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April 2009


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Iconic New Zealand and Japanese trees unite

20 Apr 2009

Two ancient trees, both celebrities in their respective countries and with twin tales of cultural significance, have been united by a unique tourism initiative between New Zealand and Japan.

New Zealand’s famous giant kauri tree Tane Mahuta of Waipoua (Northland), and Jōmon Sugi - a similar forest chief on Yakushima Island off the coast of Japan - have been brought together in a ground-breaking ‘Family of Ancient Trees’ agreement that could grow into a global phenomenon.

Community links
The move is a twist on the sister city relationships that exist between countries, and developed after local communities realised the similarities between Yakushima Island community and the Te Roroa people of the Waipoua region of New Zealand.

They found each had a similar story and a common objective - to protect and promote their ancient forest giants. While it was important to encourage tourists to experience the trees’ physical and spiritual power, it was also crucial to foster an appreciation of their unique environment, supportive culture and community.

The two cultures, two communities and two famous trees have been growing and developing for thousands of years on opposite sides of the equator. Each has experienced similar struggles in terms of reinvigorating their communities through tourism while continuing to protect the culture and environment.

Common goal
Since 2007, key representatives of both communities have traded stories and official visits with cultural exchanges and discussions that have seen Waipoua Māori elders and Yakushima community leaders develop a close understanding and a common goal.

Both sides say the powerful relationship formed during the development of the family tree project exposed their similarities in history, culture, spirituality, language, and vision.

Alex Nathan, chairman for both Te Roroa Whatu Ora and Waipoua Forest trusts, said it was an honour and privilege to work with the Yakushima community and 'The Family of Ancient Trees' project provided a significant opportunity to develop the relationship into practical and tangible gains for Te Roroa as an iwi (Māori tribe) and as a corporate entity.

"Te Roroa is proud to be in this relationship with the people of Yakushima, we have a lot we can learn from their experiences and look forward to sharing our experiences and knowledge with them. This is the beginning, the seed. This agreement, I believe, will grow in potential and impact like the mighty trees that have inspired it," Mr Nathan said.

Tonao Hidaka, the Mayor of Yakushima, said he had been especially looking forward to coming face-to-face with the sacred tree Tane Mahuta.

"Just as importantly, I am looking forward to meeting everyone involved in making 'The Family of Ancient Trees’ possible. I firmly believe the actions of both parties in forming this unique relationship will be of great significance to our communities and future generations," Mr Hidaka said.

Historic milestone ceremony
On 23 April, 'The Family of Ancient Trees’ project will be formalised in a special ceremony in Waipoua forest at the foot of the 51.2m high Lord of the Forest, Tane Mahuta.

The event, which begins with a powhiri, will be attended by dignitaries from Japan and New Zealand, and will mark an historic milestone in relations between the two cultures.

As well as Mayor Hidaka, the Japanese delegation will include the Guardian of Yakushima Tessei Shiba, Yakushima chairperson Yoshitaka Terada, members of the regional council and media representatives from MBC TV, Kyodo Tsushin press agency, Nishi Nihon and Minami Nihon newspapers. Mr Takamichi Okabe, Consul General of Japan, will also attend the ceremony.

New Zealand guests include the local iwi Te Roroa, New Zealand MPs (members of parliament) and dignitaries, and Tourism New Zealand officials including chief executive George Hickton.

Unique destinations
Hickton says he believes 'The Family of Ancient Trees’ project is unique to the world and has strong potential to develop into a global tourism network bringing other significant historic trees and their surrounding communities into the family.

"The family tree project resonates with the value of kaitiakitanga which is core to New Zealand Tourism’s strategy and provides an opportunity to share that concept with others. It also highlights these unique destinations to the growing number of travellers who want authentic experiences as well as providing the regions increased opportunity for economic growth and employment through tourism," said Hickton.

There are an estimated 60 trees of historic or cultural significance throughout the world.


Tane Mahuta - Waipoua, New Zealand
Tane Mahuta, New Zealand’s largest kauri tree (height 51.2m or 169 feet and a circumference of 13.8m or 45 feet), is Lord of the Waipoua Forest - a 9,105 hectare sanctuary near Hokianga, in Northland New Zealand.

Private trusts like Waipoua Forest Trust, a bicultural partnership between conservationists and Te Iwi O Te Roroa (Māori guardians of the area), work to protect, restore, interpret and promote Waipoua.

The Waipoua forest stands as a fine example of kaitiakitanga - safeguarding New Zealand's unique culture, history, flora and fauna for future generations.

Jōmon Sugi - Yakushima, Japan
Jōmon Sugi is a key visitor attraction inYakushima’s national park and has held UNESCO World Heritage status since 1993.

At 25.3m high and with a girth of 16.4m, Jōmon Sugi is the oldest and largest of nearly 2,000 old sugi trees on the island.

Jōmon Sugi is said to be as old as 7,200 years having grown out of another tree that fell in the spot. But the centre of the trunk is hollow and the most accurate estimate states that Jōmon Sugi is nearer to 2,170 years old. It is said to have survived felling in the Edo period as it was too twisted and knotted to be of any use.

More information:

Tane Mahuta - separator of heaven and earth

Iconic New Zealand native flora

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Launch of the ‘Family of ancient trees'   - click for more.
Two ancient trees - Jōmon Sugi (above) on Yakushima Island, in Japan, and Tane Mahuta in Northland, New Zealand - have been united by a unique tourism initiative.


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