Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Ugui-gawa 鯎川

About a week ago Aki* and I couldn't resist the spring-like weather and decided to take a walk along the Ugui-gawa which flows down from the mountains that form the southern boundary of the Otaki watershed. This area--like too damned much of Otaki--is national forest and therefore off limits to the general public. I should clarify: the road into the Ugui-gawa area is gated and therefore cars are not allowed in--technically not off limits I suppose, but definately not geared towards recreation. Anyway, people aren't lining up to come to see the Ugui-gawa. That's a shame.


The Ugui-gawa has some of the most amazing water I've ever seen. Turqoise, I suppose, is the best color to describe it, but seems inadequate. Pictures, unfortunely, also fail to capture the variegated color palette of the river in its interplays with the sun. On this day white snow capped many of the river rocks, adding further contrast.

In the woods lining the river tufts of green grass stood gleefully in the sunlight--with the warmth we had that day we were all convinced that spring was just around the corner.
The rocks, which wore slips of ice, were, I imagined, wise enough to know that more cold days lay ahead.

Aki and I continued up the river. We walked on hard patches of snow, where we tried to decipher various sets of tracks we encountered: deer, serow, bear, human? At times we crossed small streams of running water, choosing our steps carefully and avoiding ice.

We arrived at a confluence. Tumbling waters came down from the north, dancing across a wide tapestry of river rock. Stiller waters converged from the south, meandering through a narrow passage of rock. A vertical bar of sunlight stood at the back of the passage, and also cast itself onto the dark water. To our left a wall of rock, about 30 meters high, overlooked the river; trees stood at the cliff edge, as if they were suicidal.

Seeing this place I once again marveled at the beauty of the Otaki area, and felt gratitude for being able to live here. Thinking now of the magnificent places I've encountered during my time here, I'm led again to contemplate the social, economic, and political dimensions of natural beauty; I realize again how arbitrary considerations of natural beauty can be--how removed from the physical manifestations of the natural world itself. It's often the history--or the story--of a certain place that determines it's social value; be that an aesthetic, economic, or political value. The Ugui-gawa, like so many places in Otaki, lacks stories that speak of its qualities as a location of natural beautfy.

I contend that the "stories" of Otaki's environment have lost their visibility due to the area's position as subaltern in the political-economic history of the region, and indeed of the nation. Otaki's natural environment has been configured through time as a resource, and exploited as such by external entitites for economic gain. Therefore, the environment as landscape (an environment thought about and acted upon by humans) has been ascribed the story of resource use--a place reserved for the use of certain institutions for economic purposes.

Places like Ugui-gawa need to be moved through by more people. This is how stories and landscapes are constructed. How would a tree stand in the landscape when seen through the eyes of a poet, rather than a Forestry Agency employee? It's time to get out into these places--there's important work to be done.




*(no, I didn't get remarried; have just decided to go public on this blog--so, Chizuko from pasts posts = Aki)

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5 comments:

kelli alicia said...

Beautiful photo of Aki by the river.

I have a technical question ... where do you dump the HTML link for the Librarything blog to get it to show up on your front page? I tried adding mine but I don't think I'm entering it in the right place.

Also, someone was telling me yesterday that there is a sizable Minahasan Xtian diaspora in Japan somewhere. Ever heard anything about this? I'd love to find out a little bit about it if possible.

I'm just gonna keep thinking about those photos of deep, cold icy pools to keep me cooled off....

Chris (i-cjw.com) said...

Beautiful. I'm going to make a note of Ugui-gawa for when I head up towards your area (maybe mid/late March, I hope). Thank you for sharing it.

I hear what you are saying about the need to get people to see areas such as Ugui-gawa. But I have mixed feelings, having experienced the tourist hellholes of Murodo in the N. Alps, and to a lesser extent, Kamikochi and others. The concept of a protected national park, with proper camping restrictions, mandatory waste carry-out policies, and an active ranger corp (armed with punitive fining abilities), all seems lost on Japan..

Taintus said...

Chris,

Thanks for the comment. Please do visit Ugui-gawa if you get a chance.

I understand your concern about increasing tourist numbers; I agree. What I'm trying to envision, investigate, and hopefully help to enact is a framework for actively managing areas like this with the active involvement of local communities.

In fact, in Otaki's case I would love to see a system for training and certifying local residents as rangers. My hope would be for steady, but limited, tourist numbers that allow Otaki to survive without being entirely consumed by a tourist economy. Funny thing is, Otaki has a model for this with Ontake-san. The village largely survived off the patronage of pilgrims, who also had a stake in maintaining the sanctity of the mountain.

This convergence of spirituality and ecology has been explored by several scholars, including my own committee chair, Leslie Sponsel. You can find more info on him and his approach (called "spiritual ecology") in the my sidebar.

Cheers,

Eric

P.S. I am in love with your blog. I don't often comment, but your pictures and stories inspire always.

Project Hyakumeizan said...

Mmm, there is certainly a tendency - not just in Japan - to officially declare certain landscapes as designated must-sees: the Matterhorn, Matsushima etc. But that seems to me an entirely beneficial tendency. By sacrificing these few locations, the heat is taken off all those quietly beautiful places such as Ugui-gawa and (over here in Switzerland) Canton Glarus ...

Project Hyakumeizan said...

Mmm, there is certainly a tendency - not just in Japan - to officially declare certain landscapes as designated must-sees: the Matterhorn, Matsushima etc. But that seems to me an entirely beneficial tendency. By sacrificing these few locations, the heat is taken off all those quietly beautiful places such as Ugui-gawa and (over here in Switzerland) Canton Glarus ...