The mechanism of "natural environment" regeneration in HELLO WOODS
Regeneration of "satoyama" as unique natural environment
Slowly walking up a wooden path called Treetop Gallery, I saw holes dug by field mice on the face of a low cliff. I found dry droppings presumably of weasels. As the trail continued, I saw bright yellow flowers of adonis in a sunny spot, peeping out directly from the soil beneath a large rock. The trail led me to Whirligig Stream, a reconstruction of the formerly familiar terraced paddies in a small valley. There I could find frog eggs, salamander eggs, and a giant water bug that has passed the winter in adult form, all waiting for the advent of spring.
It was late February and snow remained on slopes facing the north when I visited HELLO WOODS, the Wood "Tanken" Museum. Here, "tanken" is a coined word combining the meanings of exploration and discovery.
I was guided by Masaki Nobe, a member of Jinen Juku, helping "tanken" experience of the visitors to HELLO WOODS. With him, I walked all over the "satoyama" landscape extending over 42 hectares.
The season was yet too early to witness the "burning" activity of life. But I could certainly feel that life flourishes in this traditional ecosystem of rural Japan called "satoyama."
The word "satoyama" has become familiar to us in Japan. I asked Mr. Nobe what is special about this type of a rural ecosystem.
"Nature in contact with human activities," he answered. "Charcoal making, terraced paddies, or other forms of productive activities (satoyama industries) are essential ingredients of a satoyama area."
The Environment Agency (now called the Ministry of Environment) published a survey on natural environment conservation in satoyama and other rural natural areas in 1996. According to this survey, areas classified as "satochi or satoyama" sum up to more than 40 percent of the national land area, and about 15 percent of the total population live or work in these areas.
"Many of these areas are now threatened with the risk of devastation. Partly, devastation comes from destruction of natural environment and land development.
"But there is another important factor. The largest problem is the decline of satoyama industries. This is the peculiarity of satoyama environment.
"We are trying to reverse the devastation of satoyama. We consider it important to regenerate and stabilize the ecosystem by adding back human activities."
Satoyama is an area in which normal ecological cycles are supported by productive activities. In other words, it requires coexistence of man and nature. It is a very special type of natural environment (secondary natural environment) that cannot exist without moderate intervention of human beings.
HELLO WOODS is located in a part of Twin Ring Motegi, a motor sports complex in Motegi Town, Haga County, Tochigi Prefecture. The projects and facilities of HELLO WOODS are operated by a HONDA company, aiming to regenerate the long-abandoned satoyama environment of this area. Mr. Nobe and other staff of Jinen Juku are specialists maintaining and interpreting the ecosystem. Their activities are materialized in the form of the Nature "Tanken" Museum.
Magical toilet embodying the concept of HELLO WOODS
HELLO WOODS consists of several "tanken" areas, such as Rhino Beetle Hill, Whirligig Stream, Field Mouse Ground, and Green Spiral Field. The club house contains Wind Terrace, Nature Classroom, Nature Experiment Workshop, etc. and is equipped with the HELLO WOODS Net.
There are various facilities helping visitors personally experience the nature of satoyama and make notes of facts about ecological cycles. Among these facilities, the magical flush toilets in Field Mouse Ground and Whirligig Stream are the most interesting. These toilets are magical because they receive no water supply from waterworks or a well. If no water is given, then how these toilets work? In these toilets, the excrement is actually decomposed to water, carbon dioxide, and sludge by the action of microorganisms (see boxed information). The water resulting from this process is used for flushing the toilet. These are biorecycling toilets working through complete recirculation of matters.
"There is a fish tank in front of the toilet. It contains the water resulting form the decomposition process in this system, and freshwater fish are kept in this water. We only keep motsugo (a type of gudgeon) and other small fish because of the limitation of the tank. But the water is sufficiently clean that we could keep char and freshwater trout in it, only if it is flowing. We don't use it for human consumption, but drinking this water is harmless."
He took the water in a beaker. It was slightly greenish (removal of this color requires additional decolorizing microbes). Tasteless and odorless, the water looked very much like spring water that has passed through the leaf mold layers under an oak forest.
I imagined the surprise of the children using this toilet. They will have precious opportunities to know the action of microbes and the purification mechanism in nature by thinking about what happens to their own stools.
As part of the nature experience in the satoyama of HELLO WOODS, the children will vividly remember what they have learned here.
Visible signs and expanding imagination
At the top of the HELLO WOODS' ecological pyramid are foxes, raccoon dogs, and weasels among mammals, as well as gray-faced buzzard eagles among birds. Next come hares, squirrels, moles, field mice, shrikes, turtledoves, long-tailed tits, bulbuls, great spotted woodpeckers, pigmy woodpeckers, great tits, willow tits, etc.; followed by reptiles such as pit vipers, grass ring snakes, striped snakes, blue-green snakes, and skinks; amphibians such as frogs and salamanders; insects such as hornets, digger wasps, stag beetles, rhinoceros beetles, jewel beetles, butterflies, moths, and ants; and other creatures such as spiders, snails, earthworms, etc. Every visitor to HELLO WOODS can find signs of the life of these creatures in any season, at any time of the day. But only lucky visitors may sight a weasel or a hare running across their paths, or witness a field mouse or a jay carrying an acorn. This forest is not designed for a show. Here, the satoyama environment has been restored as naturally as possible. Not every visitor can encounter inhabitants of the forest.
