March 30, 2010

On our second day in Tokyo we met with our friend Saika in her neighbourhood of Machida. Saika took us to the local satoyama (trans. arable/liveable mountain) which was now a museum-park on one side of the hill and an active satoyama on the other. As fascinating a place as it was it was only later that the real significance of what satoyama represents became apparent to me. More on this later…

Farmers dwelling

The ‘museum’ side of the satoyama featured two traditional houses (minka); an old farming family’s residence and a doctor’s family’s residence. Both buildings dated from approxiamtely the same period (300 – 400 years ago) and both featured the tsuchi-kabe technique (wall infill of earth on bamboo lattice) but there was a marked difference in the quality of construction and finishing of each house. (Surprise, surprise!) The farmers house definitely had “the agricultural look,” rough but of adequate if not perfectly finished carpentry. Not the most comfortable looking though (bamboo pole floor). The doctor’s was exquisitely built, spacious and relatively comfortable (tatami mats throughout). Regardless of the differences both buildings were very beautiful.

Also on this side of the satoyama was a restored water-mill and a food storage structure. The mill was powering a grinding wheel, possibly for making buckwheat flour (soba), and pounding mechanisms that would have been used to de-husk grains. The bundles at the centre rear of the photo on the left below are food storage sacks made of rice straw and hemp rope. Food placed in the store house would have been kept in such bundles.

inside mill L

inside mill R

Water mill

The grounds in which these buildings were located are now formal ornamental gardens. What at first appeared to be terraced rice paddies were in fact iris terraces. It is highly likely that these terraces were once used for growing rice and the rest of the park would have grown vegetables, herbs, fruit, bamboo, hemp, forest, fungi…. On the other side of the satoyama the land was still being used for food production.

Terraced gardens, Machida

This side of the hill was covered with an assortment of vegetable gardens and it was here that I first saw a community garden in Tokyo. A very tidy and organized community garden.

The following day we went to a satoyama close to where we were staying in Inashiro, Tokyo. We were taken there by Tokuo who works on the satoyama part-time in exchange for vegetables and instruction from farmers of long experience. This satoyama is by and large retaining the traditional function of satoyama in that farmers work the lower slopes of the hill in terraced gardens maintaining diverse forest cover above and utilizing the forest not only as a source of fertility for their farms but for the many other yields of managed forests.

At the base of the hill tucked in behind the last row of houses shitake and nameko mushrooms are grown.



The mushrooms are grown under forest cover very naturally. The shitake on logs stacked in rows and the nameko on logs buried in the ground. There was an abundance of very healthy looking shitake fruiting when we visited. From the mushroom forest we went up the hill through bamboo groves and forest. We passed a number of small farms as we walked around the hill and on the south slope of the satoyama we came to the terraced farms where Tokuo works. Like all the farms on this “mountain” the terraces were nestled amongst surrounding forest, fruit trees and bamboo.

On this satoyama all of the farms are organic. Collectively the farmers have determined that only organic farming methods can be practised on the mountain. What an asset to a city! Amongst a dense population a “mountain” of organic farms and a forested playground!

Terraced farms, satoyama, Tokyo


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