Tree Climbing in Japan

I spent an afternoon high up in the branches of an absolutely huge tree. I wasn’t dreaming, nor was I channeling the three-eyed raven. I was having a lesson in tree-climbing (in Japanese, of course) in Tamura City, Fukushima.

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Kubo san’s Tree Climbing Vision

I wrote earlier this year about Miyakoji, in Tamura – a village which has faced incredible challenges following 3.11 (read more here). In this article, I introduced Kubo san, has been thinking hard of ways to make young people engaged with the beautiful forests and woods that encompass Miyakoji.

Kubo san thinks that creating opportunities for young people (especially local kids) to have fun and make memories in the woods is important for three reasons.

1 It encourages younger generations to continue living in Tamura when they grow up.

2. It allows children who moved away from the town following 3.11 to feel connected with the area.

3. It is imperative for the future of the town’s forestry industry.

As the first step of his plan, Kubo san organised a number of outdoors events for local kids, such as hiking and tree climbing, which he invited me to attend. When I first heard Kubo san mention tree climbing, I had flashbacks to my 10-year-old stuff self-consciously attempting to wrap my legs around a tree trunk, but luckily this was not what he had in mind!

What is Tree Climbing?

Tree climbing, as a sport, began in the Unites States and was brought to Japan almost 20 years ago. The idea is to use a system of ropes and pulleys to hoist your body right to the very top of trees – a much safer way of climbing trees than what I was thinking of!

Trying it out

As someone who had never climbed a tree in my life, I was feeling a little worried before trying it out, but I have been trying to make myself attempt things I’m scared of from time to time!

The instructors had attached ropes to some of the tallest trees in the forest by the time I arrived. Each tree had around 8 ropes hanging down.

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Before we got stuck in, we did some warm-up exercises and got geared up. The equipment necessary for tree climbing is quite similar to that used for abseiling or rock climbing.

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After sitting down in the harness, you put your foot in a rope loop. Two main ropes hang down in front of you – one of which is some kind of special, super-strong knot, and the second is a rope which the knot passes over. In order to move your body up the ropes, you have to push down on the loop with your foot at the same time as pushing the knot up the second rope.

 

This is a little more difficult than it sounds, as the two actions have to be carried out pretty much simultaneously. After repeating this about 4 times, we were told to make a ‘safety’ knot in the second rope, just in case something happened and the many not slipped down the second rope.

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My friend, making a ‘safety’ knot

I won’t lie – it was a lot more physically strenuous than I was expecting, and I was a little envious of the young girl next to me who had no trouble maneuvering the ropes! It took me quite a while to get used to the technique.

However, the peace and quiet, the feel of the breeze, and the view amongst the top of the trees that you could experience once you got up far enough definitely made the workout worthwhile!

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I’m not entirely sure how we got down – the instructors told us to push down on the main knot, and they gradually reeled us back down from there.

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After we reached back to the forest floor, we changed out of our equipment and received a certificate congratulating us on our first tree climbing experience!

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The Exciting Future of Fukushima Tree Climbing

At the moment, Tree Climbing events in Tamura City are being held occasionally depending on the availability of trained instructors, but Kubo san hopes to make these events more regular to capture the hearts of children and young adults from areas such as Miyakoji Village, which are facing many worries about the future of their forestry industry.

Although there are many steps, and much time, which need to be taken between now and Kubo san being able to hold regular events for local kids, let alone accommodate reservations for regular tree climbing events in all different languages, I wanted to introduce this experience on my blog to show just how diverse the adventures are that you can have in Fukushima Prefecture!

 

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