Friday, November 18, 2016

Coordination Saves Niiharu Forests’ Lives, Continued, continued …

The other day, I’ve joined a preparation walk within Niiharu Forest for this year’s Forest Volunteering 101 course. With a person from the City Office, we were checking the locations in the Forest where the trainees will study. When we approached to one of the farming fields surrounded by the Forest, a young farmer who worked there came to us. “Hey, you’re from the City Office, aren’t you? I really need to know ASAP when the City weeds the grasses over the land next to my field.” From the conversation between them, I surmise the land almost neglected next to his farm was the property his family owned but transferred the right to the City for (probably inheritance) tax purposes. Do you remember the owners of the land within a Citizen Forest have a preferential tax treatment? From his point of view, the new, non-local (in a sense), and non-individual owner of the land is the City Office who has neglected the care of his (formerly) ancestral land. Worse, the high grasses, including thriving field horsetails, in the municipal land were incessantly invading into his commercial farm that could cause harm for his crops.

“You mandarins charge us hefty tax when we cannot take care of our land due to severe labor shortage. (My father is not well these days, you know.) And, now, this. Your bosses have been telling me for several years the City is short of money so that it’s difficult to hire people for orderly weeding. Don’t you think all sound strange? Your way of doing makes huge problem for my business. If your Office continues this way, I will consult with the City Council Member. I also know our representative for the Prefectural Assembly, and the member of the Diet (Parliament) of our district, for your information.”

Er, well,
tall silver grasses are dominating the space, for sure.

“And you guys, the people working in the Forest. Your cars use this old road along our farm for your activity. You know what? The heavy trucks of yours create deep ruts here and there, and go off-track. You often invade into my land. What are you thinking, huh?”
Oh, dear … we are so sorry for this … we’ll be more careful when we drive.
“Who’s going to mend this mess of the ground, then.”
“Er, road maintenance within the Citizen Forest is not under the jurisdiction of the Environment Policy Bureau, but the Road and Highway Bureau ...”
“ :’-( Yes, I’ll talk to my boss when I return to the office today.”
“There is more. You open this place as a ‘Natural Park’ or something to the public. And do you know what this ‘public’ does to my land? They unleash their dogs to run over my crops, leaving poops, pull-off the sign pegs marking the border between my and my neighbor’s lands, dig up potatoes before they have tuber. All for just having a fun. Who’s going to be responsible for those bastards? I have estimated how much it costs if I build a barrier with barbed wire. A fortune. Then, the old guys of Niiharu Bounty Community said fences are not suitable for peaceful scenery of Satoyama. I love to quit such nonsense.”

Although it looks very peaceful …

Actually, it was not my first time to smell a sort of generation gap among landlords for Niiharu. Those who discussed the planning of Niiharu Citizen Forest 20 years ago are somehow content with the current arrangement. Then, after March 11, 2011 of the Great Tohoku Earthquake, younger generation of urban farming family in general is returning to their household business by quitting rat-race in downtown offices. One of the popular allotments near my home has recently converted completely into a professional spinach field by the proprietor. The city folks who enjoyed doing the cucumbers for more than 10 years were kicked out. The new generation of Niiharu farmers too could have different idea for sharing their land with the community.

Young or not + urban or rural, labor shortage in Japanese agriculture is present for sure. Some young Niiharu landlords lend their farmland as allotments to urbanites who after 3-11 became very keen for “food safety and mileage.” Although it is extremely competitive among townies to secure a lease agreement with a farming owner, the idea of “grow your own” among them is often sub-par for healthy land. One of my seniors for Niiharu Lovers told me the management of allotment business by young farmers often faces very basic misunderstanding of their customers. In Niiharu town, the farmers often create allotments next to their professional vegetable field. Unless the lease-holders keep the land OK and synchronize their activity with the calendar of landlords’ business, the entire property stumbles with troubles.
“You see, young Mr. Y (the landowner) of my allotment told all the members of our field to clear the tomatoes by such-a-such date in order for him and us to plant another crops 2 weeks later. As I’m the most experienced allotmenter I know the in-between 14 days are very important for Mr. Y. He has to prepare the land for the next planting. Many newbies do not understand this. They complained ‘Well, he’s going to plant the new plugs on that date. Why can’t I clear my place the day before, instead of 2 weeks before? I’ve paid for this, haven’t I?’ I understand how frustrating for Mr. Y to explain the importance of the agricultural calendar …”
To be fair, it is true that there are not many people these days in metropolitan Tokyo who know hands-on how tomatoes grow in the field ...  Having said that, together with such irritation, if strollers from the nearby flashy condo destroy their land and crop, the young landholders can get angry and express their doubt for the whole idea of Citizen Forest that was created by the previous generation. The things become trickier as the old-timers sit at the Niiharu Council “by representing the idea of their constituents (including the new generation of professional agriculture).” 

“This photo is not directly connected
to the topic discussed here.”

There is another aspect for complicated coordination in Niiharu. In Yokohama, Lovers of Niiharu is the largest volunteer organization who takes care of a Citizen Forest, with the cumulative total 2341 active volunteers for FY2015. Even though, 67ha of a hilly forest is large enough for us to be very busy every weekend. One of the tasks Lovers are assigned by the Niiharu Council is the maintenance of visitor roads. If the weeds are covering the route, or a dangerous tree is falling towards the way, the volunteers are in action, weekends only. For farmers, when a road within the Forest to his/her field is covered by vigorous grasses, the Citizen Forest arrangement means waiting for another weekend till the Lovers come to clear the route. Especially during summer, such setup is not at all suitable for the business of agriculture. Naturally, they take the issue with their own hands, including by the usage of weedkillers. For casual visitors to Niiharu who consider the place is a “Municipal Park,” it is certainly unsightly the rufous lumps of dry grasses with the chemical along the road. When Lovers notice the situation (and the visitors complain), clearing the dead vegetation is in the to-do list of ours. One weekend of late summer, I joined the task to sort such a jumble where there stood a mulberry tree where it was watched by entomologists since the tree acts as a rich nursery for Xylotrechus chinensis Chevrolat which was once common but now is extremely rare scenery in the Kanto Region. (I won’t tell you which tree … sorry.) The opposite of the tree is an active commercial vegetable field, and between the tree and the farmland run a narrow road wide enough for a tiny Japanese pickup could come in. Operating a mowing machine to remove the completely dead vegetation very near to the tree, I could feel the exasperation the property-owner could have had as a professional farmer when s/he spread the herbicide in this beautiful scenery …

The work to clear the chemically treated material

On our way to another point for volunteer training, the City guy who heard complaint from the young farmer was muttering if it was possible to arrange money for warning signs about trespassing of private property within the Forest. The next weekend when we had another activities, the professional landscapers were mowing the grasses in the land owned by the City … I don’t know if it was due to the complaint from a landlord, or just a planned budget mobilization for the Forest management ... In any case, no one wants to destroy our Niiharu Forest. Coordination saves lives, of any kinds in Niiharu, yeah.

A work in progress

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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