26 January 2015

Fukui Nature Conservation Center / 福井県自然保護センター

Fukui Nature Conservation Center  福井県自然保護センター

Part 13 of the series: Satoyama Concept in Fukui

The Fukui Nature Conservation Center is located in the mountains of Okeutsukogen Prefectural Natural Park, just outside the city of Ōno.  The exhibitions educate about the flora and fauna of Fukui Prefecture with interactive exhibits, models, and activities.   

There is an impressive model of a traditional satoyama landscape that demonstrates how the countryside looked before the industrialisation of farming methods.  The cross-section of the wetland area nestled between mountain ranges shows how fish and other aquatic life were able to pass easily into the rice paddies, providing nourishment for the storks.  This gave us a deeper understanding of the kinds of landscapes the Kōnotori “Call Back the Storks” Farming project hopes to restore with their fish ladders in order to facilitate the return of the Oriental White Stork to the region.

My kids were particularly interested in the live animals that they could observe and sometimes interact with.   The center has aquariums with turtles and other local aquatic animals.  The kids were allowed to take the stag beetle from its cage and handle it.  The center offers many activities for children and grown-ups (JP only) including bird watching, nature walks, nature lectures, and more.  One special feature of the nature centre that we were not able to experience because we were there during daytime hours was its impressive observatory.  More information and photographs can be found on the International Planetarium List

Contact information:

169-11-2 Minamirokuroshi, Ono, Fukui Prefecture
912-0131 大野市南六呂師169-11-2

Tel : 0779-67-1655
e-mail : sizen@fncc.jp

2015 Cathy Munroe Hotes

Yoshimura Organic Farm / よしむら農園

Yoshimura Organic Farm / よしむら農園

Part 12 of the series: Satoyama Concept in Fukui

While in Fukui Prefecture last summer as part of the Satoyama Forum, we met local farmer Yoshihiko Yoshimura.  After retiring from conventional farming, Mr. Yoshimura became interested in organic farming methods.  Together with his wife Haruko, he established Yoshimura Organic Farm (よしむら農園) with the aims of promoting healthy eating, nature conservation, and sustainable organic agriculture in their community of Wakasa. 

The Yoshimuras specialise in the Aigamo Method of rice growing.  This method was originally developed in 1989 by Takao Furuno in Fukuoka Prefecture.  Instead of using pesticides and herbicides, this method uses aigamo ducks to eat insects and weeds.  Aigamo ducks are a crossbreed of wild and domestic duck species.  Aigamo ducklings are released into the paddy a couple weeks after rice seedlings have been planted.  In addition to eliminating the need for pulling weeds by hand, the ducklings’ droppings fertilize the rice paddy and their movements in the paddy increase the oxygen content of the soil. 

For more detailed information about duck farming, visit the Yoshimura Organic Farm website (JP only) or read  FARMING RICE WITH DUCKS: Organic Growing Method Spreads Across Asia (October 22, 2002).

In addition to Aigamo rice, the Yoshimura’s have an organic ume (plum) orchard and sell homemade Ume Jam.   As I mentioned in when writing about Plum Ice Cream Cakes last month, Fukui is famous for its local variety of plum, which is characterised by its thick flesh and small pit.  The Yoshimura’s also sell a lovely Spring Gift Basket (春ちゃんセット) that features an assortment of products including:

Aigamo Rice (Yoshimura Organic Koshikari)
Milky Queen (Low Amylose Rice)
Black Rice
黒米(朝紫)モチ米 100g
Red Rice
赤米(ベニ都)モチもち米 100g
Black Rice Flour
黒米の粉 80g
Red Rice Flour
赤米の粉 80g
Bunch of Dried Flowers
ドライフラワー 1
Soy Beans
大豆 150g
Azuki Beans
小豆 150g

The baskets range in price from 1,000 to 1,500円 depending on the availability of products.   All products are grown and processed by the Yoshimuras on their farm. 

