August 31st is always a special day for Japanese kids. For the majority, the new semester begins on September 1st after 1.5 month-long summer recess. 31st is really “the final day of summer.” Kids studying in Niiharu Elementary have a unique program traditionally on August 31. It is a day of “Kids’ Forest Rally.” Elementary school of Japan consists of 6 grades, from 1st to 6th. On every August 31st, each 6th grader of Niiharu Elementary becomes a leader of a group made of one 5th grader, one 4th grader, one 3rd grader, one 2nd grader and one 1st grader. The 6th graders plan and execute a program of forest activity for his/her group. Extremely dangerous activity is of course no-no, and they can venture into only the road demarcated by A1-A7, B1-B6, and C1-C5 in the map, and “the school forest” (which is not shown as it is off-limit for visitors). Aside from these restrictions, they can do whatever they want to in the forest, as long as they can spend a good time. Some groups may do ninja game, the others could search for mushrooms, and the other kids would hunt for rhinoceros beetles. The key to success of the group is leadership skills of the 6th grader, and teamworks of younger members. It is a very educational and fun event.
and stag beetles will congregate|
to such nectars of trees.
Now, will they notice, or already know,
such all the important fact on the 31st of August?
We Lovers of Niiharu also have special tasks for this tradition. On the volunteering day immediately before Kids’ Rally, we check the area where kids will be deployed, and remove any possible dangers they may encounter. As the roads for kids are the most popular routes, dangers of wasps or vipers are the minimum. These animals do not in the end attack people without reason. They positively dodge the places where humans are frequent, and assault us only when we disturb their quiet life. All the same, we patrol the place if there are such dangers.
|Any danger of wasps here?|
Another possible risk for the kids is unstable roads. As the area for kids is so frequented by the visitors, landslides or the like won’t be left untended for long. Unless a typhoon destroyed the forest a day before the Rally, that kind of neglect has low possibility in Niiharu. (And that’s something we Lovers should be proud of!) … Though, too much use of trekking routes made the roots of trees bare in many parts of roads in Niiharu Forest. It may be difficult for little ones to navigate in such a tangled floor … “Well, it’s educational experience for them and the elders who are expected to support them in the forest.” OK.
road well demarcated with stakes and ropes?|
to think of it,|
the place is very good training facility
to hone dexterity which is often
missing for the kids glued to Nintendo.
How about the things above? Few years ago, a duo of dad and a son ventured into one of the public forest near Tokyo the next day a typhoon passed by. The strong winds and torrential rain devastated the neglected trees. Lots of broken boughs ended hanging precariously in the tangled branches of trees lined along the trekking way. One large branch came down and struck the head of the boy. He died, and the municipal government of the forest closed the place from the public access. That kind of thing must not happen in Niiharu. “One way of finding hanging branches is looking for already fallen boughs. When they came down, they could have damaged the other branches.” Ah-ha. So we walked over the tangled roots of big trees looking above and around (which required some kind of skill, I tell you), to search if there is any dangerous boughs or branches along the trekking road. When we find one above, we pruned it with a very long saw.
kinds of branches are|
what we were looking for on the ground.
|Here they are.|
If walking over bared roots of trees is balancing exercise, pruning by a very long saw is weight training for muscles around the shoulders and upper arms (+ grips, of course). Moreover, in order to prune them safely, we have to position ourselves properly. “Nice pruning job gives the trees the chance to heal wounds by themselves. The branches must be cut at its base where they start from the trunk. That part of trunk is cambium so that as the tree grows the cut will be covered by new growth cells.” “Cut it from the above! If you try to severe the bough from below, the blade will go into the trunk and you can never finish your job.” “Position yourself. Never stand immediately below the broken boughs and branches. They come down directly over your head!” All of these must-dos made us stand often on a steep slope next to the road, as Niiharu Forest is a typical Satoyama forest in Yokohama. I found doing squats with the arms held high holding the saw was the most stable and easy position wherever I secured my foot. And never in a hurry. Try as you may, our effort to cut time always backfired as the blade of the saw high above could go easily off the mark. Slowly, but surely was the key. i.e. Holding weight high and doing squat slowly, i.e., exemplary move for weight training, was the best way to prune the dangerous boughs in a forest. No membership fee is necessary!
| The length of the saw here|
is still not yet the longest.
pruned branches were cut short|
and stowed away off the road.
at least one bird was really killed by her predator.
Could the kids notice the drama?
Where the bamboos were invading, the broken boughs hung at the crown of bamboo trees. It may be easier to cut the bamboo and let the broken branches fall with the bamboo …? “Oh, no. It is one of the most dangerous things to do. We cannot predict how the broken trees would bounce with falling trees. We must attack the problem directly always.” This advice from my seniors is very practical, and philosophical, to deal with any problem, I thought … Oh, yeah, patrolling the forest for kids’ education is very educational for adults, too.
with bamboo leaves here.
|But, let’s deal with the original cause.|
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