"If meeting animals is a nature experience, missing animals is also a nature experience," says Mr. Nobe. "If you don't see an animal, you find signs of animals and expand imagination. Through imagination, you'll be able to gain deeper insights. Here, you can touch everything, you can catch everything. In summer, sap form oak trees attracts stag beetles and rhinoceros beetles, as well as unwelcome creatures such as hornets. You're free to collect these insects. In winter, red pine trunks have cone-shaped hollows made by pigmy woodpeckers and great spotted woodpeckers. If you examine dry droppings of weasels and raccoon dogs, you'll find partly digested mouse bones and beetle shells. Watching these signs of wildlife is a starting point for expanding the sense of togetherness with nature. This may be a way to revitalize the power of human being as a living creature, which not only children but also all people living in cities tend to lose sight of.
"Indeed, children playing in a forest often encounter troubles that can't be solved by simply pressing a reset button, like they can when they're playing a video game. Here, they must learn to accept the situation and solve problems one by one, using wisdom and ingenuity. I think what is accumulated through experience and learning is important. If they're stuck, they can always ask for our support. We're prepared to give hands. Now, two years have passed since we regenerated this area as satoyama. We still have a lot of things to do. But I believe this forest has something important. I want to promote it for the people in the 21st century."
HELLO WOODS is the field for projects planned by HONDA looking ahead to the next generation.
The long-abandoned satoyama area in a part of Twin Ring Motegi has been regenerated as the Wood "Tanken" Museum through the efforts of HONDA and the staff of Jinen Juku such as Mr. Nobe.
Somehow, this place gives us, both adults and children, a homecoming feeling and restores our ingenuous curiosity that seems to have been inscribed in our genetic substance.
Thanks to: Honda Motor Co., Ltd.
* HELLO WOODS, the Wood Tanken Museum
Twin Ring Motegi, 120-1 Hinokiyama, Motegi Town, Haga County, Tochigi Prefecture
HELLO WOODS preserves a vestige of satoyama industries such as charcoal making and terraced paddies.
Rhino beetle larvae can be found under fallen leaves.
Signs of rich wildlife.
Tanken means playing in the woods.
Wooden path called Treetop Gallery.
Magical toilet in the woods.
The map guides nature experience.
Tanken Map of the Acorn Woods
Green Spiral Field.
HELLO WOODS Club House.
Whirligig Stream is restoration of former terraced paddies.
Can Spring be far behind?
Magical Toilets in the Woods
Waste water treatment with an ecological purification reactor system
The "magical toilets" in HELLO WOODS are operated using the ecological purification reactor system for waste water treatment developed by Aoki Electric Co., Ltd. This system is based on the purifying action of healthy soil. The purifying power derives from the mineralization reaction between the metabolites from soil microbes and the organic matters in waste water. By using this technology, HELLO WOODS' magical toilets are equipped with nearly perfect closed-circuit water purification. The key to this technology is the culture of soil microbes in the water treatment system. The microbes must be induced to simulate the conditions in natural soil and the growth of the microbes must be maintained under these conditions. Natural soil microbes secrete phenol substances, which are known to play important roles in the formation of soil substances and formation of sludge (resulting in water purification). So long as this process can proceed normally, the system can be modified and applied to a wide range of equipment configurations. It can easily be added on to conventional water treatment plants (for example, conversion to a reactor system and switching from a non-phenol to a phenol-based system).
Merits of the natural purification reactor system:
1) No foul odor is generated form the adjustment tank.
2) BOD ≦ 5 ppm is achieved without requiring a higher-level treatment facility.
3) Ionic substances can also be removed effectively.
4) Soil microbes suppress the growth of unwanted bacteria.
5) Aeration is intermittent under most conditions.
6) Stream fish (char, trout, etc.) can live in the water after treatment.
7) The sludge can be returned to earth.
Natural Engineering Division, Environmental Business Department,
Aoki Electronic Co., Ltd.
Head Office: 2-1-17 Shimo-ochiai, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo 161-0033
Flow Chart of Toilet Waste Water Purification & Recycling Facility
Closed-circuit treatment of toilet waste water with the natural purification reactor system produces water in which stream fish can live.
Flow Adjustment Tank
with Reactor Membrane Unit
Purified Water Storage Tank
The adjustment tank is completely odorless.
Freshwater fish swim cheerfully in the water after treatment.
The slightly greenish water has been highly purified.
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JR Utsunomiya Station (West Exit) - About 90 minutes by bus.
Mooka Railway Motegi Station - About 15 minutes by bus.
JR Karasuyama Line Karasuyama Station - About 25 minutes by taxi.
Joban Expressway - About 40 minutes from Mito Interchange.
About 40 minutes from Naka Interchange.
Tohoku Expressway - About 90 minutes from Kanuma Interchange.
About 80 minutes from Utsunomiya Interchange.