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Countryside of Japan

The Countryside

Rural Japanese gardening and agriculture in the West Central
mountain valleys

A panorama of Takeshi-muri, Chiisagatagun, a town of about 12,000 is seen from the foothills of the mountains that surround and define this community. November color glowed and deepened in just the week we were in the area. Maple trees provided the deep reds and ginko trees (native to China) provided vivid golds in yards and along city streets.

Japanese lanterns dot the countryside...ancient ones are found in cemeteries and temples, and modern versions are found in public spaces and in family gardens. They were designed originally to hold a candle or lamp to light the dark night landscape. They are engineering and artistic marvels that balance huge boulders on thin necks, and still maintain design and functional integrity. I tend to think of larger ponds with koi and lanterns when I think of water features in Japanese landscaping...but these reflecting pools in large natural rocks are popular at homes and in public spaces. They hold special significance and wonder as a natural work of art. This museum garden also showcased the carefully sculpted shrubs and trees that are so popular in home gardens and along streets.
The Black Castle is one of the oldest remnants of ancient culture in Japan. We climbed the unique steps to look out the narrow windows at the moat and the surrounding countryside -- now grown into a thriving modern city. The unique story of the steps is worth sharing for the ingenuity they represent. The shogun who were housed in this military housing added an extra "inside" barrier to invaders. They made the steps very narrow...and about 18" tall! And that was verrrrrry high steps for the ancient warriers, who tended to be on the short side by today's standards. These steps were even very challenging for us tall Americans!!
And of course -- rice. The rice harvest fascinated me because here, the tools used were different than any I was familiar with. This utility wagon was fitted with "treds"...like we have on large bulldozers and land moving equipment. The racks used to pile the straw on for drying was also intriguing -- reminded me of the saw-horses my Dad use with his carpentry. And of course, the rubber boots! Even though the fields were dry at harvest time, the little irrigation ditches were reminders that rice fields are flooded during part of the growing season.
Rice fields were a common sight at the edges of these small mountain towns. Most were now mere stubbles of their former selves :-)... the rice stalks neatly bundled or hung on the racks to dry. The fall harvest was being finished in the brisk late October season, and the shocks of rice were carefully cut and tied, then hung over a wooden rack to dry. The orderly rows of plant stubbles were beautifully geometric, and the irrigation ditches flowed with water from the nearby crystal clear mountain streams.

Photos: Copyright 2005-2006 Carolyn Allen. All rights reserved. You are welcome to link to these articles.

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