By Ken Palmer
ArborMaster, in collaboration with host organizer, Jin Kobayashi, founder and president of Arbor Japan, a company of skilled arborists and landscapers, conducted arborist training in Japan in April, 2014. This initiative was designed to pilot state-of-the-art, professional arborist training to further the development of arboriculture and tree worker best practice in Japan. The five-day program consisted of hands-on safety, skill and productivity education and training in the disciplines of tree climbing and work positioning, chain saw safety, handling and tree felling.
We first met Kobayashi when visiting the Silky Company in Japan. The following year, Kobayashi traveled from Japan to attend our training programs in New England. He had traveled abroad before to further his arborist knowledge and skills. He was an enthusiastic, focused and disciplined student and an inspiration to other students. We were excited when he invited us do training this April in Japan. He, his family, and co-worker Hitomi Mohri worked tirelessly to promote and fill the programs. Kobayashi will return to America this fall to further his training as an arborist and as an ArborMaster instructor.
ArborMaster was pleased to have the support of Alliance Partners in Japan, such as Husqvarna/Zenoah, Samson Rope, Buckingham Manufacturing and the Silky Company. Each organization provided valuable equipment to help make the training programs the very best they could be by providing chain saws, climbing harnesses, climbing lines/ropes, hand saws, personal protective equipment, and more.
This year, the five days of hands-on ArborMaster training was followed by a one-day seminar designed for a larger audience to introduce Japanese enthusiasts to the “Art & Science of Practical Arboriculture.” The seminar was attended by more than 100 Japanese tree workers and other enthusiastic Japanese people who care very much about trees.
What is arboriculture, people ask
Wherever I travel in the world, people ask “What is arboriculture?” The same holds true in Japan. I’ll start by comparing traditional forestry and urban forestry.
I think it is important to understand that “traditional forestry” is about larger groups of trees, forest and/or park management and stewardship. It is the harvest of trees or tourism fees that drive “traditional forestry” from an economic perspective.
I often take liberty using the term “urban forestry” to help people understand the importance of arboriculture. Arboriculture is at least as much about people as it is about trees. And while it may include managing an urban forest, there is often a heavy focus on specific and/or individual trees — both large and small — usually because of their specific value to people and the risk they can, and do, present to life, limb and property. Arboriculture is largely about managing, caring for and dealing with shade and ornamental trees. Arboriculture is driven by managing specific tree resources and specific tree risks from an economic perspective.
It helps to include a good definition of an arborist. When we asked Dr. Alex Shigo (author, researcher and key pioneer of modern arboriculture) to define an arborist in his words, he said, “An arborist is a person that can accurately diagnose a problem that may exist with a tree, or between people and a tree or trees; prescribe necessary and creative treatments; and carry out those treatments himself, or recommend a person or people that can carry out those treatments in a safe and productive way.”
So this brings us back to Japan, where many Japanese people have asked me, “What is Arboriculture?” I explain that arboriculture is the art and science of caring for trees, often dealing with many different issues that arise when and where people and trees coexist. While most people do love trees and want to have them around us, large “shade trees” can pose a significant risk to people and property.
Since the mid to late 1940s, western ways have been reaching Japanese society more than ever before, and, you guessed it, there are more urban “shade trees” today than ever before. Japanese towns, cities, villages, temples and shrine areas need arboriculture more now than ever before, and very likely the need will continue to grow and diversify.
For many cultural and historical reasons, arboriculture is a very new and little-known concept and practice in Japan. While we are all blessed by trees and the resources they provide us, they can also provide a formidable risk. The Japanese people love their gardens and green spaces. Bonsai and many ornate Japanese maple species and cultivars are classic examples and a testament to the Japanese people’s commitment to having, and managing trees in urban areas. Seventy percent of Japan is rugged, mountainous and forested, leaving only 30 percent or so for all other aspects of sustaining their people domestically. In Japan, large trees have primarily existed in the mountains or the temple and shrine areas. However, there are a small number of surprisingly large old trees in downtown city areas that are considered sacred and protected as such. So there are matters of faith and history. Both Shinto and Buddhist religions have also inhibited people from even wanting to plant a tree that may create a risk or the need to destroy a tree in the future. Many trees that are considered to be of great importance are watched over by the Tree Doctors in Japan. While these urban tree management practices have been widely adhered to historically, the need for urban forestry and tree risk management is increasing throughout Japan. English gardens and western landscaping are influencing modern Japanese landscapes; this often means planting larger shade trees. Then, of course, there is the ever-growing need for inexpensive electricity. That means an ever growing electrical grid and tree interface issues.
ArborMaster is planning to return to Japan again next year to provide “Arborist Rigging Methods” training for this year’s alumni, as they have now met their basic training prerequisites. We will also begin to schedule new classes and look to find synergy with other organizations in order to bring the very best ArborMaster has to offer to Japanese arboriculture.
Through a systematic, fundamental and comprehensive approach, students were taught by Ken Palmer and Rocco Massaro of ArborMaster, with Kobayashi assisting. Kobayashi will be taking on a more significant role in ArborMaster Japan going forward. Both organizations understand and agree that we have been given an awesome responsibility and an amazing opportunity to learn from mistakes of the past, both in Japan and in other countries, and help apply this knowledge to wisdom in the practice of Japanese tree care as the country moves toward embracing modern arboriculture.
I will just mention three examples for now:
1. Safety Saves! We in the western world of tree care operations have learned many things and have tackled many challenges and changes. However, we have an epidemic on our hands. For at least three generations now, one-handed chain saw operation has not only been tolerated, it has been taught. Most efforts to change this all too common practice are struggling at best. In the early days of the top-handled chain saw, tree workers realized that because both handles are positioned over the center of mass it is far easier to run it with one hand compared to a rear handle chain saw. So the epidemic began, hold and cut, cut and chuck. No doubt this is easy but all too often over used and relied upon as a standard operating procedure. It may be easy but it can be one of the most dangerous ways of cutting a tree, leading to countless chain saw and struck-by injuries. The easy way is not necessarily the safest or most productive way. Skilled, knowledgeable professionals know that wisdom prevails. However unskilled workers with little knowledge may have little choice in the matter, not being taught in the proper way.
2. It’s important to understand that in any profession, knowledge, safety and skill are the keys to productivity and the very essence of professionalism. Therefore, a person with a low degree of knowledge and skill should not consider themselves or be considered a skilled professional.
3. Knowledge, safety and skill are the keys to productivity, and vital to arboricultural best practice. Knowledge can be acquired; however, wisdom, insight and the ability to exercise critical thinking and critical decision making must be learned and earned. Each day every day is a great day to learn and grow.
ArborMaster students learn through hands-on training modules, focus on both how to safely and productively carry out tree care and removal operations, and, very importantly, why, when and where to use and master the techniques and methods taught.
It’s both an honor and a pleasure to teach and train safety, skill and productivity throughout the world of modern arboriculture.
Ken Palmer is president of ArborMaster, Inc. Since 1995, ArborMaster has been delivering safety, skill and productivity training for people and organizations who work with, in, and around trees. ArborMaster specializes in education, training, and consultation with a focus on workforce development, safety systems, field operational excellence and the bottom line.
Arbor Japan is a company of skilled arborists, is taking care of trees in sacred areas such as temples and shrines in Japan. Jin Kobayashi, the founder of Arbor Japan has helped many international guests from abroad not only to organize study tours to botanical gardens for seed-collecting activities and beautiful Japanese gardens in Japan but also to teach them the traditional Japanese ways of trimming trees. Visit Arbor Japan’s website at www.ArborJapan.com