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

Friday, September 15, 2017

Laboratory of the Forest 2017 横浜の森美術展 2017

The 10th Art Exhibition in the Forest of Yokohama is from 10 September in the forest next to Yokohama Zoorasia. The show will be held till 24 September, as a presentation of artworks created during the workshop series started last May. The event is organized by GROUP the Creation and Voice of the Woods 創造と森の声. (Phone/FAX: 045-933-1460, Email: Their Facebook is here.) The show is free of charge for visitors. According to the GROUP people, as their activity has entered in the third decade, they changed the approach to the event from “mainly exhibition” to “mainly workshop.” In addition, the forest of their activity is entering the final stage of the municipal project to be a botanical park of the City of Yokohama. The GROUP decided to have an emphasis on forest maintenance activities year-round. (Actually, I’ve found the place could have an interesting status in Japanese history for modern botany. I’ll come back to it after reading Fred Pearce …) So, this year’s Laboratory of the Forest is a kind of first step for the second generation of their concept. Let’s dive in the forest to see what’s happening there.

The most frequent transportation services to the forest of the GROUP is to ride a bus either from JR Nakayama 中山 station or Sotetsu Tsurugamine 鶴ヶ峰 Station. There are the routes Asahi 11 and 15, -11/-15, both of which connect two stations. (From Nakayama, the time table is here. From Tsurugamine, the table is here.)  If you take a bus from Nakayama, get off the bus at Kohdan-Shukaijoh-mae 公団集会場前. If you look to the right from the bus stop, beyond the traffic light, you’ll find a building looks like an old school. It is now-defunct Hikarigaoka Elementary School ひかりが丘小学校. If you ride a bus from Tsurugamine for Nishi-Hikarigaoka 西ひかりが丘, it actually takes you in front of this building at the bus stop, called Nishi-Hikarigaoka, the final stop. In any case, first you walk a bit to the direction of Hikarigaoka Elementary and turn left at the first corner from the Nishi-Hikarigaoka bus stop. Go straight. Eventually you enter a small, paved and steeply climbing-up road between the forest on the right and a retirement housing complex, Care Home Yokohama and Villa Yokohama, on the left. Pass the top of the hill seeing a downing slope on the left between the Care Home and Villa. At this point on the edge of the forest, there is a big banner saying “the Creation and Voice of the Woods 創造と森の声.” From there, keep on going 10m or so along the forest, and on the right we see the entrance for the exhibition. Another bus route we can use is the bus to Zoorasia. Use Asahi 9 and 10, -9/-10, to Zoorasia of Sotetsu from Yokohama (time table, here) or from Tsurugamine (time tables, here and here) Stations. Sotetsu Bus has another service from Mitsukyo 三ツ境 Station with Asahi 33 and 34, -33/-34, (time table, here). There also is City Bus service Route 136 to Zoorasia from JR Nakayama Station (time table, here). Get off the bus at Yokohama Zoorasia, and proceed further along for about 400 m to the direction of #2 Parking of the Zoo. On the right, there will be a small gate with the sign GROUP the Creation and Voice of the Woods. If you visit the place during weekends, many Asahi 10, 33, 34 and Route 136 buses will take us to the North Gate of Zoorasia (terminal stop) that is the closest to the workshop entrance. When you leave the terminal stop of Zoorasia North Gate, go back a bit along the bus road, and on the left there is the sign for the GROUP.

The gate to the forest for the Exhibition from Zoorasia
Could you see a bollard over there
from the banner of the GROUP?
That’s at the entrance.
The entrance to the place

6 artworks are created during the workshop series of 2017, and now shown in the forest. They are

“Dance, Dance, Dance,” with Kazuo Ishiguro 石黒和夫, created in May 13-14 and 20-21

“We created a troop of 18 dancers from twigs of the forest.
They are bopping in the forest path!”
A ritual in a forest of New Guinea … ?

“Abstraction of the Forest,” with Yohichiro Yoshikawa 吉川陽一郎, created in July 15-17.

“A large circle that is an abstraction in the forest.
Along the circle line, we transplanted dragon’s beard
(dwarf lilyturf / Ophiopogon japonicas) found in the forest.
It’s a painting
as an order created by humans in the wilderness.”

The installation is continuing
to the last year’s work:
the dragon’s beard there is
well established now.

“Athletic Drum,” with ASADA, created on July 29.

“We created a place with lots of ‘musical instruments’
in the forest.
Please enjoy music of yours!”
Bong! (with a rubber sandal)

“Land-art Labo,” with Kazuma Horie 堀江和真, created on August 6 and 10.

“We created tiny mountains in the forest by moving the soil,
and decorated them with small twigs.
Eventually, they will be covered by grasses and mosses
to be a part of the forest.”

This one starts to be taken over by a vine.
It’s becoming the forest …

“Sleeping in the Forest,” with Noriaki Oka 岡典明, created on August 19 and September 2.

“We created a wooden deck in the forest
for us to throw ourselves down.
We then nailed the twigs and flowers on it.
Together, we see the sky through the tree canopy,
and feel the wind in the forest.”

“Cathedral of the Forest,” with all artists, created on September 10.

“We weaved the tree branches
to create a cathedral,
and decorate it
with ‘stained glasses.’”

I personally love the canopy of the cathedral.
Tree canopy and plastic “glasses” kids made
become one …

From this year’s installations, I had an impression that the artists are now getting used to the “time” of the forest. Forest evolves resolutely by their own term, and flatly rejects the urge of the humans to control the temporal space. The artwork in the forest, then, would be difficult to be “installations” of homo sapience, but something a part of the flow of the space and time determined only by the nature. Since each artwork has been evolving for more than 5 months already, many of them started to gather moss or even decay. Even though, the visitors of the venue can join the spirit of human conception by situating our body within each artwork in the forest. You can stand at the center of dancers there. Your experience this time will be definitely different from the tableau we had during the 2017 National Urban Greenery Fair 全国都市緑化フェア where urbanites of polished shoes strolled along the artificially created promenade. Surely, it’s a matter of your preference. But I do prefer these dancers here to them in May.

At the entrance,
they have posters about each artworks
and a map of the venue.

If you find a problem in the site introduced in this post, the best contact address will be GROUP the Creation and Voice of the Woods.

In any case, the city office which is in charge of this forest is
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 …)

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