Friday, July 10, 2015

Of Descendants of Samurai: Jike Our Country Home 寺家ふるさと村

Northeast corner of the City of Yokohama has famously complicated “borders.” Because of historical reasons, City of Machida 町田市 of Tokyo and City of Kawasaki 川崎市 maintain an enclave each within the border of Yokohama. (And there are lots jokes about behavior of Tokyo Metropolitan Police and Kanagawa Prefectural Police.) Jike Citizen Forest 寺家ふるさとの森 is situated right next to the enclave of Machida. As such, we can find many number plates of Tokyo, e.g. Shinagawa 品川, Tama 多摩, Adachi 足立, Setagaya 世田谷 …, for Tokyonites coming to picnic. West of the Forest is the Kodomono-kuni Park こどもの国 that was a wedding gift from the current Emperor when he was still the crown prince. (Yeah, Emperor must give present to the people when he gets married.) The south is the campus of Nippon Sports Science University 日本体育大学 where lots of Japanese Olympians hone their skills days in and out. (Info for a fun of male gymnastics; the current world champion for floor exercises, 19 years old Kenzo Shirai, studies here.) Yes, this place is a hidden popular spot for metropolitan family fun!

A weekend in June,
Jike rice paddies in Machida side organized
a rice-planting party for volunteer-cum-tourists,
with BBQ
“serving freshly harvested Madake bamboo shoots!”

Name of Jike Forest is a bit different from other Citizen Forest. Its official name, “Jike Furusato no Mori 寺家ふるさとの森,” means “Jike Our Country Home Forest.” The difference of Country Home Forest and Citizen Forest is, Country Home Forest is a part of larger community development program while Citizen Forest has relatively more emphasis on nature conservation itself. Jike Our Country Home Charter manifests their thinking very clearly.

Nature and agriculture are the treasures for us.
We know for generations the preciousness of nurturing our land and all the life upon it.
We humans are just a part of this beautiful community,
So we never forget gentle and caring spirit for our mother nature.

Do you remember the Charter of Niiharu? Don’t you think this Charter is a bit different from Niiharu’s?

Jike Town 寺家町 has an ancient history. Northwest of the town has a cemetery of the 5th and 6th century, i.e. people have lived here for at least 1500 years. The most famous people from this community were the group of warriors who helped Minamotono Yoritomo 源頼朝, the founder of the City of Kamakura 鎌倉 in the 12th century. Although the landlords of the area lost their “samurai” status in the late 16th century due to the disarmament policy (called Katanagari 刀狩) of Toyotomi Hideyoshi 豊臣秀吉 and Tokugawa Ieyasu 徳川家康, they are the proud custodian of their ancestral land. According to the research of local ethnologists, the map of Jike Town does not show changes between 1703 and 2015 in its basic composition. In 1816, they even revolted against Tokugawa Shogunate despite of the threat of beheading, when the Edo (Tokyo) government tried to squeeze more tax by further development. They are determined to keep the land as it is.

This is the vista of rice paddies
without much change for 300 years.

After Tokyu Den’entoshi Line 東急田園都市線 opened its Aobadai Station 青葉台駅 in 1966, the housing development accelerated the pace of assault toward the Jike community. In the late 1970s, the wave reached to the southern tip of the village, young people stopped cultivating the ancestral land, and the forests showed the stress of neglect. The locals decided to act. The entire town of Jike introduced the city’s help with 3 Goals for Jike Country Home Program. They are

1. To Preserve beauty of pastoral scenery and utilize natural and human resources and land in agricultural village;

2. In order for sustainable development of village community, to promote agricultural tourism graduating from simple primary industry and providing employment opportunity;

3. For children and new comers of the community to experience nature, agriculture and pastoral culture and to attain human development of wholesome health, which will deepen mutual understanding between urban and rural cultures.

With these in mind, the entire village of 86.1 ha re-organized its structure from 1983 to 1987 for agricultural tourism. They promoted locally produced vegetables and fruits for tourists, developed a 9-hole golf course and a tennisclub (as it was the time of pre-Japanese Bubble), several art ateliers, galleries, and cafes with traditional houses, and established Jike Forest. Jike Town markets itself as “Jike Furusato Mura” 寺家ふるさと村 (Jike Our Country Home, homepage here). So, the Forest is a part of “industrial” plan for this community to survive without destroying the historical landscape.

