Friday, June 26, 2015

In search of lost peaches: Tsunashima Citizen Forest 綱島市民の森

TsunashimaCitizen Forest is located near Tsunashima Station 綱島駅 of Tokyu Toyoko Line, right next to Tsunashima Park 綱島公園. It joined the Citizen Forest family in 1991 as the 18th Forest. (Map here.) It has 5.8 ha with 360 m of walking road, i.e. a small forest right next to the fashionable Toyoko Line running between Shibuya and Yokohama. Probably inevitably, it has a similar issue of urban desertification as the other Citizen Forests along the Toyoko Line, Kumano-Jinja, Komaoka-Nakagoh, or Shishigaya. The volunteers of neighborhood showed a sign board in Tsunashima Park saying that the soil is compacted and the entire forest showed stresses of long-time neglect. But, they declared, the community is striving for restoring the nature of the area as much as possible. I’ve met an old lady who is one of those volunteers for Tsunashima Forest, and inviting helping hands to deal with the bounty of the forest. ;)

To reach to Tsunashima Forest, the easiest is first going to Tsunashima Park. Leave Tsunashima Station from the North Exit, and take the west side road along the elevated railroad of Toyoko Line. It soon becomes a steep slope with greenery at the top. It is Tsunashima Park that has tennis courts (winter) cum an outdoor swimming pool (summer), and a log house for kids to play. Go through the Park up to the Log House (nicknamed “Mocky”) and find ancient tumulus at the back of the house. On the left of the remains, there is a path leading to the residential area. Keep going the left way of this path, and within 5 minutes we come to an entrance for the smaller part of Tsunashima Forest as we find in the map. Oh, by the way, there is no parking for both Tsunashima Park and Tsunashima Citizen Forest. Also, Tsunashima Citizen Forest does not have toilet. There is a toilet near Mocky, though.

Toilet of Tsunashima Park
The remains of the 5th century tomb
for a local grandee of the time.
The excavation was done in 1989.
Take left,
and we meet an entrance
for the smaller portion of Tsunashima Forest.

This part of forest has only a paved walking path which serves as a kind of short cut to the Station for the community. In the middle of the forest there is a cemetery of local families which, I guess, provided the reason for the landlords to pave their way. The scenery we can see from the road is a typical Yokohama for us. Er, yeah, Yokohama for tourists is ports, China Town, and other attractions. Yokohama we live is, hm, like this ... lots of small hills and houses.

The Short Cut!
The local cemetery
This is our city.

Moving to the larger part of the Forest, we have to return to the entrance we come from Tsunashima Park. Pass the entrance to the smaller Forest, keep going the road running along the Forest. Soon the road straight ahead presents us a forest which is a larger part of Tsunashima Forest.

Small road leading to …
to …
the Forest.

At this entrance, there is Hinokinomori Hiroba (Cypress Open Space ひのきの森広場) with several picnic benches. Further into the forest, there is the remains of Ohkita-tani Shrine 大北谷神社跡. According to the signpost in the Forest, this shrine was built in 1599 by a local farming family to ask the gods of agriculture for a help developing farm land around the hill. The community held festivals for the Shrine till around 1950s, then the building became derelict. When the area became Citizen Forest, the volunteers cleared the Shrine for the safety of strollers; i.e. this Forest can again trace its origin to Village Forest Shrine.

Hinokinomori Hiroba
The remains of Ohkita-tani Shrine

Turn right at the remains, we can exit the Forest to the residential area. Else, keep going straight, the forest becomes somehow deeper, but we can still “feel” the daily lives of ordinary families living around the Forest. Passing the bamboo forest, and we will find another open space. It is a small viewing platform where we can see Minato-Mirai Area. 

Ahead is …
a platform.
Can you figure out the skyscrapers over there?

From the platform, the road soon descends to Momo-no-sato Hiroba (Peach Tree Open Space 桃の里広場). Thephotograph of the official site of Tsunashima Forest is the scenery of Momo-no-sato Hiroba circa 1991 when the concept of the Forest was “To restore peach growing tradition of the community.” The wooden pavilion in the photo is alive and well for us to have a picnic. The surrounding fruiting peach trees are now … well almost, gone. Instead the area is like a jungle of flowering (but not fruiting; they are different) peach trees, apricots, plum, and persimmon trees.

