Sunday, February 28, 2016

No More Selfies with the Philosophy Tree

The 'philosophy tree' stood on the green hill in Biei, Hokkaido, in 2009. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

Beloved 'philosophy tree' felled on Hokkaido’s pastoral landscape

The Asahi Shimbun  February 26, 2016By TAKAKO FUCHIZAWA/ Staff Writer

BIEI, Hokkaido--If a tree falls and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?

In the case of the “philosophy tree” here, however, the question was moot, as a mournful audience was present to see it being felled.

The popular poplar, which stood in the middle of a hill on a farm, had become a magnet for photographers and a popular tourist attraction in the picturesque country town.

Its attraction was its slight tilt toward the gentle slope of the hill, as if leaning its “body” deep in thought.

Sadly, the fact that the tree was growing old and fragile and the disrespectful behavior of tourists and snappers trespassing on the farm, led to the farmer and landowner deciding to cut it down on Feb. 24.
Toshiki Nakanishi, 44, a photographer and a friend of the farmer, accompanied his pal to witness the beloved old tree’s demise.

“I think the landowner is feeling the pain the most,” said Nakanishi. “Biei’s landscape has been maintained by the farmers working on the land for generations. I would ask tourists and photographers to remember that they are relying on their generosity to take a sneak look at their livelihoods.”

The decision came as there was a growing risk of the tree toppling down and branches breaking off as it grew old, and what’s more, they ran out of ways to stop tourists trespassing and ruining the farm’s crops.

Cranes remove sections of the 'philosophy tree's' trunk on Feb. 25 in Biei, Hokkaido. (Takako Fuchizawa)
The farmer had set up no-trespassing signs and banned photographs of the tree by marking its trunk with red crosses a few years ago. The Biei’s municipal government took the tree off its list of sightseeing spots, and sent tourism advisers to patrol the farm, but trespassers often didn’t heed the warnings.

Biei is home to several trees with nicknames such as “philosophy tree” which became famous after advertisements and promotional movies were shot on the hills with the now-iconic trees as backdrops.

The number of tourists visiting the town previously hovered at around 1.3 million per annum, but in recent years, largely due to the increased number of foreign tourists, it reached 1.79 million in fiscal 2014, the highest on record.

The increasing number of tourists being a nuisance is a common problem at Biei’s other sightseeing spots.

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