A Walk in the Woods

While researching information about Katori Jingu, I ran across a reference to a forestry project in adjacent Itako City. A few years ago, the prefecture developed lands around an old fishing hole - Daizen Pond - and nearby ancient burial mounds to create a forest park and wildlife habitat. Volunteers from the city of Itako planted cherry trees in two small groves (the Emperor and Empress even planted one) and reforested much of the area with wild cherries, oak, birch, pines and other trees.

Last Sunday was overcast again, but warm, so we decided to check it out.

What we found was a beautiful nature park with wood chip-paved walking paths, an interesting variety of trees, lots of birds, a natural pond for fishing and superb facilities including an outdoor concert stage, large open grassed area, and two buildings for holding educational programs.

The park is about half a kilometer wide and three times that long, with paths that meander around the pond and through the woods. Half of the park surrounds Daizen Pond, and the other half is designed around five mounds or tumuli.

As usual, we were late starting out - Sunday is a sleep-in, linger-over-pancake-breakfast kind of day for us. We should have brought a lunch or stopped to pick up bento lunches on the way, but although not doing so shortened our visit, it turned out just fine, as you'll come to learn.

Looking through the trees to the pond below. Sounds of wild doves and uguisu (Japanese bush warblers) filled the air.

The cherry blossoms were past their prime and the other trees were just opening their budding leaves. Still, it was quite a beautiful sight, with subtle contrasts between the trees. Yamazakura, or mountain cherry, is a common wild cherry tree here. They do not have the dense clusters of blossoms of cultivated tress found in most parks, and the flowers have a single layer of petals, but have a beauty of their own for all that.

The delicate blossoms of a Yamazakura - mountain cherry tree.

A suspension bridge spans one arm of the pond, offering nice views of the pond and surrounding trees.

The paths are made of a wood chip paving material that is held together by a urethane binder. It has a nice feel under foot and keeps the chips from becoming scattered or too quickly invaded by weeds.

This floating dock offers a spot for fishing without disturbing the habitats of ducks along the shore. Fishing is also allowed from rowboats. There were two men fishing from rubber dinghy when we were there.

Wild flowers, wild herbs, and naturally sprouting seedlings - we saw oak and pine - line the paths. There were lots of small butterfles - we saw white and yellow cabbages mostly, and a "Beni shijimi" called "American copper" in the US.

The Suigo Prefectural Forest Park sits in the middle of the 5 km wide strip of land that separates Lake Kitaura from Lake Kasumigaura. It is only 5 miles, as the crow flies, from our house, yet we had never been there before. The website announces the activities planned for each month and a blog - HERE - has lots of pictures of past events and volunteer efforts at the park.

After a couple of hours, we had barely seen half the park and worked up an appetite for lunch. We decided to leave and return another day, perhaps in a month or so, after more of the foliage had filled in. We learned that dogs are allowed, if kept on a leash, so next time, Momo the Wonder Dog can come along. Think of all those trees, Momo!

This is the main entrance (above picture). The hall features lots of activities for kids as well a venue for lectures and starting point for guided nature walks. That's K's burgundy colored Toyota. I put in in the picture as it is 15 years old and will be recycled soon.

We made our way down to the center of Itako City - famous for its Iris Festival - and found a great restaurant with a view of the Hitachi-tone river, which empties Lake Kasumigaura into the Tone river which in turn leads to the sea. A century or so ago, most transport in the area was by boat on the rivers and canals.

The restaurant is called Nigumi and is run by the chef, Wakamaki Eiichi, who is well known for his skill in making sushi and has won prizes for his bamboo leaf cutting art skills (the art is known as "baran" here). He is also licensed to prepare and serve the poisonous fugu (blowfish). As he worked, there was an "enka" singing contest on the television above the bar. Enka music is sort of the Japanese equivalent of country and western in the US - not that it sounds anything like it, but it is full of love songs, broken hearts, and almost yodel-like voice inflections at times. I happen to like it. In moderation.

(pictures above and below are from the restaurant website)

We passed on the fugu this trip - though we did come home with a fugu lantern that Mr Wakamaki had made - and instead had an excellent lunch of chirashizushi (liternally, scattered sushi), which is a mix of sushi rice, egg, nori seaweed, cucumber slices, etc. topped with sashimi. K had the special -a mix of various fish and roe, while I had fatty salmon on mine.

Mr. Wakamaki showed us a video of his appearance on television a couple of years ago during which he demonstrated cutting bamboo leaves into decorative patterns for sushi platters as well as entire pictures for hanging on the wall. He seemed to light up when K told him we had enjoyed eating at the historic restaurant in Itako called "Wakata", which Moody wrote about on his blog last year. He was eager to talk about his craft with appreciative customers.

The Nigumi restaurant website, with pictures and menus, is here: You can even order a fugu lamp or bamboo cutting artwork from the site.

A model of a hobikisen net fishing boat like those which used to ply lake Kasumiguara

Fugu lamp.

Mr. Wakamaki also has a blog you might want to check out, since it shows many of his fantastic food/art creations for all special occasions - from birthdays to weddings. (scroll about halfway down to see some amazing displays of sushi and sashimi.

