Brutal treatment of plants dismays visitors to Japan

For the sake of the environment, as well as preserving the beauty of cities in Japan, the almost total destruction of gardens needs to stop, says this week’s guest Japan Story blogger Sean Michael Wilson.

The Japanese like to give the impression that they love nature and in some ways that is clearly true. However, in a world increasingly focused on sustainability and protection of the environment there is one habit in Japan which goes strongly against that and that is the bad habit of cutting down all or 90% of the trees, bushes and plants in an old garden, when knocking down the existing house and a building a new home there.

All too often, the old plants are removed and replaced with no greenery at all, or only a tiny amount. 

Over the last five years I have observed that this is unfortunately the common practice on sites bought by building firms such as Daiwa House and Sekisui House. On average, I estimate that I could find around 20 trees or bushes around the old buildings. Yet on the majority of the new sites, I only found about one tree or a couple of bushes. In about two thirds of the plots there was no greenery kept or replanted at all. This is a major loss to the urban green environment of Japan. 

The Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism (MLIT) reported that there were a little over 900,000 new houses built across Japan in 2018. Even if we presume that only half of these involved tearing up an existing garden that still means something in the region of 10 million trees and bushes lost to Japan every year. 

I want to see a new law which requires a minimum of 25% of the previous greenery to be kept or replanted. That’s not a lot, but it would be much better than the 5% rate happening now. It will require cooperation between house building companies and local governments. There should be fines when the rules are broken. If this law is adopted, surely saving the plants would be seen as normal practice within a few years.

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