Friday, June 24, 2016

The Birth of Niiharu Citizen Forest

These days, Niiharu Citizen Forest is a forestry model case for partnership between volunteers and the municipal government, welcoming lots of “official” visitors to learn the system. But, according to Mr. Yoshikazu Asaba浅羽良和in The Story of Making Satoyama Park and CitizenForest: Yokohama Maioka Park and Niiharu Citizen Forest「里山公園と『市民の森』づくりの物語」 (Tokyo: Haru-shoboh はる書房, September 2003, ISBN 4-89984-042-X), it was not so at the beginning. Before Niiharu, Citizen Forests of Yokohama were managed by Lovers of each forest that was organized by landlords who were active managers of the place with a help of neighbors. Niiharu was different. When the city started in 1996 the negotiation for Niiharu as a Citizen Forest, the landlords were OK to make a contract with the city, but clarified they could not participate in forestry. They told the city they had not entered their property for years, and the landlords did not think they were young enough to engage in physically demanding works in the field. In addition, the north of Yokohama is a typical bed town of Tokyo where housing development along Tokyu Den’entoshi Line from Shibuya has been ferocious. The landlords of Niiharu felt a kind of neglect when in the 1970s the municipal government designated their property a development-controlled area. OK, the city decided to preserve the nature of our ancestral land. That’s good, but we also have to eat. If the city restricts the business we can do with our land, you should present more comprehensive development plan to help our community. What’s going on with the city’ idea for tourism promotion and agricultural development in Niiharu? 20 years has passed already, haven’t they? Although the city managed to secure the enough acreage by the end of 1996, the discussion between the city and the landlords was difficult. The issue was who were going to take care of the citizen forest really. Mr. Asaba and Ms. Shizuka Tanami 田並静, both of whom were in charge of actual construction of Niiharu Citizen Forest at the city’s Green Policy Division, could not attend the meetings with the landlords to talk about the detail of the contract for some time.  Helplessly, they used their connections from the 1998 Congress for the Coppice of Japan to discuss the future of Niiharu with Mr. Makoto Okutsu (Yeah, that previous owner of Okutsu House, and the largest landlords in Niiharu then). They gradually formulated the idea of volunteers’ initiative with helps of landlords for Niiharu, i.e. the other way round of the other citizen forests.

It was May 1999, 9 months before the planned opening of the Niiharu Citizen Forest, when Mr. Asaba and Ms. Tanami for the first time attended a meeting with the landlords. Probably without preparation for the regulars of the negotiation, Ms. Tanami declared that before the opening of the Citizen Forest the city organized a forestry training course for 50 citizen volunteers who were expected to be the core member of Lovers organization together with the landlords. The lecturers and trainers of the course would be professional educators of forestry and the landlords themselves. The landlords, led by the leader of residents’ association, Mr. Heihachi Nakamaru 仲丸平八, were taken aback, and expressed openly the concern of this idea of volunteer forestry. Did the bureaucrats consider busy calendar of professional agriculture for training schedule of amateurs? It takes decades for result of good forestry. Those strangers will soon be bored, and gone to leave undone jobs on us. Could the city slickers thin the forest and mow the undergrowth? The 50 downtown guys may attend the lectures and disappear without becoming the Lovers member. We cannot trust them … The discussion turned into an exchange of harsh words, and Mr. Asaba left his words to momentum by guaranteeing the success of the course in front of his boss without permission (ha ha). He also assured the construction design within the forest, such as the course of trekking roads and waterworks, should be determined based on the requests from landlords. After the meeting, Ms. Tanami and Mr. Asaba held a two-day meeting with the expected lecturers of the course, and made it sure the intention of the landlords were respected at most. They also programmed the course where the landlords became the leading instructors, with several sessions for communication between the landlords and the volunteers. The city thought building the trust between the landlords and the forest volunteers was the most important.

In order to prepare for the opening of the citizen forest, a twice monthly 10-day course was scheduled from July to December 1999. Ms. Tanami and Mr. Asaba had less than one month for public subscription for the course, and rain or shine run around the neighborhood of Niiharu for town hall meetings and flyers. The concern was proved unfounded for the seriousness of attendees to the course. The originally planned 50 volunteers became 60, whose applications stated, without fail, their eagerness to join conservation efforts of neighborhood forests. The curriculum included the methodology of assessing forests, the ways and practice to care each kind of trees, ecology of Niiharu, and networking events for volunteers and landlords. Reading the curriculum of the course, I noticed the Niiharu training course 20 years ago became the prototype of forestry training courses the city organizes now. Ms. Toshiko Kitagawa who last April gave us the instruction about spring wild flowers was one of the lecturers. One training day consisted of morning lectures and afternoon field-practices of hard labor with huge logs. It is exactly what we had last fall during Citizen Forestry 101. The course was concluded with networking with veterans, the same as ours last year. For the first Forestry 101 course in 1999, almost all the attendees completed twice a month full-day training of 5 months.

In the process the eager students dispelled the concern of landlords about the fickleness of downtown guys. After the course, preparation to establish the Lovers of Niiharu Citizen Forest began in earnest, and Mr. Nakamaru became the first representative of the Lovers of Niiharu. Early 2000, the newly born Lovers of Niiharu constructed roads in Mukaiyama area which is the area of C-1 to C-5. It was the idea of Mr. Nakamaru. He strongly recommended Mikaiyama for urban novices to learn the land, and Mr. Asaba decided to leave the area for graduation project of volunteers of Niiharu forestry course. In the Niiharu Conservation and Management Plan 新治保全管理計画, the area is defined as an introductory place for urbanites to experience Satoyama ecology. Now the route is one of the most frequented roads by the visitors. Moreover, Mr. Nakamaru researched old names and history of the places within Niiharu that are now shown in the Niiharu map. Mr. Asaba wrote Mr. Nakamaru was one of the reliable community leaders he met during his long tenure for the city office. He understood the 21st century concept of partnership between a community and a municipal government, with the strong trust from his community. Above all, Mr. Asaba concluded, all the community leaders who successfully concluded a citizen forestry project really loved the place they called home, as Mr. Nakamaru did.

Mr. Okutsu, Mr. Asaba, Ms. Tanami, and all the people who contributed to the opening of Niiharu discussed about the projects of Forest Café and educational activities for kids, using Okutsu House as a base. Mr. Okutsu was hospitalized few days before the opening of Niiharu Citizen Forest in March 2000, and passed away 6 months later. In one Sunday afternoon of May this year, there was a yearly general meeting for Lovers of Niiharu. At the occasion, the present representative for Lovers, Mr. Ohkawa, told us Mr. Nakamaru had retired this March from the honorary representative for Lovers, since “he thinks he is old enough.” We will carry the torch of them further. Yeah, “In the long run, we are all dead.” But forests are another long run thing. J

The City Office who’s in charge of execution of Green-up Plan is

Yokohama Municipal Government Creative Environment Policy Bureau 横浜市環境創造局
Phone: 045-671-2891
FAX: 045-641-3490

No comments:

Post a Comment