SAPPORO Magazine – Issue 01-1: Interview with Freelance Lumberjack Shigeaki Adachi

Sep 28, 2020

SAPPORO Magazine – Issue 01-1: Interview with Freelance Lumberjack Shigeaki Adachi

Mountain Is

Lured by the yama (the mountains), Shigeaki Adachi and Takeshi Jinnouchi, two freelance kikori (lumberjacks) make yama their field of work.

The pair are now based in the mountains of Sapporo, working relentlessly to build roads. These roads both connect and create a border between the mountains and the people.

Adachi and Jinnouchi’s gazes drift towards the mountains as we discuss their roads

Text by Michiko Kurushima (translated by Susie Krieble, Kana Koike, and Ari Murata)
Photo by Ikuya Sasaki

001 Interview


Where there is a will there is way

Mechanical sounds mix with the song of the spring cicadas. The earth is excavated by a digger which is then spread out to form a road. Shigeaki Adachi has been building roads here for seven years.

Rustling. Then suddenly, the bucket of the digger collides loudly with something. A thick root that was growing alongside the road has been severed. Adachi’s face freezes, and the next moment, he leans out of his seat and looks up at the sky. All of this happens in just a few seconds. Then, he slides back to the cab and calmly returns to work.

“Injuring the root of a tree is like trampling on an animal’s foot, so I was looking up to see what kind of ‘pain’ I had inflicted on the tree,” Adachi explains to me when I asked what had just happened, “If you have damaged the roots, the tree would be shaking.”

Adachi, under the name of outwoods, works as a freelance lumberjack. And while lumberjack is still the most suitable term, cutting trees is far from the only work he does. Currently, he is working on building a “forestry work road”.

A road in the mountains has many useful functions. It can be used to carry out thinned trees, and by people who enjoy picking wild vegetables or hiking. A road plays an important role for people to step into the mountains to take a look around. A standard forestry work road is wide and straight so that large machines can pass, but Adachi has different ideas. After scrupulously studying the topography and environmental conditions, and considering the ease of managing the potential road, he will “consult” with the trees.

“I want this tree to still be here in 300 years, for example, or I can look at another tree and know it won’t stand for much longer so we will need to cut it down, but importantly, I want to keep the trees that bring out the characteristics of the forest. It’s like casting for a play.”

On the day of the interview, Adachi was working with his partner, Takeshi Jinnouchi, in the Sapporo Minami High School Forest (also known as Rikka Forest). Minami High School acquired this mountain in 1911 and has been using it for on-site learning about the environment ever since. Over 10 years ago, Jinnouchi, an alumnus of the school, started on some light maintenance work here, and eventually, Adachi also became involved. The length of the road that has been built so far is approximately 10 km, which has opened up an accessible area of 120 hectares. It will take another 10 years to complete.

I was guided through the road in a car. It was just wide enough for light trucks to pass, and we did a number of swerves to bypass large trees.

“I want to look back and think what a beautiful road I have made,” murmured Adachi thoughtfully as we got out of the car, meaning that that if he achieves this goal, the natural environment would have been protected. The road is the boundary with the mountains. In other words, humans have priority on the and everything else is the mountains.

“Without a road, we cannot share the magic and concept of creating forests with everyone. Only after a road is built can people be welcomed easily into the forest space. If we could open up the mountains without changing its beautiful scenery, that would be ideal.”


Going back and forth—the city and the mountains

One year ago when I first interviewed Adachi, he challenged my view of what it meant to speak of the mountains and of lumberjacks. When he explained to me the importance of creating a forest based on a concept, he kindly avoided technical jargon and spoke elegantly, poetically. To spread his message more widely, he undertakes various actives such as hosting exhibitions and events in the city, and building treehouses with birds-eye views of the forest. He also writes, in the hope that his writing can attract people to the world of forestry which is generally not widely known. However, there was something that I wanted to follow up on from our first interview. Despite his ambitions and activities, I couldn’t quite grasp his motivation to go into the mountains and felt a somewhat cold, indifferent attitude from him.

“I knew I had a passion for working in the forest, of that I am sure, but I was working with an existence beyond what we can comprehend; the forest is not just a constant thing. This is why I felt that I needed to suppress my excitement and love for the mountains. If you make a mistake, you could get injured immediately, and there are animals that die as a result of our work. When I was in northern Hokkaido, I had a sort of naive view towards the mountains I think.”

He lowered his gaze as he spoke. In 2009 when he moved from Sapporo to Takinoecho was when he first became involved in forestry. Country life was very simple, and he became absorbed in his work. A few years later, he was inspired to strike out on his own in Asahikawa, and in 2016 he set up base once again in Sapporo.

“I was hoping that when I returned to Sapporo I could continue my lumberjack work, and gradually that dream has come true. I was grateful and relived that I could continue building roads. But until last year, any energy that I had had to keep moving forward evaporated, and I was miserable. I would get in the digger and would be silently moving the soil, when these indecipherable thoughts kept popping into my head. I had too much time to myself and these thought patterns wouldn’t relent. There were definitely days when I thought I would give up.”

It’s been a year since then. The hesitation is over. As more people with similar aspirations headed to the mountains, and there was increased interest in forestry and the mountains, fierce competition has in turn sparked motivation for Adachi. So I asked him about what dreams he holds for the future.

“This time I need to go deeper into the mountains, but I can’t stop going to the northern part of the country where the air is so clean and the snow is almost too blue. I just want to be there all the time. I want to keep chasing what I don’t have, so in that sense I guess I am a nomad. I don’t really know anymore to be honest.”

Our interview lasted from daytime to 9 PM, and we didn’t move from the site. Had I now come closer to the reason the mountains had called Adachi? As I headed home I was reminded of his last story about a forest.

“From the moment I entered the forest, I felt a strong sense of loneliness about the space. When I was about to leave, there was a magical force of sorts that was rooting me to the spot and I wasn’t able to leave for a while.”

Something had happened in a small forest that Adachi had come across when he was looking for his own mountain. Although it was a mysterious experience, he said it had triggered for him a stronger awareness of the individuality of the forest.

“I sometimes feel that forests are like a big brain. There are networks and transmissions through the roots, just like neurons. It feels like the forest has its own will.”

Perhaps that is his reason for heading to the mountains. Is he being lured and guided by the voices of the trees transmitted from the roots underground? Adachi’s view of the mountains is filled with sights, sounds, smells, and textures that we are not capable of even imagining.

If we had continued our conversation, would I have been able to dig even deeper to access some of this knowledge? All I knew for certain was that as soon as the season changes, I will be back to visit.


Shigeaki Adachi

Born in Sapporo in 1982. While studying at university, he worked as a photographer, and in 2009, he moved to Takinoecho. There, he began training in forestry at a company that was involved in forest research and other forest work. In 2012, he started his own company called outwoods. Outwoods undertakes various outdoors pursuits, from forestry work in the mountains to selling firewood and nurturing the satoyama, the collective nature surrounding rural communities in Japan, especially that which is maintained by humans. In winter of 2016, he returned to his hometown of Sapporo and is now working as a lumberjack. Most recently, he has participated in an exhibition on the theme of ‘The Mountains’ at the KADO gallery in THE KNOT SAPPORO. 

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