After lunch we walked along the banks of the Hitachi-tone Gawa. The cherry trees there were just past peak with petals coming down in little "sakura fubuki" (cherry blossom snow) flurries. Perhaps the cooler air from the lake and river allows them to bloom a little later or longer.

Close your eyes....."there's no place like home, there's no place like home"....

Soon it was time to head home and tell Momo the good news about the forest park. The day had started out overcast, but gradually cleared up except for a lingering haze in the air. The temperature had hovered just at the edge of comfort, so that we were often removing or donning a light jacket. In other words, another wonderful Sunday outing filled with pleasant surprises within a short distance from home. To paraphrase a modern Hawaiian saying, "lucky we live Ibaraki"!


Don Snabulus said...

I love the pictures, as always, but some of the other facts were interesting as well. I'd like to know more about that wood chip trail technology. I am going to Google it and see if anyone has tried it in the US.

It was a good year for the blossoms!

ladybug said...

That's really neat! I love finding new haunts that are not so far away...my daughter introduced a friend to Forest Park, the Rose Garden and downtown Portland via the bus/max. The kid had never been out of the 'burbs pretty much!

Olivia said...

Ah! Sakura fubuki! I saw it this weekend and now I know what it's called. I said it was snowing blossoms :)

The yamazakura are indeed beautiful in their simplicity, something the Japanese can certainly appreciate.

Your dinner of chirashizushi sounds delicious and I would love to try it one day.

I really like the image of the suspension bridge.

Excellent post, thank you!

(p.s. tumulus, singular; tumuli, plural...no guesses for why I got this job)

Pandabonium said...

Snabby - This path was made by WatanabeSato Co., Ltd. (Enlish website). I don't know if other companies make the stuff.

I liked the feel of it, kind of like a jogging surface, yet it has the natural look of wood chips.

Ladybug - I am constantly surprised here by new places to go and things to see or do. Wherever one lives, I think is usually a matter of finding the time to poke around.

Olivia - Glad you liked the post.
As with any seafood dish, the key to tasty chirashizushi is in the freshness of the fish.

Congratulations on getting the job! Thanks for catching my typo - now corrected. Ironically, I had looked it up when writing the post, but then neglected to leave off the last "u". Hmmm - "tumului". Sounds like a food to be eaten along with humus. ;^)

The Moody Minstrel said...

Thanks for another restaurant heads up! I'll have to check it out next time I'm wandering around Itako!

I'm fortunate in that the Suigo Prefectural Forest Park isn't so far from where I live, and I pass it whenever I head toward Itako or Narita for shopping. I've been to the park several times now, and I love it!

I've noticed that "prefectural forest parks" seem to be popping up all over. I've visited one across the river in Tonosho and driven by another one in Omitama City. I've also seen signs for others in various places. I really appreciate the one we have in Itako, though, and I can't wait to see what it looks like when the various planted groves grow up a bit more.

WV: warrying - When someone's concerns cause them to go on the offensive.

HappySurfer said...

Very nice pictures. The flowers are awesome. Thanks for the tour.

Is there a law in Japan requiring cars to be recycled after 15 years?

Pandabonium said...

Moody - We wondered if you'd been to the forest. It will be nice to see when the trees are more mature. That's neat that such projects are sprouting up all over. Beats concrete and pavement.

Do check out Nigumi. The food was great, the owner very friendly and the prices reasonable.

HappySurfer - as Snabby said, it was a good year for blossoms.

There's no law on old cars, but also no resale market. Cars under about 10 are sometimes sold to exporters and they end up in places like Russia or even Fiji. But K's car has too many kilometers and years and is looking like repairs will start getting very costly (we already have one problem that would be $800 to fix). Now, to stimulate the economy, Japan is offering some huge cash and tax incentives for people who scrap a car older than 13 and buy a new efficient/low emissions model. And that's what we're doing. Details in a couple of weeks when her new one arrives.

Robin said...

more sakuraaaaaaaaaa..

Yes (I am a sucker for anything nice)

HappySurfer said...

I see. Thanks for all that info. Looking forward to viewing your new car. Say, how's the new boat doing? Have you taken it out on the waters yet?

Pandabonium said...

Robin - a sucker for anything nice, eh? as W.C. Fields said, "never give a sucker an even break". :)

HappySurfer - not yet. First sail in May sometime.

lian莲 said...

Hi Hi

Thanks for yr comment on Robin's blog abt my comment. By looking at all the pictures here, Nirvana is surely where Samsara is.


Pandabonium said...

Hi Lian. Thanks for dropping by.


PinkPanther said...

Nah, don't tell Momo that Forest Park. She'll give u2 trouble(s) while walking around there. ;-)

That "Fugu Lamp" is cute enough. Fugu fish is very "FAT".

The first time I enjoyed a walk in the wood which was my ever forgettable trip in New Zealand. We walked through the whole wood abt. 3 hours. So much to see, breath fresh air..etc. that is I can't find in my city.