Friday, September 22, 2017

Baby trees in Mad Max 3: planting trees in the place of Neon Genesis Evangelion

Kanagawa Green Trust かながわみどり財団 has a year-round program for anybody to join forest management in Kanagawa Prefecture.  Once to three times a month, they organize a field trip to a forest for planting, mowing, thinning, pruning … you’ve got the idea, haven’t you? The majority of event-dates are during weekend + the place is mainly a public land that is normally off-limit.  It’s a good weekend getaway from urban life. The Trust arranges a free bus tour to the site from a commuter train station of Odakyu Line 小田急線. And so, your transportation cost is minimized. Volunteers make an online reservation (; you can reserve your seat for an event here), then, on the reserved day, wear mountaineering gear (a pair of work gloves is a MUST), carry your lunch and lots of drinking water, and go to a meeting place normally within 5 minutes’ walk from a designated train station. The rest is taken care of by the Green Trust and Kanagawa Forest Instructors. The forest activity is for the morning. After lunch in the forest, many events are over and the Trust brings you back to the commuter train station. Sometimes additional program is arranged such as meeting with local forest volunteer organizations, or free spa in Hakone 箱根. Actually, if a forest is in Hakone, it is a HUGE bargain to visit a forest of Hakone! They say the program is gaining popularity these days and seats for some date become rapidly full. The purpose of this tax-payer funded fun is to provide opportunities for urbanites to know forest management hands-on, and to manage vast water catchment forests of the prefecture in whatever way. As such, the forests chosen for the program is often for water conservation in Tanzawa and Hakone. For the water source forests in Tanzawa, I’ll post you my experience there soon. Today, I tell you my experience with continuing afforestation efforts in Sengoku-hara 仙石原 of Hakone. Although the area ceased to be the water source for the City of Odawara 小田原, the place still provides water to the community in northern Hakone. A weekend forest activity concluded with relaxing free spa is, I tell you, gorgeous.

The gate of off-limit prefectural forest in Hakone.
It’s open only for the time of forest management.

Hakone is one of the most prestigious resort towns in Japan. Inevitably, there are several golf courses. Among them, Hakone Country Club in Sengoku-hara is the place for rich and famous in Japan to enjoy their weekends. In the premise, they have several ponds, of course, but one of them, the largest, is not for golfers.  Its name is Itari Pond イタリ池. It is one of the remnants of a marsh spreading in the northern Hakone area until some 70 years ago before the place underwent a massive resort construction. In 1959, another remnant, the Sengoku-hara hygrophyte meadow was designated as a National Natural Treasure of Japan. The meadow attracts lots of visitors, contributing to the tourism business of the town. Aside from being scenery of rich golfers, Itari Pond too is sustaining the economy of the area in a very practical way. The people in Sengoku-hara area pump up the water of Itari Pond (about 700m ASL) to 2.5km south of Owakudani 大涌谷 (about 1050m ASL) and let it through the well of volcanic steam. The H2O becomes mineral rich boiling water and comes down to northern Hakone to be spas. So far, it never fails to provide lots of lots of spa water. No wonder. The area is the source of Hayakawa River 早川 pouring to Sagami Bay 相模湾 in the south of Odawara City. It is the river supplied water for some 400 years to Odawara, although since 1936 Odawara is using water coming from Tanzawa Mountains.

Over there is Hakone Country Club.
According to Neon Genesis Evangelion,
this is the place for Neo Tokyo-3.
At least for now,
the majority of strollers in the premise are not millennials,
but their parents or grandparents.
(In any case, we have survived 2015 …)
Hakone Yumoto 箱根湯本 and Hayakawa River

The reason why Odawara switched its water source was, Hayakawa River could not fulfill the demand any more. There was population growth of course, which made even the rich marsh of Hakone could not satisfy people’s satiation. You may say Sengoku-hara is right next to Lake Ashinoko 芦ノ湖 that is the source of Hayakawa River anyway. The lake can take care of the matter, can’t it? Well, yes and no. The water right of Ashinoko Lake is held by Shizuoka Prefecture 静岡県, not Kanagawa, because of historical reasons originated in the 17th century. Based on the present-day law, the civil engineering maintenance for the lake is under the jurisdiction of Kanagawa Prefecture, but the water of Ashinoko Lake must go to Shizuoka via Fukara Canal 深良用水 which holds the title of International Heritage of Irrigation Facility, designated by International Commission onIrrigation and Drainage. So, Kojiri Watergate 湖尻水門 in Sengoku-hara leading to Hayakawa River is permanently closed. That’s that. In any case, I suspect one of the reasons for the 20th century water shortage from Hayakawa was environmental. Here is a photo, borrowing from the homepage of Hakone Shrine. It shows how Sengoku-hara area was in 1949 when the Emperor Hirohito came to hold an afforestation ceremony. The marsh was not that much wet but more of dry grassland. Water retention was definitely lower in 1949 comparing with 2017 when the area is fully-afforested.

