Documentation:Open Case Studies/FRST522/2020/Urban Forestry Practices in Tokyo, Japan: Ecosystem Services and Challenges

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Tokyo, the largest city in the world, is a vibrant place. As urban areas grow, more people begin to live away from natural areas and forests. Also, urbanization is happening at the cost of habitat loss for wildlife. In this context, it becomes important to focus on urban forests that are resilient and can both provide green-space-access to city dwellers and habitat for wildlife that have to adapt to urbanization. Recent studies show how access to green spaces and spending time in natural areas can have benefits on human health. Japanese society has a deep connection to trees and forests rooted in ancient folklores and the Shinto religion that, to this day, is intertwined into modern day life. This is reflected in the well maintained sacred forests of shrines such as Meiji Jingu. The modern day practice of Shinrin-Yoku or forest bathing can also be attributed to this connection and reverence for large and older trees. Other than sacred forests, there are a large number of urban parks and green spaces that are managed by different levels of government as well as, with the help community and NGO support. Acts and legislations are put in place to encourage the development of green spaces and landscapes that can contribute to health, culture and wellbeing of the people. Some challenges exist in making these green spaces friendly to urban wildlife such as the Tanuki. Creating connections between green corridors and diversifying species planted in urban areas including diversifying the understory to provide urban wildlife food and habitat are some of the recommended actions to ensure that the ecosystem services that urban forests provide extend to wildlife.


The world is seeing a dramatic increase in urbanization. This is causing more people to move into cities than ever before creating a pressure on urban areas to expand and develop surrounding areas. Unfortunately, this is happening at the cost of habitat degradation and habitat loss for many wild animals around the globe. In this context, it becomes important to consider diversity of species planted in urban forests in order to support the animals that depend on them [1]. Having green spaces and corridors and daylighting urban streams can not only be beneficial to people through their various ecosystem services but also help give urban wildlife a habitat.

A diverse and well managed urban forest can potentially create a network of green spaces that can support species in an urban settlement [1]  

Tokyo, the political and economic centre of Japan is one of the most populated regions on the planet. With approx. 37.4 million people living in the Greater Tokyo Area [2]. Given its large population, resilient people and high standard of living, Tokyo poses as an interesting example for urban forestry. This case study is aimed at looking at the urban forestry practices of Tokyo, Japan. For the purpose of this case study, urban green spaces would include street trees, urban parks and green corridors. Furthermore, the ecosystem services and some of the challenges to be addressed will be discussed.

Tokyo’s urban forests have been a symbol of resilience in the face of natural disasters, fires and wars. This has happened not just through the management practices of the governments but also because of community support from the people of Tokyo. A census from 1997 states that Tokyo had more than 420,000 trees in its metropolitan area stretching across 2,700 kilometers of streets [3]. In addition to this, there were about 1.5 million trees in the urban parks of the city [3]. Other than street landscaping and urban parks, temples and places of historical and cultural significance are contributors to urban greenery [3]. Some of the oldest and largest trees in Tokyo are located on these sites[3].

Ecosystem services

A common way of understanding the importance of trees and natural elements to humans and other forms of life is through the concept of ecosystem services. The term is self explanatory in the sense, it refers to services provided by an ecosystem. Listed below are some of the many services that have been attributed to the presence and maintenance of urban parks, green spaces and street trees.

  • Trees planted in urban environments can act as buffers for water and soil pollutants. They are able to absorb some of these chemicals through their root systems and can keep these pollutants from entering the groundwater system[4]. Urban trees can provide significant thermal comfort to pedestrians.
  •   Urban forests have shown to deliver cooling effects in urbanized areas both within the forested landscape and the edges [5]. With traffic, pollution etc. urban environments are much warmer than their surrounding forested areas [5]. This can negatively impact people’s health especially in the summers[5]. A study finds that the temperature differences between urban areas and forested areas was much higher in the summer than in the winter [5].  Having shaded areas and urban trees may help mitigate this through the “cool Island effect” and contribute to more livable cities and ultimately, the wellbeing of its dwellers [5].

