Sunday, April 26, 2015

Forest needs people: Niiharu CITIZEN Forest

Niiharu Forest is one of the biggests among the Yokohama Citizen Forest scheme. It has 5 suggested routes to hike in the forest as this map shows. If we plan to enjoy typical Satoyama scenary, Route B (called Asahi-Yato Route旭谷戸, with the orange numbering in the map) would be the best. There are 4 more Routes. Route A is with the pale blue numbering for Ikebuchi Route池ぶち, Route C with the pink numbering for Mukaiyama Route向山, Route D with the dark blue numbering for Ridgeway -Onemichi- Route尾根道, and Route E is with the green numbering for Kamadachi-Yato Route鎌立谷戸. As you can see in the map, each numbering goes like “A-1.”

It is a general numbering system in Yokohama Citizen Forest, although it varies slightly from the forest to the forest. (For smaller Forests, they do not have numbering.) For example, in Niiharu, we find a sign post at C-4 point like

Have you noticed the display “C-4,” though it is not in pink? All the points with numbering in the map of Citizen Forest actually have a sign post showing that number. So, if you think you’ve lost in the forest, you can just check the map, and confirm your location easily.

Now for Niiharu. The preservation of Satoyama Forest of Niiharu is the labor of love by landlords and citizen volunteers. Niiharu Forest has a volunteer organization, The Lovers of Niiharu Citizen Forest新治市民の森愛護会. They meet every first and third Saturdays, and every second and fourth Sundays to clean and tend 67.2ha of Niiharu Forest.

The volunteers wear a protective helmet during activities.
So, look!

They have Niiharu Charter:

“We, the people in Yokohama, love the Niiharu Forest of beautiful nature, and appreciate the blessings the Forest provides us.
Niiharu Citizen Forest would be one of the wonders in a big city. It has been maintained by ordinary life of people in Niiharu for generations.
Now, we open the Forest as the place for every citizen to protect, nurture, and carry the memory of traditional scenery of Yato.
We define our motto for Niiharu such that we revive and re-energize the Niiharu Forest through the cohabitation between the nature and human life, in order to pass this treasure to our children and beyond.

We declare Niiharu Charter such as
  1.      Passing the cultural climate of the nature of Niiharu, and its Satoyama that has been nurtured by Niiharu people , to our next generations,
  2.      Fostering the nature of Niiharu and the next generations of ours to develop more powerful co-habitation between the nature and the humans, through activities to take care of the Forest, and,
  3.      Co-owning all the images of ideal forest for any forest lovers, and cooperating each other in order to create the Forest for every citizen.

At the opening of Niiharu Citizen Forest, by all the Lovers of Niiharu Citizen Forest

March 2000"

A member of the club does not have to attend every meeting of the month, but contributes to the activity according to his/her schedule. In the morning (9:00- for April – November, 9:30- for December – April), they engage in the activities for taking care of the Forest. For those who can devote an entire day, in the afternoon there could be a continuing session for cleaning-up, or thematic fun meetings for, e.g., charcoal making, wood curving, grow-your-own-veggies, scientific nature observation, etc.

… and, I guess, it is a result of their activity.
Actually, if you are interested in it, on any activity day you can just go to Ikebuchi Hiroba 池ぶち広場(Map A-4) and try whatever they are doing as a “trial.” Please make a contact with Mr/Ms Ohkawa (as this is Japan, we do not put any gender differentiating salutation) at 045-934-9898. … I don’t know if English is OK here … so sorry.

Ikebuchi Hiroba, which means “Open space next to a pond,”
and so this is the pond next to Ikebuchi Hiroba.
Some of those products created by the volunteer of the Lovers are on sale to support the maintenance of Niiharu Forest. They have an atelier-cum-small shop in Miharashi Hiroba みはらし広場(Map A-8).

Miharashi Hiroba, which means “Open space with a view,”
and so this is the view. Could you recognize the high-rise apartments of Mushashi-kosugui over there?

