A Local Perspective on Life in Tsukuba, Ibaraki, Japan.

Gardeners or Butchers? Tsukuba’s Tree Trimmers Have Done Their Hack Job Once Again!

Tree-Butchering Crews At Work On Tsukuba's Winter Greenery

Tree-“Trimming” Crews At Work in Tsukuba

The gingko trees along the Tsuchiura-Gakuen Road after the tree-trimmers got to them - April 18, 2018

The gingko trees along the Tsuchiura-Gakuen Road after the tree-trimmers got to them – April 18, 2018


By Avi Landau


If you love trees or nature in general, a ride on the TX can be a depressing experience. Especially the segment between Moriya and Tsukuba Center. Vast tracts (by Japanese standards) of woodland have been bulldozed away on both sides, leaving a barren landscape upon which monstrous apartment complexes, shopping malls, and sterile housing communities are being constructed.

E voila! A job well done?

E voila! A job well done?

In Tsukuba City itself, with its numerous parks and tree-lined walkways and boulevards, you might have thought you were in an oasis of greenery in early winter, as the planners of this city have provided us with numerous tree species, including many which stay green all year-round.

And this is what you get! Its hard to get into the spirit of spring with the results of their handiwork! (Matsushiro Shopping Center, spring 2015)

And this is what you get! Its hard to get into the spirit of spring with the results of their handiwork! (Matsushiro Shopping Center, spring 2015)

If so, you were in for a disturbing surprise.  As February starts to draw near, the tree and bush maintenance crews, working for companies which have lucrative long-term contracts with the city, go into action, or should I say go on the rampage, and they slowly make their way down the avenues and walkways, sawing away most branches, leaving behind sad looking mutilated trunks. Where once, in the dead of winter, you had a tree-canopy-covered walkway, you now have a path which is desolate and forlorn.


The work itself, though, provides plenty of entertainment. I was surprised to see how many people of all ages and genders gather to watch the work-men and women, using cherry pickers and other assorted machinery, to do their butchering and noisily dispose of the leaves and branches in garbage trucks.

A once shady lane, now stands exposed

A once shady lane, now stands exposed

When I commented to one Japanese gentleman who was observing the proceedings that it was a shame that all this winter greenery should be turned into trash, he responded by saying: “MITOSHI GA YOKU NARU”, or- NOW WE HAVE A CLEAR VIEW!

One Of Our Lovely Parks

One Of Our Lovely Parks

There must be a more sensitive and aesthetic way of grooming and maintaining trees and bushes, especially for the huge sums of money that the city, prefectural, and national governments pay to the companies who do this work.


The Japanese often say that they love nature. But the annual transformation of Tsukuba’s wonderful trees into disfigured BONSAI makes me question exactly WHAT THAT MEANS.

One thing seems sure to me though- those who grow up in this culture have a great talent for NOT SEEING or noticing anything unpleasant. Show your Japanese friends and acquaintances these pictures I have taken, and ask them if they have ever taken note of such trees before. Everyone I have tried this with has responded by saying that this was their first time to think about it, and that it really was STRANGE to have parks full of such SAD trees.


And keep this in mind.

If you are new to Japan and have a garden, always remember that if you hire gardeners, you have to be extremely explicit when explaining what you want them to do. But no matter what you tell them (even in clearly understandable Japanese), you will still probably come home to a garden of branchless stumps (as has happened to me).

Even worse that the crew-cuts given to some trees are the complete disappearance of certain trees-  here is what is left of certain 30-year old poplars which were removed from a park in Tsukuba (to the chagrin of local residents who had played under them for years)

Even worse that the crew-cuts given to some trees are the complete disappearance of certain others- here is what is left of a row 30-year old poplars which were removed from a park in Tsukuba ( much to the chagrin of local residents who had played under and around them for years)


Walking over to your local park and finding only stumps where familiar trees once stood can be a traumatic experience when there is no previous notice give by the city office

Walking over to your local park and finding only stumps where familiar trees once stood can be a traumatic experience when there is no previous notice give by the city office


Not pleased with what has happened to the trees!

Not pleased with what has happened to the trees!


Of all Japan`s 47 prefectures, Ibaraki has the second lowest percentage of forest cover (less than 30.8%) – and this percentage is getting lower with each new shopping mall and bed-town in the Tsukuba area.

