• Report
“A forest that nurtures imaginations” UWC ISAK Japan Harmony with Nature

Preface (by Hidakuma editorial desk)

This article is an activity report written by members of the project team “Harmony with Nature” of an international boarding high school “United World College ISAK Japan” in Karuizawa (hereinafter, ISAK), who visited Hidakuma in March last year.
Mr. Yoshiaki Tsuda was the person who made the opportunity for them to visit Hidakuma. He is an associate professor at the Sugadaira Montane Research Centre, School of Life and Environmental Sciences, University of Tsukuba. Mr. Tsuda has long been connected to Hidakuma, being a mentor for student research projects at ISAK. After hearing the project aiming to work on the harmony between science, forests, art and business, from the students, Tsuda asked them, “Why don’t you guys go to Hidakuma?”
During the 3 day Hida training camp program, they walked through the beautiful Satoyama (a mountain close to a rural settlement habitat) “Tanekura” in Hida as well as the broad-leaved forest, while hearing the stories from the locals. They also visited Nishino Seizaisho which saws broad-leaved trees, Takumikan Craft Museum where you can learn the techniques of Kumiki (joint joinery), and the workshop of a Hida furniture craftsman, Mr. Taketo Suzuki (KOIVU). They also had a moment to chat with Ms. Miho Tominaga and Mr. Yasumasa Hayashi, both architects who were visiting Hidakuma around the same time. It was also impressive to see them writing a lot of ideas on sticky notes during the discussions at FabCafe after returning from the tour. It was like drawing colorful and cheerful lines freely on a white sketchbook. We were overwhelmed by their ability to concentrate. Their words were so fresh and youthful, which made us feel so refreshed.
What was the hypothesis they first made? How did they feel in Hida? What kind of ideas and shapes did they form after the visit of Hida? From this report, you will fully understand that the forest has a lot of potential. At the end of the report, we will deliver the voices of Professor Tsuda and Mr. Matsumoto from Hidakuma. Please take a look.


A forest that nurtures imaginations

UWC ISAK Japan Harmony with Nature


Envisions how humans and nature interact in the future
Where Umwelten intersect,
Culture evolves like a living organism
Students learn to play to the strengths
Of themselves, others’, and nature’s
A new yet familiar culture from Karuizawa



  • Introduction
  • Visiting Hidakuma
  • The Ecosystem in Hida
  • The Ecosystem in UWC ISAK Japan
  • Prototype: ART in Forest
  • Future Projects




How can we redesign our relationship with nature? Since modernization, our society has been separated from nature; this is the fundamental cause of the environmental issues we see today.

Harmony with nature is founded to create a new model that connects humans and nature.
This idea might sound too bold. You might wonder how we are going to make tangible impacts on this global issue. Well, what we have in UWC ISAK Japan is a forest and vivid almost fevered imaginations. There is no way to not make use of this opportunity and explore new relationships with nature in UWC ISAK Japan forest.

Still cannot imagine how you associate yourself with nature? Here is how I find myself in UWC ISAK Japan forest.

When I’m studying at school trapped by all the tasks, I just use my brain and neglect how my
body feels. As a result, quite many people suffer from sudden stress reactions. Why not go to the forest? Climb a tree, lie down and look at the sky, or smell the scent of flowers. I feel the forest within my body. If you dig deeper, you may unexpectedly notice thoughts and memories that you could connect to the experience. It’s also interesting to try to find a creature in the forest that represents who you are at a particular point. Then think about why you resonate with them.
This will restore the relationship between your brain and your body. We can call this a
well-being in the forest.

The true value of forests reveals itself when people come together. What if people with diverse backgrounds come together and start new projects? Different backgrounds mean different experiences and knowledge, thus different lenses to look at the forest. Lenses of sciences, arts, and children to name a few, how exciting! We will share our perspectives by opening our five senses to the forest, discovering the hidden parts of ourselves. Shared values and knowledge will be fermented in the forest and become the source of innovative solutions to issues we confront today. UWC ISAK Japan has students from over 84 countries with each unique background. Karuizawa has attracted people who create cultures: bold pictures of who we are tomorrow. Ecosystem is so complex that we still don’t know its fullest potential. Imagine these are put together in one place, mixed, and fermented. We are excited to see what is going to come out from this frontier.

