At last, the butter box that I had placed an order a fortnight ago has arrived. A well crafted butter box, made out of cherry wood with beeswax finish, is just one of the few dozen commodities that the local co-op has developed in support of sustainable forestry in the country. Only the woods which have been felled from thinning forests are used.
Forestry in Japan, it seems, has been long-ailing, due largely to the influx of cheap imported timber with little or no tariffs. Many plantations are being abandoned because their maintenance simply do not pay. Concerned over the situation, the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries began taking measures over a year ago to revitalize the industry . The plan has included the repletion of forest road infrastructure. This sounds like a good idea, because it will enable thinned woods, which at the moment are so often being left abandoned, to become accessible and thus allow cost effective transportation for further processing.
If demand for timber can be secured in diverse ways and industries surrounding forestry can profit on a long term basis, then maybe this is one way to assist waning rural communities to get back on their feet. That said, I do not delude myself into thinking that a gracious act of purchasing a single butter box is going to initiate dramatic change.
For the past decade, Iwate prefecture has been keeping itself busy, actively pursuing the use of woody biomass in generating heat energy . Their efforts seem to be paying off. Along with the usual lumber and plywood productions, manufacturing of wooden pellets and chips are kicking into gear to serve pellet stoves and chip boilers that are gradually being introduced into individual households and public facilities with the aid of subsidies. Unfortunately, I have read that wood manufacturing factories have partially been affected by the Great East Japan Earthquake. I hope that they will make full recovery. I must say, the talk of joining the TPP cannot come at a worse time than this, because if it is introduced, it would mean the removal of those remaining tariffs over imported lumbers. Will it not be a crushing blow to the delicately balanced complex of forestry manufacturing businesses that Iwate has painstakingly built over the years?
But I digress. Yes, back to my butter box. Funny. Several years ago, I would never have imagined myself buying such an item. Back then, my son’s allergy to dairy products was so severe that butter was definitely something to be vigilant about. I have my son’s doctors and the desensitization therapy to thank for. If memory serves me correctly, the success rate of this costly and exhausting therapy hovers at around 70%, which means that three in ten families will face great disappointment and sadness.
So you see, when I look at this butter box, I do not just see a dainty box that serves to satisfy my farcical cupidity. I see just a little bit more. And each time I look at it, I cannot help but muse a little over the woes of myself and of the others.
. Annual Report on Trends in Forest and Forestry FY2010, http://www.maff.go.jp/e/index.html. . I base my facts on the book, Renewable Energy Market by Tetsunari Iida et al first published in 2005, rather outdated I know.