Time seems to stand still as dusk approaches on the Kiso.
(Photos by Yoshimitsu Yagi)
Aichi's western border with Mie and Gifu Prefectures is marked by the Kiso,
one of the most famous rivers in Japan. Standing on its banks downstream at
dusk, the river is the picture of tranquility. The remaining embers of the
setting sun glitter on the gently flowing surface; and the motors of
fishing boats gradually die down as the cries of waterfowl come to the
fore. Time on the Kiso flows gently and slowly.
The Kiso is one of three rivers in the Kiso river basin, the others
being the Nagara and Ibi. The three meander along western Aichi, joining
and separating at various points. Although they are peaceful today, they
frequently turned deadly in former times as they were prone to flooding.
It is thanks to these floods, though, that the Nobi Plain
stretching across Aichi and Gifu Prefectures is so fertile. And the
agricultural richness Aichi farmers are endowed with today is one legacy of
the heroic battles their forebears waged against floods.
The most notable of such efforts was made in the mid-eighteenth
century, when the Tokugawa shogunate ordered a major public works project
to create distributaries. For this project, the Satsuma domain in faraway
Kyushu was ordered to provide nearly 1,000 workers and enormous
construction costs, and many workers lost their lives in accidents during
Records of floods are innumerable. After Tokugawa Ieyasu, the
founder of the Tokugawa shogunate, ordered the construction of a levee
along the eastern, Aichi banks of the Kiso, flood victims were mostly those
living on low-lying land to the west of the river. Because these lands had
different owners--the shogunal clan, temples and shrines, and feudal lords,
for instance--centralized irrigation initiative could not be taken.
Residents were compelled, therefore, to take flood control into their own
hands, and many dikes were built around clusters of farmhouses.
When floods struck, the thought of being engulfed in the raging
waters must surely have crossed the minds of those who remained huddled
behind the hand-made dikes. They no doubt believed that their entire
village would be washed away if the dike collapsed. The battered pines that
stand along the banks of the Kiso today speak of the furious floods and
violent typhoons that frequently struck this area.
During the Edo period (1603-1868), there are believed to have been
some 80 community-built dikes near the Kiso. The vestiges of only a few
remain today, after many were taken down following the construction of
canals to separate the rivers in the Meiji era (1868-1912). The Kiso is now
the region's source of agricultural, drinking, and industrial water and is
a valuable wellspring of Aichi's vitality.
Looking back toward Aichi from the banks of the Kiso, one sees
fields of lotus roots grown by farmers in the village of Tatsuta. The
large, green leaves of the plant are the products of the fertile soil
created by incessant flooding.
Moving further downstream, one finds parks and beaches along the
river, which attract crowds of local residents on weekends. Looking at the
surrounding fields one notices pink and yellow flowers, many of which are
of foreign origin. A new era seems to be dawning on the Kiso.