Friday, January 22, 2016

A Fairy Tale of Lost Children: Yokohama Nature Sanctuary 横浜自然観察の森

Strictly speaking, 45 ha of Yokohama Nature Sanctuary is not a member of Yokohama Citizen Forests, but one of the 10 elite educational Nature Sanctuary Forestsin Japan established by partial grants from national budget. In the context of countrywide environmental policy, the Sanctuaries are expected to be the forefront of protecting nature against random urbanization, for the archipelago defined as a “Hotspot” of unique but endangered biodiversity by the Conservation International.  So, the difference between Nature Sanctuaries and National Parks in Japan is Sanctuaries’ proximity to the mass of ordinary people. Nature Sanctuaries are to provide as much as possible educational experience for urban kids and quality-of-life enhancement for adult city-dwellers. The management of Nature Sanctuary Forests is done by collaboration of municipal governments and private sectors. The Ministry of the Environment plays advisory role + monitors the usage of national expenditure in these places. Naturally, these days Sanctuary Forests are gateway to eco-tourism as a part of economic trend: many many people come, rain or shine. 

Yokohama Nature Sanctuary has
many educational signboards.
Each route inside the Sanctuary
has educational theme.

The Yokohama Nature Sanctuary opened its door in 1986 as the first Nature Sanctuary in Japan, with the national and prefectural grants. The City subcontracted the daily management of the place to Wild Bird Society of Japan who provides us the guidance of professional rangers stationed at the Nature Observation Center in the Forest. The Center (open 9:00-16:30, closed Monday; free) has library and interactive museum space where we can see, touch, and listen “animal, vegetable, mineral” of the Sanctuary. The Wild Bird Society and the governmental offices provide many educational events throughout the year in the Sanctuary. The large landscaping and natural-disaster resistant construction within the Sanctuary are by public entity, but selective undergrowth thinning and re-creation of traditional farming are done by 200+ volunteers who are registered at the Friends of Yokohama Nature Sanctuary (est. 1988). The Friends has their own pretty meeting place, Gorosuke-kan, next to the Nature Observation Center, and a charcoal making hut … well, the space with 4 structures is large enough to call it a play-garden. Not only engaging in the forest maintenance works, the Friends holds weekend educational tours for under-15 kids (and adults) to enjoy the Forest, in addition to the events by the Sanctuary management. (Their FY 2015 event list is here and here.) Often the lecturers of the events in the Sanctuary are college professors, and lotteries are held for choosing participants; they are crazy-popular. Coming February 11th, there will be a seminar for teenagers to learn frog habitat protection; application deadline is February 4th either by email, FAX, or reply-paid postcard to the Sanctuary (link, here); the seats are allocated by the draw. Frog lovers, Good Luck! We can download the result of these educational and environmental research activities in 2013 Report from “HOME” of their homepage.

Nature Observation Center
First Sunday of each month is for Kids’ tours.
Gorosuke-kan for volunteers
Charcoal making “huts”
Re-creation of traditional vegetable plots
At the moment, Tampopo (Dandelion) 11-13 Area is
closed till February 2017
due to the construction of anti-earthquake measures
for an underground flood-prevention pond.
(Yes, for an artificial pond.)
Coming April, it will be the brand-new barrier-free toilets
at Nagakura-guchi Entrance.
The barrier-free toilet near the charcoal making huts.
All toilets in the Sanctuary are clean and barrier-free;
soaps provided.

The access to the Nature Sanctuary is either from Kanazawa Forest along Beetles Trail, or directly by bus from Keikyu Kanazawa Hakkei Station 京急金沢八景駅. At the moment, Kanazawa Hakkei Station is undergoing a renovation so that it may be tricky to find a bus stop to the Nature Sanctuary. We leave the station, and cross Route 16 to the direction of Kanazawa Hakkei Station of Kanazawa Seaside Line monorail at Kanazawa Hakkei Ekimae Traffic Light 金沢八景駅前交差点. Turn right to the direction of Sumitomo Mitsui Bank. A bus stop in front of the building next to the bank is for the services to Nature Sanctuary. Take Kanachu Bus 神奈中バス from there to JR Ofuna Station JR 大船駅 with Funa-08 08 (time table here) or Kana-28 28 (time table here) services, or to Kamigo Neopolis 上郷ネオポリス with Kana-24 or -25 24, 25 services (time tables, here and here). For the Sanctuary, we can get off the bus at 4 stops starting from Yokohama Reien-mae Bus Stop 横浜霊園前, Mori-no-ie Stop 森の家, Kamigo Stop 上郷, and Nagakura-cho Stop 長倉町. When you ride the bus, you tell the driver which stop you plan to take; s/he will charge you accordingly. From Yokohama Reien-mae Stop, there is an entrance of the Sanctuary on the other side of the road climbing up steeply to the Nature Observation Center. From Mori-no-ie Stop and Kamigo Stop, climb the road on the other side to reach first in the middle of the hill to Kamigo Mori-no-ie 上郷森の家 which is a conference center/hotel/BBQ field/spa/baden within the forest, managed by Yokohama Greenery Foundation 横浜市緑の協会. Passing the facilities of Mori-no-ie, we soon arrive at the main entrance to the Sanctuary. If you come to the Sanctuary by car, you can use the parking of Mori-no-ie (; 500 yen per day). Oh, by the way, the bus route of to the Sanctuary crosses Asahina IC of Yokohama-Yokosuka Road. Just before the IC, there is Asahina Bus Stop 朝比奈 from which we can enter the historical Asaina Kiridoshi Pass 朝夷奈切通 to Kamakura. It is one of the 12 natural barriers that protected medieval Kamakura Government from outside till 1333. This geological point is one of the reasons why Enkaisan Area has experienced human interventions for millennia.

