I posted a little while ago about the Kamanofuchi Park and the Tama River in the middle of little Ome City in the far west of Tokyo. The park is now one of my favorite Tokyo parks, mostly because it doesn’t look like a park at all. The Tama river in these parts of Tokyo are at the bottom of a quite deep river narrow and there are not that many places where you can actually walk down to the river and interact with it on normal days. The water flow is usually much to rapid but every now and then the water slows down and there is a convenient widening of the river bed which makes it safe and accessible enough. At the Kamanofuchi park it is even possible to go into the water and enjoy yourself a little as long as you keep out of the more quick moving deeper parts where it is impossible to remain standing.
The water is quite good too. When I was there the Chemical Oxygen Demand (COD) test showed less than 3 mg/L, which is a very good score. The water was completely clear, cold and very fresh with none of that typical river smell at all. This park is easy to reach from Ome station, just walk out of the station and head south, eventually you will find one of the two bridges connecting the park with the higher level city. It is great to find places like this in the largest city in the world!
Last weekend I visited one of my favorite “parks” in Tokyo, the lovely little Kamanofuchi Park in Ome City on the extreme western part of Tokyo. The park is centered around a natural bend in the Tama river and you have to descend quite a bit from the street level to get down to the river valley bottom. The park is located an easy walk from Ome Station (the last stop on the Chuo Line) and if you navigate the streets on the way there well you will enjoy quite a nice walk through this little town. The amount of green in and around Tokyo never ceases to astonish me, it is easy to see that we live in a humid subtropical climate even though Ome City is probably more into the temperate zone!
The park also has a transplanted example of vernacular housing、the Kyu-Miyazaki House, a small building originally constructed in the early 19th century but brought here in 1977. The only way to preserve a building like this is to keep a fire lit at least once a day, and to this end local volunteers light a fire in the irori (hearth) daily. The dry smoke of the fire preserves the timbers and dries out the thatched roof. It also has the added bonus of keeping the house completely insect free, not even mosquitoes want to spend any time in there when the smoke comes out! The house is packed with fantastic almost unique farm tools and household items, just a few minutes looking at those gave me several “oh so that is how they made it!” sort of experiences. Great fun for a person like me. I heard that the house used to belong to a samurai family which is totally believable since many samurai around Japan, despite being of the ruling aristocratic class were much poorer than actual farmers or merchants who could focus on developing their farms and more profitable skills.
If you already live in Western Tokyo (like for example in Fussa, Hachioji etc.) and want to try somewhere new to enjoy the outdoors I can recommend visiting Ome City! More photos to come.
The national tree of Japan, the Japanese Cedar or Sugi, is both a boon and the bane of modern Japanese all over the country. It has always been considered the holy tree of Japan and is easily the most well known tree and most used timber in the country, both in modern times and in historic times. Japan is one of the most wood covered countries in the world with most of its surface covered in forest and the wast majority of this is the Japanese Cedar. After the war large efforts were made to plant economically valuable forests around the country and this has now resulted in a national forest that is almost beyond ripe: many prefectures have so much sugi that they do not know what to do with it. Whereas other countries with a profitable forestry industry like Canada, Sweden, Finland or Russia has most of their forest on flat land that is easily accessible to an industrial scale harvesting the vast majority of Japanese forests are difficult to access even for humans on foot due to the mountainous terrain and humid climate. The relative mono culture also means that the pollen season can be brutal. The hay fever from which many Japanese suffer is one of the reasons that so many people wear surgical masks when outdoors and change their clothes as soon as they enter their homes. Even then, the smell of freshly cut sugi very popular and quite attractive, almost as nice as camphor or hinoki! Oh, and despite the English name of “Japanese Cedar” it is not related at all to the cedar in Europe or the Americas.
Still, the Sugi is extremely important for the Japanese and most shrines and temples have a holy sugi somewhere on their grounds. In Tokyo’s westernmost Okutama region I found this peculiar sugi on the grounds of the Okutama Shrine, the Triple Sugi of Hikawa (Hikawa Sanbon Sugi, 氷川三本杉) . I don’t know if this holy tree started out as three separate tree that merged as they grew bigger or if it is really one sugi that has developed three trunks but it is truly massive. At 43m height it is not even one of the larger trees in the country, these giants can sometimes reach up to 70m in height! Most sugi though, grow fatter rather than tall. One of the most famous sugi of Japan has a circumference of over 16m!
The Okutama Shrine is not much for the world except for the famous triple cedar, but I really liked the tiny green grocer that is open to business just next to the tree. It looked wonderfully nostalgic old time Japanese!
It has been a strange summer, lots of sun in the east of Japan and massive amounts of rain in the west of Japan. You might have seen on the news or even heard from friends about the huge landslide in Hiroshima Prefecture the other day that has killed 39 people so far with 51 people still missing. These kind of landslides happen often in Japan which is both incredibly densely populated, extremely hilly and prone to getting hit with large rainstorms. Perfect conditions for deadly landslides to occur.
Most landslides happen in rural areas far from any cities or towns and villages and seldom results in deaths or injuries, but one landslide yesterday passed through a town on the outskirts of Hiroshima City burying houses and cars and whole streets. It was followed by several smaller landslides in the same are which have even killed rescue workers trying to save the victims of the first landslide. And all the while the rain keeps on falling.
A couple of years ago I was in Kyushu two weeks after torrential rains had unleashed several smaller landslide that barely hit the news. I took these photos, probably in Kumamoto Prefecture showing the damaged hillsides and wrecked buildings. The photos are very poor in quality as I took most of them while inside a moving car.
An interesting point can be made from looking at the first photo. Do you notice the spot where the hillside simply slid all the way down? Can you see how close and narrow the trees are? The Japanese call this kind of forest for “Incense Forest”, meaning that it looks like a bunch of incense sticks stuck into the ground, with nothing whatsoever of under vegetation, no age differentiation in the trees and most likely artificially planted. In Japan where the annual rainfall of most European countries can fall over a couple of days normal healthy natural forest consisting of a mix of tall trees and a vigorous undergrowth, the excess water will be sucked up by the vegetation very quickly. However, in incense forests like this, the water has nowhere to go, there are not even any streams to discharge it out of the mountains, so it ends up soaking into the ground, usually with catastrophic results.
It is very easy to forget the power of nature: as we spend more and more time in human made environments, focused on screens and keyboards, we sometimes fail to catch the warning signs that out there. Stay safe everyone!