BLOG: CSU forestry friendship continues overseas with Japanese college

CSU and Japanese student group photo
All photos courtesy of Megan Matonis. (Photo credits: Melissa Matonis)

Editor’s note: Megan Matonis is the former Colorado State Forest Service Experiental Learning Program Manager and Warner College Liaison. This is a first-hand account of her trip to Yamagata with CSU forestry students.

“I chose this field because I want to be able to see and understand the forests.”

-Juna Tanabe, second-year student at YPCAF, whose name means “Tree born”

By: Megan Matonis


Yamagata Prefecture, located in the Tōhoku region of Japan, is shaped like the profile of a friendly human face.

I recently spent four memorable days there with friendly students and faculty members at the Yamagata Prefectural College of Agriculture and Forestry (YPCAF). I was traveling with Tori Hunter, Natalie McNees, Frank Harris, and Paul Gillett, four Colorado State University forestry undergraduate students.

The trip was part of a blossoming relationship between CSU and YPCAF, an informal extension of the prefecture-state relationship Colorado and Yamagata have shared since 1986. The YPCAF-CSU relationship began when Japanese forestry students and faculty visited Colorado in September 2017 and 2018 for cross-cultural exchange and exposure to forestry in our state.

Mr. Akira Yoshizaki, a YPCAF forestry instructor, said these student exchanges provide an“opportunity to observe our own country’s forests from an international viewpoint and address common problems, such as insects and diseases and tree regeneration failures, and common goals, like preparing our students for success in the forestry profession.”

CSU forestry student group photo
CSU students look at seedling

Different forest ecosystems

Colorado and Yamagata are separated by more than 5,550 miles and support vastly different forest ecosystems. Yamagata receives abundant precipitation, averaging 82 inches per year, compared to a mere 15 inches per year in Colorado. Yamagata is 72 percent forested (about 2,600 square miles), with a combination of natural hardwood forests, ancient Japanese cedar forests (with behemoth trees greater than 1,000 years old), coastal pine forests, and cedar plantations.

We toured coastal pine ecosystems, which help stabilize sand dunes that can bury nearby roadways and towns when gale-force winds blow off the Sea of Japan. Coastal forests deteriorated after World War II due to firewood collecting, farmland development, and low federal budgets. Foresters with the Japanese government and non-profit organizations started restoring these important forests more than 40 years ago through reforestation and careful management.

We also learned about regeneration dynamics in beech-dominated hardwood forests, which differ from any forest type in Colorado. Beech and cedar forests are culturally important in Japan, and ancient pagodas and trails for religious pilgrimages dot the forested landscape.

CSU and Yamagata forestry students in Japanese forest
Beech Tree Planting CSU and Yamagata students

Shared love for forestry

Despite speaking different languages, we found that a love for forestry enabled us to communicate and share rich experiences with our hosts. Our trip coincided with an annual Japanese celebration of the rice harvest. We were formally recognized and honored during a ceremony attended by the entire YPCAF student body, the College President, and the mayor of Shinjo, Japan. We also participated in a ceremonial planting of two beech and two Japanese hornbeam trees on the YPCAF campus.

Learning about unique Japanese forest ecosystems and management practices was eye opening for us. Perhaps Frank Harris, a CSU senior majoring in forest biology, summed up our shared experience in Yamagata, “The things I experienced on this journey not only will become unforgettable memories but will also change the way I view our forests in Colorado.”


Support from CSU donor families and M.E.M. Travel, Inc., a Japanese travel agency based in Denver, made this unique experience possible. Megan Matonis is now the Intermountain West Regional Manager with the Forest Stewards Guild.