Possible to live in Cultural Ecological Landscape  “sankyo-son” ” azumadachi” ” kainyo”

2022.11.23 / Rakudo-An

Rakudo-an is a hotel located in one of the largest “dispersed settlements villages” in Japan, spreading across the Tonami Plain in western part of Toyama.

The term “sankyo-son” refers to a form of settlement in which houses are scattered apart from each other, and it is believed that scattered villages/dispersed settlement villages(sankyo-son) arose as a developmental system of villages in which houses are dispersed together. 

What characterizes the dispersed settlements of the Tonami Plain are the vast expanses of rice fields, the traditional houses style called “azumadachi” scattered among them, and the garden trees planted around the house called “kainyo”.

They are landscapes in which the ground rules of the earth, the waterways in the underground, are visualized by human life.

Harsh but abundant water blessings and the formation of dispersed settlements villages

The Tonami Plain is located in the middle reaches of the Oyabe and Shogawa Rivers, and the  settlements are spread and scattered on the fan shape of the two rivers.

The area has a long history as a granary at the foot of the mountain, with evidence of rice paddy cultivation dating back to the Yayoi period (710-794), and the manor of Todaiji Temple spread out in the Nara period (710-794). On the other hand, the plains where regular river flooding occurs have long been uninhabited, uncultivated, and vacant.

It was from the late Sengoku Period to the Edo Period ( the late 17th to the 18th cen.) that rice fields were getting spread and dispersed settlements villages were being formed, as civil engineering technology to control water and flood supply developed and farmland could be cultivated.

The fan-shaped land is geologically too well drained, most of the land in Japan is generally not used for rice fields, as it is mostly used for fruit cultivation and other purposes.

Rice cultivation was getting spread in these areas and dispersed settlements villages were established due to the formation of waterways made possible* by the abundant water of the Shogawa River and the pioneering spirit and dedicated efforts of the people to create a place to live on the fan-shaped land.

*In Japan, most dispersed settlements villages by water system (dispersed settlements villages in rice fields) are formed in fan-shaped areas. Dispersed settlements villages are thought to develop in fan-shaped areas when geographical and human conditions are favorable, such as abundant water flow and the possibility of drawing in waterways.

Mountain-side areas in Toyama are deep in snow, recording snowfalls in the 3-meter range in many years.Therefore, snowfall and the river’s flow, which is provided by a tree belt with high water retention capacity, does not dry up throughout the year.

In some case, snow is a threat that sometimes brings disaster, it is also a blessing that continues to provide an endless supply of water.

This natural environment in Toyama, with its abundant blessings amidst its harshness, has also had a significant impact on the formation of the local spiritual climate.

People first built their houses on  a slightly elevated area, and cultivated the land around them.Because of thick topsoil were scattered suitable for cultivation and necessities in water management for the rice fields, which were so poorly watered that they were called “drained fields” so that houses were built near the rice fields, thus forming dispersed villages with houses scattered throughout the area.

As the flow of the Shogawa River was getting stabilized by the Kaga Clan’s flood control projects, the river’s many river ruins that formed a fan-shaped area were used for irrigation, from which branch rivers were established again, creating a network of irrigation canals.。

The water run through this area, which stretched like leaf veins, took advantage of the gentle slope of the fan-shaped area to supply water to the entire plain.

From the 1950s onward, field improvement projects were implemented to accommodate the increasing size of agriculture.Although the waterway network and the shape of the rice fields have changed, the location of the houses and other structures remain as they were in the past.

Azumadachi and sacred space

In dispersed settlement Villages, a number of east-facing houses called “azumadachi” can be seen.

As the name “azuma=east, dachi/tachi=standings,” suggests, the building faces east, which is based on the religious life of this area, where the house is protected from the seasonal winds by a thick garden trees covering the southwest side of the house, and the entrance is located to the east, and where the Buddhist altar, the center of the house, is located with its back to the west.

Large gabled roof with black tile roofing, black latticework  and white plaster gable entry.

The Hiroma-hall is constructed using the “wakuno-uchi” method, which is a construction method that does not use steel nails or so.Each has a bold shaping beauty, and the strength and power of the lively materials can be felt.

Houses in Toyama is pride on the largest floor space in Japan*. The beliefs of the area have something to do with it as well.

*Research of total floor space per residence by prefecture /2021 Min. of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism data related to the housing economy

Once the Tonami region had a system of mutual support called “ko,” which was fostered mainly in the Jodo Shinshu, a sect of Buddhism faith.

As the meetings of the Ko were held in each house on a rotating basis, the houses became larger and larger so that more people could gather.

