Everything You Need To Know About The Daisugi Tree

What is the Daisugi Tree? Well, it’s not really a tree. It’s an ancient, sustainable Japanese forestry technique that creates straight, knot-free lumber.

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The first thing you need to learn is that the Daisugi tree is not a tree! It is an ancient Japanese technique that allows you to create perfectly straight timber.

The Daisugi Tree is an ancient practice and relatively rare today. The closest translation of this technique is ‘platform cedar.’ It’s a bonsai technique that makes the tree look magical.

You should note that this method is used on existing trees and creates full-sized results.

The origins of Daisugi

This unique method of coppicing dates back to the 14th or 15th century. The technique is believed to have been developed for the Samurai, although it may simply have been a forestry management strategy.

However, daisugi logs created slender cedar and became popular for tea room construction and traditional wood roofs. It is still used as roof timber today.

As tea is traditionally important in Japan, it is easy to see why this approach to harvesting wood was and still is so important.

Which trees can you use with the Daisugi method?

Cedar trees are the usual choice. A single tree can create multiple straight trunks, and the entire tree does not need felling when harvested. The Japanese refer to it as Kitayama cedar because the original lumber produced was from the Kitayama region.

Kitayama cedar trees in Kyoto, Tamba Highland, Japan. (Photo: Wikimedia/Indiana jo)
Kitayama cedar trees in Kyoto, Tamba Highland, Japan. (Photo: Wikimedia/Indiana jo)

Read more: The Return of Ikebana: The Ancient Art of Japanese Flower Arranging

In Japan, it is still referred to as such despite the western translation, meaning platform cedar becoming popular everywhere else.

At present, there is just one tree, the Kitayama cedar, using this technique. Kitayama cedar produces the desired straightness of branches and a knot-free appearance. Knot-free lumber is dominant in Japanese architecture.

Daisugi cedar is the only wood approved by Sen-no-rikyu, Kyoto’s preeminent tea master and the person that perfected the tea drinking culture in Japan.

Sen no Riky├╗ (1522 - 1591) heavily influenced Japanese tea culture. (Image: Wikimedia)
Sen no Riky├╗ (1522 – 1591) heavily influenced Japanese tea culture. (Image: Wikimedia)

How to use the Daisugi method

This Japanese art involves cutting the tree in a specific way. Called coppicing, practitioners create a giant bonsai tree that resembles an open palm. It then produces shoots that grow straight up, and we do mean vertical. In effect, they have multiple trees growing from one base, and all it takes is for them to prune each tree carefully.

It’s one of the most unique forestry techniques in the world.

This 15th-century method to grow trees allows the ‘shoots’ to be harvested every twenty years without killing the main tree. The straight logs created are 140% more flexible than other trees, even the standard cedar. They also offer denser wood

Benefits Of Daisugi

This tree growth and harvest approach provide perfectly round and vertical branches from a base tree. This technique means you don’t need to wait for the complete regrowth of the tree or plant additional trees.

More wood from cedar trees

The harvest cycle produces more lumber, and it is of higher quality than if you let the cedar tree grow and cut it down, potentially depleting more forests around the globe.

Sustainable harvest

This resulting product is slightly thicker than the original tree would provide. It was created for those that demanded perfection, especially when constructing Japanese teahouses. The techniques eco-credentials are impeccable; this method is entirely sustainable.

Providing the long trunks are harvested every twenty years, the wood will never run out, and the tree is not damaged. In effect, one tree planted every year for twenty years would then give you a wood harvest every year after that.

It doesn’t get more sustainable than that.

Read more: Upside Down Tree Is the Perfect Backdrop to a Sundowner

Minimal environmental impact

The wood creation technique that promotes the traditional Japanese tea ceremony perfectly balances Japanese culture and its approach to the environment. Between the ability to re-harvest the same tree and simultaneously plant more trees, it isn’t just helping to prevent deforestation.

It increases the number of trees on the planet and helps to reduce the environmental damage done by humans.

Diversification

Daisugi originated in Japan, an innovation of foresters desperate to get more timber without further damaging forests or associated flora. The forests were suffering from a seedling shortage, and the Samurai’s of Japan still wanted the branches to be pruned and converted into fine houses.

Today, as the depletion of the world forest stock continues, new approaches are required. While this technique hasn’t been applied to other trees, there is no doubt that it could be successfully adapted; trees such as Oak and Redwood are likely to do well with the daisugi pruning method.

This diversification would increase the amount of lumber capable of being harvested without damaging or killing any more trees.

Is this entire tree technique still practiced?

If you visit the teahouses of Kyoto, you’ll find plenty of examples still in existence.

Tea ceremony in Kyoto, Japan. (Photo: Wikimedia/Olivier Lejade)
Tea ceremony in Kyoto, Japan. (Photo: Wikimedia/Olivier Lejade)

Unfortunately, the technique is slower than simply clearing large sections of forest.

This has made it less favored, and it is generally only found in gardens and within the bonsai industry.

Final thoughts on Daisugi

The practice may be ancient, but it creates stunningly pruned trees that need less land than modern forestry.

If humans are serious about repairing the damage to the environment and making the world a better place, maybe it’s time for this approach to become more popular again.

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