Restoration of the Urban Forests of Tokyo and Hiroshima Following World War II

  • Sheauchi ChengEmail author
  • Joe R. McBride


The urban forests of Tokyo and Hiroshima were devastated by American bombing during World War II. Approximately 160 km2 of Tokyo were burned by more than 100 fire bombings, while an area of 12 km2 was leveled and burned by one atomic bomb in Hiroshima. Tokyo’s street tree population was reduced from 105,000 to approximately 42,000 by the end of the war. In the years immediately following the war, the street tree population dropped to 35,000 in Tokyo due to a combination of further tree mortality and the cutting of trees for fire wood. No estimates of pre-war street tree populations are available for Hiroshima. Examination of pre-and post-atomic bombing photographs of Hiroshima suggests an even higher percentage of the trees in the city were destroyed. Post-war reconstruction of the urban forests of each city developed along different pathways. Plans for the redevelopment of Tokyo were rejected by the general public who wanted a return to pre-war conditions. Few streets were widened to accommodate traffic and allow for new street tree-planting. Plans for new parks were shelved or only partially achieved. Some streets were replanted by private citizens. Initial survival rates of replanting were low. Trees in Tokyo’s municipal tree nurseries, which had not been converted to vegetable gardens during the war, were often larger than the optimal size for transplanting, but were used as no other trees were available. A more concerted effort to reconstruct the urban forest came following the 1959 decision to site the 1964 Olympic Games in Tokyo. Many streets were widened and planted with trees. New tree-lined boulevards were also created. In contrast, Hiroshima sponsored an international competition for the design of a Peace Park and a major tree-lined boulevard. Several wide streets were built with space for street trees. Major plans were also drawn to create greenways along the rivers and to build additional parks. Trees were initially donated by local farmers and nearby towns for planting the parks and the boulevard since municipal tree nurseries had been converted to vegetable gardens during the war. Survival rates were very low due to the rubble content of the soil and difficulties in watering the transplanted trees. Strong support from the mayors of Hiroshima contributed to the success of urban forest reconstruction in Hiroshima. The historical significance of the destruction caused by the first atomic bomb to be dropped on an urban area also contributed to Hiroshima citizens’ will to reconstruct both the city and its urban forest. Species and location of trees determined the survival of trees after war in both cities. Species with strong resprouting ability and thick bark survived the bombing and fire. In Tokyo trees located in open areas avoided the fire, while in Hiroshima trees standing behind tall concrete buildings were shielded from radiation and the heat wave. In addition to the difficulties faced during the city-wide replanning process, constraints of urban forest recovery included severe financial restriction, short supply of proper large-sized trees for planting and lack of labor for planting and post-planting tree care. Hiroshima used public participation and community involvement to restore the urban greenery successfully and, until today, has maintained a program to conserve the trees that survived the atomic bomb.


History Japan Post war-city planning Replanting Trees Urban forest 



The authors would like to thank Prof. Fujio Hirata of the Awaji Landscape Planning and Horticulture Academy and Mr. Keizo Fukunari for their assistance on arranging interviews and field guides. We also want to thank Mr. Takao Kobayashi and Mr. Yutake Shinohara of the Hiroshima City, City Planning Bureau, Green Promotion Department for providing city records. Our deepest appreciation goes to Mr. Munemasa Maeda, Mr. Tatsuo Ishikawa, and Mr. Satoyoshi Nishiyama who provided us first-hand experience after the war. Without Kenya Ukawa, Hiromitsu Tomidokoro, Koyanagi Tomoyo, and Tomoko Uetake, we would not have been able to see so many burnt trees surviving in Tokyo’s high-rises. This study was funded by the Awaji Landscape Planning and Horticultural Academy, Hyogo Prefecture, Japan and the Farrand Fund for Landscape Architecture Research, University of California, Berkeley, CA.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Landscape Architecture and Environmental PlanningUniversity of CaliforniaBerkeleyUSA
  2. 2.Department of Landscape Architecture and Environmental Planning, and Department of Environmental Science, Policy and ManagementUniversity of California, BerkeleyBerkeleyUSA

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