Friday, October 30, 2015

Ghosts in the Forest (Thriller!): Kamigo Citizen Forest 上郷市民の森

5 days after the first Citizen Forest, Iijima Citizen Forest, was born in April 1972, another Citizen Forest opened its gate. It was Kamigo Citizen Forest of 4.8 ha with 1.3 k trekking roads. As this is another oldie of the Citizen Forest family, it also keeps a Skeleton in the closet. My google search says the gazebo in the open space at the top of the hill was once a popular spot for suicide, and hence it is obvious for psychics to meet wondering souls around there. I just imagined the scenes of first few minutes in the video “Thriller” of Michael Jackson … (Map of the Forest, here.) Very unfortunately, I have not seen Nearly Headless Nick this time. When I’ve been to Seibei Hiroba (清兵衛広場 Seibei Open Space), the weather was warm, sky was blue, and the view from the wooden observatory was open-wide. (It was supposed to be able to see Mt Fuji, but the horizon was misty then.) I had a very good lunch. Legend says 17 people killed themselves in Kamigo Forest so if you are blessed to have such powers, you can utilize your skill for supernatural communication there, perhaps.

You may be able to recognize
the existence of spirits here. I cannot.

Actually, if you plan to hike Enkaizan 円海山 area, which is a complex of 4 Citizen Forests and Yokohama Nature Sanctuary (and Zoo; more to them in the later posts), Kamigo Forest can be a good starting point.  If that is the case, using Kanachu Bus from JR Konandai Station 港南台駅 of Keihintohoku Line would be a wise choice for the access to Kamigo Forest. From Number 1 and 2 Bus Stops of Konandai Station, there are numerous services to go to Momijibashi Bus Stop 紅葉橋停留所 that is the most convenient stop for the Forest. Also, I may recommend you to use toilet of Macdonald’s in front of Momijibashi Stop since currently toilets for Kamigo Forest is out-of-order. On the other hand, if you do not intend to hike, but enjoy Kamigo Forest only, I would suggest to going there on foot. It is only about 30 minutes’ walk that would be about the same time-investment even if we use bus from Konandai. Besides, along the way, we can have an incredible vista of “unexplored region” of Yokohama.

Konandai Station.
Bus stops are behind this monolith
(which is art, mate).
Momijibashi Bus Stop and Golden Arch

From Konandai Station, leave the South Exit, and take the road to Yokohama Women’sJunior College 横浜女子短大.  Eventually, we meet Konandai Station Entrance Traffic Light 港南台駅入口. Cross the road at the traffic light, and proceed to the narrower road ahead going into the residential area. The road mildly goes down and reaches to a crossing of 3 forked road with a coffee shop at the corner. Take the left road that first leads us to the main entrance of Yamate-Gakuin Jr. and Sr. High School 山手学院中高. The way curves along the campus, and becomes pedestrian only going up and down a hill where the school buildings are situated over the fence on the left. At the end is the back gate of the school, and on the right there is a steep paved slope going down to Prefecture Road #23 where Momijibashi Bus Stop is. And here, stop at the top of the paved slope, and look the other side. I simply wondered if it was Yokohama: no housing complexes, but green hills and valleys. It is the vista of Enkaisan Area of 700 ha greenery in Yokohama, aka “unexplored region.” We’ll go there eventually.

Konandai Station Entrance Traffic Light
Coffee shop
The main entrance of
Yamate-Gakuin Jr. and Sr. High School
Along the campus road, take the left narrower way
The road goes down,
and we can see the hardpan of the hill,
i.e. typical of Miura Peninsula.
The nearest green hill should be Segami Citizen Forest.

Going down the hill to the Road #23, turn left, and in front of us on the right over Itachi-gawa (いたち川 Weasel River) is Kamigo Forest. This is one of the oldest members of Yokohama Citizen Forest family, and last March the collaboration of the 3 groups of volunteers (including Boy Scouts) and the City created a conservation and management plan for the next 4 years of the Forest. The plan is funded by Yokohama Green Tax. So it is official, called “The Environmental Planning forthe Future of the Kamigo Forest.” They held several meetings and field studies, and defined the outcome of the project to make Kamigo Forest that cohabits with ordinary lives of people.  For making this to happen, the plan defined divisions of labor among volunteers and the City, the zoning, and the schedule of maintenance works and volunteer training to learn and develop the plan more. It sounds like a typical project cycle – Most Significant Change M&E approach, doesn’t it? When we approach to the Forest from Momijibashi Bus Stop, we first cross Momijibashi, then take the road on the left as the sign post suggests. At the end of the road, there are 2 ways; one on the right goes into the Forest, and another is going to Mizuki Hiroba (みずき広場 Mizuki Open Space) where it has a billboard and warehouses for volunteer works.