The question is how we are going to achieve this. We hypothesized that there are following
steps to involve people and develop such culture. People go to the forest, authentic experiences with five senses change their being, and change their actions.

However, this is still a hypothesis. If something similar to this were to exist somewhere, where would it be. What can we learn from them and make this hypothesis a reality? With this mindset, we visited Hidakuma.

Visiting Hidakuma

Mr.Okada’s forest

In my country, the Republic of the Congo, forests are both a pillar and a sacrifice of economic growth. It is sold to the international market. In that respect, how to use the forest is very different from Hida. Kuro-moji, which grows naturally in Okada’s forest, has a nice scent when folded.

Tanekura Village

“Even if you have to destroy the house you live in, you must protect the Kura(warehouse).” More than 260 years, people have passed down their skills and knowledge to survive the severe environment and coexist with nature. The lives of people in Tanekura are arts, history, home… and they are just beautiful.


It takes about a year to dry the sawn timber and actually use it. A wide variety of sawn trees of various shapes, sizes and thicknesses. Find out the characteristics and merits of each, and think about how to use it only for that wood.


The shape of the wood is so unique that it is often left in forests, but they brought this here
hoping that some designers will embrace its uniqueness. This is how passions become compassion.

Wood worker

Mr. Suzuki, our guide, used to train in Europe. Throughout the tour, we learned many skills and mindsets unique to European countries. At first, we all tend to add and add various ideas into one paper. Subtracting and shaving things off from an idea is always difficult. However it is very effective to pull everything out and make it as simple as possible. By doing so, the crucial parts will be highlighted, and a clearer product will be created.

Kumiki (traditional skill of combining wooden sticks)

When I compared this experience to Tanekura, I felt how humans communicate with nature is different from each other even though they are both cultures surrounded by nature. Kumiki can be said to be the combination of ancient wisdom and natural material.

Hidakuma = Pedal Power of Hida-cycle

What is Hidakuma like? Why does Hidakuma attract people so much?
When I look back for 3 days at Hidakuma with those points, It was like “Hey Let’s do something fun”, there is no blueprint to invite architects or designers into Hida. Instead of that, what they have is “passion” or like the emotion of “be stoked”. Yes that’s it. Surprisingly, a lot of people have been to Hidakuma to desire that. Why is that? Because that is the unique formula to create unusual ideas for any field. We experienced that formula too; by exploring time and space through the traditional architectures, forest and hundreds of history of Hida,our knowledge was stored in our brain, then those were crossed with our own field suddenly.It’s like a coincidence however it is not because we were just not staying in Hidakuma, we reflect ourselves, then having dialogue aging and again. I interviewed the architect I met in Hidakuma, and said “Architecture is like a train running on the rail. The rail is already laid down and therefore we’d never thought of getting off the track. However here Hidakuma doesn’t set the rail track and it’s very fun to plan”

Ideas are formed during lunch time then some jokes could become ideas oftenly. It tells us people’s laugh or smile is the greatest way to bring unique ideas. Encounter with interesting people at the out of the track arouses the sense of adventure. The formula of coincidence brings new values into Hida, today as well.

The Ecosystem in Hida

We can see an open relationship between society and nature. Hida forest has different types and shapes of trees compared with quite artificial forests. This is because the Hida-forest aims to be a place for fun rather than rational planning. Usually it is efficient to use controlled trees for mass-production of furniture, but there is no space to have different values as everything looks the same. On the other hand, when Hida has a small, unique shape and different color of tree, we lovingly come up with unique ideas. It takes much more time, but it’s very valuable as a result in terms of an environment and economic cycle. Sawdusts are used for a soft cow bed, brought to the dairy farm from the sawmill in Hida. The open relationship we would say “ecosystem” between human and nature shaped Hida-culture uniquely.

The Ecosystem in UWC ISAK Japan

Prototype: ART in Forest

We defined this feeling process as to use five senses. In everyday life, we mostly use our brains to study something academic. This is why it’s necessary to have sensitive senses on our body that we use unconsciously by “feeling” in nature.

