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Mitsuhiko Imamori

As photographer, he travels around Japan to explore traditional Japanese rural environments called Satoyama; a place where people live in harmony with the nature.

June 17, 2015 (Wed)

Ancestral Wisdom: The "Shishigaki"

The trees are thick with leaves, and the mountains have turned a deep green. These days you’re never sure about the weather and the umbrella mark is a common sight on the daily forecast. There’s no greater joy then when a break in the clouds gives you a glimpse of blue sky and sunshine.

Recently, on a day when the weather suddenly cleared, I took a stroll around the area west of Lake Biwa; there I found something quite unusual. Upon asking a local resident, I was told that it was a shishigaki, a low stone wall that was built to prevent the incursion of marauding wild boars.

Shishigaki
Shishigaki in Takashima City, Shiga Prefecture. You can see the boundary between the forest and the rice fields, and, in the distance, Lake Biwa.

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  1. Home
  2. Blog
  3. Mitsuhiko Imamori
  4. Ancestral Wisdom: The "Shishigaki"

ECO CHANNEL BLOG

Mitsuhiko Imamori

As photographer, he travels around Japan to explore traditional Japanese rural environments called Satoyama; a place where people live in harmony with the nature.

June 17, 2015 (Wed)

Ancestral Wisdom: The "Shishigaki"

The trees are thick with leaves, and the mountains have turned a deep green. These days you’re never sure about the weather and the umbrella mark is a common sight on the daily forecast. There’s no greater joy then when a break in the clouds gives you a glimpse of blue sky and sunshine.

Recently, on a day when the weather suddenly cleared, I took a stroll around the area west of Lake Biwa; there I found something quite unusual. Upon asking a local resident, I was told that it was a shishigaki, a low stone wall that was built to prevent the incursion of marauding wild boars.

Shishigaki
Shishigaki in Takashima City, Shiga Prefecture. You can see the boundary between the forest and the rice fields, and, in the distance, Lake Biwa.

Apparently, it dates back over 300 years. About one-and-a-half meters high, and though in places it had collapsed, the wall was for the most part intact.

Since wild boars have heads that face downward they're incapable of getting over any obstacle more than waist-height. Long ago, hunters also used this weakness to trap them in pits. Nevertheless, I was quite surprised to learn just how long these animals have been unwelcome guests in the rice fields.

By the way, if you're wondering, these days the wild boars are kept at bay with electric fences. As an emergency measure this might be a good strategy, but in the long term it isn't such a great idea. Keeping the fences on day and night means increased electricity use, and they can be flimsy and prone to failure. Not to mention that they can make weeding the paths and embankments around the fields a hassle. Some farmers have even given up on weeding altogether and started using herbicides. Over the past few years, attempts to control damage caused by wild animals have lead to a vicious cycle that threatens the satoyama landscape.

This begs the question; why not bring back the use of shishigaki? But in reality, if we were to do such a thing, it would mean building a wall along the edge of every forest that borders the rice fields. This would require the local community to work together on a massive scale. The true question is whether or not the will to do such a thing still exists among the people living here.

How to get the wild boars to return to the forest; this is one of the biggest challenges facing satoyama.

translated by Brian I. Hughes

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May 08, 2015 (Fri)

The Japanese Thistle Takes Center Stage

In May the embankments around the rice paddies are at their most beautiful. The lesser spring flowers have already faded and the pace of vegetal growth has intensified. It is perhaps the energy of this struggle for life itself that makes the season’s flowers so vibrant in color.
Among these early summer blossoms, one in particular is worthy of note, the Japanese thistle (Cirsium japonicaum). Whether in bright sunlight or the gray of a rainy day, its beguiling red-purple hues never fail to captivate the audience.

Japanese thistle (Cirsium japonicaum)

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April 02, 2015 (Thu)

The Season When the Rice Fields Comet Back to Life

It’s now full spring. On the sunny banks [of Lake Biwa] the temperature has risen significantly, allowing myriad flowers to burst forth energetically in full bloom.
Nearby the lake, in the area around my studio, this is the season when they begin to flood the rice paddies. The dry ground was plowed during the long winter and now the cracks in the earth thirstily soak up the water. I guess you could say this is the earth is coming back to life. Throughout the countryside, the soil’s rich aroma hangs in air; it smells like the breath of life itself.

A Newly flooded paddy field in spring. Rural landscape in Ogi, Otsu City, Shiga Prefecture.
A Newly flooded paddy field in spring. Rural landscape in Ogi, Otsu City, Shiga Prefecture.

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March 16, 2015 (Mon)

Spring Has Come

The time of year when we can finally feel the warmth of the sun’s rays has arrived. Looking at the surrounding thickets of trees it still seems like winter, but if you look closely at the branches, the buds that have slept through winter are getting fatter. The furry scale encrusted coverings around the buds of the sawtooth oak have started to loosen, and tiny cream-colored young leaves are beginning to poke their faces out from the center. The ryobu (Clethra barbinervis or Japanese Clethra), ever impatient, has already sprouted leaves the size of the nail on your little finger. When the light shines through them, they sparkle a beautiful shade of yellow-green. Explore a bit more diligently and you can even find trees with flowers already in bloom. 

ryobu
ryobu

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March 13, 2015 (Fri)

A Letter from Satoyama*

Hello everyone,

My name is Mitsuhiko Imamori and I’m a photographer. My studio is located in Shiga Prefecture on the outskirts of Otsu City, in a place called Ogi. It’s already been some 30 years since I began my professional career shooting rural landscapes around Lake Biwa. Since those early days, I’ve made many discoveries, had many moving encounters, and been genuinely awestruck by the profound depth of nature’s majesty. To tell the truth, the idea behind taking photographs with the “satoyama” theme began in the terraced rice fields of Ogi. That is to say, this place is where my understanding of the true meaning of satoyama was formed.

ecochan-blog_150200.jpg
The rural landscape north of my studio, in winter it’s often a snowscape.The rural landscape north of my studio, in winter it’s often a snowscape.

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