Ura-Rokkō is a delightful community!
Recently, Lucas has really gotten into the Rokkō area in Hyogō Prefecture. It all started at the end of last year, when he experienced a work vacation at “ROKKONOMAD“, a “share office in the forest where you can stay” in the middle of Mt.Rokkō. “ROKKONOMAD” is a unique exchange center in Hyogō that attracts creators and activists from outside the prefecture, and it was there that Lucas caught wind of a new movement.
Capitalizing on its location, with urban areas on the south side of Mt. Rokkō and farming villages on the north side, Kobe has recently seen the emergence of creative exchanges between farming villages and cities, between producers and consumers. This is a bicycle trip to meet the producers spearheading this movement. Our guide is Isao Tomita, who runs ‘Spark,’ a bicycle and scone store in the heart of Kobe with his wife. He’s a mountain biker who loves trail riding.
“I want you to experience the true depth of Mt. Rokkō firsthand,” says Tomita-san as he leads us to a trail in the Rokkō mountain range. With its easy access from the city, varied terrain, and well-maintained trails, the Rokkō mountain range is a treasure trove for trail riding! After playing on single track for a while, we head off to smoother surfaces.
The first day’s itinerary takes us to the northern part of Mt. Rokkō, the “Ura-Rokkō” or farming area. Suddenly appearing in a residential area of Kita Ward, “Yuge Farm” is a pioneering private dairy farm that started 37 years ago with the concept of “sustainable dairy farming in the city.” While raising dairy cows and producing dairy products, they are also working on resource recycling by generating biogas from manure and using it as an energy source, as well as cultivating herbs and fruit trees with the liquid fertilizer by-product.
After wolfing down their famous pizza, we head further north. Mr. Masao Yamazaki of SHARE WOODS, whom we encounter on the way, is a lumber coordinator who makes use of the wood harvested from Mt. Rokkō, for products and building materials. In an area where there was no forestry apparatus (logging, processing, and distribution system) they have created such a system and are selling the products with the added value of “local timber”. Beyond the cycle of circulation that contributes to the mountain and the local economy, Mr. Yamazaki envisions a healthy Mt. Rokkō 30 to 50 years down the line. Tomita, who is planning to build mountain bike trails in the surrounding mountains, shares Yamazaki’s viewpoint. Will collaboration between the two come in the form of the effective use of wood cut down during maintenance!? The potential of such a future is exciting.
We cycle leisurely through the bucolic countryside amid swaying green ears of rice. In the evening, we arrive at our lodgings for the day, Kehare, a hands-on homestay in Ougo-chō, Kita Ward. Kohei and Yukie Miyake, the owners of the farm and organizers of workshops, are ambitious, environmentally symbiotic farmers who do everything from planting seeds to making fertilizer by themselves. Here, Yukie-san serves us delicious home-cooked meals using their carefully reared seasonal produce. The vegetarian dishes, which Lucas praises as “the best vegetable dishes in Japan,” is one of the highlights of the trip.
Cycling between thatched roofs and terraced rice paddies
The next morning, we visit the vegetable plots of Seiko Morimoto, a friend and fellow farmer the Miyakes. Morimoto teaches at the ”Micro Farmers School”, which opened last fall and is a place where prospective new farmers can learn practical skills while continuing their Half Farmer, Half X lifestyle. Perhaps attributable to role models like the Miyakes and Morimoto-san, but it seems that there are many producers in Ura-rokkō who combine creative work with small-scale, diversified farming.
On the second day, we further explore Ogo-chō, with its beautiful terraced rice fields. On the way, we stop at the very popular bagel store “Hanatone” in an old thatched house to satisfy our hunger. While Ogo-chō is famous for its rice – especially the sake rice “Yamada Nishiki,” – it used to be a post town built on the orders of Toyotomi Hideyoshi. The erstwhile Honjin (inn designated for use by a daimyo) now functions as a hub where locals get together. Kosuke Tsurumaki, director of the “Association for the Preservation of the Ruins of the Main Camp at Ogo-shuku,” was involved in its renovation. Interested in regional revitalization, Tsurumaki moved here after working in Tokyo, Nishinomiya, and Sendai, and has been active in various aspects of community development in Ogo-chō, from running the Micro Farmer’s School to replacing the thatch on the old folk houses that remain in the area.
In the afternoon, we depart Ougo-chō and head for “Omote Rokkō”. The ascent of Mt. Rokko is strenuous, but an hour and a half of climbing earns us a comfortable downhill glide. Our destination in this urban area is “FARMSTAND” which stocks food products from Kobe. They also run a farmer’s market, “EAT LOCAL KOBE,” where you can find the ingredients of the Miyakes and Morimoto-san. The owner describes it as an experimental space that allows chefs and consumers to become familiar with local ingredients by purchasing vegetables from farmers procured on a stable basis.
We arrive at our final destination “SPARK Scone & Bicycle“, run by Mr. Tomita. We celebrate our goal with some excellent scones baked by his wife Yasuko-san. As Tomita says, “By visiting the community behind my hometown by bicycle instead of car, I was able to discover the depth and intrigue of Ura-Rokkō firsthand.” This tour through “food” and “urban development” starting at “ROKKONOMAD” allows both locals and travelers to rediscover the charms of Kobe, where both nature and urban culture can be enjoyed in equal measure.