To learn more about Yoshimura Organic Farm (よしむら農園), check out their website:

Contact information:
Yoshihiko and Haruko Yoshimura
吉村義彦 ・春子

34-28 Aida, Wakasa-chō, Mikatakaminaka-gun, Fukui-ken

認定番号 2000F-5
農家登録番号 18-07

2015 Cathy Munroe Hotes

25 January 2015

Soba Making at Starland Sakadani / スターランドさかだにのそば打ち体験

Soba Making at Starland Sakadani / スターランドさかだにのそば打ち体験

 Part 11 of the series: Satoyama Concept in Fukui

The Echizen region of Fukui Prefecture is famous for its soba.  Most people think of rice as being the staple grain of the Japanese diet, but buckwheat is actually the traditional staple in many parts of Japan.  This is particularly true of regions that were not conducive to the growing of rice such as those at higher elevations and in the colder climate of the north.  The popularity of buckwheat is demonstrated in the fact that the Japanese word for buckwheat, soba, is also the common word for traditional Japanese noodles. 

 Learn more about Fukui's Buckwheat Fields (pdf)

As part of the Satoyama Forum in Fukui Prefecture last summer, we visited Starland Sakadani to participate in a soba-making workshop.  Soba noodles consist only of buckwheat mixed with wheat flour and water.  The art is in how the dough is kneaded, rolled, folded, and sliced. 

As we made the soba, behind the scenes women were cooking traditional local food to serve with the noodles.  The meal was completely vegetarian because this is a mountainous area.   Traditionally they would have they would not have had much in the way of livestock and in the days before modern transport, the location was too far from the sea for fresh fish and seafood.  Outside of Buddhist temples, it is rare to be served a vegan meal in Japan, let alone a feast such as the one we enjoyed at Starland Sakadani.

If you would like to try making soba yourself, check out Starland Sakadani’s step-by-step instructions with photos (translation below) or book yourself a workshop using the contact details at the bottom of this post.

Handmade Soba in 15 Steps

Step 1 / 手順.1
Sift the flour.  粉をふるいにかける
Sift buckwheat (soba) flour and wheat flour into a large bowl.

Step 2 /手順.2
Mix the flour.  粉をよく混ぜる
Using your fingertips, mix the buckwheat flour and wheat flour together.

Step 3 / 手順.3
Add water 1.  水回しその1
Pour water directly onto the flour a small bit at a time. . .

Step 4 / 手順.4
Add water 2.  水回しその2
Using your fingertips, mix the flour and water until the flour resembles large crumbs. 

Step 5 / 手順.5
Fold the dough.  くくり
Gently turn and press the dough to start shaping it into a ball.

Step 6 / 手順.6
Knead the dough 1.  練りその
Knead the dough pushing the weight of your body firmly into it until it becomes a smooth consistency.

Step 7 / 手順.7
Knead the dough 2.  練りその2
Press and rotate the dough into the shape of a large dumpling. 

Step 8 /手順.8
Press the dough.  地のし
Slowly press the dough into a fat round of approximately 20 cm in diameter. 
(打ち粉を生地の下に多めに振って) めん棒又は手のひらで押して直径20cmくらいまで生地を伸ばします。(以後、打ち粉は少なめに)

Step 9 / 手順.9
Roll out the dough.  丸出し
Begin flattening the dough with a rolling pin until the dough has increased in diameter to about 60cm. 

Step 10 / 手順.10
Form into a square 1. 角出しその1
With a long slender rolling pin, roll the dough into the shape of a square.

Step 11 / 手順.11
Form into a square 2.  角出しその2
Continue rolling the square until it reaches the size of 90cm per side.

Step 12 / 手順.12
Fold into rectangle. たたみ
Fold the square of dough into a rectangular shape of many layers.  Sprinkle flour generously between each layer to prevent them sticking.   The width of the rectangle should be no more than the length of your knife.

Step 13 / 手順.13
Cut.  切り
Using a wooden board to mark the size and a large knife, slice the dough into noodles of approximately 2mm thick.

Step 14 / 手順.14
Boil.  茹で
Bring water to a full boil, and boil the noodles for no more than 2 minutes.
そばが泳ぐ位のたっぷりのお湯で。茹で時間は、約 2分以内に。

Step 15 / 手順.15
Serve.  盛り付け
Rinse the noodles and serve them in a dashi broth with grated daikon, bonito flakes, spring onions and other toppings according to your preference. 

