Friday, September 8, 2017

Harvesting chestnuts in Niinaru

In Niiharu, the last weekend of August is the start of collecting chestnuts. So, in sweltering weather, we entered the old chestnut orchard and looked down to find chestnuts in burrs. The place was once a property of local farming family, but the current patriarch is now old and could not find the way to take care of it. He transferred the deed of the place to the City of Yokohama, in exchange for tax concession. Sure enough, the trees of 30 or more years old are growing on a very steep hill … It would be difficult for a senior citizen owner alone to collect fallen chestnuts. Niiharu Lovers are in charge of managing the place including harvesting. So, we collect chestnuts there. Telling you the truth, I’ve never done serious chestnuts harvesting in my life before. It was a fun!

The place is this steep.

A Niiharu Lover is operating down there.

First, we looked around to find burrs. I learned when a burr did not have an opening, even when I pried it open, inside did not have chestnuts mature enough to be collected. So, we had to find the burrs whose mouth was open. Sometimes, when it fell off nicely, the matured chestnuts popped out from the burr and scattered around leaving the burr empty. Otherwise, we widen the opening of the burr with foot, and raked out the chestnuts from the burr. “Careful! Spikes of burrs are really prickly. Better using the pig-skin working gloves.” My seniors advised me. Usually, long metal tongs are to collect the chestnuts, but “Using biggish screw driver is easier for amateurs, you know.” It was a delicate task to be performed in a steep slope of bushy hill. We soon became very quiet and concentrate for finding good chestnuts. “Look carefully. Some have worm-hole. The blackened skin is a sign that part is damaged. Better to leave them in the forest.” “Well, I don’t think so. They are edible if you just cut the damaged part off. The place produces chestnuts certainly organic!” According to the senior Niiharu Lovers, this year’s harvests are “wow, big.” We collected about 100kg of chestnuts in just 1 hour operation. The forest of Niiharu was generous.


Lots of chestnuts! There are normally 3 nuts in a burr.
It was difficult to find a burr containing all 3 matured nuts
… many had one huge nut and 2 flat siblings in a burr …
Then, a week later,
we could find many siblings of fat 3 nuts.
I was amazed to see what a week could do.
A burr has a 3-layered structure.
The outermost part is spikes,
then, there is a kind of skin similar to a bark of a tree.
The inner part is for chestnuts.

Some burrs are in two-toned.
When we opened it,
the nut under the browned burr is fully matured,
but the nuts behind the green burr are not at all matured.

“Hmmm, those trees are too tall for commercial cultivation of chestnuts.” “Yes, normally they are 3m high at most. But here …” “The previous owner did not manage the growth well.” I asked if it is possible to coppice chestnuts. “No. If you cut the trunk, that’s the end of the tree. Here, as the ground is too steep. We cannot bring mechanized tools to dig out the large roots. So, if we cut these old trees here, we have to leave the roots.” “Yes, the management of the ground is tricky.” “And too much pruning will kill the trees.” “Yes, yes.” “No wonder the previous owner took the deal with the City.” “Actually, cultivating chestnuts is a demanding job.” I see … I imagined our ancestors in Japan who started to plant chestnut trees around their settlement some 10,000 years ago. Properly taking care of trees is not a piece-of-cake. Collecting the nuts out of the spiky burrs sometimes hurts us. Even though, the archeological remains, such as San’nai-maruyama Remains of Aomori Prefecture 三内丸山遺, keeps the evidence Japanese already nurtured huge chestnuts forests in some 5500-4000 years ago. And now, some chestnuts orchards are under the management of the municipality due to maintenance issues. The relationship between the forest and us is … not simple.

Carrying one of the crates of chestnuts
A bounty!
But with sub-par nuts.
Those with wrinkles, with worm-holes,
with blackened skins were thrown in the “outlet bag.”
I brought some less-bad nuts from the bag,
and peeled the skins.
Sure enough,
I had to cut rather big damaged chunks off before cooking.

Anyway, the chestnuts from Niiharu became chestnuts pilaf next day for our family. Yammy. 😋

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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