Friday, December 8, 2017

The Battle of the fittest: Water reservoirs and rich vegetation of Oiso Hill 大磯鷹取山

We use a commuter bus service of Kanacyu Bus Hira-31 or -32 (平‐31, 平‐32, time table here) from #2 bus stop in the north exit of JR Hiratsuka Station 平塚駅, and reach to Ikusawa Bus Stop 生沢. In front of us is Higashino-ike Pond東の池. This pond is recorded in a historical document, Sinpen Sagami-no Kuni Fudoki-koh, published in 1841 (新編相模国風土記稿 Newedition for Records of Sagami Region). According to this report, it was constructed in the early 17th century as one of the two man-made reservoirs to serve agriculture of Ikusawa Village. This is a substantial pond of 4000 m2 with a tiny island in the middle connected by a bridge. The island has a petit Itsukushima Shrine, an apparition of grandeur Itsukushima Shrine 厳島神社 in Hiroshima 広島. The place worships the youngest of 3 goddess of Itsukushima Shrine, Tagitsuhime-no-mikoto 多岐都比米克命. The small precinct of the shrine has very old trees, including a spineless holly osmanthus. Osmanthus heterophyllus loses its spines from leaves as tree matures. Oiso Itsukushima Shrine with the spineless holly should be very old. The water of the reservoir has been managed by a cooperative of the local farmers. Until 3 or so years ago, the place was also famous for its gorgeous lotus flowers covering the entire pond. Then in 2015, the lotus suddenly reduced its presence, and from 2016 we could not find any. Oiso Town Council and Town Hall 大磯町議会・役場 consider the situation a possible environmental collapse. At the moment, they are planning to drain the pond to study the bottom. Controlling water is always difficult …

Higashino-Ike Pond.
Certainly no lotus could be found in this photo.
Itsukushima Shrine in Higashino-Ike Pond
This is a very large holly.

We cross the bus road to the northeast and go to the direction of the Hill in front of us. After a bit of walk in an alley among local houses via a small tunnel under Odawara-Atsugi Toll Road, the road plunges into a forest of evergreen broad-leaved trees. The thickness of the forest is amazing, especially when we consider human difficulty getting hold of water here … The protagonists of the forest of Oiso Hill are Microtropis japonica and Machilus thunbergii. In the rainy climate of Kanagawa Prefecture, grounds near sea are relatively warmer than the inland area such as Tanzawa or Hakone. Microtropis japonica and Machilus thunbergii are best suited for such condition. It is considered that once they dominated the forests of coastal area in Kanagawa. After humans settled here and started to exploit the bounty from the forest, such as for firewood or construction materials, Microtropis japonica and Machilus thunbergii were replaced by Quercus acutissima / serrata and coniferous trees. They were also removed for residential development that occurred in large cities including Yokohama. Lots of these trees in Oiso Hill mean the place was spared from such man-made changes. Housing development aside, it’s a kind of evidence the area had difficulty to expand agriculture. The geological feature of Oiso Hill makes it hard for an underground water system for cultivation ...

Please find this signpost and
follow the direction to Mt. Takatori
The tunnel under Odawara-Atsugi Road
We first enter this magical bamboo forest.
Though, all the forest instructors said
“Well, this place needs definitely more care!”
Actually, we have entered
“Kanto Friendship Road.”
More to this below.
The forest has firewood trees and coniferous trees of course.
But they are not ruling the place.
Litsea coreana.
We can enjoy an enchanted forest if it rains. 😇
Er, please do it if you know the place damned well.
Otherwise, play it safe.

Having said that, Oiso Hill has a long history of human activity, which is another reason why paradoxically it keeps Microtropis japonica and Machilus thunbergii relatively well. At the top of the mountain, there is Takatori Shrine 鷹取神社. This is an old one. A record in Azumakagami 吾妻鏡 dated on 27 April 1191 said, the priest of the Shrine petitioned the powers-that-be of the time, probably Minamoto-no Yoritomo 源頼朝, to stop a newly appointed local official cutting mulberry trees in its precinct. A legend says the place was known as Sengen Shrine 浅間神社 for millennia among locals. In less than 5 minutes’ walk from the Shrine, there is the peak of Oiso Hill, called Mt. Takatori 鷹取山 (ASL 230 m). One day of the early 17th century, when Tokugawa Ieyasu 徳川家康 enjoyed falconry in Hiratsuka 平塚, his falcon escaped from the hands of falconers, but was recaptured at the top of Mt. Takatori. Since then, the place has the name “Takatori-yama” or Falcon-catching Mountain. The shrine had received financial backing from Tokugawa Shogunate Government 徳川幕府 for some 250 years, and attracted lots of worshipers. At the time of Meiji Restoration 明治維新 in the middle of the 19th century, the shrine was renamed as Takatori Shrine and defined as the village shrine of the area. Having Shintoism shrine at the top of a hill near a village was a prototype of traditional Japanese rural community. Those villagers protected the vegetation around the institution as a part of their god. Takatori Shrine keeps the historical design well, and so the forest around the shrine was spared from developmental activity for centuries. Currently, roughly 1 ha of the forest surrounding the shrine is designated as one of the natural treasures (nature sanctuary) of Kanagawa Prefecture.