From above, the Hiroba looks like this,
and the inside is this much busy.
Baby persimmons
Good-ol pavilion
One day in June, when I visited the Hiroba, there was an old lady within the orchard, clearing the ground. She was a landlady and the guardian matron of the Forest. According to her, the original idea of keeping the fruiting peach trees flopped and the volunteers planted the other trees instead. Apricots become so-so successful fruiting once every 2 years. This year (2015) is disappointing for apricots as we had spring days of strong winds when apricots flowers were blown off. Though, trees for prunus mume fruit abundantly every year without fail. And so, she has the problem … too much ume fruits and she is the only one to cook. Volunteers to cook this bounty are seriously needed! Her ume fruits ripe well, and I guess they will be very good pickled plums (Umeboshi 梅干).

After about 20 minutes of clearing
This large plum trees with lots of fruits …
By the way, at the entrance of Momo-no-sato Hiroba from the residential area, there is a very tall tree whose leaves looks suspiciously like peach. At the top boughs, there are lots of plum-sized, but still green fruits in June … Japanese wild peaches are small, and the leaves are a kind of gourd shaped … Aren’t they peach?

Japanese wild peaches are not that large
nor too sweet,
but certainly loved for millennia.

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, June 19, 2015

Leaky Cauldron, Yokohama Forest Style: Kamoihara Citizen Forest 鴨居原市民の森

If you’ve been to Lalaport Yokohama, the biggest shopping mall in Yokohama, from JR Kamoi Station 鴨居駅, you may have been surprised that we have to go through a very narrow road within a half-residential / half-industrial area to the entrance of Lalaport. The area around Kamoi Station has been like this for ages, which, it seems to me, causes irritation among locals about the mismatch of roads and development. This Wikipedia entry about Kamoi Town is almost angry for the situation and calls for wider roads.

Well, yeah, it’s understandable. The roads leading to Route 246 or Route 16 from Kamoi Town are almost always clogged. All of them are winding one lane roads for both directions. During rush hours going through this area by bus will give you a very good napping time before you reach to your bus stop. Though … if constructing wider roads means bulldozing the remnants of satoyama, or destroying the greenery of the area, I would feel very sad. At least, the tiny 2 forests of KamoiharaCitizen Forest are legally protected from such imminent dangers.

Although they are just next to the residential area, and from anywhere in the Forest we can hear buzzing of cars, the place has the magic. I don’t know exactly why it’s not like Shishigaya Forest where the residential / industrial area is dividing the Forest as Kamoihara. It could be because Kamoihara Forest is so tiny … it has just 2 ha, and the entire length of the trek in the forest is 200 m. (Map here and here.) And I am sure it is because the volunteers have done a great job to make the Forest lovely. (The group’s home page, here.) Actually, the PR Office of the City reported the volunteers’ activity last winter in Kamoihara Forest at their web site.

The Kamoihara Forest joined the Yokohama Citizen Forest family in 2005, 10 years ago. According to the volunteers’ and City’s web sites, before the place was a dumping ground for old tires and broken fridges. (So, now I understand why one of the roads in the South Forest has the name “Tires’ Way.”) Local volunteers cleaned the Forest, and prepared the routes for strollers. Now the tiny two forests have distinct charm within an ordinary town, just like Leaky Cauldron on Charing Cross Road.

To go to Kamoihara Citizen Forest, leave JR Kamoi Station of JR Yokohama line from the Southern exit (the opposite to Lalaport Yokohama). From there on foot, it is about 30 minutes of climbing up to Takeyama Housing Complex 竹山団地. Or, take City Bus /Kanachu Bus #56 to Takeyama Danchi Orikaeshi-jo 竹山団地折り返し場  to Takeyama Danchi Iriguchi (“Takeyama Housing Complex Entrance” 竹山団地入口 ) for about 5 minutes. On the left, you’ll see a forest of bamboos that is the North Forest of Kamoihara Citizen Forest. Your bus will turn right to Takeyama Danchi, but you keep on going the same road (Kendoh, “Prefecture Road” 県道, #109) to the south, then turn left the first narrow road. Proceeding a little bit, there is a tiny stair way on your left which is the entrance to the North Forest.

