Friday, March 25, 2016

Thinning (BMI) in Niiharu

Every activity day morning, the volunteers of Lovers of Niiharu Citizen Forest gather at Ikebuchi Hiroba where the to-do list of the day is on display in a small blackboard. Using the Niiharu Conservation and Management Plan 新治保全管理計画and considering the discussions at the Niiharu Council 新治保全管理協議会, the weekly menu is decided by the annually elected executive members of the Lovers. The first thing each volunteer should do when we arrive at Ikebuchi Hiroba is, to write our name in the attendee list (for insurance purpose), and to choose which activity we are going to do out of the list. No order or request will be issued from anybody. If you find no activity is attractive, you can leave the place without saying goodbye. (Well, no one would do so, after venturing into the Forest this far.) The regular activity in the list is “Patrol.” When we patrol, we pick up trashes along the trekking roads, and check if the routes are safe for visitors. Volunteers are encouraged to join a patrol group once in 3 months at least, and prepare a written report about the point where we find a work is necessary. The executive board collects the information and plans the next activity to list in the menu. As Lovers meet at least once in a week and the information of morning patrol can be utilized in the afternoon in some cases, the maintenance work of the trekking road in Niiharu is very quick and probably more efficient than reporting the problem to the City. One thing the lecturers of the Forest Volunteering 101 emphasized last fall was the power of volunteers who could take care of the forest in a careful and effective way. Patrolling and maintaining the trekking route is one example for that. One way to maintain the road safe is to remove protruding branches and unstable trees close to the public access. The leader of the Lovers of Niiharu Citizen Forest, Mr. Ohkawa, emphasizes every morning meeting of an activity day that careful pruning and thinning along the trekking roads are the priority in order to keep the Forest safe.

Plat du jour
We do “Radio Work Out” every time before starting forestry.

According to Niiharu Conservation and Management Plan, winter is the best time to thin trees. Vegetation is dormant so that cutting gives the forest the least stress. Hence, the volunteers for Lovers of Niiharu Forest are very busy from December to February with chainsaws. The Lovers for Niiharu has (really) an army of chainsaw wielding amateurs. In Japan, it is illegal to operate chainsaws without license whose basic level requires more than 10 hours of lectures and labs + the final exam presided by accredited organizations at the cost of min 12,000 yen. Though the Lovers organization subsidizes the cost partially (“thank you Green Tax!”), acquiring and advancing the skill is not at all cheap. The existence of chainsaw troop is a proof how much the volunteers are enthusiastic ... of course for improving the biodiversity in our city, not just to cut trees! ;)

Our dear chainsaws …

After joining the Lovers a couple of months ago, I’ve already witnessed many thinning. Last month, I’ve posted my experience during the Winter Kids’ Festival in a bamboo forests in Mukaiyama, near C-2 and C-3. Mukaiyama is in Zone A whose mission is to provide educational experience for traditional co-habitation of nature and humans in Japan. So, the forest was chosen for kids’ playground. Yeah, it was a kind of cute job, but it made a serious sense. About 20 groups of kids cut one bamboo each in about 5,000 m2 forest. According to the Plan, the optimal distribution of bamboos is one tree per approx. 4 m2 so that that this particular bamboo forest can have 1,250 bamboos. 20 bamboos thinned during the Festival are about 2% of the optimal number. Too little? Well, the festival was on the first Sunday of February, and the optimal thinning season for bamboos is December and January. Unlike the other kinds of forest, bamboos require annual thinning and the Lovers already did some work beforehand this season. Actually the kids provided a final touch for the annual job.

Every hand counts!

Lovers of Niiharu thin and prune in the Forest according to the Niiharu Plan. The reason of the work is not contained simply to restore the Satoyama forest. A-6 point is called Maruyama which is in Zone A whose mission defined in the Plan is to popularize Satoyama concept. It was once a garden of Mr. Okutsu who installed many fun things in the area including his own hand-curved sculpture. The place is in the middle of the popular promenade connecting Ikebuchi Hiroba 池ぶち広場 (A-7) and Miharashi Hiroba みはらし広場 (A-4). i.e. Many people come. Probably unintentionally, Mr. Okutsu left several wires connecting trees in the area. Now the trees in Maruyama are large and the wires were dangerously pulling the trees each other at a very high place. Luckily, the trees in Maruyama are broad-leaved trees that requires once in 10-15 years coppicing. So, this year Lovers volunteers cut these trunks with wires before a serious incident happens.

