The Kiso Flows with the Times

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 construction.
 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.