Tsukigase Bairin (Plum-grove Park) (月ヶ瀬梅林)

Tsukigase Bairin refers to the plum grove located at Mt. Tsukigaseoyama and its surrounding areas (former Tsukigase Village, Soekami County) in Nara City, Nara Prefecture. It is also called Tsukigase Baikei (plum valley), as a wide expanse of plum trees stretches along the valleys of Satsuki River. It is a famous plum grove which dates back many years, and also one of the first to be designated a place of scenic beauty by the Japanese government. As of 2007, approximately 13,000 plum trees are grown there.

Geographic Features

Tsukigase Bairin is situated to the north of the Yamato highlands which lie between the Nara Basin and the Iga Basin, close to the borders of three prefectures of Kyoto, Mie and Nara. It is about 30 kilometers east of the center of Nara City and about 12 kilometers southwest of the center of Iga City, Mie Prefecture. The valleys of Nabari-gawa River of Kizu-gawa River system (Kyoto Prefecture) stretches around the prefectural borders on the north of the Yamato highlands. The lower reach of Nabari-gawa River, where Tsukigase Bairin is situated, is called Satsuki River, and a deep V-shaped valley is formed there.

Tsukigase Bairin stands on the hillsides of this V-shaped valley. Although the magnificent mountain streams, after which 'Tsukigase Baikei' was named, were submerged under water when Takayama Dam was built in 1969, in recent years the manmade Lake Tsukigase's waters and the plum groves have harmonized to create a new scenic view.

Tsukigase Bairin is located on highlands, 200 to 300 meters above sea level. Because it is situated on highlands, the plum trees in Tsukigase Bairin tend to reach full bloom around mid- to late March, half a month later than those in the center of Nara City.

Usage of the Plum Groves

Please refer to the corresponding section for the history of Tsukigase Bairin.

Until early Meiji period, Tsukigase Village had been the major producer of Ubai (a smoked young plum required to produce Safflower dyes), which contributed to the growing size of Tsukigase Bairin to gather more plums for Ubai. It is believed that approximately 100,000 plum trees were grown at its peak in the Edo period.

In the 20th century, as development of synthesized dyes reduced the production of Ubai to next to nil, Tsukigase Bairin shifted its focus to tourism and the production of plums for consumption.

Area of Tsukigase Bairin and Type of Cultivated Plum Trees

As of 1950 when the Bairin was re-designated as a place of scenic beauty, the surface area of Tsukigase Bairin was registered as about 104 square kilometers with 3,108 plum trees in the entire former Tsukigase Village. As of 2007, there was a report that no change to this registered size had been made. According to the summary of Tsukigase Baikei Hoshokai (association managing Tsukigase Baikei) from 1988, the number of plum trees under the hoshokai's protection is approximately 10,000, indicating that a huge number of unregistered plum trees are grown in the area. Nara City, which has absorbed Tsukigase Village, was to conduct a thorough study on the Tsukigase Bairin in terms of its size and current waning situation, and to compile a 'Conservation and Management Plan' by 2007.

According to the 'Designated Statistics No. 26 "Census of Agriculture and Forestry,"' as of 2000 the former Tsukigase Village had approximately 5.6 hectares (56 sq.km) of agricultural plum fields managed by 21 farms. However, the records of the Census of Agriculture and Forestry do not indicate whether or not the plum-tree protection by Tsukigase Baikei Hoshokai extends to these agricultural plum fields.

As for the types of plum trees cultivated in Tsukigase Bairin, 'The Academic Research on Scenic Beauty Tsukigase' released its observation in 1957 that 'most plum trees in Tsukigase Bairin are prolific late bloomers, which means one cannot appreciate the charm of "plum blossoms heralding the arrival of spring" (paraphrase).'

Until around the Meiji period when Ubai production came close to an end, unaltered wild plums had been cultivated. As wild plums contain a lot of citric acid, they were appropriate for Ubai production. However, they were too sour to eat and not welcomed in the market, which hampered the shift of production from Ubai to edible plums. As a result, many plum trees were cut down and the land was transformed into mulberry or tea plantation fields.