The entrance to the North Forest

Alternatively, we can walk from Kamoi Station to Kamoike Ohashi 鴨池大橋 busstop on Kaomike Ohashi  (which is a large bridge we can see from the way to Lalaport Yokohama), or Lalaport Yokohama Westbus stop at Lalaport. From there, take City Bus #124 to Sasayama Danchi Chuoh 笹山団地中央. Get off the bus at Jizohmae Stop 地蔵前. (This bus also runs Kendoh #109.) Go north along the same bus road a bit, then turn right at the first corner. The road soon has 2 ways; take the left one to climb up. Within 10 or 20 m on the right, you’ll see a discreet sign, “Kamoihara Citizen Forest, this way,” directing to a very narrow road. On the right is a tiny apartment house, and beyond is the entrance to the South Forest.

Jizohmae bus stop
I would say,
a TYPICAL sign for a Yokohama Citizen Forest.
The Entrance to the South Forest

From here to go to the North Forest, we climb a little bit of the road coming from Kendoh #109 within residential area to a T crossing. Turn left, and then first right to find the Entrance to the North. When we move between North and South Forests of Kamoihara Citizen Forest, they are the entrances easiest to find.

T crossing to left
Ahead is the North Forest

From the entrance to the North Forest, along a very narrow paved way, we’ll find a signboard of Kamoihara Citizen Forest North. From here on the left there is a trek leading us in to the Forest. The North Forest is mainly consisted of bamboos so that the entire road within the Forest is covered thickly with bamboo leaves which make the way very spongy. Columns of bamboos are occasionally disrupted by large wild cherry trees. Although we can here the noise of Road #109, the rustling of bamboo leaves carry us somewhere else. Bamboo port-keys? The trek within the North Forest goes around Yonyama Hiroba よんやま広場 that is a kind of atmospheric center of the “Force” (yeah, Star Wars’ kind) from bamboos. Bamboos are strange trees. They shoot up straight to the sky even if at the root the ground made them difficult to do that. Standing in the middle of them is strangely empowering …

A very narrow paved way
Kamoihara North Forest signboard

Yonyama Hiroba
In early summer,
shooting up young bamboos are everywhere.

When we enter the South Forest, we first find Fureai Hiroaba (“Fureai Open Space” ふれあい広場 ) with picnic benches. This open space with lush vegetation is strangely inviting (though I suspect mamushi could hide somewhere …).  From here, 2 routes are climbing up to Hankachinoki Hiroba (“Davidia Open Space” ハンカチの木広場 ) where we can find a toilet.
Fureai Hiroba
Climb up!
Hankachinoki Hiroba
Toilet for Kamoihara Citizen Forest

The South Forest is a broadleaf forest with charming bushes beneath. Logs left by volunteers host a colony of mushrooms. Ants, butterflies, beetles … Insects are busy in the forest. Although it is surrounded by residential area, this tiny forest makes its own enchanted world inviting us inside … I don’t think it is wise to enter South Forest in Midsummer Night … though, it might be possible to encounter an entourage of Titania …

Farfugium japonicum
A colony of Houttuynia cordata
Indian strawberry

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, June 12, 2015

At the end of housing boom: Shishigaya Citizen Forest 獅子ヶ谷市民の森

ShishigayaCitizen Forest 獅子ヶ谷市民の森 was established in 1975, 3 years after the inauguration of Yokohama Citizen Forest Scheme in 1972. It covers 19 ha of north-facing slopes of hills in Tsurumi 鶴見 (and little bit of Kohoku港北) Wards. On the map, the Forest is relatively large. It has 1 Shinto shrine with 3 neighboring temples (i.e. forest village shrine potential), contains 3 ponds, and opens one museum for historical village life. On the other hand, Tsurumi Ward is the designated downtown area to encourage more greenery. We go there, and realize Shishigaya Forest is another battle ground against urban desertification in Yokohama. (Map here.)