On sale stands made of precious cherry and Zelkova trees
Cute Taketombos, a traditional Japanese toy. Do you know how to play with it?

Next to Miharashi Hiroba, there is a parking lot open for weekends and public holidays (9:00-17:00). If you come to Niiharu Park via Tomei Express Way weekends, exit from Yokohama/Machida Exit, and find Yokohama Suiryoh High School翆陵高校. This parking is next to their campus. (Oh, yes, this parking is not that far from Indian International School of Yokohama.)

Coming May 10, 2015, the Lovers have an event for kids at Ikebuchi Hiroba for 10:00-14:30. The program consists of

  1. Plant your own Shiitake Mushrooms to a log (cost of the log = 200 yen),
  2. Try traditional hand-processing for the first flash of green tea,
  3. Let’s make whatever you like with bamboo logs, and
  4. Play Honchi-sumo (a traditional kids play with spiders).

No reservation necessary. The cost of attending the event is 100 yen for elementary school kids, 300 yen for adults. (Babies, free.) Bring your own lunch and drinks, and a cup and utensil (; they serve miso-soup during lunch). Also, towels and gloves for outdoor activities would be handy. Pls do not forget the attire of Citizen Forest; this time, long sleeves and long pants would protect you from mosquitos and other nasties in the forest ;)

If you find a problem in the Park, please make a contact with
Office for the Park Greeneries in the North北部公園緑地事務所
Yokohama Municipal Government Creative Environment Policy Bureau横浜市環境創造局
Phone: 045-311-2016 (I guess in Japanese only)
FAX: 045-316-8420 (I hope there is somebody who can read English …)

Niiharu Administrative Office / Satoyama Exchange Center新治管理事務所・里山交流センター
Phone: 045-931-4947
Fax: 045-937-0898

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Spring in Satoyama Yato of Niiharu

Roughly speaking, Niiharu Citizen Forest (; map - in Japanese - here) consists of two kinds of sceneries, Yato 谷戸and (really) forests. Together they created Satoyama.

“Yato” is old Japanese describing a small valley surrounded by hills. In Kamakura, it was called “Yatsu,” and in Boh-soh peninsula房総半島 (Chiba Prefecture), it was “Yatsu.” Valley had a small stream which was easy to turn into a rice paddy. Humans developed series of rice paddies along the stream, then dry lands for veggies up the slopes. Somewhere in the middle of the hills, at a particularly suitable spot, they constructed houses, such as Okutsu estate, and orchard. Further from Yato, it is a forest providing many materials for daily living.

In Niiharu, Yato is preserved by the landlords who engage in organic commercial farming for veggies and fruits, and volunteers especially for rice paddies. Do you remember majority of the Citizen Forests are leased property to the City?

It is a working farm land. Do you know Kanagawa prefecture is in the top 10 list for vegetable producers in Japan?
Citizen rice paddies before planting
When we walk in Yato part of Niiharu, we cannot enter into the farm fields and paddies, but it is OK to take a narrow way, called Azemichi 畦道 along the field.

Around Azemichi, there are some structures for farming, where natural habitat finds their home. For example,

Can you recognize some utility plants here? They naturally appear here. No one planted them.
Beyond daffodils is an orchard. Niiharu people say they are replanting plums with peaches.
Cherry blossoms of yama zakura, Cerasus jamasakura (Siebold ex Koidz)

And many more! For two hours of very slow walk along the farm land, we could recognize more than 60 utility plants, some suitable for medicine, for small craft, for soil improvement, etc. and the other for seasonal dishes, including tasty tempura! In Japan, we treasure 7 herbs of spring which will be cooked with rice porridge at the end of New Year’s festival. It is said that the recipe is very good for health; we found all the herbs in Azemichi of Niiharu.

