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

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