Government and Local Community Protection

Tsukigase Bairin,' a Place of Scenic Beauty

March 8, 1922 - designated as a place of scenic beauty based on the Historical Spot, Scenic Beauty and Natural Monument Preservation Law. Ministry of Interior Notification No. 49. It is one of the first places of scenic beauty designated by the Japanese government.

1950 - renewed the designation after the enforcement of the Law for the Protection of Cultural Properties.

Nara Prefectural Tsukigase-Konoyama Natural Park

July 1, 1975 - designated as Nara Prefectural Tsukigase-Konoyama Natural Park. Nara Prefectural Notification No. 178.

The Ancient Plum Tree in Momogano, Tsukigase

19xx - designated as a cultural property by Tsukigase Village.

March 6, 2006 - designated as a cultural property by Nara City.

Kanji Description

Tsukigase where Tsukigase Bairin is located is described in several different kanji combinations, '月ヶ瀬' (Tsukigase), '月ノ瀬' (Tsukinose) and '月瀬' (Tsukise). As of 2007, there still exists a place called '奈良市月ヶ瀬月瀬' (Tsukigase Tsukise, Nara City). In order to unify these multiple names and descriptions, the village name was changed from 'Tsukise Village' to 'Tsukigase Village' in 1968.

Therefore, the kanji descriptions of 'Tsukigase Bairin' before and after the change of the village name are different. After the village name change, 'Tsukigase Bairin' became the common term, and the names are unified as 'Tsukigase Bairin' and 'Tsukigase Baikei' in "Tsukigase Sonshi" (Tsukigase Village History). However, the description used for the registered name as the place of scenic beauty is still 'Tsukise Bairin,' the name used at the time of original registration, and no correction has been made to it as of 2007.

In this article, 'Tsukigase Bairin' is used to describe the plum groves in accordance with the 'Tsukigase Village History,' unless otherwise required.

Sightseeing

Tsukigase Bairin refers collectively to the plum groves stretching from Mt. Tsukigaseoyama to its surrounding areas, and actually, the area has several independent plum groves. In this section, sightseeing spots from the 'Walking Map of Tsukigase' which are closely related to the plum groves are introduced.

Monument of Princess Sonohime: a stone monument to commemorate Prince Sonohime who is believed to be the first person to bring Ubai to the Tsukigase area.

Stone Pillar of 'Scenic Beauty Tsukigase Bairin': a stone pillar erected when the Bairin was designated as National Site of Scenic Beauty by the Japanese government.

Shinpuku-ji Temple/Hitome Hakkei (eight different views at a glance): beautiful scenery consisting of the Satsuki River and plum groves.

Houra Bairin: a plum grove located between Hitome Hakkei and Tenjin Bairin.

Tenjin-jinja Shrine/Tenjin Bairin - Tenjin-jinja Shrine is situated on the grounds of Shinpuku-ji Temple. According to records, this place is believed to be the first place in Tsukigase to have plum trees planted.

Tsukigase Bridge: built in 1893 across Satsuki River and located in the center of former Tsukigase Village. The original Tsukigase Bridge was made of wood. The current bridge is the 4th one, built before the completion of Takayama Dam.

Uguisudani Bairin: located on the north side of the Tsukigase Bridge.

Kokeishi Bairin/Hitome Manbon (ten thousand trees at a glance)/Basho's Poem Monument: the monument is inscribed with Basho's poem that reads 'I feel spring has finally come to see beautiful moon and plum flowers,' but there is no record of Basho MATSUO visiting Tsukigase and it is also not clear whether or not the poem was truly created by Basho.

Ryuo Bairin/Ryuo no taki (Dragon King Waterfall): Ryuo no taki is believed to have been the training place for EN no Gyoja (a semi-legendary holy man noted for his practice of mountain asceticism during the latter half of the 7th century).

Tosen no Ume (Plum Tree of Tosen): the oldest plum tree in Tsukigase Bairin and designated as a cultural property by the former Tsukigase Village. The tree is estimated to be 600 years old by Professor Takayuki SUGANUMA of Nara Women's University.

Unkeizan Bairin: situated in Momogano, Tsukigase.