The opposite of the Forest,
there is the community of landlords.
This popular house sells
freshly harvested vegetables weekends.
Going to the left road into the community,
there is a pottery atelier.
This stand of a jaunty matron sells red onions
and Italian veggies, together with rice, organic.

To visit Jike Our Country Home Forest, the nearest station is Aobadai Station 青葉台 of Tokyu Denentoshi Line 東急田園都市線. Leave the station to the north, to the opposite side for Aobadai Forum Hotel (Michelin one star hotel), and take Blue 30 Tokyu Bus (Jike-cho Junkan 寺家町循環) or Blue 31 Tokyu Bus (Kamoshida Danchi Iki 鴨志田団地行) from #2 Aobadai bus stop. If you take #30, the bus will go to Jike Town itself whose entrance stop is Shiki-no-Ie 四季の家. #31 ends a stop before, Kamoshida Danchi 鴨志田団地. The difference between 2 stops is about a block by the campus for Kamoshida Junior High 鴨志田中学校. It’s not that much. If you have a will to go back one more bus stop, from Kamoshida Danchi to Danchi-chuo 団地中央, in front of the Danchi-chuo stop there is a patisserie, Blancfleuve, whose owner-chef won the grand-prix for 2015 Yokohama Sweets Paradise Contest. (The awarded cake is, “The chocolate cream sandwich by dacquoise in the shape of a smiling teddy bear, which can be eaten as a cake with normal temperature, or as an ice cream sandwich if frozen.”) If you visit Jike Town by car, there are lots of parking lots (and on the road parking spaces), so no need to worry.

The road crossing Yamada Yato.
The bus stop is in the middle of 2 power poles.

Shiki-no-ie bus stop is in the middle of a road crossing Yamada Yato 山田谷戸, a yato-type expansion of rice paddies. To the southeast from the stop, there is a narrow road running along the rice paddies to the east, and we see several banner flags, which is a sign for Shiki-no-Ie. Shiki-no-Ie (Open Wed-Mon, 9:00-17:00, homepage here) is the visitor center for Jike Our Country Home, with a small natural museum (explaining the habitat of Jike Town), 5 meeting rooms (RSVP), a corner selling local organic vegetables, and one Japanese restaurant, Jike-no-Manryo 寺家之鰻寮 (open Wed-Mon, 11:00-21:00, phone: 045-962-7338). The restaurant serves Japanese dishes with a modern touch using the bounties from Jike Town (e.g. “Bagna Cauda with vegetables from Jike,” “Kabayaki eel,” etc). It seems to me this restaurant is popular among locals (and beyond). For a weekend lunch in June, the parking and the tables were full. Considering the location (; the area around Aobadai Station boasts numerous Michelin Starred venues), Jike-no-Manryo should provide a good meal. … Hmmm, decisions, decisions … here for a petit luxury with fresh organic vegetables and Kabayaki, or not here with a nice picnic meal in the forest? (I chose picnic ... I had sandwiches ...) 

Small natural museum
The menu for Jike-no-Manryo.
They have more detailed ones inside.
Toilet of Shiki-no-Ie.
They are fully-equipped Japanese toilets
with automatic flashing system.

To some extent, Jike Town’s commercial strategy has a wider meaning. Geographically speaking, Jike Town is located about the center of Tama Hills 多摩丘陵 spreading from the east side of Takaosan Mountain 高尾山 to Enkaisan Mountain 円海山 (which is another Citizen Forest in the south of Yokohama; stay tuned!). The preserved natural habitat and agricultural scenery of Jike was a kind of “typical” for the south of Metropolitan Tokyo till the middle of the 20th century. Sure, the houses in Jike have satellite dishes. Priuses are running around the area. But, the place has a déjà vu atmosphere that attracts us for weekend. Now Jike Our Country Home (managed by Ag-cooperative of Jike Town) organizes many activities including guided tours for a large group of people (with main emphasis on the natural habitat of plants). Many of them require a reservation by phone at Shiki-no-Ie with 045-962-7414 from a month before the schedule. They also have classes for kids up to 6th graders to learn nature and culture of Jike, and to experience creative activities. (For enquiry, please make a contact with Mr. Toshiya Urabe,, phone: 044-954-2758.) For 2015 fiscal year, these are the planned activities; 

(1) Cooking lessons with Jike’s Harvests (for all of them, fees are inclusive for ingredients’ cost.)

