Friday, May 29, 2015

Porridge, FIFA World Cup, and Shinkansen: Kumanojinja Citizen Forest 熊野神社市民の森

As Tokyu Toyoko Line 東急東横線 connects Shibuya and Yokohama, it is a fashionable commuter line. One of the “trendy” stations of Toyoko Line is Okurayama 大倉山. The west of the station has several cute patisseries and restaurants. This side also has Okurayama Park 大倉山公園 where its plum blossom party in every early March has been famous since its inception of 1931. The east of the Station is more ordinary, urban, and residential. KumanojinjaCitizen Forest 熊野神社市民の森 is on this side. (Map here.) 5.3 ha of Kumanojinja Forest joined the family of Citizen Forests in 1980.

Get out of the Station from its east exit, we can find a small alley (where a vegan restaurant resides) beyond the area map signpost. Go into this way forward, up then down the steep slope (actually, below your feet around here is a tunnel for Tokaido Shinkansen, which I will mention later), to meet Tsunashima Street 綱島街道. Go north Tsunashima Street and soon there is a bus stop and a traffic signal both of which are named Kumanojinja Iriguchi (“Entrance to Kumanojinja” 熊野神社入口). The other side of the crossing at Kumanojinja Iriguchi traffic light has a large stone signpost saying Moro’oka Kumanojinja 師岡熊野神社. We take the road running northeast from this signpost. Soon on the left there is a temple, Hokkeji 法華寺, and the next to this temple is Kumanojinja 熊野神社, the beginning of our Forest.

An area map in the east exit of Okurayama Station
If you miss vegan food …
Tsunashima Street
Bus Stop. The traffic light is over there.
Stone signpost.
Moro’oka Kumanojinja

If you travel around Japan, you may notice there are lots of Kumanojinja. It’s a franchise of Shito Shrine whose HDQ is in Wakayama Prefecture 和歌山県. For a brief explanation of Kumanojinja’s historical “business” expansion, please see here (in Japanese). Kumanojinja here was established in 885 AD by Emperor Kohkoh 光孝天皇. As it is ancient, its influence remains in names of towns in Yokohama. E.g. Oguchi 大口, a name of a town and a JR station next to Kikuna 菊名, was taken from the name of an official pants, Oguchibakama 大口袴, wore by Imperial Envoy for this Kumanojinja. The Shrine has a small museum containing historical artifacts of itself and the neighboring community (RSVP; Admission, 200 yen for adults, 100 for kids).
Kumanojinja Main Shrine
No-no-ike Spring 「の」の池 at the back of the main shrine
Toilet at Kumanojinja

It is said that their annual festival on January 14, Tsutsugayu-shinji 筒粥神事, began in 949. The event is one of those traditional Japanese agricultural prayers to predict happenings of a year, done all over Japan. In Moro’oka Kumanojinja version, the priests prepare rice porridge in a huge rice cooker using water from No-no-ike Spring, the spring back of the main shrine. They insert empty and open bamboo or reed containers before boiling rice. Naturally some rice float in the bamboo during the cooking. When the porridge is done, the priests read the way the rice is in the container. You can see how it is done hereAnybody can join this ritual, starting at 14:00. Added bonus for the spectators; the shrine distribute the cooked rice to the people attended the ceremony. The porridge is said to have a magical power to fend off flu of the year as a kind of mystically subsidized flu shot. The prediction for 2015 is displayed here: it seems to me the harvest for 2015 is not bad, but not so good either. The general prediction for 2015 is “Well enough.” OK-dokay.

Kumanojija Forests contains several historical remains. One of them is I-no-ike pond 「い」の池 in front of the Shrine that becomes a protagonist for another festival of Kumanojinja every August. The pond could be very old and used for irrigation to rice paddies since the 8th century or so. Now it is home of Water God and lots of sun-bathing turtles.

I-no-ike pond

Back of I-no-ike is a small hill, Shikisaka Hiroba 式坂広場, here Imperial Envoy did official rite before entering the Shrine. This tiny hill is also a part of the Kumanojinja Citizen Forest. Despite of its steep slopes, it’s a piece of cake to walk.

From the pond, the steep steps lead us to
Shikisaka Hiroba.

The way around Shikisaka Hiroba

The back of the main Shrine is another part of the Forest with an steep slope leading to Gongenyama Hiroba (“Gongenyama Space” 権現山広場). The hill is a typical Shasoh-rin 社叢林, or forest village shrine 鎮守の森. Japanese have been finding something to assimilate to the place for a long time. In Gongenyama Hiroba, there is a kitchen midden, Moro’oka Kaizuka 師岡貝塚, of about 10,000 BC which tells us our ancestors had their daily life here.

