This is a habitat so precious, the Japanese have a special word for it, satoyama, villages where mountains give way to plains. They are exceptional environments essential to both the people who maintain them and to the wildlife that now share them.
Satoyama: Japan's Secret Watergarden is a 52-minute film which documents one season of human and nature interacting in a village near reed marshes supplied by Lake Biwa, Shiga Prefecture. (Lake Biwa is Japan's largest freshwater lake and one of the world's oldest lakes.)
Much of the documentary focuses on the life of a single villager, Sangoro Tanaka, an old man who fishes the reed marshes using a traditional net trap fishing method, and part of it follows the lives of a few of the animals that share the waterways as their home. The houses in the featured village are all designed so that fresh spring water from the village's water system is piped directly into each house, a unique system called "kabata" that ties the health of the village directly to the well-being of the water. "Satoyama" is the word for a unique ecosystem wherein man and nature live in balance. ("Kabata" is just one part of satoyama.) Even something as simple as washing dishes becomes part of this balanced system: Fish that swim freely between the village waterway and each home's stone sink consume the leftover bits of food from the dishes. In this way, the waters stay free of unsafe bacteria.
Each home has a built in pool or water tank that lies partly inside, partly outside its’ walls… A continuous stream of spring water is piped right into a basin, so freshwater is always available. People rinse out pots in the tank and clean their freshly picked vegetables. If they simply pour the food scraps back in the water, they risk polluting the whole village supply. However, carp can scour out even the greasy or burnt pans. They do the washing up in Satoyama villages. This traditional arrangement is called the riverside method. It’s used all over Japan. Cleaned up by the carp, the tank water eventually rejoins the channel.
Imagine a realm where the season’s rhythms rule, where centuries of agriculture and fishing have reshaped the land, yet where people and nature remain in harmony. Sangoro Tanaka lives in just such a paradise. At 83, he’s the guardian of one of Japan’s secret watergardens.
Many of the images of nature suggest a Zen-like simplicity. The camera lingers on bright purple, red, and green vegetables free-floating in a sink filled with the fresh spring water. As the water continually pours in from the pipe above the sink, the vegetables bump and float in an ever-changing kaleidoscope.
Later, a time lapsed sequence captures the cutting and bundling of a field of tall, dry grasses. The cone of stacked bundles all leaning into one another, although manmade, maintains its sense of simple nature.
Watch Now - Satoyama: Japan's Secret Watergarden
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