Kamigo Forest
Sign post saying “Forest this way to the left”
Mizuki Hiroba
The billboard shows
“The Environmental Planning for
the Future of the Kamigo Forest.”
Believe it or not, in front of Mizuki Hiroba,
there is a house of Mori,
i.e. Forest, Family.
To the Forest
Entrance to the Forest

When we enter the Forest from Momijibashi, we fist climb up the wooden steps and corridors constructed on the steep hardpan at the bottom of the hill.  We then first enter into the route called Bamboo Way (竹のみち for obvious reason), and later to a coniferous forest. The way eventually becomes Momiji-Zaka (もみじ坂 Maple Tree slope) where there are maple trees young and old. They were unfortunately still green in the middle of October, but will be very beautiful at the end of November. At the end of Momiji-zaka is haunted Seibei Hiroba. All along the climbing, I could not feel the existence of human ghosts, but was able to figure out Taiwanese squirrels running here and there. Cute.

Wooden route
We can recognize hardpan easily
along the way.
Bamboo way
Momiji-zaka with benches

Seibei Hiroba is a wide open space with lots of grass, sunshine and a high-tension transmission tower. The place spreads along the ridge way, and surrounding vegetation is more of large deciduous trees. The biota of Yokohama is evergreen broad-leaved forest, and when humans cut trees for utilitarian purpose, deciduous trees comes out from the soil left from the post-Ice Ages. The deciduous trees were then used for building materials, fuel, and the source of fertilizers to the agriculture. So, the top of the Kamigo Forest has a long history of human intervention. One of the targets for the Plan was to recreate deciduous tree forest in the ridge of the hill. This summer the volunteers transplanted in pots sprouts of quercus serrata and others from another parts of the forest. They, including kids of 99th Yokohama Group of Boy Scouts, are now nurturing the sprouts home. Next year, they will bring them in Seibei Hiroba.

Seibei Hiroba Observatory
The vista from the Observatory.
Mt Fuji was supposed to be in front of us!
From Seibei Hiroba, we can go down the hill to Ozuki Residential Area 尾月町. Southern route via Tsubaki no Michi (つばきのみち Camellia Street whose camellias were planted by volunteers) has another observatory called Miharashidai 見晴台. From there, we can see Araizawa Forest Hills on the right and Yokohama Nature Sanctuary Hills on the left, sandwiching a housing area along the valley … typical in Yokohama!

Camellia Street
and its view
Going down from Miharashidai to Hie Shrine
This slope is from the north of Seibei Hiroba.

From Ozuki residential area, if we proceed to the north, we find Weasel River and Road #23 where we started. Actually, there is a quiet promenade along Weasel River. The source of the Weasel River is Nature Sanctuary. We’ll go there later.

Weasel River

If you find a problem in the Park, please make a contact with

Office for the Park Greeneries in the South 南部公園緑地事務所
Yokohama Municipal Government Creative Environment Policy Bureau 横浜市環境創造局
Phone: 045-831-8484 (I guess in Japanese only)

FAX: 045-831-9389 (I hope there is somebody who can read English …)

Friday, October 23, 2015

The Kingdom of Foreign Ninjas: Araizawa Citizen Forest 荒井沢市民の森

Another Citizen Forest geologically on the crush of tectonic plates is 9.6 ha Araizawa Citizen Forest, opened in 1998. The access to the forest is also from JR Hongodai Station 本郷台駅 of Keihintohoku Line. From the Station, take the road running in front of the Earth Plaza 地球市民かながわプラザ to the south. One block on the left from the Plaza is public (and preppy) Hakuyo HighSchool 柏陽高校. Walk along the campus, and we find Itachi-gawa (いたち川 Weasel River) with promenades for pedestrians on both sides. Turn left here, and proceed till Kamakura Street (鎌倉街道  Prefectural Road #21). We find in front a traffic light called Sakae Ward Office Entrance 栄区役所入口. Cross the Kamakura Street and dive into a small one-way (for cars) street on the left of the traffic light. It’s called Araisawa-gawa Seseragi Ryokudoh 洗井沢川せせらぎ緑道. This street goes into a residential area with new and old houses, and eventually reaches to Kuden-sho Shita Traffic Light 公田小下. On the right along the way, you will eventually notice a large construction and huge banners declaring “Stop the Development!” The site is for National Route 468 (Yokohama South Loop Line), a planned road to connect Route 1 and Yokohama-Yokosuka Highway for lessening the congestion in the downtown Yokohama. (More for this construction, when we go to Kanazawa Citizen Forest 金沢市民の森.)

