The Japanese Forestry Technique of Daisugi and Why They Stopped This Tree Bonsai

The Japanese Forestry Technique of Daisugi and Why They Stopped This Tree Bonsai

The Japanese Forestry Technique of Daisugi and Why They Stopped This Tree Bonsai

Deep in the heart of Japan’s historical cultural practices lies an impressive forestry technique known as Daisugi. Derived from the words “dai,” meaning platform, and “sugi,” meaning cedar, this method has roots stretching back to the 14th century. Daisugi is a sustainable forestry technique that produces straight and uniform timber, remarkably without harming the parent tree. While it’s a unique, ingenious method, one can’t help but wonder why the Japanese discontinued Daisugi for bonsai trees.

Daisugi, essentially a form of arboreal architecture, is unique to Japan and was initially practiced to create an abundance of high-quality, straight grain timber for construction purposes, particularly in Kyoto, where demand for such timber was high. This method involves pruning a Kitayama cedar tree, so only the top boughs are left to grow. From these boughs, perfectly uniform, straight, branchless shoots spring up, which can be harvested without harming the parent tree. Think of Daisugi as giant bonsai trees, where they manipulate trees to grow in specific ways.

These parent trees, known as “mother trees” or “platform trees,” can continuously produce harvestable wood for up to 20 generations, which equates to about 600 years. Thus, the technique promotes sustainability as it reduces the need for widespread deforestation and offers an innovative solution to scarcity of valuable land resources.

Why did Japan stop using daisugi?

So, what led the Japanese to abandon this method in favor of bonsai?

The shift from Daisugi to bonsai was primarily driven by social, economic, and cultural factors. While Daisugi was born out of necessity due to limited land and resources, the demands of the time gradually changed, and so did the societal needs.

For one, during the Edo period (1603-1868), Japan experienced an upsurge in arts and culture, and bonsai became an emblem of prestige and honor. Bonsai, which translates to “planted in a container,” involves cultivating miniature trees that mimic the shape and scale of full-sized trees. It was an art form that was originally exclusive to the nobility but later became a hobby and passion for the masses.

In contrast, Daisugi was labor-intensive, took years to produce harvestable timber, and didn’t provide the immediate aesthetic pleasure that a bonsai could. The instant gratification of bonsai, combined with its portability and suitability for small spaces, appealed to the Japanese sensibility and lifestyle.

The Japanese Forestry Technique of Daisugi and Why They Stopped This Tree Bonsai

Moreover, as Japan industrialized and modernized, the demand for timber declined, reducing the need for Daisigi. Simultaneously, advancements in technology meant that buildings no longer relied primarily on wood for construction. The necessity that had given birth to Daisugi was no longer present.

However, this is not to say that the practice of Daisugi has been completely abandoned. In certain regions of Japan, Daisugi trees still stand as a testament to their history, and the technique is kept alive as part of the country’s rich cultural heritage. In addition, the recognition of Daisugi’s environmental benefits has led to a resurgent interest in the practice in the context of sustainable and eco-friendly forestry.

While Daisugi served its purpose during a particular era in Japanese history, the transition to bonsai reflects changes in societal demands and cultural values. It’s a narrative that eloquently encapsulates the nation’s balance between tradition and change, practicality and aesthetic, nature and craftsmanship. Yet, the technique’s sustainability and environmental benefits, coupled with a growing global concern for ecological preservation, might just pave the way for a Daisugi renaissance in the future.