The slope to Gongenyama Hiroba
Gongenyama Hiroba with picnic tables.
We can enjoy the view of ordinary urban residential area from here.
Moro’oka Kaizuka.
The excavation was completed in 1994.
The area is now covered for protection.

So far, Moro’oka Kumanojinja sounds like a well-established spiritual place to pray. Er, well, this shrine is also famous among local athletes to pray for a good result in their competition. I know at least one official cheer leading troop of a college 某大学体育会応援団 brought their school banner to the Shrine to be “purified” for successfully supporting a season of inter-collegiate championships. There is a reason; please see this coat of arms of Kumanojinja franchise;

It is a 3-legged crow that is a sacred bird that led the way when the legendary first Emperor, Jinmu, 神武天皇 to conquer and build a country of Japan. And here is the emblem of Japan Football Association. Of course, Kumanojinja is the first and JFA borrows the legend. Anyway, as this Kumanojinja is nicely located very near to Nissan Stadium, the venue for 2002 FIFA World Cup Final, lots of soccer funs visit this Shrine to ask victory for their team to the three-legged crow. For their convenience, the Shrine sells the talisman for soccer. (They also accept internet orders worldwide. For your spiritual and soccer experience, please visit here! No FBI investigation necessary!)

I don’t know if this talisman is valid to cheer for the Brazilian side.
Guardian Lion Dog狛犬at the entrance of Moro’oka Kumanojinja.
It is NOT an official World Cup Match Ball.
Guardian Lion Dogs always have a ball all over the world!
It’s a pre-era Chinese invention.

In addition, the product line of omikuji おみくじ by this Shrine is substantial. According to your aesthetics, you can choose omikuji and its accompanied talismans. You love cats? There is omikuji that comes with Manekineko. Do you like a kitsch version of Japanese traditional lucky charms? No problem. On budget? Of course, there is the simplest version of 100 yen …

Omikuji Booth in Moro’oka Kumanojinja

Returning to the map of the Forest, you may have noticed 5 ha of Kumanojinja Citizen Forest is divided in 3 parts by roads and residential areas. 2 sections are directly connected to Kumanojinja. The third part is a bit away, and has the majority of 1.7 km of roads in the Forest. Considering the historical background of Kumanojinja, I guess the larger area was owned by Kumanojinja before it became Citizen Forest in 1980. Between the Shrine and the larger part of the Forest, there is a community of residences. Somebody developed this area for housing before 1980.

I found a notice board of the Residents’ Association along the way from Kumanojinja. Dated November 2014, the President of the Association notified to his/her neighbor that the Association had a meeting with JR Tokai concerning the noise and vibration caused by Shinkansen Bullet Trains. According to the communication, the vibrations would be due to the aging of the tunnel so that JR Tokai is currently engaging in the upgrades of tracks and related machineries underground. “Please be patient, and we keep you informed for every communication we have with JR Tokai.” … Shinkasen of this part began its service in 1964. When did the people move in here?

The residences with vibe.
Ahead is our destination Forest.

Coming from Kumanojinja, the larger part of the Forest first has only one road. Simply keep going, and we eventually come to Tenshinhira Hiroba (“Tenshinhira Open Space” 天神平広場). This space has lots of picnic tables, and 3 roads to go out of the Forest. You can also hear a humming of Shinkansen Trains coming and going every 5 minutes or so …

The Forest entering from the direction of Kumanojinja
Soon we will find the road sign.
Just go strait,
to visit the backside of this residential area,
and finally to meet Tenshinhira Hiroba
with lots of picnic tables.

It seems to me Tenshinhira Hiroba is frequented by locals a lot. The entire space and the surrounding road have a compacted soil … a kind of sign for urban desertification. At the corner of the Hiroba there is a sign by the Forest administrator begging the visitors, “Please mind the steps. Trees cannot move, but you can.” Hmmmmmmmmmm

For spoiled urbanites, pls be kind to the nature.