Maruyama with the woodwork
by the late Mr. Okutsu
Before coppicing.
The trunks with blue tape were coppiced
for the safety of visitors.

In February, the volunteers pruned the plum boughs in an orchard in Mukaiyama that can be admired from the Okutsu House. Unlike peach, cherry or almond, plums have branches that grow towards the trunk, which creates geometrical beauty. Moreover, plum is so vigorous that its branches shoot out a lot in every spring and summer. Messing the timing and volume of pruning, we’ll have a sorry plum tree with jumbled branches with few flowers and fruits. Annual pruning season for plums is after the rainy season, in July, when we should cut the branches aggressively by leaving about 10 pencil-sized new branches from a bough. Next spring, the plum flowers will come a lot only on these branches at about 10-20 cm from the bough.  In addition, after several years of the standard treatment, we need to thin large boughs during winter in order to lessen the stress on a tree. This year ladies of the Lovers enjoyed hand pruning of plum boughs with lots of flower buds with noble scent. Many brought home the pruned branches for flower arrangement. Come to think of it, there are lots of Ukiyoes for plum blossoming party of ladies ...

Plum tree orchard after pruning

And here comes the important fact of thinning / pruning / clearing forest. After the cutting there will be literally tons of woods, obviously. What should we do with them? Utilizing lumber for woodworks … harvesting logs for fuels of stoves … flower arrangement? It seems to me this is the most difficult part of Niiharu volunteering. The Plan said we should not clear the ground completely anytime. Some remnants of the trees / grasses must be left since they can provide something (shelter, nutrition …) for the other living creatures, and could contribute to the maintenance of bogs by creating the corridor of soil movement from the hills. But when we leave all the cut woods to be rotten, they covered the ground completely and the new growth of dormant seeds underneath is deterred, or worse when the woods host plant diseases. We must take them, the majority of them, out. Oh, by the way, this being in a protected Forest, the work must be done without gasoline engines. A-mano, OK?

Carrying branches from the field
The mountain of cut branches
after the ladies kept the bounty

The pruned plum branches were gathered and transported to a designated field near the Visitor Center where the specialized garbage collector will come to pick them up. The City has a green recycle plant next to Zoorasia. It produces wood chips from pruned and thinned trees harvested mainly in the municipal parks. We loaded the plum branches on a small truck, and the car run 2 round trips to the collection point to complete the job. I guess the plum branches were brought to the recycle plant. The mission accomplished. (Applause.)

Plum brunches were cute, honestly.

Thinning could be a part of collaboration with another organization at the Niiharu Council. Many members of the Association for Niiharu Bounty Community新治恵みの里準備会are elderly folks. Although they are active enough to plough their land for commercial agriculture, their business is often a single senior citizen operation. Their land is every so often surrounded by a private forest of coniferous trees which were planted in the 1940s. More than 70 years of neglect has made those trees huge, with invasive undergrowth. The farmland is not only deprived of sufficient sunshine, but also threatened by spread of shrubs. From Niiharu Citizen Forest’s point of view, even if the problem forest may not be within the border of the Citizen Forest, the situation is happening at the perimeter that will soon bring degradation to the Citizen Forest. The elderly Association cannot treat the problem by themselves, and here comes the Lovers for rescue.

Everybody loves sunshine.

