacit knowledge, hidden dimensions, that can be valuable for all of us. 

Yes! Like, remembering to pay attention to hidden things or things you take for granted, like a forest, and really notice its characteristics and its values, and then, lovingly steward it, and integrate it into your way of life.

Mhm. And not only finding those resources, but also, just sensing, we have important valuable things outside of that scope. That kind of sense itself is also meaningful. Even though we opened up our scope for this line, circle, bigger and bigger, any of the time, we have things out of this circle, right? So, this forest management, and the 50th anniversary commemoration, can be a good example for us. 

To remember to keep widening our scope

And remember many of the things are hidden still.