As it turns out, the use of biofuels is not all that new to Japan: the earliest record of biofuel production dates back to 1889, when a factory produced bioethanol using potatoes as feedstock through malt saccharification (Koizumi 2011). Japan even used biofuels throughout World War II, with biofuel comprising 26.7% of total liquid fuels in 1945. As Japan began importing oil, these biofuel technologies were pushed to the side and forgotten.
After the war, Japan began an intensive tree planting initiative to become timber self-sufficient. It was also a source of jobs for Japanese citizens, and promoted healthy ecosystem functions. However after a policy change in 1961, Japan began importing its timber and the domestic forests were no longer maintained (Sasaki 2011). These days, maintaing the forests is not a very attractive job for young Japanese workers because they don’t get paid very much. This resulted in an older workforce taking care of Japanese forests.
With 67% of Japan covered in forests, there is definitely a cultural significance to these areas. In fact, 10,000 commonly used characters in the Japanese language combine tree, forest, or both characters, illustrating the importance of this ecosystem to Japanese culture (Sasaki 2011). The Japanese utilize these spaces as an escape from the busy city lives they lead. Recently, people have been partaking in Shinrin-yoku, or “forest bathing.” Forest bathing is believed to have positive health benefits, including a decreased risk of cancer and stress reduction among many others (Park et. al 2009). It is believed that a quarter of Japanese citizens partake in Shinrin-yoku, whether for personal enjoyment, stress management, or illness prevention. According to a 1993 survey, 70% of respondents under 30 had visited a forest for non work-related purposes in the past year (Knight 2000).
With forest visits becoming an increasing tourism destination, Japanese tourists have been surveyed with the hopes of figuring out aesthetic preferences. It was found that Japanese tourists prefer light, airier forests (Knight 2000). This is good news for biofuel production; if the government has an incentive to thin forests, the thinned biomass can be used to create bioenergy and improve ecosystem functions. Additionally, thinning these forests would create jobs and provide economic benefits.