Kanazawa Hakkei Station
Cross Route 16
to the direction of the Seaside Line station.
Bus Stop to the Nature Sanctuary
Entrance from Kamakura-Reien Bus Stop ...
It goooooes up in this way …
From Kamigo Bus Stop, the entrance to Mori-no-ie
Entrance to the Nature Sanctuary from Mori-no-ie

Having said that, if you go to the Nature Sanctuary directly from Kanazawa Hakkei, I recommend getting off the bus at Nagakura-cho Stop, because we can enjoy a gently sloped promenade to the Sanctuary along Itachi River. The road is easy to walk, with the 4 picture-boards to the Sanctuary depicting a local fairy tale painted by the kids of Noshichiri Elementary 野七里小学校. The School does not exist anymore: it was closed 10 years ago due to the aging population around Nagakura community. Signboard #4 is almost at the entrance to the Sanctuary. er, yes, the tale is written in Japanese … translation:

Once upon a time, at the end of Shodo community 庄戸  and Kodo community 神戸, there was a pond called Nagakura where a large snake lived for ages.
One hot summer day, a local man called Yasaburo entered the forest around the pond for work.
He became very thirsty, and drank water from Nagakura Pond.
That night, Yasaburo had a high fever, and lost consciousness.
Tasaburo had a daughter called Okinu.
Okinu was very angry because she thought the snake in Nagakura Pond made her dad very ill.
So she went to the Pond and shouted “Hey, Snake, why have you made my dad sick!?”
The snake appeared from the pond and told her she was lonely and cried a lot. Her tears made anybody who drank the water from the pond ill.
Okinu felt sorry for the snake. She played with the snake to comfort her.
When Okinu returned home after playing with the snake, she found Yasaburo had recovered completely.
So, Okinu and her human friends started to play with the snake everyday, with lots of laughter.
The snake was a messenger from the heaven. Eventually she accomplished her mission, and transformed into a dragon returning to the heaven.

Nagakura-cho Stop
Story #1
Start of the promenade
It goes into the forest …
Story #4, and
To the entrance to the Nature Sanctuary
This is Nagakura Entrance:
the brand-new toilet is over there.

Nagakura Entrance is Blue-13 in the map of the Sanctuary. The route with blue numbers in the map is called Dogwood Trail ミズキの道 of 1.6 K. This route is circular where the Marsh of Luciola Lateralis 平家ボタルの湿地, the smallest 3 native fireflies in Japan, is at the highest point. From Nagakura Entrance, if you take the right paved road along Itachi River proper, we first find on the left an area, the Valley of Luciola Cruciata 源氏ボタルの谷, in Itachi River. Soon after, on the right is a small pond called Whirligig Beetle Pond ミズスマシの池 that receives water from Dogwood Valley ミズキの谷 above. Then, in front of us, there is a birds-observation hut that allows us to watch wild birds enjoying their water life in the Dogwood Valley. The point is the “official” source of Itachi River, and Katase River pouring to Sagami Bay at Katase-Enoshima Beach. The paved road simply continues to climb up to Colias Erate Plaza モンキチョウのひろば (#1) in front of Nature Observation Center (#0).  When we don’t proceed to Blue -3, we can take the route from Nature Observation Center to the Sanctuary entrance to Mori-no-ie that is a similarly paved road passing in front of the charcoal making huts and the construction site. It is the easiest way in the Forest.  The vegetation around Nature Observation Center is educationally planted for kids to touch and investigate forest environments, with lots of picnic benches in Colias Erate Plaza. It is a very busy area during weekends with lots of people.

Marsh of Luciola Lateralis
The paved road slowly goes up
along the Valley of Luciola Cruciata.
Whirligig Beetle Pond
Birds Observation Hut
er, well, no bird here.
The pergola in Colias Erate Plaza
Educational instruction!