In Itari of Sengoku-hara meadow, spring 1949.
Actually, Japanese Emperor presides over
the annual afforestation festival since 1934,
importing the American idea of Arbor Day.
The festival could not be held in 1944 and 1945,
but otherwise it has been one of the most important
official duties of the Emperor
This year, the event was held in Toyama Prefecture.
Sengokuhara meadow, in summer 2017

For more than 70 years of continuous afforestation, the former grassland is now a forest (and 2 golf-courses).  First, people planted coniferous trees there. They are now matured cedars and cypresses many of which are harvested for funding nature management programs of the Prefecture. This spring, in the forest management tour we planted next generation trees to the newly created vacant plots in Itari area of Sengoku-hara. The site is now managed by Kanagawa Water Supply Authority 神奈川県内広域水道企業団 in order to supply water to the northern Hakone area. The chosen seedlings this time were deciduous trees, nurtured from the local seeds of Stewartia monadelpha (Tall stewartia), Acer palmatum (Japanese maple), Cerasus jamasakura (Japanese hill cherry), and Cornus kousa (Kousa dogwood). Before we arrived, The Water Supply Authority cleared the place and marked the place with a bamboo stick for the seedlings to be planted. Although, Hakone area does not (yet) suffer deer problem, the place was enclosed by sturdy wire mesh to prevent deer lunch, just in case. Everything was ready when we went there. We simply dug at the indicated point holes deep and wide enough for the roots of seedlings to be covered with 2-5 cm of soil and applied gentle stomping around the root to stabilize the soil (; it’s a maneuver similar to a dance around a small poll, which I loved). Then, each baby tree was loosely tied to the bamboo cane with a hemp yarn. The fastening of the seedling is important to prevent the weak babies to be knocked out by strong winds and rains. The point to apply yarn is at 2/3 of a seedling from the bottom.  We put the string in 8-shaped loop around the marker-stick and tied the end at a seedling, not so tight but secure enough for the fastener to stay at the point. The baby trees grow taller and spread their branches from their growing point, normally at the tip. The trunk 2/3 from the root will not have a new bough anymore, but only get thicker. So, gentle tying with a yarn will not hamper their growth.

The underground reservoir that gathers water in Itari forest
A tag attached to a seedling.
 There is an interesting story about such switch in afforestation
from coniferous trees suitable for mass market
locally procured broad-leaved trees.
I tell you about it in my later post
together with the thing of grassland and the forest;
they are related.
It’s the water purification plant for northern Hakone.
Not that huge, isn’t it?
After the planting we had a tour in the water purification plant.
The water from Itari forest is not contaminated,
but the plant is to make it sanitary.
Bacteria, poops of wild animals, etc, etc., you know?
the purified water is slightly acidic
due to volcanic activity of the area.
In order to make the taste
acceptable for the majority of the tourists,
the Authority adds baking powder
for neutralization before distribution.

Our senior Forest Instructors said, “What fascinating in afforestation is, we imagine how these babies grow. Here, the sun light comes from this direction so that these thin branches near the growing point will take a shape to receive the max energy from the sun in such way (he explained by body language). The direction of the tree to get taller will also be affected by the direction of sun. Then, there will be a race for survival not only among these seedlings we planted today, but also with weeds and wild seedlings now dormant in the soil but will come out sooner. All compete for the max sun shine, and water and nutrients underground. Taking care of the planting site is watching a gradual change of the natural community where we brought the seedlings. Sometimes, our first expectation will be completely off target because some seedlings could not survive for their first few years. Others could have a shape we did not expect originally. Some became spectacular, another just mediocre. We know we cannot live long enough to make it sure how the most successful baby tree becomes in hundreds of years. That’s the best part of afforestation, realizing such things by attending the same forest for a long time.”

They are about 70 years’ old trees in Itari.

In the event of forest management by the Green Trust, we returned the same place during summer for mowing. Certainly, the seedlings we planted were surrounded by tall weeds and in a competition with wild seedlings such as Japanese pepper (Zanthoxylum piperitum). “Please mow all except the planted seedlings!” OK. When I cut the pepper tree, the air was filled with the pure aroma of Japanese pepper … piquant and a hint of fresh mint. Do you think mowing them wasteful? Well, I’m sure when we return the same place next summer, another wild Japanese pepper trees are establishing themselves no matter what. The caged afforestation field in Hakone is the place for the survival of the fittest.   Very Mad Max place. Welcome Aunty Entity.

The afforestation site in August.
The wild weeds are dominating the place.
After mowing.
The baby trees can take a breath now.
In the established coniferous forest of Itari,
in August wild Hydrangea macrophylla had very large buds everywhere.

If you find environmental problems in Hakone, please make a contact to the Visitor Center of Hakone National Park
Hakone Visitor Centre, Ministry of Environment 環境省 箱根ビジターセンター
164 Motohakone, Hakone-machi, Ashigara-shimo-gun, Kanagawa, 250-0522
250-0522 神奈川県足柄下郡箱根町元箱根164
(TEL) 0460-84-9981
(FAX) 0460-84-5721

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