Construct questions about what we take an interest in -Why I’m interested in this- and seek a connection between yourself and what you felt curious about in order to understand why you got the sense of curiosity. After that, try to replace the sense with something different from it.

→facing yourself. Your body will be connected to brain. You probably realize your values or stress which you haven’t realized before.

Write the perspective expressed by the artwork in sentences. (ex. Ricardo’s work: represents the anti-natural act of stacking heavier stones on top of a collection of branches. naturally and humans. And this work itself returns to the forest in the natural flow, which suggests the limitation of humans’ control over nature)

Reflect afterward…
ex. Dan visited the forest and saw this work and felt the strength of nature; where a large rock that cannot be supported by one twig is supported by dozens of gathered twigs. Then, a new perspective was born that this could be utilized in architecture. He embodies the idea and creates new art. And again, a new person sees it and reflects. New perspectives will be created as many as the number of visitors. Visit the forest, bring in new perspectives, and create new arts. This cycle gives birth to human culture in the forest.

Future Projects

Lost & found: forest for untranslatable words

Have you ever faced the challenges in translating your native language to English? There are lots of untranslatable Japanese expressions such as Komorebi , Wabisabi , Aware. Not only in Japanese, but also in German, Waldeinsamkeit (feeling alone in the woods) is a concept not found in other languages. To communicate these concepts that cannot be linguistically conveyed, we could replace them with the rich nature of the forest. Challenges the limits of language with the diversity of the forest.

A noble note of neighboring nebula

“What did you come up with?”
“I can’t really tell what it is that I came up with, it is still a fuzzy nebula so to speak”
(Talking to myself)
“I did not get a chance to express my nebula but I don’t want to just put this back into my head and wait until it flashes again. Oh, I have an idea, let’s have this kept in the forest and see how it turns out to be”
The nebula was put onto an aging rock with moss on it. He was sitting still for a while, then started to wander around the forest. He travels through the trees blown by the wind when the sun is high. As the sun sets, he goes to sleep in a humus layer surrounded by leaves that were green. He merges with other nebulae, transforms, and disappears. It can take many shapes from questions, puzzles to paradoxes and mental images.
I hear that many scientists visit this forest to formulate their research questions. Of course, nebulae are respectable research colleagues.

From you to you, Underwood to Kinoshita we all run around forests like a cheetaahhh.

Refreshing and innovative workout session at the forest. We welcome each and every member of our campus to this session. When I say everyone I do mean everyone, Underwood chan from Australia and even Kinoshita kun from Japan.

Oh, we are the true Mori art museum

Nature is the origin of all organisms. Humans have been building and developing civilization by coexisting with nature. And NOW we should find the true value of the forest once again. Here, I want to propose another Mori art museum in which the combination of nature, art, and digital technology appears. An artwork that is made by digital technology would help you to feel something invisible in the forest. Nowadays, a specific virus has been spreading and we might be able to take advantage of the current situation by combining forest and technology.


UWC ISAK Japan Harmony with Nature


UWC ISAK Japan Harmony with Nature
Kai, Dan, Fuma, Keitaro, Arata, Christ, Yuka, and Camila

School Overview

At UWC ISAK Japan we empower each other to be transformational leaders who explore new frontiers and make a positive impact today and in the future.
As Japan’s only full-boarding international high school (grades 10-12) and one of the newest members of the United World Colleges movement, we are making education a force to unite people, nations and cultures for peace and a sustainable future. UWC ISAK Japan is committed to educating intellectually curious, compassionate, and innovative students from around the world who are eager to make a difference.

Yoshiaki Tsuda
An Associate Professor at the Sugadaira Montane Research Centre, School of Life and Environmental Sciences, University of Tsukuba. Has been in his current position since 2015, after several years of research in various places such as Evolutionary Biology Centre EBC in Sweden, Florence in Italy, India, and Iriomote Island. His specialty is population genetics focusing on spatiotemporal scale, and its application to ecosystem conservation and resource management. Mainly targets forest trees, expanding his research to include insects, mammals, and fish. He is also doing research on safe mountain leisure activities in modern times where nature is less involved with human lives. Collaborates with Hidakuma in interactive manners, including Smart Craft Studio 2017, Shinshu Mori Fes (Forest Festival) 2018, Norwegian University of Life Sciences’ visit to Hidakuma (https://hidakuma.com/en/blog/20190610_norwegian-university-of-life-sciences_camp/), and university lectures. He would like to connect with the forest not only through his research but also through his hobby, the guitar. Received the Japanese Forest Society Incentive Award 2019. Holds a doctorate degree (agricultural science).
Laboratory HP is here.

