On May 5th 2022, I was happy to participate for the first time in a local event since my arrival in Kumano Shindo. After almost a week of quarantine, another week of heavy rain and trying to find my bearings, I was more than ready to get my hands dirty with some environmental education!
The Forest Play day was organized by Rinseikai, a non-profit that brings together multiple local timber stakeholders to manage a committee supporting education events for children in Kumano where they are encouraged to explore ways to coexist with rich forest resources and their symbiotically intertwined wildlife. Kumano Shindo was invited to prepare an activity for the event directed at families, and we stepped up to the challenge.
We arrived early in the morning at Akakura, a quaint small (and unfortunately nearly abandoned) village in the mountains, after a half-hour drive through one of Kumano’s beautiful winding mountain roads. This small village hosts an aquaculture farm managed by (name of owner), as well as a guest house, a native tree reforestation project and facilities ready to host the full-day event.
The day of activities for the kids started out with a nature icebreaker game devised by Yuko Inoue, our local partner at irokuma kids, a visit to the fish farm and looking for wild mountain foods, which are very popular in the region of Kumano. There were a wide variety, including udo (spikenard), myoga bamboo, saxifrage, and tea leaves.
Before the kids went to play, they made pizza dough in plastic PET bottles. While the kids were playing, the adults were busy inside making preparations for cooking tempura and making a lot of pizza dough. After all the activities outside, the smaller ones were pretty hungry and ready to make some pizza, which was then cooked in the Akakura wood oven, and enjoyed together with everyone in the backdrop of the beautiful Kii mountains.
Some tasty pizza baked in the wood oven
Wild mountain vegetable tempura
Once everyone had their fill, it was time for some more serious forest and wood play sessions. The afternoon started out with learning how to make a fire safely using the HIASOBI, an innovative sustainability education product designed by local Rinseikai member NOZIMOKU: a cute character made out of waste wood that can be fed to make a fire.
There are several different types of HIASOBI
HIASOBI in action!
Once the HIASOBI wood turns balck, it can be doused to make biochar, but that can take a while, so we’ll get back to this later, just as we did at the event. As the HIASOBI burned, it was time for the Kumano Shindo session, which I was in charge of hosting.
We started with a treasure hunt with clues about the life cycle of plants to find the missing seed (Tane-chan). All the kids were excited and I must say they were very good at deciphering the hints and finding the treasure! Once the seed was found, the challenge was to play the roles of different forest species and abiotic factors, such as rain and sun, to give the seed all it needed to grow into a healthy tree. We talked about the forest as an integrated whole: the roles of symbiotic relationships (for example, the very important role of mycorrhiza in transporting nutrients and water between trees), mother trees and how good forest managers can actually contribute to richer, more vibrant forest ecosystems.
For the second session, Jarek and Ayumi, two artists who work in various mediums including film, visual arts and music, who moved to Kumano region in the last year, shared about innovative ways that projects and companies around the world are using technology to manage forests and teach about forestry activities, such as VR for training of chainsaw operators in South Africa.
Finally, it was time for the last activity of the day: making biochar and tree planting. By this time, the HIASOBI had already burned to a degree where it could be doused and turned into biochar. When biochar is applied back to the soil, we can accomplish carbon sequestration and improve soil health by helping hold water, purify it and soak up nutrients like a sponge. And this is exactly what we did next, we put each newly transformed Biochar HIASOBI back into the soil, together with a small tree.
The tree planting marked the end of a very enjoyable day spent outside with the local community, in the company of the beautiful mountains and forests of Kumano. Everyone had a great time, I for sure was left with great memories to take back home, some new friends, and a feeling of gratitude for being invited to participate in this day of Forest Play! - Carolina Carvalho is Kumano Shindo's regenerative programming manager and resident ecologist. She is currently living in Kumano, finalizing our landscape design, building 3D models for our metaverse project, and teaching environmental education.