Contact information:
Starland Sakadani

大野市役所 スターランドさかだに
福井県大野市蓑道1-4 (Google Maps)
1-4 Minomichi, Ōno-shi, Fukui-ken

Tel.  +81 779-67-7250
Open: 9am to 4pm

2015 Catherine Munroe Hotes

Hakusan Heisenji Temple Historical Museum Mahoroba 白山平泉寺歴史探遊館 まほろば

Hakusan Heisenji Temple Historical Museum Mahoroba 
白山平泉寺歴史探遊館 まほろば       

Part 10 of the series: Satoyama Concept in Fukui

The Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines of Japan have a special relationship to nature.  Although their landscapes are managed, this is done in a very different way than Christian churches as there is a stronger natural element to them.  In urban settings, the temples and shrines are refuges for nature, and in the countryside they often provide a glimpse into historical cultural landscapes. 

Heisenji Temple in Echizen is the site of a medieval mountain temple that was traditionally the start of the ascent of Buddhist worshippers of the sacred mountain Hakusan.  200 hectares of land that the former temple stood on have been a designated Historical Site since 1935 and archeological excavation of the site is ongoing. 

The temple was affluent and prosperous from the Muromachi period (室町時代/Muromachi jidai c.1337-1573) until the Warring States period (戦国時代/Sengoku jidai, c.1467-1603).  It is believed that during this period, the temple rivaled major warlords in terms of its powers and boasted 8000 warrior monks and 6000 dwellings including 48 shrines and 36 temples.  Sustaining such a large temple put a great strain on the local population who were taxed in order to maintain it.  This led in 1574 to the Echizen Uprising by followers of the Honganji sect of Jōdo Shinshū Buddhism and Heisenji was burned to the ground.  The temple was rebuilt at a tenth of its former scale.  As part of the 19th century Meiji government’s program of separating Shinto and Buddhism the temple name of Heisenji was abolished, and became Hakusan Jinja (shrine). 
A still from My Neighbour Totoro (left), Hakusan Heisenji (right)

In addition to the fascinating history of the area, the remnants of the holy mountain path at Echizen are terrific for hikers.  The holy site has beautiful ancient trees, many of whom are over 300 years old.  Some of the trees have been designated as holy with shimenawa – rice straw ropes used in the Shinto religion.   This reminded me of the camphor tree in My Neighbour Totoro (となりのトトロ, 1988).  My kids were delighted by the variety of flora and fauna, discovering cicada shells and even a live millipede.  There was some concern that it might be an example of the millipede’s poisonous centipede cousin (mukade), but close examination of its legs reassured us that we were in no danger. 

The Hakusan region is working towards gaining UNESCO World Heritage Site status under the title “Sacred Mt. Hakusan and the Cultural Landscape at the foothills of Mt. Hakusan.”  Learn more about it here.   

Hakusan Heisenji Temple Historical Museum Mahoroba 
白山平泉寺歴史探遊館 まほろば

Tel. +81 779-87-6001
Fax. +81 779-87-6002

Museum opening hours: 9am to 5pm (last entry at 4:30)
Closed on Wednesdays and during the New Year’s holidays
Closed the day after a federal holiday. 

Address: (Google Maps)
66-2 Heisenjichō Heisenji, Katsuyama-shi, Fukui-ken
福井県勝山市平泉寺町平泉寺 662番地12

For more information:

白山平泉寺歴史探遊館 まほろば, Katsuyama City website (JP only)

Historic Site: Former Temple Precinct of Hakusan Heisenji, Japanese Archaeological Association

Morimoto, Yukihiro.  “Ecological Dynamics Of Urban And Rural Landscapes - The Need For Landscape Planning That Considers That Considers The Biodiversity Crisis In Japan”, Ecological Issues in a Changing World, 2004, pp 325-336 (link).