Takeshi Matsumoto
Hidakuma Representative Director COO / Tobimushi Inc.The Hidakuma COO / Tobimushi Inc. After being engaged in an environmental business company, he joined Tobimushi Inc. in 2019. In 2015, established a public-private consortium, “Hidakuma”, in collaboration with Hida City, Tobimushi Inc. and Loftwork Inc. in Hida City, Gifu Prefecture, then was appointed to a director. In 2016, opened “FabCafe Hida”, an accommodation-attached manufacturing cafe that was renovated from an old private house. Has been in the current position since 2019.

Members Voice

By chance, I became a mentor for the student independent studies at UWC-ISAK from September 2019. In particular, as for this Harmony with Nature group, from the moment I heard their ideas at the first meeting, I thought “they are a bit like Hidakuma”. Immediately after their presentation, I introduced Hidakuma HP to them. In fact, I had been in contact with several more companies at that time for business. However, they would immediately refuse even an opportunity to have discussion with them, saying, “it will not benefit our company”. I quietly thought it was a missed opportunity not to listen to such pioneering and unique ideas that came from their young sensibility as they will lead the next generation internationally! However, unlike these companies, Hidakuma, who insists on discovering new value of the forest, found UWC-ISAK students’ project fun and valuable, which led to discussions with them online multiple times. In particular, it is significant that they were able to feel the cycle of Hida community directly that connected mountain owners, logging companies, sawmills, designers, and others, during the site visit at Hidakuma.  Eventually this formed a prototype proposal of ideas about the forest based on the belief of Harmony with Nature. Now we are facing various problems on a global scale. Since the spread of humans (Homo sapiens) from Africa to various parts of the globe, it is obvious that human society has a close relationship with forests. This will not change in the future. I hope that those students who will lead the next generation will play an active role in the world with what they have gained from this project. Also I appreciate that we should have the sensibility to understand innovative ideas as they do.
(These contents will be presented at the high school student section of the 132nd Annual Meeting of Japanese Forest Society (will be held online in March 2021), as a joint research by all of us including the Hidakuma staff.)

Yoshiaki Tsuda
An Associate Professor at the Sugadaira Montane Research Centre, School of Life and Environmental Sciences, University of Tsukuba. 

“Hidakuma is a place for ‘playing’”! That’s what they say.
In Johan Huizinga’s book “Homo Ludens”, he wrote, “Humans are Homo Ludens = People who play. Play is older than culture, and every culture that humanity has nurtured was born out of play. In other words, play is the essence of human activity”.*
In Chapter 1, “formal features of playing” are summarized as follows:
“Play is a free act, being considered not to be ordinary or real life. Nonetheless, it completely captivates the hearts of the people who play. However, play is connected with no material interest, and no profit can be gained from it. It is voluntarily carried out both as to locality and duration, progresses in an orderly manner according to certain laws, and creates community norms. It emphasizes that it is distinct from the ordinary world, preferring to surround oneself in secret, or in disguise”.*
This is exactly what the activities of Hidakuma are aiming for, in order to recapture the value of the forest without being bound by the rules of existing forestry and timber industries.
I hope that we can create a new world that is “different from the ordinary world” in time and space separately as we appreciate the time we spent together in the Hida forest before the world changed in March 2020.
*Translator’s note: those quotes are not original English translations yet are translated into English from the Japanese at the best of her ability.

Takeshi Matsumoto
Hidakuma Representative Director COO / Tobimushi Inc.

Interested in staying with us in Hida learning about local forestry, wooden techniques including Kumiki joinery and local cultures?

Hidakuma offers you various workshops and staying-in programs for those who have interest in forestry, as well as architects, designers, students and companies. The programs include forestry, town planning, architecture, and furniture designing/manufacturing to name a few. Please feel free to contact us.
Details on Camp Program in Hida
Any enquiry/Questions?