Wild Liriope muscari with its blue berries.
Their seeds are natural super balls
bouncing very well on hard surface. 😁
Takatori Shrine.
If you go there,
please take your photo with this structure to collect badges.
More to this below.
Go straight from the Shrine,
and we meet a flat space with sparse trees,
which is the top of Mt. Takatori.
My senior instructors guessed
the place could be for some structure ages ago.
Historical record says Takatori Shrine had priests
in residence until about 150 years ago.
Maybe this place was for their home.

Let’s keep going straight down from the Shrine along a blacktop road. Eventually we meet a signpost showing the directions to Mt. Takatori 鷹取山, to Myoen-ji Temple 妙円寺, and to Shogan-ji Temple 松岩寺. If you take a road to Myoen-ji Temple, the route we take so far becomes Mt. Takatori – Village Route 鷹取山里の道 which is designated as one of the Kanto Friendship Roads, aka Nature Trekking Roads in Metropolitan Tokyo Area 関東ふれあいの道 (首都圏自然歩道). It’s a fun program organized by the Ministry of Environment of Japan, started in full in 2010. A circling trekking road runs through all the 7 prefectures of Kanto Region 関東地方. The route is demarcated in 160 sections of about 10K distance each that can be completed in a one-day hike. You visit them one-by-one and collect photo evidences of yours at an assigned landmark. When you conquered all the routes in one prefecture, e.g. 17 itineraries in Kanagawa Prefecture 神奈川県コースマップ (details here), you send the photos with your small comments of each road to the prefectural office in charge of the program, e.g. for Kanagawa, Natural Environment Conservation Center 神奈川県自然環境保全センター. They then send you back a certificate of your accomplishment together with a pin-badge. At the time you send your final dossier to the 7th prefecture of Kanto, please enclose photo copies of the certificates from the previous 6 prefectures. You will receive the 7th certificate + badge, and the Grand Certificate and a special badge honoring your achievement. As of 2015, there are 30 awardees who acquired the grand pin-badge. For Mt. Takatori – Village Route, your photo point is at Takatori Shrine. You can start your weekend project with the program now!

From the Shrine along a black top road from Hiratsuka City.
To the left from the Shrine,
we peek in the scenery of Lake Wood Golf Club.
You’ll meet this sign post saying
“This route is Kanto Friendship Road.”
The signpost at the crossing of the 3 directions to
Mt. Takatori, to Myoen-ji Temple, and to Shogan-ji Temple

But today, we take the route to Shogan-ji Temple to see an evidence for water problem of Oiso Hill. Turning right at the junction of the 3 roads, the route climbs slightly and then we comes to another hill top, this time with a farmland spreading over it. This is called Yurugi-no-oka Hill ゆるぎの丘 of Kisawa community 吉沢 in Hiratsuka City 平塚市. Hiratsuka City is promoting the hill and the vicinity as agricultural and tourism area. The view from Yurugi-no-oka includes entire Mt. Oyama 大山, Sagami Bay 相模湾 and, weather permitting, Mt. To 塔ノ岳, Mt. Nabewari 鍋割山 + Mt. Fuji 富士山. This is a wonderful spot for your lunch, sans any water facility including toilet. That’s saying something ... From there, the road lazily descending to the foot of the hill where we can meet Yatsurugi Shrine 八劔神社 or “Eight and Sword Shrine” in less than 1km from Yurugi-no-oka Hill. It worships Yamatotakeru-no-Mikoto 日本武尊, Susano’o-no-mikoto 建速須佐之男命, and Oohirunomuchi-no-mikoto 大日霊貴命 (akaAmaterasu 天照大神). All of them are the main protagonists of Japanese mythology, and Susano’o is famous for his adventure with 8-headed dragon which is the demon representing flood 八岐大蛇. Susano’o is also an owner of a mythical sword 草薙剣 that is now (notionally) the property of the Emperor 三種神器. For this modest shrine in a rural community, the residents of Yatsurugi Shrine are rather grande. It is said that the shrine is the protector of Kisawa community for at least 1000 years. And, we meet here the connotation with “flood.” 😉 

