The Daisugi Technique



Well known for its vision and the pursuit of excellence that is so embedded in the culture, Japan's lifestyle seems to be a unique subsection that can not be found elsewhere. This can be particularly attributed to their communal and familial view of society which has slowly been strained by a channelled workforce. One part that can be commonly noted is their traditional art form of bonsai, which is the cultivation of small trees that mimic the appearance of full size trees, and can often come in a variety of shapes, leave types and colours.


However the Daisugi technique seems to be something that is less commonly talked about, yet the 14th century forestry technique holds an important key to sustainable living. With its fairytale appearance, it is an icon of human resourcefulness to overcome challenges placed by nature. To get lumber without cutting down trees seems to be an impossible feat, yet by specially planting cedar trees, the technique involves heavily pruning them to produce shoots that become perfectly uniform, straight and completely knot free lumber.


Originally, it began in the region of Kitayama to solve the problem of shortage of seedlings and overcoming the difficult terrain and the lack of space. There is little flat land in the region and planting and raising trees on the steep slopes proved extremely difficult, thus daisugi tailoring allowed them to reduce the number of plantations while making the harvest cycle faster and produce denser wood. Growing more wood with less land. The mother cedar tree is carefully pruned by hand every two years, it leaves only the top boughs to allow them to grow hundred tall thin saplings at a time; while harvesting takes 20 years. A sustainable way of creating lumber that doesn't involve destroying the region and destroying the hundreds of years worth of growth.


It seems that it may have stemmed from the architectural developments of the 14th century as the straight and stylized sukiya-zukuri architecture required raw materials that were not sufficient for building. Furthermore, the lumber produced in this method is 140% as flexible as standard cedar and 200% as dense, making it a much better material for roof timbers and rafters; where it needs slender aesthetics yet resistant to the typhoon and destructive elements of the Japanese climate.


However the popularity of such tree tailoring seems to have declined. Still, within the Kyoto forests, you can find abandoned giant daisugi still alive and with truck diameters up to 15 meters. However they only produce lumber for 200-300 years and now the technique can be found in ornamental gardens and other private spaces. There are similarities with the techniques of pollarding found in ancient Rome and across Europe. Even in Britain it was called coppicing to create flexible and dense cedar, although arguably not on such a scale.