The rest of the road in the map, Blue 2-13 (a part of Dogwood Trail), Orange 3-10 (a part of 800m Dandelion Trail タンポポの道), Green 6-14 (a part of 700m Nightingale Trail うぐいすの道), and Red 2-11 (a part of Quercus Serrata / Beetles Trail コナラの道・ビートルズトレイル that is 1.7K within the Sanctuary), is more of the standard trekking road in the mountains. Each has its own charm. Orange 3-10 skirts the backside of the construction area. It was once a productive community forest when people used the place for agriculture. Now the place is designated to preserve traditional forestry method of subsistence village life. The space near to the entrance from Mori-no-ie is named Sympetrum Frequens Hill アキアカネの丘 where a shallow pool appears when it rains due to a small rough terrain with various grasses. The management keeps the place as such by regular mowing in order to protect the animal and vegetable lives that thrive in such condition. From there down a bit, there is a Sawtooth Oak Open Space クヌギの林 where volunteers recreated a traditional Sawtooth Oak forest and open working space that was common all over Japan when people harvested forest vegetation for fuels and fertilizers. The Orange Trail itself is kept to maintain the traditional village life atmosphere by the Friends.

Sympetrum Frequens Hill

Re-created traditional utility forest …
and its open space where
I met lots of mole life.
This Sanctuary is managed by Wild Bird Society,
oh yeah.

Green 6-14 is a bush forest where wild insects and animals lives, … I met lots of Taiwanese squirrels there, gnawing barks here and there, NOT fearing me AT ALL. The Chief Ranger Mr. Kominami told me this fall the harvest of acorns was not enough + their home country does not have winter so that in Yokohama they are a kind of desperate to chew little bit of honey out of the barks … He is a so kind-hearted animal loving person … Maybe the bush trees in the Sanctuary are strong enough to withstand the Attack of Squirrels …  Red 2-11 is the continuation from Isshindo Plaza. The ridge way is wide and well-trod as we visited last week. The valley on the right from the Oomaruyama climbing point to Red 11 is “completely off-limit” area for human intervention. The last human involvement there was before 1940 so that we can see someday how the things will go if the nature dictates to Yokohama. It’s a kind of funny lots of people walking along very popular hiking course peek into a steeply tumbling down slope of trees that is strictly prohibited. We can observe continuous roofs of houses in Shodo community and beyond starting at the end of the forbidden forest. How will the environment evolve …?

The road of Nightingales
The table manner of squirrels
The road from Oomaruyama
The off-limit forest for humans,
but hungry Taiwanese squirrels are gnawing the barks
(please see the tree on the right).
Sekiyaoku Viewing Point 関谷奥見晴台 in Beetles Trail

Blue 1-13 is along a valley joining Itachi River at Blue 13 where its north is the off-limit area for conservation. I would say this is the wildest trekking road of all the accessible routes in the Sanctuary. From Blue 13 to 8 is a steep slope of about 500m running along the valley of deep forest. Though precipitous, stairs, wooden decks and bridges and narrow hiking route are well maintained. We’ll find some trees along the road with a number card wrapped around the bark. It is for the hikers to identify each tree according to the free Tree Watching Map we can take from the Nature Observation Center. In January, I have seen lots of wild euonymus hamiltonianus there with its pretty pink seed skin. The undergrowth is sometimes of large ferns. The contrast of innocent pink and untainted green in pure winter air is … sublime. Oh, the road of this part is so narrow that no photo stand is allowed. Hold your camera with your muscle! The space around Blue 8 point is named Asteroideae Plaza ノギクのひろば and from there to the crossing with the Beetles Trail at Blue/Red 6 is more flat, wider and dry. Asteriudeae Plaza is sometimes used for educational excavation as we can find lots of fossils of sea creatures. (Of course, nothing is allowed to remove from the Sanctuary!) The Sanctuary is in the south of Enkaisan; the seabed was raised by tectonic crash 2 million years ago.

This much of steepness
The tree number goes like this.
#25 is for lindera umbellate that can be manufactured
into the best quality utensils
for the highest prestige tea ceremony.
Hey, the place is for conservation.
This tree must stay there as such.
The valley
Those ferns thrive on a vertical hardpan.
Asteriudeae Plaza
The road from the valley to the Plaza is definitely drier.
Do you notice sasa bamboos here have
impressive dark brown barks?
Route to Blue/Red 6 is almost a ridge way
with a view to the west.

The entire area from Mine Citizen Forest to Yokohama Nature Sanctuary is considered as the core of Yokohama Forest of Relationship Program 横浜つながりの森構想. This program is a part of municipal policy, Yokohama Action Plan for Biodiversity (Yokohama b-Plan), where nature conservation in a highly urbanized city envisages to act for the welfare improvement of current generation and beyond. In 2014, the Ministry of the Environment published an environmental assessment report for the area with eco-tourism promotion in mind. The place has a long history of interaction between the forest and humans. Yokohama people, volunteers, private business including farmers, municipal and national governments, all try to make the place better for future. Sure … do you know the biodiversity of the area is smaller than the area around Niiharu and Zoorasia? (According to the data from 2006 Kanagawa Prefecture Red Data Biological Research Report 神奈川県レッドデータ生物調査報告書.)  The difference between these 2 areas? Enkaisan Area is visibly and invisibly dissected by heavy-traffic roads …  Tomei Highway, the main artery of the Japanese economy, runs 1K north of Niiharu Forest, but does not come into the Forest …

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

Yokohama Nature Observation Center at Yokohama Nature Sanctuary
Phone: 045-894-7484
FAX: 045-894-8892

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