Here is a list of the prefectures with highest and lowest percentages of forest cover

Most forested:

1) Kochi Prefecture (83.7%)

2) Gifu Prefecture (79.7%)

3) Shimane Prefecture (78.8%)

Least forested:

1) Osaka Prefecture (30.4%)

2  Ibaraki Prefecture (30.8%)

3) Chiba Prefecture (31.5%)


The Tsuchiura-Gakuen Road after a tree-trimming

The Tsuchiura-Gakuen Road after a tree-trimming

Beyond the clipped trees- a rainbow (Matsushiro, Tsukuba 2014)

Beyond the clipped trees- a rainbow (Matsushiro, Tsukuba)

I have written more about tree-trimmming and pruning in Japan here.


  • Dan Waldhoff says:


    When I first moved to Tsukuba I was surprised to see such high maintenance foliage everywhere throughout the city. In Hawaii, my former home, landscape architects design for low (even no) maintenance. The purpose, beyond being to mineralizing costs, is that there are very few people willing to do the kind of manual – and in the US context, menial – work required to keep things looking nice.

    My early disappointment was that the trees and parks were not being maintained as they should have been – much of the city being overgrown and, to my thinking, desperately ugly because it was untended. The expansion of the population base with the coming of the TX has meant an expanded tax base and, happily for me, the parks and boulevards are now regularly and properly maintained.

    The building process in Tsukuba’s growth leaves a scarred landscape to be sure. However, the people who will fill those sterile mansions along the train route will turn them into homes and those clusters of houses and mansions will become communities. The people who will live there will pay taxes, as will the shops where those people will fill their daily needs. Eventually the roads and lanes serving those communities will also be tree lined and green.

    Tsukuba in the late 1970s and early 198s was a moonscape. There was not a single tree taller than 1 meter in Azuma where my wife spent her early elementary school years, nor were there any in Namiki where she went to later elementary school nor, in Teshirogi where she went to junior high school. The trees grew as she did and were started as nursery saplings. When I came here nearly 20 years ago I found overgrowth wanting care. When my ashes are in the family butsudan those trees will just be beginning to mature.

    Having recently been watching an excellent series on ACCS featuring one of the brilliant men who planned Tsukuba from the beginning, I found an explanation for what is now happening as it had been planned. The aesthetic of the original plan was to maintain a scale as well as a color and foliage pattern in the trees and other ornamental plantings. Trees were selected to bloom or fade at different times of the year to keep things “fresh” year round, for example. The plan was to also keep the trees within some geometric bounds as well – to keep the scale “human” and to make the city like a well tended park in which the users would not be dwarfed.

    The regular “hair cuts”, as I refer to them, keep the trees healthy and stimulate new growth. Thinned trees are also better for the low growth hedges and grassy areas, allowing sunlight and rain to reach them. Aside from that there is an economic value in having all those people working at lucrative and long term contracts. Many of them are retired, semi-retired or “on break” from agriculture jobs which otherwise pay nothing in the “off” season, just when tree trimming is required. Their incomes from this kind of work is valuable supplement – and they pay taxes too. The several hundred in Tsukuba, and probably many thousands around Japan, doing that kind of work in Japan would be hanging around the malls in Hawaii with nothing to do. As industrial jobs are more and more tenuous those people may be luckier than many.

    Writing that calls to mind an incident nearly 20 yeas ago when I noted the number of elderly women tending the meridian shrubs to my Japanese boss. My comment was something to the effect that my grandmother would never be put to such lowly work – rather arrogantly delivered. His reply was that many of them were war widows and because they were already very old I wouldn’t have to look at them for long – rather disdainfully delivered. Pity for them turned to admiration for the society which gave them something useful and significant to do.

    All of us who have been here for a long time know that nothing is really as it seems on first glance and everything is likely to have a deeper subtext to which we are not necessarily privy.

    When my friends outside of Japan want me to explain what living in Japan is like I suggest that they ask the next goldfish they encounter to explain what it is like living under water.


  • Avi says:

    Hi,Dan !

    Thanks for your interesting and well-written comments. I certainly agree with you in that trees in parks and even more so on roadsides must be maintained. I also think that it is important to provide jobs. I still maintain that the crew-cuts are NOT necessary and in fact decrease labor. If the trees and shrubs were groomed more slowly, skillfully, and REGULARLY, it would not be necessary to have several months of each year of POST-BELLUM park and roadscapes.

