Business

As forestry work gets easier in graying Japan, young hires opt for paths less taken

JIJI

Young Japanese are increasingly joining the forestry industry thanks to a government program and labor-saving improvements made possible by the expanding use of machines. Many also see the sector as an opportunity to escape urban life.

“It’s tough to deal with nature, but I enjoy my work because the scenery changes every day,” said Wataru Aizawa, 32, of logging company Horie Forest in Hitachiota, Ibaraki Prefecture. He joined four years ago.

The company has a staff of 12, seven of whom are in their 30s. Work is done by a team of five using high-performance heavy machinery for everything from felling the trees to gathering and transporting them.

Keisuke Horie, a senior managing director, said he was surprised by the recent surge in interest.

“In the past, starting workers were told to focus on weeding around young trees for one year,” Horie, 33, said. “But now, even inexperienced people can have a go.”

According to the Forestry Agency , the ratio of people 65 and over in the industry peaked at 30 percent in 2000 but fell to 25 percent in 2015. Those under 35, however, hit 17 percent in 2015, up from 6 percent in 1990.

The surge is a boon for the industry. Forests occupy roughly 70 percent of Japan’s land, with over half of the planted ones that were felled en masse during the economic growth spurt from the mid-1950s to the early ’70s ready to be cut again.

The industry is also attracting recruits through the government’s Green Employment Project, launched in fiscal 2003 to subsidize hiring and lectures on the basics of the work. Project funding is now available for three years, up from a year initially.

Since fiscal 2013, the project has also offered financial support to young people studying at public “forestry universities.”

The town of Nichinan, Tottori Prefecture, where forests account for 90 percent of the land, opened an academy in April to educate future prospects. Seven people including teenagers enrolled to learn the basics in just a year at the unique town-run school.

Takashi Yoshida, 38, joined after quitting the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry in March. He decided to use the financial support program to “spend the rest of my life in nature, after having experienced urban life.”

Yoshida has yet to decide where he will work after completing the course.

“Although urban life was convenient, I think work in the mountains, involving close ties between people, suits me,” he said, looking forward to a new life after graduation.