Climbing champ urges deeper understanding of forestry

by Kazutaka Hinata

Kyodo

Japan’s tree-climbing champion wants to deepen people’s understanding of the forestry industry and promote techniques for climbers to practice tree care in a safe manner.

Hideharu Matsuoka is an “arborist” — someone who spends a lot of time in trees as part of his job of managing and protecting them.

In May, the 42-year-old won his second arborist championship in a row in a test of climbing techniques and safety knowledge. He plans to compete in the International Tree Climbing Championship scheduled to take place in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in August and hopes to become the first Japanese to reach the finals.

In a tree-climbing competition, those who can accurately assess tree conditions and demonstrate a high regard for safety earn better marks.

Matsuoka said he hopes the competition helps people grasp what it is like to manage trees and how dangerous the work can be.

“I also hope that more and more people develop an interest in trees and forests and change their perspectives toward nature,” he said.

Matsuoka, who belonged to a forestry cooperative in Iida, Nagano Prefecture, until this spring, first learned about the competition five years ago when he was engaged in dangerous forestry work on a daily basis. He soon found himself training deeply for the competition because he believed “this was the way to master safety skills and knowledge.”

Matsuoka left the cooperative in March to focus on training but continues to work independently.

To enter a tree-climbing competition, applicants must be employed in arboriculture.

Since Matsuoka is concerned that there are no safety standards for working on tall trees in Japan, he encourages his fellow tree climbers in Japan to get certified by the Champaign, Illinois-based International Society of Arboriculture in the United States.

After university, Matsuoka moved to Iida from Tokyo to raise his two children in a natural environment.

From time to time, monkeys show up around his three-chimney home, which is near the start of a mountain trail. Among the daily chores he loves is chopping firewood to boil water for use in the house.