Skip to main content

"Himeji masu" in the Town

Recent travels to Japan (For a holiday-cum-martial arts competition!) revealed a wonderful example of how urban rivers can thrive and be valued by local residents. In Matsumoto, a medium-sized city in the Nagano prefecture, an engineered channel runs alongside the uptown streets and within it flows the stream known as the “Metoba gawa”. Whilst it is true that the river channel is, overall, constrained within these engineered limits to control flood risk– the authorities have retained the excellent natural substrate and allowed/encouraged natural processes of stream bed erosion, deposition and marginal vegetation development in the base of this channel. The bankside vegetation behind the marginal strip is kept to a low enough level to allow pedestrian access via regular strimming. Consequently, there is a reasonable balance between human access, mown low-level flowering plants and grassland vegetation (supporting many butterflies and other invertebrates) versus more “shaggy” vegetation that overhangs or emerges from the wetted margins and varied in-stream habitat arising from the good gradient and natural substrate. The water quality appeared to be excellent in this stream, whose source is in the mountains overlooking Matsumoto. The clear glides, riffles and pools were all visibly heaving with fish of many kinds.

A carp accompanied by hundreds of dace-like fish and minnows
Pods of Carp, shoals of small dace-like fish and even trout could easily be spotted from the bridges and bank-side paths. Even more striking to me, in my professional capacity, were the utter lack of fly-tipping and the broad cross section of society who used the riverside to relax at lunchtimes, walk their dogs and generally pass the time of day.
An approach that mirrors advice commonly given to my UK Trout in the Town projects is the use of cheap, easily replaced interpretative signage. Treating such signs as “consumables” for UK projects (to be replaced when defaced, damaged or lost) allows important messages to be continually and cheaply advertised; and highlights the utility of cheap materials. Although a similar approach is used in Japan, it would seem that the “life-expectancy” of their signs would be generally much longer.

The lady owner of the guesthouse that I stayed (Maruma Ryokan, Matsumoto) very kindly explained to me that, being in a mountainous region and far from the sea, the local people actually ate freshwater fish. This is seen as very strange in most areas of Japan – where seafood comes from the Ocean! The local name, she told me, for the delicious (!!!) little trout that I was served for breakfast was “Himeji masu” which she translated for me as “Princess trout”. Alongside the sticky rice, pickles, miso soup, green tea and fantastic fresh fruit, it made for a deeply wonderful breakfast!
Later on in that day, I was able to reflect on how catering for urban green spaces and the wildlife within it allowed the Matsumoto residents to be so connected to their river. Like all good Japanese reflection, this was undertaken in a hot bath – in this case outdoors in scalding water from hot volcanic springs and surrounded by bamboo forests, dragonflies and sunshine. It is a hard life sometimes.

Trust me this is a trout (in the middle of the frame)


Great blog, Paul.

Really interesting shaggy channels.

You sure that's a trout?

And that reminds me, I got to start a blog too...
Paul Gaskell said…
Cheers Simon (you cheeky git; a video would have been better proof of trouty goodness. I may not be the brightest, but it was spotty and had an adipose fin!!)
Val said…
so good to see the respect and intelligence the Japanese show to their watercourses.
The first insect I saw when I was over there was a mayfly!!
Good positive stuff. Thanks, Paul

Popular posts from this blog

The Wild Trout Trust: A Film by Chalkstream Fly

Here is a great short piece that captures what the work of the Wild Trout Trust is all about. It was made for (and broadcast on) the very first "World Fishing Day" - a 24hr live fishing programme created by . It features TV personalities (and WTT President & Vice President respectively!) Jon Beer and Matthew Wright as well as Director of the Trust, Shaun Leonard. You can see more work by the film-makers on  and, of course, you can join the Wild Trout Trust here: WTT Membership Paul Gaskell (Trout in the Town Conservation Officer)

Why Presume to Remove Weirs? (with River Dove Case Study)

Weirs and the Backwards Ways that Rivers Work One of my favourite sayings on river restoration is a mangled quote from a movie "... boxing is an unnatural act. Everything in boxing is backwards: sometimes the best way to deliver a punch is to step backwards...but step back too far and you ain't fighting at all ". So my mangled version starts out "Everything in rivers is backwards...". Basically, I never seem to run out of new examples of "what SEEMS to happen in a river is actually the complete opposite of what really happens". The rest of this article looks at many of the "backwards" things about weirs and rivers - and finishes off with a real-world case-study that is playing out right now on the River Dove . One spoiler alert is that, from an ecological point of view, it is almost always safe to assume that: The best biological outcome for a river is the removal of some or all of an artificial weir.  Now, I don't exp

Birmingham and Coventry's Urban Waterways

It's about time for a new blog post and I thought it would be good to flag up some of the investigations that I've been doing in conjunction with Waterside Care (which, in itself, is supported by Keep Britain Tidy ). As well as initial investigations on the River Cole around the Shire Country Park and Burberry Brickworks, more recent forays to the little Westley Brook, River Sowe, Stonehouse Brook and a little stream in the Holly Wood Local Nature Reserve (between Great Barr and Queslett) have seen me criss-crossing the M6 and M69 and the surrounding areas. What always surprises me is just how much of the Black Country/Coventry area is essentially "floating" on a vast network of underground watercourses which suddenly pop up into daylight in surprising places. Of course this puts a lot of pressure onto the biology of these streams - not only from the physical "encasing" of their channels in brick and concrete (both above and below ground). It is t