Niigata torchbearer wants to save Japan's forests

UEKI Yoichi works in forestry in the city of Kashiwazaki, maintaining the forests and roads to preserve them for the future. He makes hand-made boards out of timber collected after the trees are trimmed. He also teaches children about trees, hoping they will take interest in the environment and learn to recognise tree varieties. In winter, he organises events so that children can play with hand-made wooden boards he made himself.

It snows in winter in Niigata, which can make it quite a difficult environment to live in, but Yoichi says that the events he organises help local people - from the young to the elderly - to get together, enjoy the snow and recognise the benefits of their local surroundings.

Yoichi developed a stronger bond to the Olympic Games since he works in a company that has provided lumber for the construction of Olympic-related facilities. Nearly 70 per cent of Japan's land is covered with forests, and Yoichi feels the forestry industry plays a crucial role in the country's prosperity.

Yoichi hopes his run as a torchbearer will help children learn about the importance of preserving our forests and about the people who work to make that happen. The forestry industry is facing labour shortage and he hopes that the next generation would take an interest to help preserve Japan's forests.

How did you start making hand-made wooden boards, and how long have you been doing it?

Ten years ago I met this group of people who made plywood boards. Since I was working in the forestry industry, I wanted to make boards out of natural materials. It has been almost nine years since I started this activity.

What kind of community activities do you organise using these hand-made boards?

We use them for snowboarding. The children can play in their own backyard or at nearby hills. They all love it. They sit on them using them as sleighs, or lie on their belly and slide down like Superman. They can play any way they want to.

What is so appealing about working in forestry?

You can directly feel Japan's unique four seasons. Sometimes the conditions are harsh and it's hard work, but there's nothing like the feeling of accomplishment when you see the mountains cleaned up. Working in a natural environment is stress-free too, so I'm sure I'll live long!

You've developed a stronger bond with the Tokyo 2020 Games. What do you look forward to?

The effects of climate change and global warming is evident in Japan as well as all over the world. A lot of wood is used to build the Tokyo 2020 Games facilities, and I hope this will increase people's interest in wood products, forestry and our forests.

Please give us your message to the local people in Kashiwazaki as a torchbearer.

I'll do my best to continue working on "creating forests for the future"!