By Akihisa Aoyama / Yomiuri Shimbun Senior WriterAfter driving through the vast Kofu basin, I arrived at its southern edge and entered the Fujikawa river valley. Passing through many tunnels, I then found the Hayakawa river — a side stream from the Southern Japanese Alps.
Going straight would have taken me to Minobu, Yamanashi Prefecture, but I turned right, following the Hayakawa river. The valley became deeper as the Alps closed in.
About 1 million years ago, multiple plates covering Earth’s surface collided near the Japanese archipelago. The pressure forced the surface into an elevation — creating the Southern Japanese Alps.
The Itoigawa-Shizuoka Tectonic Line, a major fault running more than 150 kilometers through the area along the Hayakawa river, divides Japan into east and west.
The terrain here is dynamic, created by Earth’s force, and where a diverse ecosystem of various animals and plants thrives. People have lived here for centuries, relying on nature’s blessings.
The town of Hayakawa in Yamanashi Prefecture has a population of 1,100 — the smallest town in the nation. Although small, a rich mountain village culture still thrives in Hayakawa.
In the morning of my stay in the town, I accompanied some deer hunters into the mountains.
The 10 hunters were divided into two groups — one called Seko, which had two hunting dogs, and the other called Magusa, which waited for deer to shoot with their guns.
The hunt turned out to be a real fight with the animals. The hunters’ knowledge of mountains, physical strength, persistence, gun skills and teamwork were all put to test — after which they caught a large male deer.
The hunters drained the blood from the deer on the spot, brought it to a cottage, and cooled it with water. They then butchered the animal without damaging its organs. It took about an hour to finish the processes, and I was surprised to discover how quick the hunters were. That said, it was a little traumatic to see dead deer’s large eyes remain open.
Here, the hunting spirit is still alive — “hunting for [our] livelihood, hunting for a living,” and “appreciating that we can catch game and not waste any of it.”
The men embark on hunts regularly to pass on their knowledge and practices for living in the mountains, such as how to use a gun and butcher an animal, on to younger generations.
Hayakawa also has a long history of slash-and-burn farming.
People respected as “Mannogan” are those who have skills to resolve any issues in their daily lives on their own and attach importance to a lifestyle of living by cooperating with each other as “Yuigesshi.”
“The harsh natural environment, the toughness to live in such an environment, and a life of helping each other — I want to pass mountain village culture on to the next generations,” said Daisuke Kurauchi. He moved to the town 19 years ago, after becoming attracted to it when he studied regional planning at a graduate school of Waseda University.
Kurauchi became a researcher at the Japan Upper River Culture Institute, established by the town, and has been engaged in work to protect the culture of the region together with other residents. The work they do includes compiling the life histories for each of the town’s residents. This year, Kurauchi left the institute, but is continuing with his work.
The town’s abundant nature and culture have resulted in it being designated as a UNESCO eco-park. Is money everything? Is convenience everything? Hayakawa is a place to learn what real wealth is.
Take the JR Chuo Line express train from Tokyo Station for about 1½ hours to Kofu Station. From there, take the JR Minobu Line express train for about 40 minutes to Shimobe Onsen Station. From there, take the bus for about one hour to Narada.
For inquiries contact the Hayakawacho Kanko Kyokai (tourism association): (0556) 48-8633
To find out more about Japan’s attractions, visit http://the-japan-news.com/news/d&d