The end of this part of the Forest is another Shrine, Sugiyamajinja 杉山神社. According to Kanagawa Shrine Agency 神奈川神社庁 website, it was once an abandoned shrine with the village forest behind (ah-ha). The current structure is rebuilt in 2002-2005. I thought it makes sense … a compacted soil in the Forest, the begging notice, a brand-new shrine, shaken residences, Shinkansen …

The Brand-new Sugiyamajinja

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 …)

Friday, May 22, 2015

Saved from the Golf Courses? Minami Honjuku Citizen Forest 南本宿市民の森

Minami Honjuku Citizen Forest viewed from Kirigasaku 桐が作
Yokohama has several big golf courses, such as the prestigious Hodogaya Country Club 程ヶ谷カントリー・クラブ. Actually, the campus of Yokohama National University 横浜国立大学 was a golf course for grandees of Japanese military before the World War II, and then the playground for the officers of American Occupation Force, including General Douglas MacArthur. The biggest of the golf courses in Yokohama are Yokohama Country Club 横浜カントリー・クラブ and Totsuka Country Club 戸塚カントリー・クラブ spreading side-by-side over a large chunk of land from 3 Wards, Asahi  , Hodogaya 保土ヶ谷, and Totsuka 戸塚. As they are private properties, they are not accessible unless you pay millions of yen to be a member of the Club (and love artificial ponds, bunkers and vegetation). Luckily, just next to these two golf courses, we have 2 large public parks, one of which is Minami Honjuku Citizen Forest 南本宿市民の森 (map here).

Minami Honjuku Citizen Forest is next to Yokohama Natural Park for Kids 横浜こども自然公園 (aka the Big-Pond Park 大池公園). It is a park frequented by local elementary schools for physical, art, and scientific curriculums. If you know somebody who attended schools in Yokohama, it is quite likely that s/he says “Oh, yeah, we’ve been there several times,” or “we had a school picnic over there.” If that person belonged to Boy/Girl Scouts in Yokohama, they may have been regulars to the Park for their weekend sessions.

Well-manicured Kids’ Park
As the Kids’ Park is prepared for kids to enjoy, it has amenities, like well-equipped toilets, large parking space (with fee), a baseball field, a BBQ field, a small animal garden, and even ice cream vending machines. If you have babies who need a buggy, this is the place to spend your weekend. East of the Kids’ Park is Minami Honjuku Citizen Forest so that to go there we first find the Kids’ Park. In contrast to the Park, the Forest is, though a way smaller than the Kids Park, for somebody who can walk up steep hills and long steps.

The nearest stations to the place are on Sotetsu Line 相鉄線. One of them is Futamatagawa Station 二俣川. We exit from the South Entrance of the Station, then, simply go straight along Natural Park Street. Passing Kentucky Fried Chicken, Mister Donuts, Starbucks, and Futamatagawa Catholic Church (that is an established institution in Yokohama) on the left, going through an ordinary residential area of detached houses, at the bottom of the slope we can find the main entrance of the Kids’ Park. It is about 20 minutes’ walk for 1st or 2nd graders. Before the Kids’ Park, there are one supermarket (Seiyu owned by Walmart), one convenience store (Seven Eleven), and one take-out bentoh shop so that we can procure foods very easily before reaching to the Forest. Another route is from Minami Makigahara Station 南万騎が原 which is the station next to Futamatagawa. From the East Exit of Minami Makigahara Station to the Kids’ Park is about 10 minutes’ walk through a residential town. Finding an entrance to the Kids’ Park from Minami Makigahara route could be tricky, and end up with the main entrance by walking around the Park. Unless you come from the City of Fujisawa 藤沢市, considering the time to wait at Futamatagawa Station for a regular service train to Minami Makigahara, it might be economical to use Futamatagawa Station, as local schools with budget and time constraints do.

From the main entrance of the Kids’ Park, turn left and proceed along the outer edge of the Park. Soon, we’ll find City Office for the Park Greeneries in the West on the right. Continue walking around the Kids’ Park, there is a small crossing. Ahead of the road, you’ll see large greenery which is the northern tip of Totsuka Country Club. Small paved road to the right is another entrance for the Kids’ Park. (If you can read Japanese, there is a tiny monument explaining it was an important crossroad leading to Kamakura since Middle Ages until the late 1970s.) Here, we turn left and go into a narrow and winding road through a community of modern farm houses surrounded by small vegetable fields. We imagine it would be a remnant of Satoyama community. The road ends at a T crossing with a similarly narrow winding road. We turn right here, and keep walking until we meet a public toilet on the left. This is the toilet for Minami Honjuku Citizen Forest.

