Maniwa: Living from the Forest
Around 70 percent of Japan's landmass is covered by forest, and this has given rise to the country's distinctive wood-based culture. Nowhere is this more visible than around Maniwa, in northern Okayama Prefecture. For centuries, this area has been one of Japan's leading producers of timber, with extensive plantations devoted to Sugi (cedar) and hinoki (cypress) trees covering the surrounding mountains.

Wood merchants from all over the country gather in the historic Katsuyama district in the center of Maniwa, to attend the timber market held 3 times a month. In the old days, the logs used to be transported by boat down the Asahi River, and the former loading wharf can still be seen. The traditional townscape in Katsuyama has changed little over the past 2 centuries, and many shops line the scenic streets, each with its own traditional Noren shop curtain dyed from hinoki bark.

The town has also come up with creative new ways for using its timber. Wood chips generate electricity in a biomass power plant. And cross laminated timber (CLT) panels have been developed as an all-natural building material for contemporary architecture. In this episode of Journeys in Japan, Michael Keida visits Maniwa to explore the history and the future of Japan's wood culture.

Former Senkyo Elementary School

Built in 1907, this former school building was constructed entirely out of timber from the Maniwa area, and highlights the skills of the traditional artisans in this area. Now recognized as a National Important Cultural Property, it stands as a symbol of Maniwa, the town of timber.

Timber Market

Auctions are held 3 times a month, drawing representatives from sawmills around the country. The timber of Maniwa has a reputation for its high quality, as the forests are carefully maintained and the trees develop few knots or wormholes.

CLT Pavilion

World-renowned architect Kuma Kengo supervised the design of this pavilion. Constructed out of cross laminated timber (CLT), it was originally built for the Tokyo Olympics. It was then moved from Tokyo and reassembled in Maniwa, where it stands as a symbol of the city's continuing search for new ways to make use of its wood.

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