TOKYO, Jun. 30 – Forestlands in Japan acquired by foreign firms totaled 163 hectares in 2019, the total area topping 150 hectares for seven years in a row since 2013, according to the Forestry Agency.
Eighty percent of foreign companies which obtained forestlands said they made the purchase to hold the forests as assets.
In order to mitigate concern among local residents, the agency is asking buyers to present the purpose of purchasing forests.
The agency has established a forestland clearing approval system which requires companies to obtain approval from prefectural governors to clear forestlands of a hectare or more. The governors give approval to projects that involve forest clearing if they judge there are no issues in terms of disaster prevention, flood control, water quality management and environmental preservation.
Major forestland purchases by foreign firms were made in 2018, when two purchases – each 100 hectares or more – were made in Hyogo Prefecture to set up solar power systems. The total area of purchases was 432 hectares that year.
The total area purchased in 2019 was 163 hectares, out of which 154 hectares, or 94 percent, were in Hokkaido. The purchases in Hokkaido included 93 hectares by a Samoan firm and 12 hectares by an Australian firm, both in the town of Toyako.
Both purchases were made to be held as assets and were legally approved. The forests have not been cleared at this point, according to the Hokkaido Government’s Department of Fisheries and Forestry.
In 2019, 80 percent of forestland acquisition by foreign firms were made for the purpose of asset holdings, up 56 percentage points from a year before. Meanwhile, purchases made for the purpose of setting up solar power systems occupied only 2 percent of the total, compared with 70 percent in the previous year.
Under the current system, buyers of forestlands are not required to write down the purposes, and some purchases are made for unknown or undecided purposes. It is possible for the buyers to change the intended usage of the forests within the confines of the Forest Act.
In order to dispel concerns of the local community over the unknown intent behind some forestland purchases, the Forestry Agency’s Planning Division said it will call on buyers to write down the purposes.