Sokendai Review of Cultural and Social Studies


Memorial Tree Planting in Modern Japanese Culture:
On The Method of School Forestry by Dr. Honda Seiroku


(The Graduate University for Advanced Studies, School of Cultural and Social Studies,
Department of Japanese Studies)

Key words:

Honda Seiroku, B. G. Northrop, Makino Nobuaki, planting trees, school forests, Arbor Day, Protestantism, practical morality, mountain worship

This article focuses on the primary school memorial forestry activities in the Meiji era that were promoted by Dr. Honda Seiroku, a professor of the Imperial University of Tokyo. By analyzing his text Gakkō jusai zōrinhō (The Method of School Forestry) and his planting operations in the forest for research managed by his university, and by examining the historical and social context of his innovations, as well as the related forestry ordinances, I explore what his view of nature might be based on.

As mentioned in a previous study of Dr. Takemoto Tarō (Sanrin, No. 1506), Makino Nobuaki was impressed by the institution of Arbor Day in the United States and in 1895, when he was serving as Vice-Minister of Education, gave an instructional address on school forestry to primary school principals (in what is now called Gakkō Shokurin). The aims of school forestry activities were not simply educational, that is, to cultivate children’s discipline, love of nature, and patriotism, but were also administrative—to increase and manage school funds by planting trees.

Makino entrusted the promising Dr. Honda with the task of coming up with the method of school forestry and recommended tree planting to memorialize school excursions on which pupils enjoyed going into the hills and mountains and observing the scenery, a healthful recreational activity similar to sports days. The essential condition for any long-term planting is sustainability; therefore Dr. Honda, who also happened to be an economist, lectured on a feasible approach to planting, in which anyone can participate without constraint as a form of enjoyment rather than as hard work.

Honda’s Gakkō jusai zōrinhō method was disseminated throughout Japan in the Meiji era, at a time of rising spirits in commemoration of victory in the Russo-Japanese War, when national media were contributing reports on school forestry activities. The reason for this was not so much a partiality toward westernization and rationalization, but rather it was that the method of Honda—who venerated practical morality and had also imbibed the folk belief in the divinity of Mt. Fuji—is arguably more of an integration of the thoughts of East and West, or Tradition and Modernity.