The discontinuous structure of the Shishigaya Citizen Forest could be a testimony about urban development in the 1960s during the high growth era of Japan.  The nearby railway of the area is JR Keihin Tohoku Line 京浜東北線 and Tokyu Toyoko Line 東急東横線 both of which connect Yokohama and Tokyo along the then-biggest industrial area in Japan with lots of heavy industry plants. Developers built and built houses for commuters working there. The traditional landlords sold and sold their ancestral land, which, I guess, was very lucrative. But one day, they find their place looked like a moth-eaten lag, and became difficult to build more without expensive engineering.  Hello, Citizen Forest scheme with preferential tax treatment …

To come to this Forest is, first find the way to Tressa Yokohama either by car or on foot from Okurayama Station 大倉山駅 of Tokyu Toyoko Line 東急東横線. Then, turn south at the Moro’oka 師岡 crossing of the corner of Tressa (about 1 km east of the Okurayama Station), and keep going 500 m until you find an old house with thatched roof on the right. This old house is the main building of Misono Park Museum みその公園. (Mind you, there is no parking for the museum and the Forest. So, parking at Tressa is again the option.)

Entrance to Misono Park

Misono Park was previously a private house of Yokomizo Family 横溝家 , the local Shoya Officer 庄屋. As Okutsu Family of Niiharu, they can trace back their ancestry in this place to the 16th century, and surely was very wealthy. The museum consists of 5 structures where the oldest was constructed in the 1840s. The entire estate, including numerous historical artifacts collected and stored by the family, was donated to the City in 1987 and became a museum in 1989. Admission, free. J Although the Yokomizo House hosts many social occasions, unlike Okutsu House of Niiharu that serves as a working facility for numerous community activities, the House in Misono Park is basically a museum.

Omoya (Main House 母屋 )
of Yokomizo House at Misono Park

Inside of Omoya of Yokomizo House

If you are interested in historical (18th – early 20th century) Japanese farming life, the place has lots of exhibitions to inform you many things, such that reading and becoming patronage of artists were the must-do for Shoya family in Tokugawa Shogunate period. The museum also has traditional toys, like stilts, to rent for kids to play with.

The forest surrounding the Yokomizo House, called Tonoyama 殿山, is a part of Shishigaya Citizen Forest. It is maintained by an organization of volunteers, Tonoyama-no-Mori-wo-Mamoritai 殿山の森を守り隊. They clean the forest and host numerous fun/educational activities, including bamboo-shoots harvesting. The regular meeting is held twice a month with annual membership fee of 2000 yen. If you are interested in joining their endeavor, you can make contact with them from here. They also control the access to Tonoyama. West of the Misono Park, there is a gate to enter into Tonoyama which is open 9:30-16:30 only when Yokomizo House is open.

The gate to Tonoyama
which leads to this way …
and to this open space
with picnic benches and lots of Japanese dandelions.
The other side of the gate is another exit of Tonoyama,
 which is open 24/7
(and nearer to Okurayama Station, if you know the way).

Actually, Tonoyama occupies roughly ¼ of Shishigaya Forest. This section of Shishigaya Forest is well-cared, and seems to me frequented by local families. Oh, by the way, the bees in Tonoyama are not wasps. They are Japanese native honeybees which seldom attack humans, unless you disturb them first.

Standing at the gate of Misono Park, across the other side to the south, you will see a hill with houses and greenery. It is the larger part of Shishigaya Citizen Forest. As we can find it obviously from Yokomizo House, the forest is, I would say, nominally continuous entity with encroaching housing development. The majority of the “forest” we can see from Yokomizo House is a steep cliff inaccessible with non-invasive method …

Looking the Shishigaya Forest from the north

Consequently, as we can find in the map, the walking routes of this part of the Forest are 9 slicing loopholes for the precipice. There is no circular way to immerse yourself in the forest by trekking. There are 2 toilets. One of them is at the northern tip of the Forest in Shimoyato Hiroba 下谷戸ひろば that is facing directly to houses and roads for vehicles. Shimoyato Hiroba has a picnic bench and a pond … though, the pond and the area is trashed with soda cans and empty bags of chips, etc. The faucet for the potable water has a notice saying “Please do not wash your car here.” I did not find the atmosphere of the Hiroba attractive. 

