Monday, April 6, 2015

Welcome to Yokohama, my home town!

Welcome to Yokohama, my home town!

Yokohama is a port city, which means we have lots of hills and steep slopes. It keeps presenting surprising micro-sceneries just when we reach to the top of long steps. One ordinary residential area suddenly reveals a forest over there.

City of Yokohama has a scheme to preserve greeneries of the city with Green Tax, 900 yen per every resident as of March 2015, and preferential tax arrangements to landlords. When landlords allow their fields and forests accessible for their neighbors as a park by leasing it to the city (often by a renewable 10 years contract),  the city provides goodies like preferential annual and inheritance tax bills and constructs promenades and amenities like toilets and picnic tables in the forest. The landlord and his/her neighbors create a volunteers’ network to maintain natural habitat of the land with regular cleaning and maintenance, with the grant funded by the Green Tax. The city also holds subsidized educational sessions to the citizens for enhancing the awareness of environmental issues of our neighbor. The fields/forests treated in this way are called “Yokohama Citizen Forest” 横浜市民の森 (Yokohama Shimin-no-mori).  For more information, you can read the activities of the City here (Japanese), here (Japanese) and here (English). 

Some of these Citizen Forests attach to temples and/or Shinto shrines. There, we can find deciduous broad-leaved forests with huge castanopsis or oak. They often carry an official plate saying “a special tree of City of Yokohama,” or “ of Kanagawa Prefecture.”

Registered Ginkgo Tree at Bugenji Forest

They are ancient and believed to maintain some semblance of old habitat from, say, 500 years ago before Edo (Tokyo) was a big city.

Yokohama is a new city. Before Commodore Matthew Perry pointed the American cannon of his ship to Edo Castle in 1853, it was a sleepy backwater of Edo, where only a handful of small fishing-farming villages scattered across the current municipal area. We can enjoy the remnants of such co-habitation of villagers and the hills in the other type of Citizen Forests, which is a so-called “satoyama.”

Satoyama Yato of Niiharu Forest

A direct translation of Satoyama is “village hills.” There, for generations, humans have planted and maintained utility vegetation deliberately among the original habitat and constructed rice paddies, fields and pastures around the hills for subsistence farming. Bamboos have been utilized as a provider of materials for equipment in kitchen and everywhere. In spring the shoots of bamboos were/are delicacy for traditional dishes. Sawtooth oak and Quercus serrata Thunb produce acorns for starch eaten by ancient Japanese (Johmon-Jin) 2,000 years ago, and then became materials for everyday tools, compost, and charcoal for cooking and home-heating until quite recently.

Now some Citizen Forests have seasonal events demonstrating traditional charcoal making and other daily lives using these trees. We can suddenly find rice paddies of vegetable patches in the middle of the Citizen Forests where a landlord still plants crops sometimes for educational supports to nearby schools, or for consumption of their family and friends.

Then, during World War II, the government of Japan strongly recommended to plant coniferous forests of cryptomeria japonica and chamaecyparis obtuse, claiming they could be the materials of weapons ... this was a stupid idea; the trees need 100 years to be large enough for construction materials. By the way, why did they think the war in 2050 could be fought with wooden ships? … Anyway, those trees are now ubiquitous in sato-yama. They provide solemn quietness of the forest, fitontsidy for meditation, some materials for house construction and furniture, and tons of pollens for hay fever. 

Here I just write my experience in Yokohama’s Citizen Forest. As of March 2015, there are 42 of them. I try to tell you how to go there and enjoy. Sometimes, it is really astonishing to find such a place just a 45-minutes metro ride from Shibuya’s dancing floor. Yokohama is a big city, but inside it has many country-sides.

Oh, by the way, all the photos I use will not show the faces of people. We Japanese are a shy bunch. Besides, the strict privacy law says no-no of usage of photos identifying a person without a permission of that person him/herself. But, there are lots of people enjoying the Citizen Forest. If you see us somewhere in the forest, please do not be surprised when we say hello with a smiling face to you. :-) 

No comments:

Post a Comment