Text: Kayo Arita
The first workshop was "Wild Nature School - the way to edible forests".
The workshop was held at the end of September 2023 in the backyard of the former Makisato Elementary School in Sagamihara City, Kanagawa Prefecture, with Mr Hirai, a forestry worker involved in environmental restoration, and Dr Ikechiku, a botanist from Fujino, as lecturers.
The event marked the start of a new 'wild school' in 2023 under the slogan 'Reclaim the wild within you'!
Mr Ban said he was fascinated by the culture of the indigenous people, who live in harmony with nature.
He has visited the slash-and-burn farmers and hunter-gatherers of Borneo twice when he was in his thirties.
He says that his desire to create a place and opportunity for people to return to nature at a moment's notice in today's Japan, which is far removed from the lifestyle of those who lived in harmony with nature, led him to establish the Wild Nature School.
A peaceful society before agriculture, with no conflict and no gap between rich and poor.
The Wild Nature School could be one of the triggers for the spread of such a world.
What is an edible forest anyway?
And what is the state of the forest today?
In the first half of the workshop, participants will learn about the changing state of Japan's forests through classroom lectures.
In the Jomon period, people in satoyama cultivated chestnuts and poison ivy, and lived and gathered acorns, chestnuts, horse chestnuts and other nuts, mushrooms and wildflowers from the rich natural environment of the forest.
From the Kofun period to ancient times, the demand for timber for construction increased and the forests were also used as fertiliser for paddy fields, which led to deforestation for paddy field cultivation.
The shiny-leaved forests were cut down, and red pine trees grew on the devastated land and pine forests spread.
According to the Nihon Shoki (Chronicles of Japan), there is a record that Emperor Temmu issued an edict in 676 prohibiting the ingestion and felling of plants and trees in the upper reaches of the Asuka River.
From ancient times to the Middle Ages (Kamakura and Muromachi periods), demand for timber gradually increased for use in agricultural societies, as building material and as fuel wood in industry.
Iron manufacturing required particularly large quantities of fuel, and extensive logging took place in the Seto Inland Sea and the Chugoku Mountains, which are known for their cod-iron manufacturing.
As a result, bald mountains spread across the region, and cedar and cypress plantations began in the Muromachi period (1336-1573).
Once a mountain has been cleared by human hands, if it is left unattended, it will not return to its original natural beauty, but become a desolate area prone to natural disasters.
This situation can be seen in many parts of Japan, and in the mountains behind the former Makigo Primary School, the forests have become overgrown with dense bamboo grass.。
There are many factors that may have contributed to the loss of human intervention, but one factor that may have contributed to the disruption of the natural environment in the mountains is the use of concrete here and there, which has reduced the passage of air.
He explained that the first step in improving the underground environment of the forest and nurturing edible forests is to first improve the passage of air.
After listening to Mr Ban, Mr Iketake and Mr Hirai, everyone actually went to the back of the mountain.
When walking in the mountains, they do not walk as they please, but rather imagine that the path they are walking on is the path of the rain, and they make their way up the slopes in a single file.
This is also to minimise damage to the mountain and plants and to prevent the soil from collapsing.
When it came time to climb the back slope, the forest was covered with bushes, as mentioned earlier.
If the bushes are cleared all at once with temporary clearing machines or heavy machinery, the bushes, startled by the sudden change in the environment, will multiply at a great rate, so the bushes are cleared little by little by human hands.
We were told that this method of mowing is called 'wind mowing'.
Plants have a strong life force, but they are also more sensitive than you might think.
If the shady areas covered by bushes are cut all at once and suddenly there is no shade at all, the bark is exposed to sunlight, which can cause a burn-like condition.
Although these stories may make bush seem like a nuisance at first glance, if you take the leaves of the bush and boil them, they can be used to make a tea with excellent antioxidant properties.
According to Mr Iketake, no one is offended when you collect the leaves from the bushes, so you can take as much as you like.
Some participants immediately took some of the bush leaves to take home.