It rained heavily in the western area of the mountain while the weather was fine in the east.
I climbed Mt Gassan in time for the autumn leaves. Though it is 1,984 meters above sea level, I took a chair lift up to 1,500 meters and climbed the rest of the way. It was not a tough climb for a beginner like myself.
The Shonai plain spreads in the west of Mt. Gassan, and on the east is Nishikawa Town, the location where the famous NHK drama Oshin was filmed. The cloud moving eastward containing the moisture from the Sea of Japan cannot go over the mountain so the water is released as rain and it comes pouring down on the Shonai plain. The air dries and the weather clears up in Nishikawa Town.
In the autumn harvest season, I happened to see the reaped rice drying under the sun in both Shonai plain and Nishikawa Town.
A rainy day in Shonai, a sunny day in Nishikawa Town.
The mountain affects the rainfall and the local agriculture has thrived and sustained in harmony with the topography and the weather. That reminds me, a certain farmer told me that people shouldn’t avoid nature but instead should adapt to it. The paddy fields cultivated in Dewa-Shonai-Tokusan don’t form clumps, rather they are scattered through the region and farming is tough. But the type of rice and the method of farming depends on the characteristic of each paddy field and that suitability enhances the taste and the quality of the rice.
Revisiting the ruins of Otori mine
It was a journey to kill animals. This opening sentence sounds rough and I remember when I was younger, reading this novel entitled Kaikoh no Mori, which means a chance encounter in the forest. The novel has a scene in which the protagonist temporarily leaves his inevitable work as “matagi” an ancient hunter of Tohoku mountains and starts working in a mine, something he is unfamiliar with and he begins to find his place in the mine. Then a big avalanche destroys the mining town. An acquaintance told me that this is where it happened, this very village Ohori.
It is a prosperous village bustling with transactions of bear’s gall and a red-light district. The novel describes the atmosphere of Taisho and Showa period vividly. When I visited Ohtori village for the second time with someone who spent his childhood years here, the scenes of the novel came into my mind. The scenes of various areas from Akita prefecture to Shonai district, all the images came together in one scene of Ohtori village and this came into my mind. Mountains and land of Otori district still remain in the same area as before but money has left and quite a number of people moved away from their village.
However, I have heard that some young people have started a movement to revive Otori and this gives me great joy.
And other young people are working hard to establish a new industry in Shonai district in cooperation with the farmers of Dewa-Shonai-Tokusan.
A major merger of towns in the Heisei period
Old Asahi village with Otori district at the southernmost part of it, was born from the merger of three villages in 1954. Furthermore, in 2005, 51 years after the first merger, the old Asahi village merged again into other city and towns, and the current city of Tsuruoka emerged.
In the old Asahi village, people were familiar with the public office and the services they provided. However, people felt comfortable in their home village and they lost touch with the outside world but this has changed since. This is what the last mayor of the village believed. He achieved the merger though it was hard work. He still stays in the same village, he runs an inn and is frequented by fishing visitors and mountain climbers. He says he is looking forward to the bear hunting in spring.
I think each land has its appropriate size. It is a size that we can estimate just by looking at it and intuitively grasp the capacity of food that can be produced, the population to nourish and the required amount of public services. The size of the land means the spread of fields, mountain area and the shoreline. Before the last merger, the old city of Tsuruoka had not reached its maximum capacity so the Asahi village mayor decided to go ahead with the merger.
Someday, when the supply of oil runs out and electricity and water supply stops, I could imagine a village where people continue to survive even though they lose their modern life lines.
That reminds me, it was overwhelming to see the phenomenon of the spectacular harmony between the rice fields. The fields looked black after harvest as far as I can see and the population nourished by these fields. I felt when I visited Dewa-Shonai-Tokusan in Haguro town for the first time and looked over the vast field, this was a reality.
Haguro town which was merged into the city of Tsuruoka at the same day with Asahi village is blessed with abundant water and fertile soil and is at the peak of the harvest season. The paddy owner’s rice field will have a harvest soon. I end this article with a prayer for a good harvest of rice this year as well.