Shrines, Sacred Forests and Shinrin-Yoku.

Gateway to the Meiji Jingu Shrine in Tokyo, Japan

In Shinto, a religion that is native to Japan, older trees are held in a specially high regard [6]. It is believed that trees that grow over a 100 years of age would possess a certain quality due to nature spirits called "kodama" that inhabit them [6] [7]. Along with other forms of folklore, this belief has survived in modern day Japan albeit in a symbolic way rather than in the literal sense [6] [8]. Many Japanese people still respect older trees and admire them for their unique qualities [6][8]. Some of these folklores have been depicted in popular media, including the popular anime, Princess Mononoke from 1997 which was directed and written by Hayako Miyazaki and produced by Tosiho Suzuki [6]. The Meiji Jingu in Tokyo is a well known Shinto shrine built by the government of Japan in commemoration of the Emperor Meiji (1852–1912) and Empress Shoken (1849–1914) [9] [10]. Headed by Dr. Honda Seiroku (1866–1952), it was completed in 1926 and is surrounded by a sacred forest [9] [10] [11]. The planners took into consideration the natural species composition and other ecological concepts to mimic a natural forest with the vision of how the forest would look a hundred years from the time it was created [9].Due to its sacredness, it is left relatively undisturbed by people and this has given the chance for many species of birds and insects to find shelter [10].

Shinrin-Yoku, which translates to "Forest Bathing" is a term coined by Tomohide Akiyama from the Japanese Ministry of Forestry and Fisheries in 1982 [12]. Unlike a hike or a trek, forest bathing has no motive or goal other than to spend time in a forested area and soak in the sense of calmness that the presence of greenery brings to an individual [12]. It has become widely popular with people in Japan and in other places as a from of "forest therapy" [12]. In recent years, with the collection of scientific data and information on its effects on human health and wellbeing, it is becoming a part of evidence-based therapy in preventative medicine [12].

Challenges of the Past and Present

Some management challenges in the past include insects and diseases such as wood rotting fungi in trees like Cherry [3].  Studies carried out on the urban trees in Tokyo showed that their longevity was being reduced due to attacks from defoliating insects and other insects that prey on trees and their foliage [13]. These insects such as leaf miners attack the foliage of broad-leaved trees and impact their health[3] [13]. One reason for these insect attacks is absence of insect-eating birds due to noise pollution, air pollution and loss of habitat in urban areas [3]. Creating green spaces that cater to the habitat needs of these birds has been a challenge.

The urban green spaces in Tokyo are home to some wildlife that have adapted to living in the presence of humans. There are 19 mammal species known to naturally occur in the wards of Tokyo[14]. Populations of three of these species, including Japanese Marten (Martes melampus), Japanese Badger ( Meles anakuma)  and Japanese Red Fox( V. v. japonica) that are locally extirpated from urban environments, had seen a decline due to lack of habitat connectivity [14]. The challenge is to increase habitat connectivity so that the animals are able to move through pockets of green spaces for activities such as foraging and reproducing.


Stakeholder Affected or Interested Relative Power
Locals (City dwellers, dog walkers, hikers) Affected High Importance , Moderate Influence
Locally operating businesses Affected Moderate Influence, Low Influence
Tokyo Metropolitan Government Interested High Importance, High Influence
Visitors who are not locals Interested Moderate Importance, Low influence
Japan Greenery Research Centre Interested High Importance , High Influence

Institutional Arrangements

Japan’s system of parks and green spaces defines three different categories. This includes “urban parks”, “nature parks” and “parks other than nature or urban parks”[15]. These categories are further divided into different types depending on which level of government is responsible for its management.