2015 Catherine Munroe Hotes

Japanese-German Satoyama Research Forum / 日独SATOYAMA研究フォーラム

Japanese-German Satoyama Research Forum

Part 9 of the series: Satoyama Concept in Fukui

On Saturday, August 27, 2014 a Satoyama Research Forum was held in Japanese at the Mikata Training Center (三方青年の家).  This event was open to the general public and well attended.  Speakers included Prof. Izumi Washitani (Tokyo) on the concept of ecological infrastructure in the outreach work of the Science Council of Japan, Prof. Tomohiro Ichinose (Keio) on ecological infrastructure in Europe, Dr. Stefan Hotes (Marburg/Gießen) on biodiversity and ecosystem services in Germany, and Prof. Takehiko Yoshida (Tokyo) on nature restoration, biodiversity and restoration services at Mikata-goko.  A welcome address to attendees was done by Andreas Kirchner, director of the Science and Technology division at the German Embassy in Tokyo.

In the evening all participants in the Japanese-German Satoyama Research Forum were welcomed in a reception, where they were able to meet with local community members interested in sustainable landscapes and cultures. 

The following day, speakers from Germany and Japan participated in an English-language forum:

Perception and valuation of satoyama ecosystems:
Approaches from natural sciences, economics, and the arts

Date:  Sunday, August 26, 2014, 13:30 - 18:00
Location: Fukui Prefecture International Exchange Meeting Hall


Opening Speech

Spatial economic modelling as a tool for integrating ecosystem services into land management
Amanda Eigner and Ernst-August Nuppenau (Justus-Liebig-Universität Gießen)      

The challenge of sustainable use and continued biocultural diversity in a satoyama landscape on the west side of Lake Biwa, Shiga, Japan
Katsue Fukamachi (Kyoto University)     

Ecological restoration of the Five Lakes of Mikata: Current status and future challenges
Takehito Yoshida (The University of Tokyo)      

Cultural and social changes impacted by the environmental conservation in the coastal region of Kilwa, Tanzania
Ryo Nakamura (Fukui Prefectural Satoyama-Satoumi Research Institute)      

Using ecosystem function models as tools for integrating ecosystem services into landscape management decisions
Andrea Früh-Müller (Justus-Liebig-Universität Gießen)      

Characterizing cultural landscapes from an ecological viewpoint: An example from central Hesse, Germany
Keiko Sasaki (Justus-Liebig-Universität Gießen)      

Vegetation restoration in a floodplain wetland, Watarase wetland, Japan
Jun Ishii (Fukui Prefectural Satoyama-Satoumi Research Institute)      

Local revitalization through sustainable use of satoyama resources by involving urban citizens
Sora Fukushima (Fukui Prefectural Satoyama-Satoumi Research Institute)     

Detecting the exact timing of paddy field landscape formation using varved sediments
Junko Kitagawa (Fukui Prefectural Satoyama-Satoumi Research Institute)       

Ecocritical views of satoyama in Japanese popular culture
Catherine Munroe Hotes (Nishikata Film Review)      

Funding opportunities for research collaborations and mobility through the programmes of the DAAD
Franziska Kekulé (German Academic Exchange Service [DAAD] Tokyo Office) 

Discussion and Closing Remarks

15 January 2015

Awaiting (待つ, 2012)

They say that “absence makes the heart grow stronger”, but the time one awaits for the return of one’s beloved can be filled with agony.  Hakhyun Kim’s first year film project at Geidai’s graduate programme in animation is a short study of the agony of waiting. 

A man sits hunched in a small boat, seemingly adrift in a black sea of misery.  His suffering is expressed in a series of overlapping mini-vignettes through his body language.  He quivers curled forward in the fetal position, he covers his eyes with his arm, and he holds a smaller even more impatient version of himself in his hand, his body tumbles from the sky.  He stands awkwardly in the boat, a forlorn figure in a sparse landscape of barren trees. 

In the distance, the sound of a ringing bell grows louder and the man’s bleak face slowly transforms into one of shock.  He then closes his eyes, his tiny ears still moving as if reverberating with the sound of the bell, and imagines the return of his love.  His face broadens with a smile as he embraces her, and the dark sky alights with the colours of a sunrise.  It is a poetic, moving short-short that promises great work to come from this young animator. 

