Takao no Mori Nature School: Rejuvenating a Forest and a Community

Nestled in a residential area of Hachioji City, western Tokyo, Takao no Mori Nature School is working with local individuals, businesses, and government organizations to bring a deteriorating forest back to vibrant life.
Takao no Mori Nature School, whose administration office is made from thinned wood.

A Sprawling Forest in the Community's Back Yard

People tend to think of Tokyo as a massive urban metropolis, but around 40% of its land area is actually forest—and roughly 70% of that wooded area lies in the western part of Tokyo's Tama region. Also calling the Tama region home is Takao no Mori Nature School, which opened in 2015 as a joint initiative between the Tokyo Metropolitan Government (TMG) and the Seven-Eleven Memorial Foundation. The school is the first project to unite the TMG and a private-sector organization in creating an environment-oriented experiential learning facility. The school also includes a sizable wooded area: fringed by a residential community, the forest stretches out over 26.5 hectares of Tokyo Metropolitan Government-owned land. By protecting and nurturing the forest, the institution aims to help not only foster a low-carbon society but also maintain biodiversity by keeping rare animal species safe and develop human resources who can pass the area's natural environment, history, and culture on to future generations. 

The Seven-Eleven Memorial Foundation is responsible for the administration and management of the school. Drawing on funding from a variety of sources, including donations collected at Seven-Eleven stores, the foundation plays an active role in environmental preservation, disaster recovery, and other initiatives across the country.

A forest path with a fence made by local elementary schoolers.

A Brighter Forest Fosters Diversity

While the wooded areas in and around Takao were once sources of timber for charcoal production, the energy shift toward oil and natural gas during Japan's economic boom (1955-1973) left the forests to languish and grow wild. 

The forest on the school's premises followed the same trajectory. Focusing on taking care of its wooded area, the school brings volunteers together twice a month to thin trees and clear underbrush.

The school's director, Kajiura Masato, explains the need for forest maintenance. "So many wooded areas in Japan have been neglected for years and years, left to age without any care," he says. "They need upkeep like thinning and planting, which rejuvenate the areas and improve the forest cycle. It's amazing how young, growing trees can absorb carbon dioxide."

School Director Kajiura Masato previously oversaw the CSR Department at a Seven & i Holdings group company.

Thinning lets in more sunlight, creating "brighter" forests where a broader diversity of wildlife can thrive, and also makes it easier birds and other animals to spot prey. A monitoring survey by the school uncovered new evidence of rare animal species inhabiting the area, highlighting how the biodiversity in the forest has improved since the school opened its doors.

Volunteers handle the maintenance of the forest to restore vitality.

Takao no Mori Nature School organizes an array of nature-oriented experiential learning programs that give the community a real, tangible appreciation for how important our natural surroundings are. There are kid-favorite insect- and wild bird-watching gatherings and workshops where participants craft items with thinned wood, for example. In addition, "forest music festivals" draw audiences in the hundreds for performances by the brass band from a local high school and other guest musicians. Another popular offering is a three-day program that starts at a river source on the school grounds and then takes participants along the water toward the ocean, opening eyes and minds to the intricate interconnectedness of nature.

"Instead of doing the same projects year after year, we want to keep enhancing the quality of what we offer," Kajiura says. He and the school's three other staff members pool their strengths, which include expertise in biodiversity, extensive knowledge of trees, and connections with a nationwide network of environmental groups, to enrich their lineup.

Families flock to the school's seasonal animal-watching gatherings.
Photo: courtesy of Takao no Mori Nature School

Branching out to Keep Nature Vibrant for the Future 

Over the almost nine years since its founding, the school has made deep connections with the community. Local residents regularly volunteer to help the school's small staff out with events. "We're lucky to have so many specialists in the community willing to lend us their expertise in insects, gardening, or whatever a project might need," Kajiura says.

One key focus since 2021 has been on forging ties with nearby elementary and junior high schools, which have begun to send classes on field trips to Takao no Mori Nature School to learn about the importance of cultivating healthy forests. Word of the class-oriented programs' benefits is getting around; projections for the 2023 fiscal year estimate a total of around 1,140 participating students from 18 schools, including universities. For Kajiura, that growing presence in the educational community is crucial. "When kids from the neighborhood come to our school with their classes," he explains, "I think there's a better chance that they'll come again someday with their families and sign up for events. I feel like the field trips help put us on the map in the community."

Takao no Mori Nature School has an ambitious, far-reaching vision: to bring the natural beauty back to Japanese forests and pass that heritage on to generations 100 years from now. Holding true to that mission, the school is working with the local community to help a brighter, healthier future for Tokyo take root.

Takao no Mori Nature School

※Japanese language site


Operating on a concept that envisions green urban development for the next 100 years, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government is pushing initiatives to protect, increase and maintain, and cultivate Tokyo's greenery. Creating spots for improving the forest cycle, forming spaces for conserving biodiversity, and engaging in greening activities with local residents are some of the many efforts through which the initiative aims to transform Tokyo into a sustainable city that exists in harmony with nature.

Interview and writing by Ichinose Shin
Photos by Okaniwa Rico
Translation by Tom Kain