Friday, March 4, 2016

The Council for Niiharu Citizen Forest: The volunteer organizations for Niiharu Citizen Forest

Actually, Niiharu Forest is protected by many volunteers and volunteer organizations. They are the members of the Council for Conservation and Management of Niiharu Citizen Forest 新治市民の森保全管理協議会, and hold once in a month meeting with the City (and sometimes national) government officials. The main objective of the gathering is to coordinate the activities within and around the Niiharu Forest by the volunteers and the City. The occasion is also to discuss practical requests for the Forest management both from the volunteers and the government. So, it is one of the very grassroots forums for environmental policy in the City of Yokohama.

Prep for forest work

My gaijin peers are often surprised when I tell them Japan has a very tiny bureaucracy comparing with the other OECD countries. In OECD Government at Glance 2013, Japanese mandarins are only around 7% of the working population. Moreover, 85% of the 7% are for local government. The governors and mayors are locally elected to head the local bureaucracy, and the hiring of local mandarins is independent from that of national bureaucrats. The key posts are held by career bureaucrats in the local government, not by somebody from the central government in Tokyo. In terms of money, the main income for local governments is from local income/corporate taxes and the property tax (; Japan does not have national property tax). All in all, Japanese system has an emphasis on local matters. As of 2015, Yokohama is the largest government-ordinance designated city 政令指定都市 of a special status, far larger than Osaka by roughly 1 million more population. Our independence is stronger with a robust tax base. The large population pays steady stream of income taxes. Nissan has its Global Headquarter in Yokohama. Google Japan will come within a couple of years. The vicinity to Tokyo means land price in our city is not at all cheap, and so the tax revenue is higher. If you have to manage this large modern city with a tiny number of employees facing lots of demands from fussy and numerous taxpayers, you really need help from the citizens, right? The way Niiharu Forest being managed by the Council of volunteers is one way of doing it.

The army of volunteers

The regulars for Niiharu Council are the Lovers of Niiharu Citizen Forest 新治市民の森愛護会, the Organization for Promoting Niiharu Satoyama Community (Specified non-profit organization: NPO) 新治里山「わ」を広げる会, the Association for Niiharu Bounty Community 新治恵みの里準備会, the Council for Fun Learning along Umeda River 梅田川水辺の楽校協議会, and the Lovers of Waterside of Ipponbashi Bridge Medaka Plaza 一本橋めだか広場水辺愛護会. The Organization for Promoting Niiharu Satoyama Community is the designated administrator by the City for Niiharu Satoyama Park and Satoyama Community Center, which is the area surrounding Okutsu House and Tsudoi-no-Ie つどいの家 (Gathering House). Niiharu area is so-called “the North Forest of Yokohama,” and the Organization manages the visitor center to provide information about the entire North Forest that includes Niiharu and Miho Forests. Those events held at Okutsu House or Tsudoi-no-ie, such as handcraft seminars, herbal gardening lessons or scientific guide tours of the Forest is mainly organized by them. The Spring Satoyama Tour I attended last year was organized by the Organization. They also manage a project to preserve Asahi Yato rice paddies (which is on the left of B-2 in the map).

The Visitor Center
The front desk of the Visitor Center
The volunteers of the Organization raise fund
by selling herb seedlings.
Herb and plum tree gardens in the Park
A volunteer lady explains spring vegetation
along Asahi Yato.
Asahi Yato for rice cultivation, Spring 2015

The Association for Niiharu Bounty Community consists of Niiharu farmers who responded to the call of cooperation from the City. Yokohama has an agricultural policy called “Bounty Community Plan” to promote local agriculture and reduce food mileage for non-ag families nearby. The Association’s fields more or less surround the Forest. The area next to the Park, and the area between A1-3, C-4 and D1-4 in the map are one of those productive fields. In Okutsu House or Tsudoi-no-ie, they organize educational sessions for urban families to experience vegetable farming and for cooking lessons with the products from their field. For this month, March 13 is to make buckwheat noodle, and March 27 is to cook sweet rice cake with mugwort. (To attend, RVSP here and here: boxes from the above, you need to write your name, email, phone #, all the names of the participants of your team, and the name of the town of your residence.) Their Saturday Farmers’ Market in Tsudoi-no-ie is so popular that locals start to make a line from 9:00 and almost all the veggies are gone by 10:00 AM. (Nagayamon Asa-ichi にいはる長屋門朝市, every Saturday from 9:30 till sold-out.)

The field next to the Park
The field near Mukebara D-2
You know, you cannot have time to take photos
at the beginning if the competition is so fierce.
So-called “a radish on steroid,”
or Daikon,
at Niiharu Nagayamon Asa-ichi
The Council for Fun Learning along Umeda River is a part of a project funded by theMinistry of Land, Infrastructure, and Transportation of Japan, started in 1996. The main concept of the project is to provide occasions for kids to learn how to play with the nature of waterfront. (Oh, those Playstation worms who do not know real river …) At the moment there are 288 volunteer organizations nation-wide registered at the Ministry for the project. The Council for Umeda River was established in 1999 which is the only group in Yokohama for this scheme. They are not a single body but more of a coordinator of several local schools, PTAs, residents’ associations, volunteer organizations, and the City. They provide fun events for kids to know the nature of their backyard river. Their main activities are not in the Niiharu Forest per se, but Umeda River collects waters from the Forest so that it is very important telling children where the water comes from, isn’t it? The annual “Kids’ Day of Umeda River,” held on Marine Day (a national holiday in July) organized by the Umeda River Council is very popular. It is a good occasion for city kids to learn ecosystem of their Umeda River.

Spring along Umeda River
The field of the Umeda River Council

Another volunteer organization that is a member of Niiharu Forest Council but their main activity is not in the Forest is the Lovers of Waterside of Ipponbashi Bridge Medaka Plaza. They are one of 78 Lovers of Waterside organizations registered at the City to preserve urban streams and waterfronts. The Lovers of Ipponbashi Bridge established themselves in 2003 and have more focus on ecosystem conservation of Umeda River. They clean up Umeda River every 2nd Saturday of a month starting from Ipponbashi Bridge Medaka Plaza that is at Ipponbashi Bridge near Niiharu Elementary. It is one of the major issues for urban ecosystem that the rampant land developments destroy soil’s ability to retain water, and hence cause frequent flooding in the cities when it rains. The Lovers of Waterside of Ipponpashi Bridge Medaka Plaza tries to mitigate the problem along the Umeda River by joining the Niiharu Council whose members manage the Forest and preserve Yato-style rice cultivation that traditionally works as a water reservoir in Yokohama’s hilly landscape.

Umeda River along Niiharu Elementary.
This landscape is maintained by the Lovers of Waterside
of Ipponbashi Bridge Medaka Plaza.
Umeda River in early summer

Together with the Lovers of Niiharu Citizen Forest, the volunteers coming from these organizations tackle with the environmental management of Niiharu area. Next week, I explain how they are doing it. J

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

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