The way to Umaji village from Kochi University takes us two and half hours. After one and half hours have past, we start lowering the car windows even though is summer, now in middle of July. We are surrounded by mountains and rivers. You might can’t even see a factory here, or i should say not even big supermarket. After seeing the green for an hour, finally we arrived. A Mr.Kiyooka guides us pleasantly and serves us “gokkun” which is a famous yuzu drink from Umaji village. When we were entering the village office’s meeting room, the air is fragrant with wood smell. We can see most of the furniture and part of the building is made from wood.
Umaji village was born with the mergence of Yanase and Umaji in 1889. The landscape of Umaji village is very unique because 96% of Umaji Village is covered by mountain and 75% of the mountain is under government protection.
Forestry was a core sector and supported Umaji village economy untill 1965. The famous tree in Umaji village named Yanasesugi. Yanase sugi can be divided in two big groups, natural and cultivated. The natural Yanase sugi can grow to more than 50 meters in height and its diameter can reach 2 meters. On the other hand, cultivated Yanase sugi can not grow as natural tree do. Furthermore, it has a very thin body. However, Yanase sugi has been recognized as the tree of prefecture Kochi because of its quality and feature. A mountain, Senbonyama which under government protection, is full of natural Yanase sugi and is one of the top three most beautiful mountain in Japan. Many people visit Umaji village because of the mountain.
When the forestry was prosperous, many wood cutter managed to live here and earn a living. Furthermore, there is not many place can mark down black-ink balance as Umaji village did. But the scene did not last long for the amount of wood needed is far less when building a house. People start building house from imported lumber because the price of imported tree is much cheaper than Yanase sugi. The demand for wood was shrinking as a result. Due to the declining of forestry, many people moved out from the village as they found it hard to survive as before in Umaji village by just selling or cutting wood. Hence, most of the wood cutter moved out from Umaji village. The declining of forestry is one of the reason why Umaji village population had been decreasing. The population of Umaji village was 3500 in year 1960 and dropped to 1015 in present 2011. Mr Kiyooka has mentioned strongly about tree is more than a plant for Umaji resident. Because their culture is based on the forestry.
Yet, in present, the value of Yanase sugi is still very high. Especially the natural Yanase sugi. Beside the Senbonyama, there are still some natural Yanase sugi in other mountain. “Nowadays, they use helicopter to take the tree from the center of mountain because does not want to hurt the other tree. I think you can imagine what the value of Yanase sugi” said Mr Kiyooka. Umaji village start to move in new business direction. They are not only cutting the trees now. They are processing the wood and produce wood product. Product that made by Yanase sugi sold widely in America too. From this add-value process, forestry of Umaji village is exist but still not prospered as before. Umaji village In spite of the attractive tree, the economy of Umaji village is now being supported by Yuzu.
It was getting pretty late and we could not visit Senbonyama to have a look on the huge Yanase sugi. However, Mr Kiyooka offer us some photo of the Senbonyama if we can wait for them to burn the photo to a CD. It was kind of them to do us such favor. We were having some conversation while waiting. Umaji village is wide but there are just two main place to live, Umaji and Yanase. From Umaji to Yanase, they have to pass by another village because there is not any road connection between them although Umaji and Yanase are in a same village. Mr Kiyooka invited us to return to Umaji village especially during the festival. We are looking forward to visiting Umaji village and have a look at the huge Yanase sugi.