History

Origin

A story has been handed down verbally for generations that the origin of Tsukigase Bairin dates back to 1205 when plum trees were first planted to pay respect to Michizane SUGAWARA when his Ten-jinja Shrine was erected on the grounds of Shinpuku-ji Temple. Although the authenticity of this record has not been verified, it is believed that the origin of the Tsukigase Bairin goes back at least 600 years, as 'Tosen no Ume' is estimated to have lived 600 years.

Introduction of Ubai

One of the court ladies who had fled from Mt. Kasagi with Emperor Godaigo in the face of a crushing defeat in the Onin War of 1331 came to Tsukigase to stay. It has been told that the lady looked at ripe plums and decided to introduce the production method of Ubai, an ingredient for safflower dyes which was popularly used in Kyoto to the people of Tsukigase. It is said that around the 15th century, about 100 years later, the entire area around Satsuki River was completely covered with plum trees to produce Ubai.

As the villages in Tsukigase which were situated in deep valleys did not have enough land to grow crops, villagers could not afford to provide the government with the tribute rice which was strictly collected. Therefore, they produced a cash crop, Ubai, in order to pay the equivalent in cash from the sale of Ubai. They protected their livlihoods by cultivating plum trees for Ubai on barren hillsides which were not suitable to grow crops, while producing food for themselves on the limited fertile lands.

Golden Age

It was not until in the Edo period that Tsukigase Bairin was introduced in literature. Tsukigase Bairin was first mentioned in "Okina gusa," which was written by Kicho KANZAWA in 1772. It was followed by the publication of "Toyushi" in 1803 written by Nakanobu TAMIYA, a Confucian scholar from Osaka, in which the plum groves were introduced with illustrations.

In those days, Ubai was highly profitable and depending on the year was valued several times higher than rice or wheat. This brought competition among Tsukigase villagers in planting plum trees to produce Ubai. In the IOUs of the Tsukigase region created during the Kyowa, Bunka and Bunsei eras (1801-1830) plum-tree fields frequently appear on a pawn lists, indicating that plum trees were planted on entire crop fields as well. At its peak around 1810 to 1830 (Bunka and Bunsei eras), it is believed that nearly 100,000 plum trees were grown in Tsukigase Bairin.

In 1819, Rengyoku Kan, a scholar from Yamada (Ise City), described the scenery of Tsukigase in his writing, "Yu Tsukigase Ki", as below.

Plum flowers bloom, filling the mountains and valleys, competing with the morning sun falling down. (snip) There is a large mossy stone, humidity closes in on the old plum trees.
天然の巧置人をして廔々眷みて去る能はざらむ、既に村に入れば岸壁籬落の際芳雪和霧之を尾山に較ぶれば尤も絶勝たり。

The magnificent scenery of the deep valleys surrounding Satsuki River and ten thousand plum trees gradually became known far and wide.

It was "Tsukigase Kisho or Getsurai Kisho" written in 1830 by Setsudo SAITO, a Confucian scholar of Tsu Clan, which had the largest effect in garnering Tsukigase Bairin its unwavering reputation as a site of scenic beauty. The book was published 20 years after Setsudo and his accompanying men first visited Tsukigase. The book consists of two volumes, 'Ken' and 'Kon,' which are written in the form of Chinese classics and Chinese poetry dotted with illustrations. In the book, Setsudo and his followers highly praised Tsukigase. "Tsukigase Kisho" was a very popular guidebook which was readily available at souvenir shops until as recently as Meiji and Taisho periods. Also, a section from "Tsukigase Kisho" was used in a teachers' college textbook titled "Revised Chinese Classics for Teachers. Vol. 2" (Meiji-Shoin Publications), published in 1932.

Decline and Protection

In the Meiji period when synthesized dyes were introduced, time-consuming safflower dyes made from Ubai were phased out, causing the price of Ubai to nosedive. Plum trees were left unattended and those planted on crop fields were cut down to be replaced by other crops. The plum groves which boasted 100,000 plum trees at its peak slowly deteoriated. However, the number of tourists who came seeking the beautiful scenery increased. Tsukigase Bairin slowly changed into a tourist destination.

