Japan’s Building Reforms Drive High-Value Timber Production!

Updated: A raft of new policies targeting economic stimulus are "win-win," with the PM targeting pollen emissions to boost construction capacity.

Tue 30 Jan 24


Japan is looking to boost its forest products capacity following the release of several policies aimed at increasing timber use in buildings, as well as increasing visas for foreign workers in forests and timber production.

The Japanese Prime Minister, Fumio Kishida, made the announcement, which includes cutting pollen-producing cedar trees near major urban centres and widening “Specified Skilled Worker 1” visa requirements to include “forestry” and “timber workers.”

Under the new changes, which could come into effect as early as next month, foreigners will be eligible for a skilled worker visa – thus facilitating their pathway for full-time worker migration rights, which is notoriously difficult in the country.

It comes as the Japanese PM has previously pledged to reduce pollen emissions by 50% – the root cause of Hay Fever – which now afflicts 40% of the Japanese adult population and has quickly become a public health crisis.

At the time, PM Kishida announced a two-pronged plan: to reduce the planted cedar area by escalating tree-cutting from 50,000 hectares per year to 70,000 hectares – to be used to stimulate timber production.

Secondly, substituting at least 90% of younger cedar trees with new species that generate far less pollen.

Under the new policies, Japan has also revised its Building Standards Law to encourage the greater use of cedar timbers in buildings.

Coming into effect in April this year, it will build on the country’s “Promotion for the Use of Wood in Public Buildings”, which seeks to increase the use of Japanese domestic wood in buildings up to 3 storeys and 3000 square metres in footprint.

Japan is one of the world’s most forested countries, with the government now working with major construction companies to drive greater efficiencies in its forest value chain.

In March 2023, Obayashi Corporation, one of the country’s largest construction companies, unveiled its ‘Wood Vision'”, including its “Circular Timber Construction Report.”

As one of the major drivers of the new policy, Obayashi identified ‘upstream,’ ‘midstream’, and ‘downstream’ drivers for greater utilisation of timber in Japanese buildings.

Obayashi is the construction company behind Port Plus, Japan’s largest mass timber building. Footage courtesy of @user-yb3jd2gd5z

According to the government, the hope is that cedar trees can be converted into panelling, veneer, plywood and redwood products to fuel the country’s construction boom. 

The government will also subsidise firms buying high-level logging machinery and push for more people in the farming and construction sectors to enter the forest products industry.

Hay Fever has emerged as a significant health crisis, with the government looking to curb emissions and, at the same time, revitalise the construction industry in a “win-win.”

“We will aim to resolve hay fever, which is a social issue, and revitalise local communities through the promotion of forestry,” PM Kishida told a ministerial meeting.

The new policies provide the Japanese forest industry with a much-needed injection, with the Japan Times reporting that the industry has been in long-term decline for decades.

In 2020, the number of workers in the industry was 44,000 – which is less than a third of the 1980 level. 

The surge of cedar trees in Japan can be traced back to the post-World War II economic boom when large-scale reforestation efforts were undertaken.
The surge of cedar trees in Japan can be traced back to the post-World War II economic boom when large-scale reforestation efforts were undertaken.

The surge of cedar trees in Japan can be traced back to the post-World War II economic boom when large-scale reforestation efforts were undertaken.

Whilst official data is lacking, a survey conducted by a group of ear, nose, and throat specialists suggests that hay fever prevalence in Japan has steadily risen from 19.6% in 1998 to 42.5% in 2019.

In May, Wood Central reported that the government will use supercomputers and artificial intelligence to refine the accuracy of pollen forecasts. 


  • Jason Ross

    Jason Ross, publisher, is a 15-year professional in building and construction, connecting with more than 400 specifiers. A Gottstein Fellowship recipient, he is passionate about growing the market for wood-based information. Jason is Wood Central's in-house emcee and is available for corporate host and MC services.


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