Explore the City with Malte 6: Into the Wild

Shitada’s Forest

One with Nature

An environment where plants and animals live in perfect symbiosis, Kashiwa’s nature outpost, “Shitada no Mori” (下田の杜). A place where humans can engulf in nature. A biosphere for over 440 species of plants and trees, over 65 species of birds, 48 species of butterflies, and 29 species of fireflies. Emerge yourself in an important part of Japan’s culture, Satoyama (里山). Humans and nature live in harmony in this symbol of sustainability. This time, I joined the monthly Shitada no Mori gathering, expanded my knowledge about birds, and experienced the Satoyama culture first-hand.

A friendly greeting
I arrive way too early, getting nervous not knowing where I need to go or how the person I am supposed to meet looks like. Asking an elderly man cleaning up the path from broken branches and fallen leaves, he kindly guides me to the main house. Upon entering I am greeted with a friendly “Is that you, Malte-san” and immediately my worries disappear. Before the gathering begins, I sit down for a while, getting my camera ready. Little by little all the members assemble and over and over again I am greeted with a nice smile and a friendly “Welcome.” “The weather today is not so good, so we will have the gathering in the tatami room. Can you sit on the floor?” I am asked in a worried voice. I don’t want to cause her any trouble and reply with “absolutely no problem.” She guides me into the tatami room, I pick up a cushion and quietly sit down. More people than I anticipated participate in today’s meeting, and I bet most of them think “who is that tall foreign guy?” As everyone has arrived I introduce myself, and then the gathering starts. Before I go into detail, let me explain a little bit about Satoyama

What is Satoyama?
I spare everyone my amateur-like explanation of Satoyama and will include the explanation of a professional:
‘Satoyama’ is a place where nature and people exist in harmony. The traditional Japanese satoyama landscape has been shaped by the people living and pursuing agricultural, forestry and fishing activities in it.

The resulting mosaic-like land-use system often includes: growing rice in paddies and crops in fields; regular logging of woodlands to obtain firewood and make charcoal; and the gathering of animal feed, fertilizers, and thatch from grasslands.

Satoyama — derived from the Japanese words for village (sato) and mountain (yama) — and similar landscapes have sustained millions of people for thousands of years.

Yet, over the last century and in particular the past 50 years, Japan — like most industrialized countries — has seen momentous changes through modernization and urbanization. These powerful forces have undermined and sometimes led to the abandonment of more traditional ecosystem management systems through which people could sustainably derive their food, water and shelter.

However, the knowledge and ecological resilience existing in satoyama landscapes can help meet the 21st-century challenges of biodiversity conservation, emissions reduction and energy and food security.(Quotation Link) My current university, The University of Tokyo also researchers from a variety of backgrounds looking at Satoyama from a standpoint of sustainability. In a world where global warming and atmospheric pollution are one of our greatest challenges, sustainability becomes an ever more important topic.

Bird talk
Let us get back to the main topic then, shall we? The topic of this month gathering was birds. Being more specific, all the different species of birds one can find at Shitada no Mori. If the weather is good, the meetings are often held outside and one can watch nature in its full beauty. This month, on the inside, we take a look at all the 65 different species of birds, their appearance, their singing voice, as well as their individual characters. A detailed 22-page manuscript introduces all the different birds with colorful close-up pictures. The photographer of all the picture is Tanaka-san. He has been coming to Shitada no Mori for over 40 years taking pictures of all the birds. He is today’s narrator and his knowledge about birds surprises me deeply.

At first, he introduces the necessary equipment is one wants to observe birds. one thing is very obvious, good binoculars. Binoculars always have two very important numbers in their names, such as 8X42 or 10X22. The first number is the magnification, the second number the effective diameter. With a magnification of for example 10, you can observe something that is a hundred meters away, as if it was only 10 meters away. The effective diameter decides how much light is gathered in your binoculars. A high effective diameter increases the brightness and resolution, but the higher the effective diameter the heavier the binoculars.

As with a camera, with binoculars you have to adjust the sharpness to your own eyes. Like left-handed, right-handed, people also have one stronger and one weaker eye. Close your hand halfway and build a tunnel, the held your hand a bit away from your head in front of your eyes. Find an object in the middle of the tunnel. Close one eye at a time, and see in which eye the object is still visible and in which eye the object disappears. The eye in which the object is still visible is your main eye.

I think I talked enough about binoculars, for now, so let me get back to the main topic. Birds…it was Birds. Tanaka-san explains every single one of the 65 birds he photographed over the years, plays their singing voices from a cd, and has everyone laughing with his funny stories. Who would have thought that stories about birds can be that interesting? The 2-hour gathering was over in the blink of an eye.

Shitada no Mori and its residents
After the gathering, the organizers shows me around the premises. She shows me the old farmhouse with all its agriculture appliances. We walk up the hill through a thick forest. Some of the trees are enormous, I can’t even grab halfway around them. One our little walk I saw at least 6 different species of butterflies and a lot of different spiders, not that I want to see that many big spiders. You feel one with nature, the air smells fresh of trees, and your lungs get cleansed from all the smog of the city. The only thing I regret is not wearing long-sleeved clothes, since I got stung by mosquitos at least 10 times. Below, take a look at some of the natural residents of the area. I warn everyone afraid of spiders, you might want to skip the last picture.

Let’s go to Shitada no Mori
Elementary school classes come to Shitada no Mori for field trips, families with kids come to enjoy the feeling of freedom. Everyone who visits Shitada no Mori has the rare opportunity to touch nature, in Kashiwa’s hidden paradise.

Basic Information

URL:Shitada no Mori Satoyama Forum

Adress:Kashiwa-city Sakaine6-24 Sakaine Shitada no Mori


Date of coverage: 21th September 2019

We accept no responsibility for any changes that may have occurred

Coverage・Writing・Pictures:Malte Detjens

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