  • Urban parks can be administered by the national, metropolitan or municipal government depending on their designation[15]
  • Natural parks are divided into National Parks, Prefectural Parks and Quasi-National Parks. These Natural parks can either fall under the administration of the federal government or a prefecture depending on the designation [16]

Although parks and green spaces in Japan are largely managed by government systems, communities and NGOs are also involved in management and stewardship. One such NGO is the Japan Greenery Research and Development Center Foundation which is involved in the management of urban forests in Tokyo [3]. It is funded by government and private sector and it aims to provide arboriculture consulting, technical assistance and training as well as, spread environmental awareness [3]. It is also responsible for training and certifying members of The Japan Tree Doctors Association [3]. Tree doctors are specialists in examining, diagnosing and surveying big and old trees in Japan to ensure that they are kept healthy [3].

There are various Acts and legislations in place to promote, conserve and manage green spaces and natural areas in Japan.

Landscape Act (Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport)

The Landscape Act has been put in place to create beautiful landscapes for a comfortable and livable environment for vibrant communities, in both urban and rural areas [17]. This is intended to contribute to the development of Japanese society by improving quality of life and, its economic growth[17].

Under this act , the national government is made responsible to develop sound landscaping plans and implement them as well as, educate the public about them [17]. The responsibility of creating and implementing landscaping projects is to be shared between the national and local governments [17]. According to Article 5 and 6, businesses and local residents are made responsible for cooperating with the governments in the implementation of these projects [17]. Local residents are given the right to express their opinion on the characteristics of the landscape which will be considered in order to create landscapes that reflect the uniqueness of their particular area or region [17].

Urban Green Space Conservation Act

This act promotes and provides guidelines for the greening of city areas in order to create a livable and healthy urban environment [18] . It makes municipalities responsible for the incorporation of the opinions of residents in planning projects and processes through organizing public hearings [18]. Prefectures that want to create an urban green space conservation plan need to get the opinions of the townships and villages that are involved, the prefectural city planning council and the municipal city planning council first [18]. When there is no municipal city planning council, the prefectural city planning council of the prefecture that the city belongs to can express its opinion instead [18].

Natural Park Act (Ministry of Environment)

This Act seeks to protect natural areas with scenic beauty by enhancing its biodiversity and sustainability and in turn contribute to recreation, culture and health of the people [16].

Article 3 of this act, which is in accordance with the Basic Environmental Act of 1993, makes it the responsibility of the local people, visitors and businesses that operate in these natural areas to help in preserving the quality of the space, conserving its natural fauna and flora and, advocate for its proper use [16].

Under Article 4 of this act, it is mentioned that the property rights of stakeholders involved will be respected and that the people's opinion will be considered when balancing between land development and other public interests [16].

Tenure Systems and Management

Japan has been divided into 47 administrative units called prefectures one of which is the Tokyo Metropolis [15].  The Tokyo Metropolis is governed by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government (TMG). Each prefecture is further divided into wards similar to municipalities [15]. Each municipality is governed by an elected council [15]. Most urban parks and green-spaces in Tokyo are part of publicly owned land and are administered and managed by various governmental organizations [15]. There are a total of about 8009 hectares of urban parks and green spaces in Tokyo as of April 1 2020 [15]. This translates to approximately 5.73 square meters of green space per person [15]. Of this, approximately 2000 ha of urban parks are designated as “metropolitan” and are managed by the Bureau of Construction and this includes cultural sites and botanical gardens [15].  About 3500 hectares of urban parks in Tokyo are designated as “municipal” and are managed by local municipalities [15]. There are 10 natural parks in Tokyo totalling 79,882 hectares which is approximately 36% of the area of Tokyo [19]. Of these 10 natural parks, 3 are designated as National Parks, 1 as a Qasi-National Park and 6 as Metropolitan Natural Parks [15]. National parks are designated, planned and operated by the Ministry of Environment in consultation with the concerned prefecture and a council [19]. Quasi-national Parks are designated and planned by the Ministry of Environment alongside consulting with a council when a prefecture has applied for it [19]. Operations for Quasi-National Parks are carried out by the prefectural government only[19]. Metropolitan Parks or Prefectural Parks are designated and planned by the Governor of Tokyo in consultation with a council and the villages, cities and townships involved[19]. Operations decisions for prefectural parks are made by the Governor of Tokyo in consultation with a council [19].

