Mr. Morita (left) and Mr. Wakui
The Sakata lagoon area used to be called ‘Akatsuka ’. It had developed as a trade route called ‘Kitaguni Kaido (North country route)’. ’Sakata Club’ promotes the protection and the conservation as well as attractions in the area. We have interviewed Mr. Morita who is a mine of information about the Sakata’s history and Mr. Wakui who is a representative of the club.
Q What was your childhood memories like about the lagoon?
M (Mr. Morita): I played in and around the lagoon.
Left photo: You can experience some activities on a special event only. Mr. Katsuyoshi Nakahara became a skilled boat operator.
Right photo: Small fish in the lagoon (such as Gnathopogon elogatus, Stone morokos, Crucian carps, Loaches and Acheilogasters.
W (Mr. Wakui): When I was a child, I was able to dive into it and also swim in ‘Uwakata’.
M: It was safe to drink back then, because the water was so pure.
W: I heard that there were many fireflies at that time. Fresh water fish is around even now.
M: ‘Small fish’ in the lake is mainly Crucian carp. I guess loaches are also still here.
The upper side of lake is called ‘Uwakata’ and the lower side is called ‘Shitakata’ because it is formed with 2 lakes.
The row of cherry trees used to be a part of the rice paddies.
‘Nakaharatei (Nakahara’s house)’ is a historical building in Akatsuka.
W: There were no amusement parks for kids in those days, so children fished and swam in the lagoon. It was a playground for them.
M: I used to go straight to the lagoon after school. We preferred under the water rather than the muddy lakeside, because the water was so much cleaner. We brought a washcloth there in the afternoon and bathed together with horses and cows. Cows were important for farming in this area because horses were expensive, such so dobbins were used with cows.
Q Did you eat fish from the lagoon?
M: I caught and sold fish for a living. Life was easy for someone like me (laugh). I was a fisherman once in my 40’s.
Q Did you catch a lot?
M: Yap, loads. But people said Crucian carps from the lagoon were brackish because they were full of bones. On the other hand carps from the moat in rice paddies were plump and delicious. That is why carps from the lagoon were unpopular. We used them as fertilizers. In winter, the lagoon almost froze but you put a fishing net through unfrozen bit, and then we managed to catch around 37.5kg fish at a time. They are called ‘Mabuna’ carps and very tasty in winter, on the contrary, ‘Herabuna’ carps were too soft to eat. I know Snakeheads (colonist fishes) increased nowadays. Once I had helped to get rid of them. They seem to be much less now.
‘Uwakata’ is located on the Kakuta mountain side. It is surrounded by trees, so partly hidden from roads. It suited as a bird sanctuary for Swans and sensitive water birds.
Q You mentioned there were also eels.
M: Yap, We stocked baby eels and some of us stocked ‘Suppon’ soft-shell turtles. Even now I find really big eels occasionally.
Q And do you know any other creatures?
M: Rice was the only income in this area. It was extremely hard to bring water to the rice field due to a lack of infrastructure at that time. That was why many farmers ran a modest silk farm as a side business in order to supplement their income. Mulberries (food for silkworm) grow with just rain-water.
W: Talking about creatures, some non-indigenous fish feeds off Snakeheads. This gives us a headache.
M: To be honest, we don’t welcome visitors for fishing, we don’t care if they catch a lot of colonist fishes such as Snakehead, but fishing strings are very dangerous to water birds. Some Swans were caught and died due to careless handling of the fishing equipment.
W: Niigata City prohibits lure fishing in the area. You need to buy a ticket for fishing. However, unfortunately visitors from outside do not respect the rule.
M: I used to buy an annual fishing ticket but wasted it. Lure fishing has been banned from the beginning, but some of game fishermen did not pay any attention to the warnings.
Left photo: The bird observing cottage built in late Showa era, and was rebuilt on September 2005. Right photo: An Osplay brings a prey (fish).
Q Catching games in Natural Park is forbidden in general.
W: No, the ‘Ramsar Treaty’ (which Sakata lagoon is registered) means that the lagoon should be a part of living for the local people.
M: The treaty theme is a harmony between the lagoon and local people’s life style.
W: It says ‘Wise use’, which means that use and preserve the life form and keep on living with wet lands.
M: You should protect but utilize the lagoon as the way of living in Sakata.
Q Were there many rice paddies?
M: Yap, there were plenty. There used to be a forest in order to prevent blowing sand in the past. It became suitable for plating trees and growing rice.
Q Were there Reed (Yoshi) fields from the beginning?
M: There were no reeds at all at first.
W: We could see no reeds from any of the old pictures when the bird observing cottage was built.
M: As the number of rice paddies decreased, reeds started to grow instead. They grew thickly, but it was prohibited from cutting, thanks to the regulations to protect wild plants, so they overtook the fields.
W: The rule wasn’t for the protection of reeds. It was for timid migrant birds so that they could nest securely shielded by the reed fields.