Hakhyun Kim (キム・ハケン, 1982) was born in Seoul, South Korea. He did his BA in Animation at Tokyo Polytechnic University (2010) before coming to Geidai for his MA in Animation (2013).  You can follow him on vimeo.

Cathy Munroe Hotes 2015

07 January 2015

Yamamura Animation YouTube Channel

On Christmas Eve, Yamamura Animation set up a YouTube Channel and Google Plus page and began sharing some of Kōji Yamamura’s lesser known works and samples from his renowned works.  

Founded by the animator and his wife Sanae Yamamura in 1993 as a production company for animated and illustrated works, Yamamura Animation has made over 20 short films that have gone on to win more than 80 accolades including an Oscar nomination and Annecy Cristal for Mt. Head (頭山, 2002) and the Noburō Ōfuji prize for Franz Kafka's A Country Doctor (カフカ 田舎医者, 2007).  In 2013 they opened an animation store and art gallery Au Praxinoscope in Tokyo. 

Some of the gems now available on YouTube:

Aquatic (水棲, 1987)
An early experimental work shot on 16mm, this film was Yamamura’s graduation art project when he was a student at Tokyo Zokei University.  

Anthology with Cranes (鶴下絵和歌巻, 2011) 
A commissioned piece for television, inspired by a 17th century scroll painting of the same name. Read my review to learn more.

five fire fish (2013)
A short film improvised on the NFB iPad app McLaren’s Workshop. See my article Direct Animation for the Tablet Generation to learn more.

Begon Bell Care (2014)
A tribute to Norman McLaren’s Begone Dull Care (1949) created in the framework of Digital Spring.  Produced by the NFB and the Quartier des Spectacles Partnership. 

Bavel's Book (バベルの本, 1996)
Inspired in part by the short story “The Library of Babel” by Jorge Luis Borges, Bavel’s Book in my opinion marks the beginning of Yamamura’s maturity as an artist.  Read my review to learn more.

Pieces (おまけ, 2003)
A fun experimental work by Yamamura that channels his love for early animation technologies.  Read my review to learn more.

Check out the Yamamura Animation YouTube Channel to see commissioned works like "Nose" for SICAF 2004, Anima Mundi 2008 and much, much more.  Support this independent artist by watching the films with your adblock turned off.  

Cathy Munroe Hotes 2015

01 January 2015

Best 10 Japanese Documentaries of All Time

Last month, the Gifu-based Italian film critic Matteo Boscarol put out a call for critics and fans of Japanese documentaries to put together their Best 10 Japanese Documentaries of all time on his new blog Storia(e) del documentario in Giappone ~ percorsi ed esplorazioni nella storia del cinema di non-fiction nipponico.  It is always hard to choose just ten films and then arrange them numerically, especially with a country that has such a rich documentary tradition.  My least favourite documentaries in Japan are the television variety with their unnecessary voice-over narrations.  I have chosen for my list a cross-section of different documentary types in addition to the necessary classics.  

1.  Tokyo Olympiad (東京オリンピック, Kon Ichikawa, 1965)

I have a personal connection to this film, because my aunt has a small cameo in it, but that is not why I have chosen in as my number one Japanese documentary of all time.  Growing up with a sport teacher for a father I have seen countless sports documentaries in my time, which I suspect was why the experience of watching Tokyo Olympiad for the first time made such as impact on me.  The scope of the film is like no other sports documentary, and its focus not just on the great highs but also on the great lows of the event makes the film unique.  It is also a brilliant (deliberate) counterpoint to Leni Riefenstahl’s Olympia (1938), which in the 1960s was the best sports film ever made in spite of its problematic subject matter.  One of my favourite sequences is the marathon, which I wrote about in World Film Locations: Tokyo (ed. Chris MaGee, 2011).  The marathon route followed the historic Kōshū Kaidō (甲州街道), one of the Five Edo Routes (五街道) that connected the outer provinces to the capital in ancient times.

