The Ancient Japanese Technique To Create Maximum Lumber From A Single Tree : Daisugi

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Harsirat Kaur
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Daisugi is a new trend on social media. But, is it really new? What is its history? What are its advantages? How to create this model? There comes a lot of questions whether you are a sustainable freak or just curious to know new techniques. In this article, we will explain Daisugi in details, so you don’t have to browse different sites to learn about it.

What is Daisugi?

Daisugi is an ancient Japanese sustainable technique that allows lumber production without cutting down the trees. If you go outside Kyoto, you will behold tons of straight trees along the hills. They do not have any knots and the demand for Kitayama cedar is very high in Japan. Hence, the foresters came up with this indigenous idea to grow more trees for more cedar and lumber. You probably have heard of the Bonsai technique. It is a Japanese art form that produces small trees as exact replicas of the bigger trees. As Wrath of Gnon wrote, Think of Daisugi as giant bonsai.

The method overcame the shortage of seedlings that originated from the high demand for cedar. It is simple economics, the demand is ever-rising, but the resources are less. However, Japanese people are creative and extraordinary in their inventions. So, Kayatami people brought this technique of their ancestors back. Due to less flat land in the region, the foresters started plating these trees on the trees.

The characteristics of Daisugi trees are their straight trunks that can tower up to 50 meters and have a diameter of 2 meters. The matured trees form a conical shape which is slightly rounded at the apex. The leaves are awl-shaped and area is around 1 cm long. In the winter season, they adopt a distinctive reddish-brown color. They are commercially grown on the hills or mountains, at least above 600 m above the sea level.

Daisugi forest
Source: Open Kyoto

Without Further Ado, let’s go to the 15th century.

History of Daisugi

Kitayama sugi means Japanese red cedar or peacock pine. The botanical name of the tree is Cryptomeria japonica. Kitayama owes its roots for these trees to more than 600 years ago. During the Oei Period between 1394 and 1428, Heian Kyo, present-day Kyoto, was prosperous and abundant, with widespread tea ceremony (cha-no-yu). Back in the day, the noble homes of samurais and other noblemen were straight and the architecture (Sukiya Zakuri) needed wood for building them. Because there was a shortage of material to produce these homes for growing families, the foresters started using this clever technique of trees.

You can still see the timber used from these trees in many traditional Japanese rooms (washitsu), like in tatami-floored tearooms (chashitsu).

Daisugi is an ancient form of tree growing
Source: CC BY-SA

Where can you see these trees?

Kitayama is an attractive tourist spot. If you drive around the country lanes off Rote 162 between Nakagawa and Kitayama village in Kyoto Prefecture, you will see these polished logs. It is just 30 minutes drive from the central part of Kyoto city, in the village of Nakagawa. They are a coppiced sugi with many stems. The local people will tell you that they were grown for two purposes, replanting in traditional gardens and for its timber called ‘taruki‘. Its English name is rafter.

The Process of Planting

The foresters follow the following steps in the planting of these trees.

First, the foresters prepare thr foundation which is of cedar trunk of ‘mother cedar tree‘ with layers through scrupulous and meticulous pruning. After they completely prepare the foundation, the layers start propagating into more trunks shooting upright. Later, the workers harvest these man-made trunks as logs. The pruning of the shoots’ duration involves every two years with the same precision, leaving only the top boughs. The total duration of its harvesting is 20 years and the old trees can provide up to a hundred shoots at a time. After 20 years, the massive shoots are put to use either to repopulate the forests or harvesting, as exceptional Kitayama lumber. The trees can keep producing more stems for approximately 2 or 3 centuries, if properly cared for, before dying.

Daisugi is an ancient Japanese lumber growing technique
Source: Kyoto Arikata

The lumber produced by Daisugi method is 140% as flexible as standard cedar and 200% as dense.

The arborists or the foresters noticeably wear only the natural blue-dyed cotton. This is because the natural dye of the cloth comes from a plant that acts as a natural insect repellant. So, while working in the forests, they wear these to protect themselves from insects. The trees, since the 16th century, are in comparatively lesser demand, so the trees are now found throughout Japan as ornamental trees in the gardens.

Versions of the tree in other countries

Though Daisugi originated in Japan, there are similar noted trees in other European countries as well. Ancient Romans also used the same teachniques in the form of pollarding, and the British in the form of coppicing.

The trees have to be knot-free. To ensure that, the workers climb the long trunks every three to four years to prune the developing branches.

The uses of Daisugi

Traditionally, the smooth and aesthetic wood pieces were used in the main pillars in an alcove known as tokonoma. The alcoves could create display items such as flower arrangements ikebana or scrolls. The tea houses in Kyoto used this wood, as per the prominent tea master, Sen-no-rikyu. Nowadays, Japnese use the wood to make various items ranging from chopsticks to utensils to furniture.

handcarved chopticks
Daisugi handcarved chopsticks–Source: Open Kyoto

The design of the trees is sustainable which is good for recycling the environment. The foresters wait for two generations to be able to enjoy their plantations. Daisugi is a generational practice. The fathers pass it down to their children and so on. The father plants for forester A’s children, whereas forester A plants for his grandchildren. Daisugi or table cedar has produced typhoon resistant houses since the 14th century. If we use the Daisugi model, we can easily produce more lumber without cutting down the trees. We can use this technique with other plants. Daisugi is a perfect plan for achieving sustainability goals. If the samurais were safe and happy with this technique back then, we can also create happiness and eco-friendly products for our grandchildren.

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