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The popularity of products made from trees certified as having been legally logged is spreading in Japan as consumers become more environmentally aware.

Mitsukoshi Ltd., a leading department store chain, set up its first wood-products sales area in its flagship store in Tokyo’s Nihonbashi district in August.

It featured wooden home goods — certified by the Forest Stewardship Council, a Germany-based nongovernmental organization — that targeted adults and children.

While critics slammed Mitsukoshi for merely trying to cash in on heightened environmental sensitivities, Wataru Tokinoya, the store’s sales manager, said the wood-products section was set up to help people understand the importance of forests.

He said visitors to the store seem to be more interested in FSC goods than other items on sale.

“I had no way of knowing the origin of the wood and paper products we usually procure. The spread of the certification system will contribute to adequate supervision of forests,” said Seiichiro Otsuji, board director of the Sanshokai group, which is made up of World Wildlife Fund-affiliated firms that handle FSC-certified wood products.

Forestry specialists say forests are disappearing because trees are being illegally logged.

Globally recognized FSC certificates are only issued to loggers that properly manage forests, can pass strict checks and consider such issues as ecological diversity.

On the domestic front, nature groups, including the Japan office of the WWF established in 1971, act as intermediaries to further enhance local awareness of the environment and help market FSC-certified wood products.

Ten Japanese forests, including those managed by the Hayami Ringyo forestry company in Mie Prefecture and Yusuhara Shinrin Kumiai forestry cooperative in Kochi Prefecture, are certified by the FSC.

Local governments and forest owners are scrambling to be certified.

The Japanese paper pulp industry, which uses great quantities of lumber, leads the pack in securing FSC approval.

Mitsubishi Paper Mills Ltd. was the first company in the industry to import FSC-certified lumber from its forest in Chile last year.

Nippon Paper Industries Co., an industry leader, announced in August that it will obtain FSC certificates for all its forests, both in Japan and abroad.

Industry sources say the use of lumber from trees grown and felled properly will complement the recycling of paper.

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