The Meaning of Sugi in Shou Sugi Ban

Chances are if you’ve found this blog, you already know who we are. We’re Nakamoto Forestry, the primary producer of yakisugi “shou sugi ban“. For our first blog post, we thought it would be fitting to talk about the meaning of shou sugi ban and how our wood first starts out.

“A society grows great when old men plant trees in whose shade they know they shall never sit.”

Sugi is a Species of Tree

Cryptomeria japonica is the scientific name. Commonly referred to as Japanese cypress, it’s actually a monotypic genus in the cypress family. Native to Japan, where it covers much of the mountainous country, it’s primarily managed and harvested for lumber. Sugi is the word for cedar in the Japanese language. The entire country was replanted post-World War II. The Japanese lumber industry is larger than most westerners realize. There are still a few old growth stands with trees over 2,000 years old.

What Makes Cypress Durable?

Sugi trees grow straight and fast, up to about 200 feet tall when mature. The wood is fragrant, naturally rot and insect resistant, and does not easily mildew due to a very high tannin content. The bark is soft and fibrous, and the tiny, needle-shaped leaves grow radially from each twig. This is similar to North American juniper and cedar spring shoots. The harder, summer growth rings (late wood) in sugi are thicker than those of cedar or larch. This is critical for our heat treatment process. With cedar and other trees, the soot will erode off almost immediately since it’s so soft. However cypress produces a more substantial soot layer that lasts decades without maintenance. Sugi has a janka hardness ranging from 320–350. It’s used for all types of construction applications, including framing, flooring, wall cladding, roof decking, and shingles.

Responsible Forest Management

Most of the lumber we produce comes from sugi grown in forests that the Nakamoto family has managed since 1949. These forests must be pruned and thinned, with care taken to clear weeds and ivy away from younger trees that might be negatively affected. Snow is also cleared to promote growth and health. We now own and carefully manage 5,000 acres of timberland in the Hiroshima and Tokushima regions. Our focus is now directed toward mature growth and larger-diameter logs. If we continue to responsibly manage our forests, we can reach a felling age of 100 years. This in turn improves the quality of our product while also increasing its value and protecting our valuable natural resources.

Mr. Kanai, Managing Director at Nakamoto Forestry, showing a stand of sugi trees.

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