Hakuyo High School.
This year, they received
the Contents-provider / Nikkei Big-data Award
in the JST Data Science Adventure Competition.
Promenade for pedestrians along Itachi River
Seen from the Hakuyo High School side
of Kamakura Street,
the entrance to Araisawa-gawa Seseragi Ryokudoh.
We just go to the direction of a house
with a blue roof over there.
A traditional warehouse
for a family along Seseragi Ryokudoh.
This structure was
once a symbol of wealth in a community.
Kuden-sho Shita Traffic Light

We cross the traffic light, and meet a 5-road junction. Let’s choose the right road ahead narrower than another on the left. This way leads us to a cemetery (Yokohama Towa-no-Mori 横浜永久の杜) and an intensive-care nursing home called LifeCourt Sakae (ライフコート栄). Araizawa Forest is the forest surrounding the cemetery and the facility. When we reach to the entrance of the cemetery, turn left to Life Court. Beyond the entrance to the building, the road becomes narrower more, and there appear small vegetable patches along the way. At the end of the way is Gokuraku Hiroba (Paradise Open Space 極楽ひろば) of Araizawa Forest. It takes about 30 minutes stroll from Hongodai Station.

The road to Towa-no-Mori
I found this Koshin-zuka (庚申塚)
on the way to the Forest,
which means this community is ancient,
connected to the center of Kamakura City.
And, here it is, a sign post discreetly,
as usual,
indicating “Citizen Forest to the left.”
To the right says
we can go to Kamaura, on foot.
The forest surrounding the cemetery,
i.e. Araizawa Forest.
Billboards for Araizawa Forest.
The notebook within the glass is a visitor note:
you can write down your name here!
Toilets for Araizawa Forest
Gokuraku Hiroba in mid-October 2015.
The volunteers have harvested rice already.
They are drying the bounty beneath the net.
Entrance to the Forest
The notice board for Araizawa Forest

The characteristics of Araizawa Forest are well summarized in the notice board above: it is a very dynamic forest with combinations of cliffs and valley (Yato) + a view point for the entire Yokohama. The network of about 1k roads within the forest is comprised of two ring roads surrounding the cemetery, connected by 2 points. (Map, here; oh, this one also has the map for Kajigaya Forest.) I have an impression the Forest is well-taken care of by the volunteers. Their home page (here) shows the annual schedule of their activities in detail, and the way to join their activities such as maintenance work and field study. (The contact phone at 045-892-0053 or 045-893-7077. Unfortunately, their web-site clearly says “Japanese only.” Good luck.) 

The outer road of the Forest is a ridge way along the boundary between the Cities of Yokohama and Kamakura. Yokohama side is Araizawa Forest, and Kamakura side is Kamakura Public Golf Course (which is not public). When we walk along the ridge way, the contrast between these two environments is astonishing. Kamakura side is a spanking-clean (or very artificial) golf course, and Yokohama side is the forest of large trees with undergrowth. Having said that, both sides of the ridge way are really “cliffs” and the road showed rocks beneath the topsoil here and there, i.e. a typical geological structure of Miura Peninsula. Along the ridge way, there also are two areas where the landlords maintain well-cared vegetable fields. From the ridge way the connecting roads are more like a steep steps or ladders in small zigzags reaching to the road surrounding the cemetery. From the bottom of the valley, we can see the Forest is really on the hardpan with a very shallow top soil. Very near to the foot of the cliff we can find water dribbling from the hardpan here and there.

Ridge way
“They” and “We” along the ridge way
Could you figure out both sides of the road
are cascading down?
On the left is the mark of Kamakura City,
and on the right is for Yokohama.
One of the vegetable fields along the ridge way
The ridge way is connected to
a hiking network of Kamakura.
A bench in the middle of the slope
It’s steep, really.
The soil structure of the precipice
is clear here.
Water is seeping from the crevice.

