Disaster Preparedness through Tree Planting

Planting Trees to Prepare for Disasters – “Hometown Forests” Protect and Teach about Life

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The Japanese archipelago was once mostly forested, with people’s hometowns enveloped in woods. As urbanization progressed, however, many trees were cut down, and in their place people built living spaces enclosed in concrete walls. The few trees that remain in today’s cities have been planted using non-native varieties, and opportunities to see indigenous forests in urban areas are increasingly rare.

More than 92% of Japan has an evergreen broad-leaved ecosystem. Evergreen broad-leaved trees like Castanopsis and Machilus have strong roots that provide ground cohesion in the event of earthquakes, and hold large amounts of water, making them effective in resisting fires. The Great Hanshin Earthquake of 1995 destroyed houses and triggered fires, but the presence of these trees saved many lives, proving their effectiveness in terms of disaster resistance. Indigenous forests also showed resilience against the damage caused by the Great East Japan Earthquake of March 11, 2011.

With this in mind, the Nippon Foundation supports tree planting for the purpose of disaster preparedness in cooperation with Akira Miyawaki, director of the Japanese Center for International Studies in Ecology.

Schools as Community Evacuation Centers

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Many schools are designated as evacuation centers for their surrounding communities, and planting indigenous trees on the land surrounding these schools increases their effectiveness in terms of disaster resistance.

Tree-planting events are also a way to bring parents and guardians, groups of children, staff and residents of social welfare facilities, and other members of the community together at the school.

In addition, emergency drills are held and meals are distributed at these events, making them a good opportunity for school staff and local residents to think about the community’s disaster preparedness.

Aiming for Cities and Towns Surrounded by Greenery

Earthquakes strike without warning, and planting indigenous forests around urban areas is a highly effective way to limit their damage, especially in areas that are densely populated. Trees can be planted in many places, including around parks, between buildings, and between public roads and private property. Bringing local residents together to plant trees with the aim of creating “a town surrounded by greenery” makes it possible to build communities that are protected against disasters.

Reviving Groves around Shrines

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Many Shinto shrines were damaged by the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake. More than 300 shrines suffered total or partial damage to their structures, with some even vanishing without a trace along with the surrounding groves.

The groves surrounding Shinto shrines are close to the hearts of Japanese people, and have been treasured and protected over many generations. Having members of the local community plant trees to revive these groves can create a foundation for the community’s revival.

The Nippon Foundation is working with Jinja Honcho (Association of Shinto Shrines), its prefectural offices (Jinjacho), and other NGOs to support the revival of shrine groves, focusing on the three prefectures of Iwate, Miyagi, and Fukushima.