Early March this year, the Lovers volunteers cleared a part of the south facing slope of Mukebara that is next to Zone C where the mission of the Forest is to preserve the natural ecosystem. The place was on the edge of a forest of quercus serrata and a forest of chamaecyparis obtuse / Japanese cedara cryptomeria. Before the work, the slope was populated by Japanese cypresses with 60cm+ of diameter and 30m+ tall. They were planted more than 70 years ago for commercial purpose. Many years have passed since domestic lumbers became uncompetitive against imported woods, and the trees in Mukebara were left uncared that made the trees less and less valuable. Then, the landlord of the farmland at the top of the slope became seriously ill, and no longer able to till the place, or to plan for the work of the cypresses. He rented the place to his neighbor who is now an abuelita in her 70s. She found herself taking care of the land with increasingly scarce sunshine and encroaching bamboo grass. She called help. Lovers with chainsaws were thrilled, of course. They cleared the slope of approx. 50m wide. The objectives of the operation were
  • To restore the sunshine and the space for the farmland of the abuelita;
  • To utilize the wood harvested from the slope;
  • To prepare the slope for hosting mantle vegetation that will protect Zone C. 

And woods? How about woods after cutting? … 30m freshly cut cypresses with 60cm diameter to be pulled from the valley by hands?

Mukebara area seen from A-2 to the south.
It is a typical Satoyama scenery of Niiharu
with the surrounding forest.
The trees immediately next to the farmland
stand outside the boundary of the Citizen Forest,
but it continues to the protected Forest without any barrier.
So, ecologically they are a part of Niiharu Citizen Forest.
The machines are unloaded from the truck. Let’s work!
Cleared slope
The tree was unattended for so many years
and its core is rotten,
which made the tree not commercially valuable.
A cypress without pruning became gnarling.
Volunteers agreed it would be a useful material for artists,
but a junk in construction business …
besides, who knows if it keeps its aesthetic form after drying?
This one will be processed for lumbers
to remake picnic benches in Niiharu Citizen Forest.
By the way, Mr. Ohkawa taught me
the skin of cypress like this would have been
a very good material for the base of roof tiles
covering traditional Japanese houses.
Now, no one bothers. *sigh*
Beautiful … it will be a good bath-tub!
For your information, they are HEAVY.

It took 2 whole days to bring half the cypress woods out of the valley, and as of March 20 the other half is still lying on the slope. What we did was
  1. on the slope, slicing huge woods into about 2 to 3 meters long,
  2. putting  2-3 ropes around the trunk, secured, aaaaaaaand,
  3. pulling the trunk by hand.

The work will be continued until the field above the slope is cleared and some of these woods are turned into tables and picnic chairs. Please stay tuned how the volunteers manage this project …

Equipment for human cranes
The thinner parts of cypresses were brought up first
and were moved near to the road
for making a space to larger trunks.
All by hands, of course.
Slicing the log
Rope it, then …
The human power
It comes this far!
Job half done
After today’s job,
the tune-up must be followed for chainsaws,
even if you are exhausted.

If you plan to spend money for using equipment in a gym, think again, and join our Lovers’ activity. The weight we had to pull was NOT a joke. We thinned the forest, and I believed I thinned my BMI. Unfortunately, the weight scale of mine very coldly notified I lost only 100g on that day. *sigh* 

Phoosticks in Umeda River

If you find a problem in the Niiharu Forest, 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 …)

Niiharu Administrative Office / Satoyama Exchange Center 新治管理事務所・里山交流センター
Phone: 045-931-4947
Fax: 045-937-0898

Friday, March 18, 2016

Experiment ctd. : What is happening at the place where we had an art exhibition last summer?

Do you remember last summer we have visited the Art Exhibition in the Forest of Yokohama? At that time, I told you the forest they had the show till 2014 would be closed due to the construction work for botanical part of Yokohama Zoorasia. The work was started last November. The trekking road between Zoorasia and Niiharu / Miho is now closed due to the construction. It is supposed to be completed by the end of this month … I visited the forest recently. One of the construction crew told me they found water veins here and there so that the progress of the project is disappointingly slow … They plan to complete the job by the end of coming May, but a debate is going on if they should extend the planned completion date by the end of June 2016. A-ha. I’m not surprised. Even top of the hills and peaks of Yokohama often have natural fountains.