M: To some birds, they became nuisance, because weasels or raccoons could have been hiding in the bush.
W: Cautious wild birds need a good vantage.
Right: Reed fields around the Sakata lagoon
Left: Great Reed Warblers visit for lying eggs in summer.
M: Somebody said that the water is clear because of the Reed fields of riverside. However there are pros and cons about the theory.
W: Some studies have demonstrated that the reed roots absorb nitrogen from the lagoon water.
M: Well, they purify it but the water is from well so it tends to stagnate. If the reed fields are not trimmed, they fall down eventually and become messy.
W: That is the reason why we’re worried about losing the lagoon.
Q Niigata City managed to get rid of some surplus mud in the past two years. What happened in the old days?
M: We needed mud for rice paddies. We scooped it up with ‘Joren’ and spread it in rice paddies. We did it when the water level was reduced.
W: ‘Joren’ is a long-handed bamboo winnow. You could scoop mud from the lagoon, and used it as compost. The mud didn’t contain any chemical fertilizers but only organic ones. That was how farmers utilized the mud. Mr. Morita created ‘kata boat path’ which led farmers to the lagoon.
M: We used a shovel for scooping. The lagoon became reduced in size anyway, since the city took over the control so I think the lagoon would be maintained.
The beauty of sunset and blossoming flowers delight people strolling around the lagoon.
Q I heard that you held the ‘Gata Fushin’ event each year. The activities involve children conserving the lagoon area.
M: It is an annually event and it is held in the late September.
Q By the way, what was Akatsuka like in the past?
M: We didn’t see cherry trees when we were children. Pine and cider trees were there. Some of pine trees were huge so we couldn’t stretch both arms around them. There was a game reserve in the old days, but guns were banned. People hunted ducks by ‘Sakaami Ryo※1’ which used triangular net. It was set on the pine tree because it worked well in altitude. Although I didn’t witness any when I was growing up. Anyway, guns were banned from the beginning.
W: Unfortunately most of the pine trees were gone, due to the pine wilt disease, which spread all over japan eventually. We used to pick up some brunches and put them on the fire for warming our bath water.
M: Although it has been diminished, there was a rich pine forest long time ago. Some noble man※2 planted the trees all along the coast to prevent blowing sand. The maintenance of forest was assigned to the local people and each district had their own share. They appreciated the branches for firewood because there was no mountain near by.
W: It was all down to local people’s efforts.
M: But now the forest is dying, even thick pine trees in Teradomari (close to the ocean area nearby) got badly damaged for the same reason. We carpenters don’t use pine trees as a material except for a beam occasionally, but we still miss the green.
Left: A stone-carved gurdian dog (Komaicnu) in Akatsuka shrine.
Right: Stone monuments in ‘Kitaguni Kaido (North country route).
Q We are talking inside of an historical house called ‘Nakahara-tei’ in Akatsuka. It is open to public twice a year. Was there ‘Akatsuka style’ architecture in the past?
M: Many carpenters lived in Akatsuka but there was no particular style.
W: Lot of farmers and carpenters lived here. Some time ago an article published in a news paper titled ’Masters in Akatsuka’.
M: Akatsuka was full of carpenters who were regarded as craftsmen. Elder son inherited the family farm and any sons after that became carpenters.
Although there were little thatched roofing in Akatsuka, the master carpenters lived in the particular area.
Q Mr. Morita, what is your role in the ‘Akatsuka Club’ though you are not a member?
W: There are ‘Akatsuka Club’ and ’Sakata Wet-land Center’ here. We’ve helped build a close community in the area. Mr. Morita and I communicate with the members and try to pass down our knowledge to the younger generations.
M: Mr. Wakui is almost the same age as my son.
Q It is interesting to learn, not only about the Sakata lagoon but also the history of Akatsuka area, once a part of ’Kitaguni Kaido (old trading route)’. Thank you very much.
Sakata to ayumu Akatsuka no Kai NPO (Sakata Club in Akatsuka)
The organization has been set up primarily for the intention of making people understand about the nature and the history of Sakata (Akatsuka area), and pass down its culture through traditional local activities for the future generations.
They have been operating in Akatsuka area for many years. One of the activities called “Gatafushin” is held in September. (The conservation of Lagoon such as cleaning, generally making the surrounding area neat and tidy.)”
*1 A method of hunting wild ducks by casting triangular net without using a gun. It is not the way to catch a large number of ducks with one catch but plenty enough.
*2 Nagataka Kawamura is regarded as the first planter of pine trees. They were for the protection from blowing sand coming from Niigata’s coast in 1843. He was a magistrate in Edo era (Niigata Bugyo). He prohibited cutting trees on the coast and planted 30,000 pine trees in 6 years eventually. In 1851, the pine forests as the protection in Niigata were completed. (From ‘Niigata seaside forest story’)
Sakata Lagoon (information)