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 …)

No comments:

Post a Comment