City Office
Remnants of Satoyama?
Traditional way of celebrating healthy growth of kids near Minami Honjuku Citizen Forest
Minami Honjuku Citizen Forest Toilet
Minami Honjuku Citizen Forest occupies the area of 6.3 ha, in the east of the Kids’ Park, and on the north of Totsuka and Yokohama Country Clubs. It became Citizen Forest in September 1996, i.e. after the burst of the Japanese bubble, which means many people then began to realize developing golf courses were not so clever move for the bottom line. The Forest is well cared. The toilet has standard facility for Citizen Forest so that it’s clean but no soap (and Japanese style toilet bowl only). It is funny to find a notice on the wall; “Please do not use this water faucet for washing your car.” Well, somebody may have tried here to economize his/her water bill.

In front of the toilet there is a tiny parking space, perhaps for 2 or 3 cars, with a signboard saying that the space is “For visitors to the Shintoh Shrine only.” It’s up to you how to interpret it. In any case, finding this way by car would be difficult if you are not used to narrow winding traditional Japanese road. Sure enough, on the right of the toilet, there are steep steps which bring us to a small Shintoh shrine. It is Johda Shrine上田神社, a very very small shrine standing next to a huge gingko tree. According to Kanagawa Shrine Agencywebsite, its origin is unknown, but a fairly old forest village shrine. Simply put, Japanese Shintoism is animism that finds gods everywhere. Japanese have been thinking there is something spiritual in forest, made it an object to worship, and built a shrine within it, as here. The village shrine forests have been revered for generations and some of the original vegetation are preserved. In front of the Johda Shrine, there is a big camellia tree. It is registered by the City of Yokohama as a special wild tree. Back of the shrine is a small precipice, and at the right bottom of it, there also is a small spring.

Welcome to Johda Shrine
Johda Shrine
Gingko tree
Believe it or not, it is camellia.
A spring. I don’t recommend you to drink it, though.
Springs are something lovely we find in the forests of Yokohama. Yokohama actually has lots of small springs coming out of many crevices of land, sometimes even at the top of a hill. Often they are very discreet small ponds with clear water continuously pouring out in a quiet forest. Some become an origin of a river, or reach to a larger pond nearby probably through underground water way. I guess water from this small spring of Johda Shrine is going to the big pond of the Kids’ Park, and / or to Futamatagawa (“Futamtata River” which means “a river at a cross road”). Probably, ancient people of Satoyama built this shrine because there is a spring. The small monuments on both sides of the steps to the shrine tell us people felt something special at this place … Ghost? Spirit? … and thought it was necessary to placate them in some way or another. … Does the ghost of Minami Honjuku Forest think golf courses OK?

Oh Ghost,
please be kind to us …
Actually, this place is a territory of her.
From the Shrine, on the right, there is a sign saying “Komorebino Hiroba (こもれびの広場 An open space with sunshine filtering through foliage), this way.” Climbing up the steep steps, and we find ourselves on the ridgeline. The Forest is very well kept with some landscaping along the way. Although the area of the Forest is not tiny, the only allowed routes for the strollers are the main ridgeline and 4 slopes from two valley sides. The entire length of the route would be about 1 km so that it’s not that substantial. Both sides of the route changes its scenery with seasonal flowers from camellia, plum, cherry blossoms, wisteria … The only tricky part is its steep slopes to reach to the top.

Sign to Komorebino Hiroba
We have to climb this steepness.
Inside the Forest along the route, there are 5 maps like this.
There are 5 picnic areas.
Sign posts are also clearly shown.
South slope up to the ridgeline. This road is wilder than that from the Shrine.
The west side of the hill mainly consists of planted coniferous trees, giving us calm, a kind of meditative air. The east side is of broadleaf trees including cherry, plum, and wisteria. The Forests gives the visitors the delight of fresh colors for the season. I visited the Minami Honjuku Forest during early summer when the broadleaf trees presented us green so refreshing. Unlike the neighboring parks of the Minami Honjuku Forest, the place is not for the people who wanted to do something else, like golfing or baseball. We can come here simply to breath phytonzid. We sit on a bench in the forest calmly and meditate the joy of being in the forest. The birds are chirping, and a magnificent butterfly passes by in front of you.

I think somebody’s doing landscaping here.

For you having a will to walk further, you can take a narrow pedestrian road running between the Country Clubs and the Kids’ Park / Citizen Forest which is a partof Green Road for visiting parks in Asahi Ward あさひグリーンロード公園めぐりコース. The rout itself is not congested so that we can have a relaxing day of enjoying forest (large and small) in the middle of Yokohama.

A part of Green Road leading to Minami Honjuku Citizen 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 …)