May 5, June 21, July 19, September 20, October 18, November 15
Cooking lessons for gentlemen
For beginners, 12,000 yen lamp sum for all the lessons. Reservation closed.
Family Buckwheat Noodle Making
For 5th and 6th Graders and their guardian, 2,500 yen.
November 14, December 12, January 9 (2016), February 13 (2016)
Buckwheat Noodle Making
For everybody, each day presents an independent lesson. 2,200 yen each.
November 2015, January and February 2016
Planned Miso-paste making lessons
The detail will be announced after September 20

(2) For craft lovers (RSVP by phone 045-962-7414)

Christmas wreaths making with acorns
For high-schoolers and up. Admission free.
“Moss Ball” (haha, NOT “moth ball”) making lesson
Adults only. Admission free.

(3) Educational tours for the lovers of Jike, for 1st graders and up, admission free.

First Sunday of each month (except August and December)
Guided Tours for Jike Village
Third Sunday (except August, December – February)
Tour for wild flowers
Tour for dragonfly lovers
October 11, December 13, February 14, March 13
Guided Bird Watching Party

Shiki-no-Ie also has the latest information of events in the entire Jike Our Home Country, in addition to the maps of Citizen Forests. It’s worth a visit before plunging in to the area.

Jike Forest has 12.4 ha with 1,500 m of road and 3 ponds. They are the member of 5 man-made ponds in Jike Town. All the ponds in the town can be found in the map of 1703. Jike’s agriculture depends on rainwater and the community dug and maintained the ponds collectively, with the strict rule for the usage of water. Large trees were never planted on the bank as its rooting system can destroy the structure. Aquatic plants were intentionally and strategically planted to control the volume of stream. Now the main banks and canals of the ponds toward rice paddies are concreted with mechanized pumps, though here and there we can find older structures still running strong. The water from the ponds is used, as before, for rice paddies of organic planting in order to preserve the local eco-system. The ponds in Jike Town provides home for many aquatic creatures, such as bitterlings, killifishes, mud snails, fireflys … It is prohibited to harvest any of them without municipal permission. Though, Kumano Pond 熊野池 within the Forest is remodeled as a fishing hole for recreational fishing of crucians.

At the end of Mujina Pond むじな池.
Probably, hundreds of years ago,
people saw it and thought
it was a good place to dig a pond.
The main water gate (mechanized)
of the canal to the lower paddies
The canal from Mujina Pond to Yamada Yato,
which still maintains the older technology.
Water mill to adjust the flow from Shin-ike Pond 新池
The pump for Oike Pond (Big Pond) 大池
Kumano Pond Fishing Hole
Signposts are located at each point.

The Jike Citizen Forest itself is not that large. All the roads surrounding the ponds are fenced probably for safety. The road connecting Mujina Pond and Kumano Pond is cobbled so that it is easy to walk. Picnic benches are situated here and there in the forest, which makes it easy to take a break, and enjoy meditation while listening the birds and voices of athletes practicing in another side of the hill. Picnic tables are often under a gazebo, i.e., useful in case of rain. The toilet is located in the parking lot for Kumano Pond where potable water faucet is also available.

The promenade along the Oike Pond
From Kumano Pond to Mujina Pond
Picnic benches
This picnic gazebo is surrounded by wild cherries.
It would be spectacular in early spring.
Toilet (the structure with red wall) next to Kumano Pond

All may sound the Forest rather like a well-equipped park. Though, the place maintains the feeling of wild rain forest, the original landscape of Tama Hills. Big applause for descendants of samurai in Jike. Variety of broad leaf trees dominates the forest, rather than the planted coniferous trees or bamboos. The under-canopy is dense with many kinds of plants. After rain, various mushrooms sprout out. Suddenly, a snake more than 1 m long crossed in front of me. The roads are not compacted so that they are kind for hikers. Actually, I met many trail-run athletes running within the forest. Future Olympians, perhaps?


Hello, hello
Hello, hello, hello

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 …)

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