Both the Buddhist altar placed a room called “butsuma” and the hiroma-hall where people gather was called “Hijiri-kunkan” (sacred space).The house was not a private place only for the family, but a public space shared with the villagers and their ancestors.

Ko, the lectures were meant to allow people to interact with each other to discover solutions or solve their problems, share work methodologies, and develop their skills.

Such opportunities for mutual encouragement and information exchange fostered an honest work ethic and a positive attitude toward creativity and ingenuity, and led to the creation of a cultural landscape that harmonizes the richness of the local lifestyle with nature and human life.

Kainyo, an ecosystem circulating on the property

In addition to characterizing the landscape of dispersed settlement villages,  “kainyo,” the garden trees or house forests (hereinafter kainyo), play a major role as an ecosystem.

In the Tonami Plain, strong seasonal winds blow from the southwest in winter.On the plains, strong wind blows directly to the house. To protect the house from wind and snow, people planted taller trees such as cedar and cypress in the southwestern side around their houses. Plum, camellia, and magnolia were planted as flowering trees; persimmons, chestnuts, peaches, pomegranates, kumquats, figs, and other fruit trees; dokudami, plantain, saxifrage, oleander, and other medicinal plants were planted as undergrowth for tall trees; and butterbur, Japanese parsley, Japanese honeywort, and other edible plants.The garden trees formed by these trees were small forest mountain on the plain that nurtured the lives of not only people but also insects, birds, and various other creatures.

In “Shika nougyoudan” (Miyanaga Shoun: an agronomist from Shimokawasaki Village, Tonami), written in 1789, “Tadoku=lots of better ” of kainyo is mentioned.

There are “lots of better ” planting trees around a  house.

First, it prevents wind and cold, and is an important defense against thieves or fire in the neighboring house.

Pine needles are used instead of firewood, new trees are cut down to make something else, fallen leaves are used for the stove fuels, or a supplement to manure of the fields.

Kainyo not only protected the house, but also became a source of fuel, firewood, building materials to repair the house and furniture.In addition, fallen leaves and the ashes from burning them were used as fertilizer for the fields, creating an ecological cycle that was integrated with daily life in kainyo.

Also, Planting kainyo serves to prevent soil runoff. Rice fields in alluvial areas where the land is difficult to stabilize, In other words, in order to grow a fine kainyo in a marshy area, it is necessary to create appropriate environmental improvements such as fill, and ensure water and air flow.

These well-tended kainyo stabilize the environment of the entire plain, mitigate flood damage, induce good groundwater flow, and increase the productivity of the fields.

Some data* show that the average radiant temperature with/ without kainyo varies by as much as 10°C on average, and by as much as 20°C in some place.Trees are biological devices that keep water circulating throughout their body, a function that cannot be replaced by man-made structures such as roofs and wind protectors, which produce updrafts in some cases.

*Japan Environmental Management Association for Industry, “Environmental Management No. 68”

In the Tonami region, a saying has been handed down: “Even sell your house but don’t cut down your kainyo.I feel that this term hides the meaning of not only the visible usefulness of the kainyo, but also the fact that it has protected people’s lives by preventing and mitigating disasters, mitigating strong and rising winds on the plains, and preventing heatstroke.

The landscape of Dispersed Settlement Village is a “possible to live in landscape” created by the local people over a long period of time. Protecting the landscape is directly linked to protecting the way of life.

It is said that there are 5 thousands stone Buddhas in the Tonami area, and even today, flowers are offered to them and they are worshiped by the local people. Various festivals, such as Japanese drum and lion dances, are also alive and well in their villages.

Local beliefs, culture, and community have been nurtured in the landscape of Dispersed Settlement Village.

Bioscape is a cultural and ecological space created by life, ecology, and artifice together. If we find beauty in bioscapes, it is probably because they represent values that are necessary for us.

However, amidst the rapid changes in society as a whole, even in the landscape of Dispersed Settlement Village in the Tonami Plain, the cultural and ecological landscape of Settlement Village, its livelihood, and its spiritual climate are all in danger of disappearing due to the falling birthrate, aging population, increase in non-farm households, shift to nuclear families, and the felling of kainyo due to the increased burden of maintenance and management.

We do not want to protect it just because it has been there for a long time, but because it should not be lost and is valuable to everyone.In order to achieve this, the cooperation of people not only within the community but also from outside the community is indispensable.

RakuDoAn will collaborate with various people in and outside of the community to build a system for conservation and implement various measures.

We hope that the joy that overflows there will feed the richness of everyone’s heart.

Rakudo-An uses cookies to analyze and enhance your website experience. Please give your consent to the acquisition and use of cookies in accordance with our Privacy Policy.