2.  A Man Vanishes (人間蒸発, Shōhei Imamura, 1967)

This is such a brilliant film in the way that it plays with our expectations as documentary spectators.  It begins in a relatively straight-forward way presenting itself as a documentary about the riddle of an ordinary man who disappears without a trace.  But instead of presenting a mystery and then solving it, the film begins to cast doubt on the nature of the missing man’s relationships, business ventures, and even the role of the documentary filmmaker himself.  The complexity of humanity, and the difficulties in discerning what is real from what is illusion are expertly probed in this film.   

3.  Minamata: The Victims and Their World (水俣 患者さんとその世界, Noriaki Tsuchimoto, 1971)

The first in a series of documentaries Tsuchimoto made about the plight of victims of Minamata disease, this film has become the standard for films about people suffering at the hands of unfeeling corporations / governments.  Read my review of this film to learn more.

4.  Pica-don (ピカドン, Renzō and Sayoko Kinoshita, 1978)

Following on the success of Chris Landreth’s Ryan (2004) and Ari Folman’s Waltz with Bashir (2008), the animated documentary genre has grown in stature in recent years.  In the 1970s, it was a genre rarely used.  The Kinoshitas’ powerful depiction of the day an atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima uses cutout animation to depict the horrors of that day.  Based on the testimony and drawings of survivors, the film drives home the message that we should never forget and never allow this atrocity to happen again.  Read my review to learn more

5.  The Shiranui Sea (不知火海, Noriaki Tsuchimoto, 1975)

Emotionally for me, this is the most powerful of Tsuchimoto’s documentaries about the Minamata disaster.  Fishermen continue to fish the poisoned waters, discarding their catch because it is inedible, because fishing is all that they know.   It explores just how deeply the mercury poisoning has affected the community in Minamata, particularly the children – innocent victims who have been neurologically scarred for life.  See trailer for the Zakka Films release.

6.  Antonio Gaudi (アントニー・ガウディー, Hiroshi Teshigahara, 1985)

With very little spoken word, this mesmerising film takes us on a cinematic journey through the fantastic career of Catalan architect Gaudi (1852-1926).  Alongside films like Chris Marker’s Sans Soleil (1983) and Dziga Vertov’s Man with a Movie Camera (1929), it ranks among the most poetic documentary films of all time for me.

7.  Genpin (玄牝, Naomi Kawase, 2010)

As I wrote in my review of this film in 2011, this is the most is the most beautiful documentary I have ever seen about child birth.  It is also the most informative for the way in which it records the varied experiences, hopes, and fears of the women.  Although the birthing methods might not appeal to all women, I would encourage pregnant women to watch the film for an alternative perspective on pregnancy and child birth.

8.  Hitomi Kamanaka’s films about nuclear power and radiation:
Hibakusha at the End of the World (ヒバクシャ 世界の終わりに, 2003)
Rokkasho Rhapsody (六ヶ所村ラプソディー, 2006)
Ashes to Honey (ミツバチの羽音と地球の回転, 2010)

I really couldn’t decide which of Hitomi Kamanaka’s films to rank as "the best" as they complement each other so well and the issues they raise concerning radiation and the use of nuclear power in Japan are even more important in the wake of the Fukushima disaster than they were when Kamanaka started out on her cinematic journey.  Read my reviews of Rokkasho Rhapsody and Ashes to Honey to learn more.  Her films can be ordered from Zakka Films

9.  AK: Akira Kurosawa (A.K. ドキュメント黒澤明, Chris Marker, 1985)

This documentary is not everyone’s cup of tea with everyone from hard-core Kurosawa fans to even Vincent Canby of the New York Times blasting it for a variety of reasons (read my review of the film to learn more).   Often packaged as a DVD extra, the film is often mistakenly viewed as a bad “Making of” Ran (, 1985) documentary, but that is not what it is at all.  Marker has created a carefully crafted homage not just to Kurosawa himself but to the team who worked closely with him.  

10.  ANPO: Art X War (Linda Hoaglund, 2010)

An amazing film about the psychological impact of war and occupation on the Japanese psyche, as told through the art, photography, and films of the post-war period.  Read my full review here.

Cathy Munroe Hotes 2015


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