The inner “circle” of the road connects Gokuraku Hiroba and Sumiyaki Hiroba (Charcoal Kiln Open Space 炭焼きひろば). Sumiyaki Hiroba has a modern kiln to bake charcoal mainly from quercus serrata, sawtooth oak, and cherry, in less than 24 hours. The traditional way of making charcoal from the forest took about a week. The current way is for those modern-busy volunteers to relay the memory of satoyama life to the next generation. Sumiyaki Hiroba is almost at the end of the valley where the cemetery spreads. The place has a strange charm cottoned by something very warm. (… And you would notice small creatures are jumping around from bough to bough of the tall trees ...) From there, a system of wooden steps bring us to a very steep hiking road within the forest. Almost above the Sumiyaki Hiroba, beyond a tunnel of bamboo grass is Minashiro-yama View Point 皆城山展望台.  It has a wooden deck from which we can see the entire Yokohama. Landmark Tower in Minatomirai is very easy to recognize even with thin clouds covering the horizon. I guess in New Year’s days when the air is cold and clean, we can see the skyscrapers around Shinjuku and Tokyo stations. Milvus migrans are flying in our view from Minashiro-yama. The place is close to Tokyo Bay. (And what’s that creature on the bough?)

Sumiyaki Hiroba
Picnic bench and a kiln
Viburnum in Sumiyaki Hiroba

From Minashiro-yama, we take almost continuous wooden steps, or ladders, falling down to Gokuraku Hiroba. (And we hear the movement of small creature above our head …) Gokuraku Hiroba is at the bottom of small yato valley which was before a series of ponds used for water for rice cultivation. Small rice paddies still remain beyond the Gokuraku Hiroba Entrance, providing educational and culinary activities for the 5th graders from nearby elementary schools. Between the rice paddies and the end of series of steps, are a substantial wetland. The place holds the vegetation now rare in Yokohama. In October, polygonum thunbergii and impatiens textori are still in bloom. Along the yato valley runs a small stream receiving water drippings from the hardpan slope above.  During winter this stream does not receive enough sunshine so that long icicles sprout from the hardpan. In October, several colonies of mushrooms grow on the bank. In the middle of a swamp, there are several very well-shaped maple trees. The scenery would be wonderful when they are tinted … maybe at the end of November? Then, at the background, we are listening a small chorus of rhacophorus schlegelii, very Japanese frogs, still in October. Actually, at the end of the marsh and rice paddies, there is a pond, called Kaeru Ike (Frog Pond) that was hand-dug by the volunteers for Araizawa Forest in order to provide the habitat for the frog.

A bench in the middle of the way
between Minashiro-yama and Gokuraku Hiroba
Very steep steps
The beginning of Gokuraku Hiroba
A wooden deck road going through the swamp
Well, it is larger than a crevice.

Polygonum thunbergii
Impatiens textori
Edible? Poisonous?
Kaeru Ike

All along the walk in the Forest, we hear rustling and sometimes calling voices. They are from Taiwanese squirrels. The animal is so quick that I could not manage taking a photo of them … They are numerous in the Forest. It is no wonder. Araizawa Forest sits right next to Kamakura City where this cute but invasive foreign creature is causing troubles. (News can be read here.) They are registered as invasive alien species by Invasive Alien Species Act of 2005 that would drive out native and small (i.e. very Japanese) sciums lis. Luckily (or not), south of Yokohama did not have sciums lis from the beginning. The danger of competition is minimum in this respect. I don’t know their impact for the larger environment, though. It is said that they are the descendants of escapees from Samuel Cocking Garden in Enoshima, or from cages of some pet owners in Kamakura. In either case, the ultimate responsibility of them living in Araizawa Forest is on human beings. Araizawa Forest is dynamic and rich place in both animal and vegetable. And the current secret master could be some foreigner forced to move from their original habitat. How will the future of the Forest turn out?

If you find a problem in the Park, please make a contact with

Office for the Park Greeneries in the South 南部公園緑地事務所
Yokohama Municipal Government Creative Environment Policy Bureau 横浜市環境創造局
Phone: 045-831-8484 (I guess in Japanese only)
FAX: 045-831-9389 (I hope there is somebody who can read English …)