Wood Rather than Stone, Bronze, and Iron: Why Do We Love Wood?


We Hokkaido people reach enlightenment by clearing snow

Nothing can stay the same. This is very famous Buddhist terminology, meaning “Life is fleeting and empty.” Even on weekend, I always wake up very early and leave home before six to go to a gym. On the way to the gym, I very often see many elderly people. They are active outside and clear snow even in the very cold and dark winter morning. Every time I see such people, the above words come up to my mind. Our life is very short, but we have to spend much of our time to clearing snow here in Hokkaido in winter, even though it melts away in spring anyway.

Once even snow-clearing tools were made of wood

The above image is of the International Snow Clearing Championship held in Hokkaido since 2013. It may sound funny to you, but it’s natural for us to want to have this kind of competition because we are the elites of snow clearing. The yellow snow-clearing tools the participants pushed are called “snow dump” in Japanese. It’s our primary weapon to fight against snow.

As technology advances, we can communicate face-to-face with people living even in the opposite side of the Earth, but there has been no big difference in the basic form of snow dumps since I was a kid. Being curious and looking it up a little on the Net, I learned snow dumps had been made of wood until the mid 1960’s. Ones made of steel came next but were soon replaced with the current version plastic-made.

A wooden coffee table with an L-shape huge sofa upholstered with blue-green fabric. Two people are relaxed on the sofa.

We love wood not functionally but emotionally

In Hokkaido rich in forest resources, it was natural in the past to make most of the daily tools of wood, but snow dumps made of wood have not been so user-friendly as you can imagine. It is no match in functionality for the current version consisting of a plastic body with a steel frame. Now, artificial materials like petrochemicals, metals, etc. play a leading role due to their better functionality. They are lighter and more durable than wood, but at least in the home furniture industry, wood is still the main material. People may prioritize emotional or instinctive factors like a smell, texture, etc. over functionality and user-friendliness for their home furniture.

Photo Credit: https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2014/03/04/national/hokkaido-citys-new-sport-shoveling-snow/

Shungo Ijima

He is travelling around the world. His passion is to explain Japan to the world, from the unique viewpoint accumulated through his career: overseas posting, MBA holder, former official of the Ministry of Finance.