Meanwhile, people began to take action to protect the rotting Tsukigase Bairin. Zensuke TANAKA, an entrepreneur of Iga Ueno and the former mayor of Ueno City, established 'Tsukigase Hoshokai' (Tsukigase Conservation Association) to protect the plum groves in the neighboring village. However, possibly due to the lack of awareness among villagers, plum trees continued to be cut down, stalling the conservation efforts of Tsukigase Hoshokai.

However, the establishment of Tsukigase Village in 1889 in accordance with the enforcement of The Municipal Government Act turned the tide; the governor of Nara Prefecture, Atsushi SAISHO, and the mayor of Tsukigase Village, Genkichi OKUDA, lamented the waning state of the plum groves and implemented tax reductions and exemptions as well as plum grove protection measures.
Their dedicated efforts paid off, and Tsukigase villagers voluntarily became involved in the management of 'Tsukigase Hoshokai.'
Although financial difficulties kept the association from taking active measures, it was incorporated as 'Tsukigase Hoshokai Foundation' in 1919 in an effort to reinforce its activities. To coincide with the establishment of 'Tsukigase Hoshokai Foundation,' the municipal government of Tsukigase Village itself began to be involved in the protection of the plum groves, which led to the continued plea to the government to designate Tsukigase Bairin as a National Site of Scenic Beauty.

These efforts paid off in 1922 when the pre-war Ministry of Home Affairs designated 'Tsukigase Bairin' as its first National Site of Scenic Beauty along with Nara Park and Kenroku-en Garden.

It seemed the protection efforts of the plum groves had gotten on the right track, but with wartime control being introduced from around 1937, plum trees were almost forcibly cut down and fields were transformed into farmland to increase food production. Fewer than half of the 200,000 plum trees that existed before the war remained afterwards.

Construction of Takayama Dam and New Tsukigase Bairin

In 1953, the Ministry of Construction of the time announced the Comprehensive Development Plan of the Upstream Area of Kizu-gawa River. The aim of the project was to construct a dam in the branch of Kizu-gawa River (Kyoto Prefecture) to adjust water volume to protect the Osaka Plains from flooding. This project included the construction of Takayama Dam on Nabari-gawa River, which meant that if it was completed, Tsukigase Baikei would be swallowed up by the Dam. Tsukigase Village carried out official protests and Nara City and mass media also voiced opposition, but the construction could not be stopped for the cause of securing safety in the downstream area. After about 10 years of negotiation, the construction work of Takayama Dam started with the conditions that the plum groves would be restored and a new Tsukigase area would be created.

Completion of Takayama Dam meant about 3,800 plum trees would be swallowed up by the water. In order to save the submerging plum groves, some transplantable old trees were moved to the area around Mt. Tsukigaseoyama Tenjin-no Mori Forest and the three mountains surrounding Mt. Tsukigasedake. Also, new plum groves were planted in various places around Tsukigase Village. Emerging from the dormant state it had fallen into during the war and postwar turmoil, Tsukigase Hoshokai resumed its operation to support the new Tsukigase Bairin.

During the construction of Takayama Dam, many tourists visited the site to take one last look at the landscape of Tsukigase before being swallowed up by water. At its peak, 20,000 to 30,000 tourists visited each day. It was the time when people had started owning their own cars, and the village had to use the playground of a local junior high school to compensate for the lack of parking.

Takayama Dam was completed in 1969, and the Satsuki River Valley was replaced by Lake Tsukigase. Even though the valley has gone under water, Tsukigase Baikei Hoshokai and tourist associations continue their efforts to manage and protect Tsukigase Bairin and foster transplanted or young plum trees. Tsukigase Bairin was designated a part of Nara Prefectural Tsukigase Konosan Natural Park in 1975. The opening of the Meihan Expressway and improved prefectural roads and wide farm roads have contributed to better traffic conditions, Tsukigase has grown to be a tourist destination which expected more than 100,000 tourists in 1988. Today, Lake Tsukigase and grown plum trees compliment each other perfectly, and tourists enjoy the amazing beauty of the newborn Tsukigase Bairin.