Inaugural tree-planting fest held in Minamisoma, set to be expanded to rest of Fukushima

An inaugural "Fukushima tree-planting festival" took place on Nov. 4 in the Kitaebi area of the Kashima district of the tsunami-hit city of Minamisoma, Fukushima Prefecture, as a follow-up event to the 69th Nationwide Tree-Planting Festival held earlier this year in the city. Some 3,000 people participated from within and outside the prefecture, pledging further restoration of greenery-covered prefectural land and to hand over commitments to future generations. The participants planted about 27,000 Japanese black pine and other tree saplings on tracts of seaside land devastated by massive tsunami triggered by the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake under the theme of "Building forests of hope to connect to the future," contributing to improving coastal disaster prevention green belts. Building on the philosophy of the national tree-planting festival hosted in June in the Shidoke area of Minamisoma's Haramachi district, Fukushima Gov. Masao Uchibori indicated his intention to develop forest building into a movement to promote throughout the prefecture. The festival was hosted by an executive committee comprising the prefectural government, forestry industry organizations, Fukushima-Minpo Co. and other parties. It was held along with the Minamisoma citizens' tree-planting festival dedicated to the repose of disaster victims' souls and reconstruction. Uchibori, speaking at an opening ceremony also as chairman of the event, encouraged the participants to "put your energies into the planting of forests so that the growth of trees and children will overlap with post-disaster reconstruction." Minamisoma Mayor Kazuo Momma expressed hope that "the saplings into which the participants put their thoughts and prayers will grow into a forest of comfort for the spirits of victims that lays the groundwork for our future." A commemorative tree-planting ceremony was conducted by representatives, including Uchibori, Momma, committee chairman Takuo Saito, who heads the prefecture's forestry and greening association, prefectural assembly chairman Eiko Yoshida, kabuki star Ichikawa Ebizo who cooperated in launching the tree-planting project, 2017 Miss Japan Goddess of Greenery Aoi Nonaka (hailing from Sukagawa city, Fukushima Prefecture) and 2018 Miss Japan Goddess of Greenery Chise Takekawa (from Wakayama Prefecture). They joined members of the Omika Midori-no-Shonendan (Omika green boys) in Minamisoma in planting seedlings of Japanese red oaks grown from seeds collected in the compounds of the Imperial Palace in Tokyo as well as black pines and other trees. Along the tsunami-affected coast, the participants planted black pine saplings on a 1.5-hectare plot of land, aiming for it to grow into a disaster prevention forest. They also planted 21 broad-leaved tree varieties, including tabunoki (machilus thunbergii), sudaji (castanopsis sieboldii) and konara Japanese oaks, on a raised 0.4-hectare tract. The event also included exchange events in which local farm, forestry and marine products were put on sale and a session of hands-on experience in woodworking was offered, allowing many visitors to deepen their understanding of the prefecture. According to the Fukushima government, quake-caused tsunami washed away 60% of coastal disaster prevention forests in the prefecture while work to restore them has stalled due to the effects of radioactive fallout from the nuclear power plant accident that followed the quake and tsunami. The prefecture is seeking to establish in the tsunami-affected areas a seaside belt of disaster prevention forests four times as large as the pre-disaster level. But it faces a challenging issue of securing manpower for the forest planting work and management. In the prefecture as a whole, thinning and other forest-building efforts are making headway, but it remains uncertain if funding can be secured for the project after the current period of state-financed reconstruction and revitalization concludes at the end of fiscal 2020 through March 2021. The local government intends to seize the opportunity presented by the Fukushima tree-planting festival to develop a framework of forest restoration in cooperation with the people of the prefecture and manpower provided by relevant organizations and companies across Japan. "In the future, it will be important to 'continue, spread and relay' forest-building moves in the wake of the tree-planting festival," Uchibori said after the event, indicating that he will seek to promote tree planting and other activities as a prefecture-wide movement not only in the Hamadori coastal region but also in the inland regions of Aizu and Nakadori. Echoing him, forestry and greening association chief Saito said he "would like to step up efforts to hand over to our next generation the preciousness of forest building, which constitutes the philosophy of the Nationwide Tree-Planting Festival attended by the emperor and empress." Representing Fukushima-Minpo, publisher of the local daily of the same name, President Masayuki Takahashi attended the festival. 【Photo】Commemorative tree-planting carried out by (from left) prefectural assembly chairman Eiko Yoshida, Gov. Masao Uchibori, kabuki star Ichikawa Ebizo and Minamisoma Mayor Kazuo Momma in the Kitaebi area of Minamisoma's Kashima district (Translated by Kyodo News)