With every country you are about to visit for the first time, one is filled with excitement and anticipation. But with some countries, this excitement is a little bit stronger. Japan is such a country. I don’t know why. Because it’s different? Every country is different. Because it’s far? I’ve travelled places much further away. I guess it’s something we need to find out in the coming week, when we will be based in Hokkaido, the northern island of the Japanese archipelago.
Our first stop is Tomakomai Experimental Forest, in the south of the island. It is managed by the university of Hokkaido. The whole forest is one big laboratory. There are nets hanging under the trees to catch the leaves. There is an experiment going on with a group of trees that is heated five degrees celsius above nominal temperature, year round, to see how it affects the soil, the roots, and the trees themselves. This way, it’s possible to predict how plant life will behave when the planet heats up during this century.
The pièce the résistance is in the north west corner of the forest: a twenty five meter high crane, with an arm that stretches forty meters. Dr. Hiura of the experimental forest and Naoki Namba of the university of Hokkaido join us in a little gondola. We are secured to the gondola, and put on helmets. Then, the crane pulls us upwards, all the way through the canopy.
The view above the canopy is magnificent. It is unusual to see the trees from above. To see a forest without the shadows and the darkness that normally comes with it. On one side of the forest, there is the city of Tomakomai and a plant that produces paper from wood. Further away, the Pacific Ocean. On the other side, the volcano Tarumae. An active volcano, it last erupted in 1982. Like many volcanos, it is both destructive and creative. The trees thrive from the ashes it left. The spring of the river that flows through the forest originates on top of the volcano.
Maybe the most incredible is the silence above the trees, that is only disturbed by the jets of the Japanese air force that scream over us every now and then. This forest will be our home for the next few days.