“Seri, Nazuna, Gogyoh, Hakobera, Hotokenoza, Suzuna, Suzushiro, Korezo Nanakusa.”

“Water dropwort, Shepherd's Purse, Cudweed, Chickweed, Nipplewort, Turnip, Radish, This is Seven Herbs”

By Yoshinari Yotsuzuji, 14th Century literati in his analysis of Tale of Genji.

 “Kimiga tame Haru no No ni Dete Wakana tsumu Waga Koromodeni Yuki ha Furitsutsu”

“To give you; Go out to the field in Spring; and gather young herbs; the snow is falling on my sleeves.”

By Emperor Koko in Hyakunin Isshu 百人一首(one hundred waka poems by one hundred poets) / Kokin-shu古今集 (905).

As the natural habitat of Niiharu recovers strongly, animals which were not local but pets of somebody found their home there after their freedom. We have found two kinds of footprints the other day.

According to the regulars, they are the prints of Hakubishins (masked palm civet, Paguma larvata, which became notorious due to Chinese SARS) and Raccoons (procyon lotor). If they can survive, the Forest must be comfortable for Tanuki (Nyctereutes procyonoides) as well. Though people say Japanese tanuki cannot win when they compete with raccoons or hakubishins. That’s a pity … I hope Niiharu is large enough for all of them to co-habit peacefully …

Besides Hakubishins and Raccoons, it is very easy to recognize many kinds of birds in spring of Niiharu. They are busy singing and we can enjoy the concert at Azemichi. Hibari (lark, Alauda arvensis), hakusekirei (Japanese / Kamchatka Pied Wagtail, Motacilla alba lugens), uguisu (Japanese bush warbler, Horornis diphone), gabichoh (melodious laughingthrush, Garrulax canorus) … The staff in the Administrative Office told us Niiharu has nests of Ohtaka (Northern Goshawks, Accipiter gentilis). They also hear Fukuroh (owls, Strix uralensis) singing when they leave the office in the evening. Considering Niiharu Forest is situated less than 1 km from Tohmei Expressway 東名高速and lots of residential complexes surround it, it is amazing to know these birds live there.

And so, the problem of nature thieves. The volunteers and the City are distributing the visitors Yellow Card. 

It says

Protect our precious birds from the wicked photographers!
Some enthusiasts of photography invade in the nest of birds, including Ohtaka, and disturb the reproduction of them. Please remain at the promenade in the Forest.

Don’t collect fauna and flora of Niiharu!
It is prohibited to collect beautiful flowers, herbs, bamboo shoots and others. They are private property. Also, many plants are on the verge of extinction from Niiharu due to the plant theft.

Please inform us if you find the pernicious activities in the Forest.

If you find a problem in the Park, please make a contact with
Office for the Park Greeneries in the North北部公園緑地事務所
Yokohama Municipal Government Creative Environment Policy Bureau横浜市環境創造局
Phone: 045-311-2016 (I guess in Japanese only)
FAX: 045-316-8420 (I hope there is somebody who can read English …)

Niiharu Administrative Office / Satoyama Exchange Center新治管理事務所・里山交流センター
Phone: 045-931-4947
Fax: 045-937-0898

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Okutsu House 奥津邸in Niiharu Citizen Forest

Hi, how are you?

Almost all the events in Niiharu Citizen Forest (map here) will be held either at Tsudoi-no-Ie つどいの家(Gathering House), or Satoyama Exchange Center 里山交流センター(Former Okutsu House 旧奥津邸).

Former Okutsu House
 Both of these two facilities have toilets.

Toilet for Tsudoi-no-Ie
Toilet for Okutsu House, attached to Kamaya; can you figure it out at the right edge? 

Unlike ordinary toilets of Citizen Foresst, these toilets of Niiharu are well-equipped with soaps and toilet papers.

Toilet says “Thank you for your clean usage of us! Please do not flash papers other than the supplied.” 
Tsudoi-no-Ie faces an open space with picnic tables, where out-door events are held.