    As to Tsukuba`s recent development, I again agree with you in my admiration for the ideas of our cities original planners. Unfortunately, what is going on now was NOT part of their plan,
    but the working of businessmen, many very inexperienced, who are trying to make as much money as quickly as possible. Do you think really think that will be able to sell off all those MANSIONS and keep ALL the new shopping malls full of customers?



  • Nora says:

    That is really Damage ! What’s the sense of this PROFESSIONAL VANDALISM ?!!
    Profitable and sordid reason is the most ‘logic’ behind this massacre!!!
    What other reason can we ask from the hilarious butchers of their job, FOR EXAMPLE, on the central pedestrian way in Namiki 2 chome. Nor either asking the policemen of the quarter who are tried apologize this with the eventual typhoons!
    Right now after my ‘rainichi’ in 2005, I am not more enchanted of the Japaneses reasons!
    What sense to to handicap the nature like that and hurt some human minds?
    And what the people doing in result of environmental taxes?
    Are there any citizens organizations who guarantee the common well, le bien commun (in french)?!!
    What can WE do like gaijins?

    • Avi Landau says:

      Nora,thank you for your comments, and your concern! I dont think there is anything we can do to change the situation regarding road and parks, except many send the city some videos or textbooks showing less EXTREME pruning techniques.
      I guess all we can do is be patient for a few months and wait for some new branches to emerge from the stumps!

      All the best amd hope to hear from you again!

  • Dan Waldhoff says:

    Aloha Avi,

    I’ll take a guess that the one time whack and resultant crew cut has something to do with the Japanese practice of spending all of the budgeted monies near the end of the fiscal year – whether or not the purchase is necessary. If left unspent it isn’t replaced in the next budget. And yes, some cuts seem extreme. The tree trimming at one of the universities at which I teach went much the same last week, however, and the trees there are done quarterly. There may be something about the work or the aesthetic that I don’t know.

    I’m with you on the mall issue. I’ve read of too many ghost malls in the US and there are three in my Hilo Hawaii. Building malls seems to be a recent virus in the Japanese business community – a nationwide phenomenon – and time will tell what the results will be. Business is always a gamble and I presume some people will lose big while others profit. I think there have been some seriously poor business decisions made and those who participate in the mistake will take a beating they could not imagine possible. With yet another megamall nearing completion in Tsuchiura one has to wonder how how many are too many and when the tenants will be exhausted. With the economy in crisis one has to wonder how few will come to spend and when the shoppers will be exhausted. Housing is a similar gamble that developers take. If those new places sit empty for too long they begin to decline in value. Developers don’t make any money when a place sits unsold and nobody knows that better than they do.

    In the back of my mind is always the thought that Tsukuba was originally intended to be the New Capitol of Japan. Were that to actually happen the game would change. Can we wonder when?

    Hajimemashite Nora,

    As gaikokiujin we can watch, as would a foreign visitor in any country. As a long term resident here I’ll apply for citizenship and vote when and if I have it. When and if I do get it I’ll see my vote as one among many. Eight years of George Bush, with whom I could not agree on almost anything, showed me my vote doesn’t guarantee my opinion any preference.

    I suspect that the near and middle future will bring concerns that will trivialize all of our current concerns.


  • paul lindsay says:

    I am a arborist,tree surgeon call it what you will.
    The work that was done in the photos,is not tree work of any kind that is taught anywhere to my knowledge.Pollarding is similar but done for a purpose and has shape.THe work in the photos is just butchery no doubt about it.
    All the cuts in those photos are just doors for pest and disease,and they do defnately not look good.
    Any epicormic growth sprouting out from the stubs left will be weak and as it becomes larger a safety hazard.
    It is a shame but it happens anywhere and everywhere in the world as long as the price is right.
    MAybe some day they will relize,but it will be to late for those trees by then.
    Tree programes need to be put in place there for thinning,lifting anf formative work,and the thing is it would be cheaper and quicker the any work done in those photos.
    NPTC,NZQA qualified arborist

  • paul lindsay says:

    Sorry for the bad spelling and grammer,typing is not my strong point.

  • Avi Landau says:

    Paul, thanks for writing in with your important comments.do you think there is anything we can do to improve the situation? Hope to hear from you.

  • Shaney says:

    I remember being told by someone that the trees need to be pruned like that because the more leaves and branches they have, the less they are able to withstand harsh weather like the strong winds that we get during the winter (Tsukuba Oroshi) and the typhoons that we get during the summer. I am not sure if that is the official reason for the extreme pruning, but it might be a factor.