Toilet at Shimoyato Hiroba
“Please do not wash your car here.”

Another toilet is in Haigakubo Hiroba 灰ヶ久保ひろば. This Hiroba is far sunnier than Shimoyato Hiroba, comparatively distant from private houses and apartments, and with picnic benches.

Haigakubo Hiroba
Toilet at Haigakubo Hiroba

Walk in the Shishigaya Forest is something like an interval training; we climb up/down very steep dirt road and reach to a well-paved road of residential housing complex. To move to the next forest road, we have to go for a while this housing road along the outer edge of the Forest together with vehicles coming and going. Eventually we find a small entrance, dive into the cliff of the Forest, and reach to another side of residential area. Repeat this as much as you like … The roads inside the Forest are often compacted. It seems to me some of the Forest roads are ancient and well-traveled, as it presents us old signposts of probably 17-18th century.

I could not figure out
the exact date of this signpost, though …
The road in the Shishigaya Forest
The paved road along the Forest

Moreover, the southern part of the Shishigaya Forest is divided by a paved way connecting Moro’oka Cho 師岡町 (where Yokomizo House stands) and Shishigaya Cho 獅子ヶ谷町. At the beginning of the road on Moro’oka side on the left, there is a hut with a statue of Ksitigarbha with a wheel (Kuruma Jizoh) 車地蔵 established in 1718. It is a Japanese version of prayer wheel from Himalayas. To search for enlightenment, this is your chance!

Kuruma Jizoh
The wheel is attached to the front left pillar.

Climb up the concreted road in front of the Ksitigarbha, soon there is a steep steps to Kamigo Shinmeisha Shrine 上郷神明社, the village shrine of this area. It means, this part of Shishigaya Forest is supposed to be revered … well, at least there is no way to go into the Forest for humans from this Shrine (and in any case, the other side of the shrine is a cliff).

Steps to the Shrine
Kamigo Shinmeisha Shrine

Down the other side of the cliff from the Shrine, there is Nishiya Hiroba 西谷ひろば. To go there, we can either return the paved road leading to local recycle business and tomb stone shops, or take the Forest promenade from Shimoyato Hiroba where we can find garbage and faded signs in the steep side of the road. This route first climbs up, then down to Nishiya Hiroba. At the top of the way, there is a small observation platform where we can view the scenery of Tsurumi Ward.

The road to Nishiya Hiroba
from Shimoyato Hiroba
From the platform

Nishiya Hiroba itself is a quiet place under a canopy of big trees with a spring and an artificial fountain called Nishi Yato Ike 西谷戸池. The water of this spring is brownish due to natural composition of the soil around the area. i.e. Not by pollution, which is good.

Nishiya Hiroba
A picnic bench in Nishiya Hiroba

There is a volunteer activity to enjoy Nishiya Hiroba every Saturday morning. You can just go there around 9:00 to join …  I hope their activity grows into cleaning-up sessions of the entire Forest. Though, there could be more serious thing approaching to Shishigaya Citizen Forest. Around the entire Forest, along the paved ways, we can find many public notice boards saying the area is identified as “Dangerous Area of Slope Failure.”

Like this.
These days high and low pressures do not act as before, probably due to global warming. Last year Yokohama was hit by several freak storms with landslides that killed 2 working-aged men. Both incidents occurred where houses are built on steep slopes. Since then, the City and Kanagawa Prefecture frantically persuade citizens to treat their slopes with preventive civil engineering measures (i.e. “pour concrete over it”) with subsidies. Searching in the official hazard maps of the City and the Prefecture, we find the entire Shishigaya Forest is identified as “Warning Zone.”

As the Citizen Forests are the land remaining as private property, I guess the Shishigaya Citizen Forest is now facing another cliff. The houses are built so closely to the collapsing cliffs designated as “nature protection area” 40 years ago. Though, the current residents of the area could request the Forest to be treated with concrete regardless of environmental concerns. … where will the Forest go? The nature did not ask humans to build their residence in that way. The Forest would strike back to the greedy invaders with helps of another torrential rain or large earthquake ...

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 …)