Vegetation in Japan reflects the major climatic pattern, particularly in the latitudinal and altitudinal variations in temperatures. Since most of the country receives abundant precipitation, there are few places where natural grassland may be found. Forests occupy nearly two-thirds of the land surface and meadows and pastures a little less than 2 percent of the land.
However, the original vegetation cover has been extensively modified through centuries of human activity. Bulk of the present forest cover is either secondary growth which has been intensively used. Since population has grown rapidly since the 1870s, the forests have been utilized on a large scale. More trees have been cut down than were replaced by natural growth. This is because Japan has traditionally used wood for building houses.
Although modern buildings have increasingly used concrete, steel, and synthetic plywood, Japanese paper, furniture, and other industries consume enormous quantities of wood. In many areas the original forest cover has been almost entirely removed, and replaced by scrubby second growth in the form of wild grass and brush known as genya.
Japan has been called a “wood civilization,” and Japan must import large quantities of timber and timber products despite the fact that large amounts of round wood is produced (nearly 30 million cubic feet a year) domestically in order to meet the large demand at home which is estimated to be over two and a half billion cubic feet a year. Japan is unable to satisfy their wood reeds, especially for its pulp and paper industry.
Although creditable progress has been made in reforestation and forest management, present exploitation exceeds the domestic demand. Nearly half of the forests are in public domain where modern forest management practices are in use, the remaining half of the private forests utilize practices of clean-cut timber without proper thinning.
The forests of Japan may be grouped into three main categories. First, boreal forests cover the summits of the higher mountains m northern Honshu and the lowlands in eastern Hokkaido; the predominant trees in these forests are spruce, fir, and birch. Second, mixed forests, largely deciduous that covers most of central Honshu down to the Inland Sea region.
Oak, beech, and maple are intermixed with firs, pine and cedar (Japanese sugi) appears at higher altitudes. This subtropical category covers lower elevations as far north as central Honshu near latitude 37°N. The camphor tree is one of the many subtropical species found in southern Honshu and Kyushu and Shikoku islands at lower elevations.