We go up from the junction of the 3 roads.
The road soon becomes leisurely.
Yurugino-oka Hill. We can see Mt. Oyama over there.
Unfortunately, when we reached there,
the clouds were still blocking our view
to the ridges of Tanzawa and Mt. Fuji.
Yet, Yurugino-oka Hill has nice picnic benches.
The road rambling down to the foot of Oiso Hill.
We think we have spotted an Accipiter gentilis.
Yatsurugi Shrine

At Yatsurugi Shrine, there is another crossing for the 3 destinations shown by a signpost. Please turn right here to the direction of Shogan-ji Temple 松岩寺. The rural scenery continues for less than 10 minutes, and we reach to another reservoir in approximately 300m from Yatsurugi Shrine. It is Naka-Kisawa Pond 中吉沢の池 created in 1935 in order to secure water for agriculture of the community. It collects water from roughly 400m long stream, called Miyashita River 宮下川 originating from near Yurugi-no-oka Hill. The entire area is on the conglomerate created by tectonic movements and volcanic eruption that made rain water hard to gather subterranean. Before the construction of the Pond, a storm quickly made watercourses torrent and flooded the area. In draught, farmers could only lament their bad luck. The pond has 49m*30m*10m dimension, i.e. substantial, to tackle these problems. Along the reservoir and the stream, there runs a trekking road. Although the place is almost next to the residential area of Hiratsuka City, the way alongside Miyashita River can cause us a false sense of being in a deep mountain. (“Where are houses, or ag lands?”) Crossing several small wooden bridges over Miyashita River, we meet Shimofuri Waterfall 霜降の滝. Unless it rains really hard, Miyashita River is pequeño, but the Waterfall is something to see. The geological structure of the riverbed becomes apparent around the waterfall. This is the spot where we can directly observe the conglomerate spreading below the shallow top soil of Oiso Hill. I was a kind of convinced why it’s so difficult for underground water in Oiso. Rain cannot go underneath this rock.

The junction at Yatsurugi Shrine.
Please turn right here.
On our course, there are signposts for the Pond.
Naka-Kisawa Pond
A trekking road goes along the pond.
Miyashita “River.”
This petit flow can cause headaches.
One of the “bridges” over Miyashita River
Shimofuri Waterfall is over there.
Watching the waterfall from the above,
we can recognize a smooth surface of a gigantic rock
that is a part of Takatori-yama Conglomerate 

The end of trekking road along the stream is a narrow, but paved path that leads us to rolling farmlands, and then to the cemetery of Shogan-ji Temple 松岩寺. We pass through the precinct of the temple, and reach to the bus route of Kanacyu commuter services to JR Hiratsuka Station 平塚駅 and JR Ninomiya Station 二宮駅.  To return to Hiratsuka Station, we can take a bus from Shogan-ji Temple Bus Stop 松岩寺バス停 (time tables, here), which is an about 20 minutes ride. I found it ironic because Hiratsuka City along Sagami River was once famous for their rice paddies so difficult  to dry. According to “An Oral Record for Traditional Meals in Kanagawa 聞き書 神奈川の食事,” until the 1950s the farmers in Hiratsuka could not drain their paddies so that in late autumn they waded in freezing semi-pond of rice paddies for harvesting. That’s the story only for the delta of Sagami River that is in less than 1km away from Kisawa community. For humans, it’s so tricky to deal with water … Whatever, those formidable trees in Oiso Hill are impressive. In spite of the conglomerate below, they just simply spread their root and thirstily drink from rain. The fittest, indeed. Perhaps, that would be the reason why we have to rely on the forests to capture water.

Actually this paved road is for farmers
living in the foot of the hill to go to …
... their farmland beyond the waterfall.
We can see Sagami Bay over there.
Shogan-ji Temple
We’ve descended from this road
running in the precinct of the Temple.
Shogan-ji Bus Stop

The contact address for Kanagawa Natural Environment Conservation Center 神奈川県自然環境保全センター is

657 Nanasawa, Atsugi City, 243-0121 2430121 厚木市七沢657
Phone: 046-248-0323

You can send an enquiry to them by clicking the bottom line of their homepage at

Oiso Town Hall 大磯町役場

183 Higashi-koiso, Oiso-cho, Naka-gun, Kanagawa, 255-8555
255-8555 神奈川県中郡大磯町東小磯183
Phone 0463-61-4100 FAX 0463-61-1991;jsessionid=AC09D1499780CCBD42365B009AB24F7A?mode=pc&inquiryId=53&

Hiratsuka City Hall 平塚市役所

9-1 Sengen-cho Hiratsuka City, Kanagawa, 254-8686 254-8686 神奈川県平塚市浅間町91
Phone0463-23-1111 Fax0463-23-9467

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