[Hidden Wonders of Japan] Guitars lead the rebirth of a forest in Nishiokoppe, Hokkaido

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The village of Nishiokoppe in eastern Hokkaido sits amidst a landscape that is 90% forest. As remote as it may seem, the region is proud of its guitars. In fact, it is popular among guitar lovers inside and outside Hokkaido.

Why? Because the wooden body of electric guitars was once made, along with a few other products, by the historic logging industry in the village.

In the past, Nishiokoppe had a thriving timber industry. But dairy farming has taken over in recent years. Unfortunately, manufacturing stopped in 1987 when the company went bankrupt due to a collapse in the lumber industry.

「オホーツ ク 楽器 工業」 で 生産 さ ギター の の。 ギター の 原板 に は 2 ~ 3 張り合わさ れ た 板 使わ 使わ れる 使わ 使わ 使わ 使わ 使わ 使わ 使わ 使わ 使わ 使わ 使わ 使わ 使わ 使わ 使わ 使わ 使わ 使わ 使わ
Production of a guitar body at the Okhotsk Musical Instrument Plant. Two or three sheets are glued together to form the original body of the guitar. (© Sankei by Kan Emori)

However, the village did not give up. She created local groups to train former employees and provide new jobs.

Eventually, this effort helped build the Okhotsk Musical Instrument Industry Co.Ltd. And the revival of guitar making.

Thanks to the expert carpentry and meticulous painting skills of the craftsmen, as well as the dry local climate, the business thrived. It currently produces around 20,000 guitar bodies per year.艶 を 出す 為 に 磨 か れる 多く ギター ギター。 工程 の 多く 手 作業 で 、 完成 完成 する 約 2 カ月 要する = 北海道 西興部 村 村 西興部 西興部 西興部 西興部 西興部

Guitars made in Nishiokoppe are polished until they are impeccably smooth and shiny. Most of the process is done by hand, taking about two months. (© Sankei by Kan Emori)

「オホーツク楽器工業」で生産されるギターのボディ
Guitar bodies produced at the Okhotsk Musical Instrument Factory. (© Sankei by Kan Emori)
多くの建物がオレンジ色に統一された村の中心部
The center of the village of Nishiokoppe, where the orange color of many buildings stands out. (© Sankei by Kan Emori)

Young guitar lovers making guitars

Indeed, most of the 40 craftsmen of this factory, with an average age of about 33, are guitar enthusiasts from outside the village.

At the factory, visitors hear the sound of cutting wood resonating in the dry air. Most of the process is done by hand, which means it takes two months to make a single electric guitar.

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Factory manager Noriyuki Mukaichi, 44, explains the call. Guitars painstakingly crafted in Japan by Okhoskt craftsmen sound stable and precise, he boasts. “The sophisticated painting technique gives each an elegant finish that is popular overseas.”

しでギターを制作する従業員。完成品は海外でも高い評価を得ている
An employee carefully examines the guitar. The finished products are highly appreciated in foreign markets. (© Sankei by Kan Emori)

Guitars leading the renewal of the forest environment

Linden, a soft and easy to process broadleaf tree, is the main material used for the body. In the past, these trees were naturally abundant in the village. However, they are no longer available in sufficient quantities in Japan and the wood must be imported.

シナノキの苗木を植樹するオホーツク楽器工業の従業員ら
Employees of the Okhotsk Musical Instrument Factory planting linden seedlings. (© Sankei by Kan Emori)
Employees of the Okhotsk Musical Instrument Factory planting linden seedlings. (© Sankei by Kan Emori)

Taking a long-term view with the goal of becoming self-sufficient, the village began planting lime trees in 2021. All employees joined in the effort, planting over 1,000 Japanese lime tree saplings under the big blue sky. .

Each tree takes more than 80 years to grow before it can be used as raw material. So hopefully in 100 years the forest will be completely renewed.

Nishiokoppe’s hope is that the forest will once again support the production of wood to make guitars from local wood. Beyond the city, the guitar world hopes the forest will help produce the clear, crisp notes of Okhotsk guitars in the future.

Nishiokppe may be a small village, but its big dreams will go down in history.

平成 元年 に 廃止 さ れる まで 村 に は j 名寄本線 が 通っ い い。 旧 上興部 駅 で 静態 保存 さ れ ディーゼル ディーゼル カー = 北海道 西興部 西興部
The JR Nayoro Main Line passed through the village until it was discontinued in 1989. A diesel locomotive is preserved at the old Kamiokoppe Station, near the village of Nishiokoppe, Hokkaido. (© Sankei by Kan Emori)

About Nishiokoppe, Hokkaido:

The small town has 1040 inhabitants (as of September 30, 2022). It covers an area of ​​approximately 308.08 square kilometers in northern Hokkaido, just inside the Sea of ​​Okhotsk.

There are no trains going there these days. The city is about 1 hour and 20 minutes by car from the nearest transport hub, Okhotsk Monbetsu Airport.

Many buildings in the city are colored orange to make them stand out in the snow, giving the city a unified look.

guitars
Setoshi-kun, the village mascot with a guitar. Dairy farming and guitar making are the main industries in the village. (© Sankei by Kan Emori)

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(Read the article in Japanese on this link.)

Author: Kan Emori, Office of Photojournalism, The Sankei Shimbun

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