Assessment of Aims, Intentions and Success

Aims and Intentions

Tanuki (Raccoon-Dog)

In December of 2016, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government (TMG) set up Tokyo's Action Plan for the year 2020 with the aim of “creating and preserving a rich natural environment" for the city [15] . The Bureau of Construction also announced a goal to create 95 hectares of parkland in the Tokyo metropolitan area by 2020 [15] .

Creating ecological networks to connect the different green spaces in the city is part of the “Plan for 2020 Tokyo” [14].One species of wildlife the Raccoon-Dog(Nyctereutes procyonoides), also known as Tanuki, has adapted to living in urban areas[14]. Approximately 1000 raccoon-dogs live in Tokyo where they mainly hunt for insects at night and live in the city’s urban green spaces [20]. Raccoon dogs living in urban green spaces in Tokyo have smaller home ranges that their rural counterparts, this is an adaptation to the higher density in their population, higher food abundance and smaller space available as habitat [14].


The following are some of the actions that have been taken since the setting up of the Tokyo Action Plan for 2020:

  • Under the Tokyo 2020 Action Plan and environmental policy the Tokyo Metropolitan Government is collaborating with local businesses to mitigate the urban heat island effect, especially during hot summers, by planting more flowers and trees along with installing water sprinklers to create cool spots in the city for pedestrians [21]
  • As of 2018, Tokyo Metropolitan Government has laid 126 kilometers of pathways with solar heat blocking technology and water retaining pavements along with maintaining street trees to create cool, walkable pathways [21].  
  • Projects on five new parks including Oto and Takiyama parks were initiated in 2016 and further development occurred in 2017[21].
  •   For the Fiscal Year of 2018, 0.3 billion JYN were allotted for development of parks [22].


Urban parks and forested areas can be diversified by creating structures that mimic natural processes. A study on adaptive management in the Commemorative Park, Osaka an urban forested park from Expo ’70 showed that creating artificial gaps in the canopy to mimic a small-scale natural disturbance in combination with adding topsoil from a forest close by led to growth and diversification of understory species [23]. A diverse understory could give opportunities and niches for various species of birds, insects and animals. Certain bird species tend to be more tolerant of urbanization than others. A good example of this in many cities are crows, sparrows and pigeons. However, to support bird species diversity in urban environments, it is important to provide them with habitat that serves the structure and function of ecosystems that are home to these birds. A study from Tokyo shows that urban vegetation corridors with sparse understory was limiting the populations of certain bird species that are less tolerant to urbanization [24]. ·  Another study looked at the butterfly species composition in Commemorative Park in Osaka after it was managed to increase understory plant diversity and concluded that there was an increase in butterfly species diversity after the said management practices were implemented[25]. Hence, when looking at urban forest management practices, we need to take into consideration non-tree species as well as tree species[24]. More research can be conducted to see the changes in behaviour of birds and other animal species in response to diversification of species composition and structure of understory plants in urban areas.

 A study focusing on 12 metropolitan areas in Japan indicated that increasing the street landscape planting in magnitude and density is better at improving the dwelling environment than increasing urban park areas [26] . Part of the reason for this is that people prefer to go to forest covered mountains close to the metropolitan areas to access green spaces rather than an urban park and due to the high value of land in urban areas[26]. Hence, working on increasing density and quality of street landscaping may prove to be a better choice in situations where it is not practical to expand urban park areas[26].

Advocating for better management of urban forests, parks and street landscapes would mean needing support from people living in the communities where these changes need to be made. A study used VR technology to simulate urban and forested environments and looked at physiological and psychological responses in the participants. Results show that there was decrease in negative emotions such as tension, depression and confusion and increased vigour when participants were subjected to forest environment simulation compared to higher fatigue and lower self-esteem in the urban environment simulation [27] . Tools such as VR technology can be used in spreading awareness about the importance and benefits of well managed urban green spaces. When people are more aware of these benefits and voice their opinions, it is more likely that real changes in management practices and legislations can be made.


Seekiefer (Pinus halepensis) 9months-fromtop.jpg
This conservation resource was created by Course:FRST522.
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