Telling you the truth, I was shocked to see, over the fence to limit the access of the public, the trees, roads, small hills, grasses, the previous years’ art works  … the scenery I was familiar with completely gone.  Around the planned entrance gate of the Park, the previous geography and vegetation are replaced by yellow bulldozers and a flat large open space surrounded by the trees that were spared from the cutting. Sure enough, the leveled terrain had lots of puddles. I remember before the place was very muddy when we went there after rain. Didn’t the architect of the new Park know it? Anyway, when I went to the other side of the construction via residential areas of completely different direction (… I mean, the simple way into the Forest is closed now …), nightingales and other birds were chirping with the background noise of bulldozers. Nature is tough. We’ll have a forest again.

Before, this place was like this … 
and it is now.
Muddy, muddy, then ...
Revenge of the mad mud, now ...
Once upon a time this place was a secret spot
for locals to harvest wild Japanese parsley every spring …
Now it is like this … a crew told us
we can collect the veggie once their work is done.

When the construction is completed, the Forest hosts the 33rd National Urban Greenery Fair 全国都市緑化フェア, March 25 – June 4, 2018. Prince Akishino 秋篠の宮 opens the event and the Forest will be called YokohamaSatoyama Garden, expected to attract 4 million visitors as the similar event did for a suburb of Tokyo few years ago … hmmmm … yeah, it might be better to be called a garden than a park ... sounds cozier, maybe. The area for the Garden included a professional farm land which has been sold to the City recently. The farmer rented a part of his land to allotmenters for more than 20 years, and the holders of the allotment are now requested by the City to move out as well. One of them, a grandpa, told me this summer will be their last for tomatos and cukes. He nurtured a pine tree stood next to his plot, and said smiling, “You know, I planted it when it was just a tiny seedling … about 25 years ago. It was brought from my home village in Gun’ma … Well, I have to say goodbye to him. I’m really an old man now.” … The place next to their allotments, which was once a commercial farmland, is now geometrically partitioned with borders where the workers were busy planting colorful pink and yellow flowers … pansies and primulas. It will be called “the Grand Flower Bed Full of Beautiful Flowers of Yokohama.” It looked pretty, yeah …

Invasion of beautiful flowers
Surrounding forest is receiving thinning.
Off limits!

Oh, by the way, Kanachu Bus is planning to operate
a new service near to the Forest,
probably as a part of the prep for the Fair.
The nearest stop will be this one,
“Jichi-kaikan Mae” from JR Nakayama station.
The forest on the back of the stop is already a “botanical garden.”
This route is still in a pilot stage.

The allotments are on the north bank of a small stream whose source would be from the underground of the water puddles at the construction site. The south bank of the stream is the place where the Art Exhibition was held last summer. According to the allotment members, the landlord of the place keeps his forest from the City, and allowed survival gamers and off-road bikers to enter. Though, when the construction started those people also stopped coming. Hmmm. Thanks to this change (or not), the place is now quieter and the soil is softer. I enjoyed walking inside, even though we can figure out the moving of yellow Caterpillars between the trees on the other side. (Mr. Trump! Japan is not necessarily penchant for Komatsu!) The freshly constructed mole hills were spotted everywhere. I even found a bird feather. The hunt was taken place inside the Forest. A bird of prey could operate there. Wow.

On the north, under construction.
The droppings of survival gamers
Yeah, the place is wild.
Hello, moles!
This is a REAL survival game.

The wild forest is accessible from the road
running along the Zoorasia. Find this sign.

The art works exhibited last summer were almost all gone, except the wood sculptures around the former main entrance of the show, and the installation by Kazuo Ishikuro that is almost in decay. The entrance has a storage hut of GROUP the Creation and Voice of the Woods 創造と森の声 who pasted a notice on the door. It said this wild part of the forest would also be a part of the Garden … looks like some politics is going on, don’t you think so? They are saying they are doing the forestry work and will have another art exhibition coming summer there. They are inviting anybody to join: (phone) 090-9137-3329, Ms/Mr Ishiyama.

King Kong is falling.

The “Wild” Forest has lots of cute flowers of lonicera gracilipes. They are called uguisu-kazura (nightingale vine) in Japanese because their pale pink innocent flowers come out when nightingales return to Satoyama early spring. Nightingales! I’ve met singing spring in Satoyama, then. J

Lonicera gracilipes

If you find a problem in the Forest, 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 …)