We can have meals there, or even inside of the Tsudoi-no-ie where there are long tables for meetings. It also has tatami-mat space with kitchen, and an atelier for craft lessons. 

It seems to me we need a permission to enter here.
Craft Atelier
Handmade Quoits
Next to the Admin Office, a parking space is open for shoppers of Farmers Market at Tsudoi-no-Ie every Saturday morning.

Satoyama Exchange Center was home of Okutsu family奥津家 who could trace back their ancestry for Shoya 庄屋Officer (for explanation in Japanese here, in English here) of 17th century.  Okutsu family was a kind of local leader. The steep steps to come down to the Forest from Tohkaichiba was created in the 19th century by the then-owner of the estate. Before, the kids in the upper part of the village had to go around the estate of Okutsu family for Niiharu Elementary School. Mr. Okutsu allowed kids a short-cut, which made them easy to study. The slope is still frequented by local kids. On the left of the slope is Niiharu’s herb garden (with orchard) where the events are held.

Niiharu Shogakkoh (Elementary School)

Kids there, as 100 years ago
Herb garden

In August 2001, the estate was donated to the city that remodeled the property for the use of community activities. The design of renovation is to preserve the old farm house as much as possible so that we can enjoy the feel of daily life in traditional Satoyama. The center consists of 6 structures; Omoya 主屋 (“Main House”), Nagayamon 長屋門(“Long House Gate”), Naya 納屋 (“Warehouse”), Dozoh 土蔵(“Safe”), Kamaya 釜屋 (“Kitchen” where now the toilet is), and Kawaya  (“Toilet” ancient style).


In the 1980s and 1990s, Rural Culture Association of Japan 農山漁村文化協会 published a series called “Japanese Diet 日本の食生活全集" It is not about fads for weight loss in Japan, but a kind of ethnology compiled by volunteers recording the stories of then grandpas and grandmas who told them what they ate before World War II. The series is constructed prefecture by prefecture, and there is a volume titled “A verbatim Note of Diet in Kanagawa Prefecture (1992) 聞き書き神奈川の食事.

In it, we are told until the first half of the last century, rural people of Kanagawa prefecture lived in a house where kitchen and bathroom are separated from the main house. Sure enough, Okutsu House is a complex where kitchen and bathroom stand independently. Now, as Satoyama Exchange Center, Omoya, Nagayamon, and Kamaya are used for community events, whereas Naya, Dozoh and Kawaya serve as warehouses. (The working toilets are in Kamaya and Omoya. Please do not invade in to Kawaya; it is for display only.)

Washing basin, old style

Exhibition of weaved bamboo baskets in Nagayamon

21st century Fire Extinguisher has a chic home at Nagayamon

I found Nagayamon interesting because it actually is 2 tiny houses serving together as a gate for the estate. Last fall in 2014 when there was an art exhibition at Niiharu Forest, the houses became galleries for contemporary art with a quiet and intimate atmosphere.

They say the design of Naya is very local; its walls have lots of gaps, which is deliberate in order to preserve the contents of warehouse dry during the monsoon season of Yokohama. 

Dozoh and Kawaya

Kamaya now have picnic table and kitchen with traditional Japanese ovens. They also sell herbs as souvenir.

Herb, anyone?
Omoya now has two functions, an office and meeting space for community activities. The office part has small library and free rental toys.

Traditional toys for playing house. Could you recognize them as plates and chop sticks for dolls?
They also sell herbs and potpourris.
Anybody can enter Omoya, provided you take off your shoes.

Inside is very cozy traditional tatami rooms. I guess it would be OK to lay down there is no function is held. In Engawa 縁側attached to Hiroma 広間“Main Room”, there are traditional table and cushion where we can have a small rest. It is something very calming to sit at the table of Engawa, and look the scenery of satoyama in Niiharu. 

A vista of tiny garden from Hiroma