1 – 4 : Chapter 1 ALMOST PARADISE : Good bye, WADATSUMI / He and a little witch of Tokyo Bay

 ‘Bayak’ is a new word that mixed ‘bicycle’ with ‘kayak’, and is a generic name of a light watercraft that has an appearance like a bicycle that has a floating body instead of wheels. The floating body which generally has about 2-meter length mostly has a shape like a slender cigar and is called ‘trunk’ or ‘air trunk’. The pedals are connected to the screw of the stern of the body, and a driver can control the rudder with its handlebar, so people can do driving on the surface of the water by pedaling as same as riding a bicycle on land. So, except that some points that driving areas or some of the mechanisms are different from land bicycle’s, it could be said that ‘bayak’ is a very suitable machine for being called “on water bicycle”.

 This watercraft is designed easily to be used in our daily lives as same as land bicycles, and on the construct, many new inventions are utilized for comfortably driving on the water. For example, painting for blocking water friction and rusts, a screw for diminishing the resistance of water as possible, the perfect balance between gears and chains for pedaling more lightly, comfortable steering by T-type handle, and others. And of course, though these mechanisms or materials are different from things of land bicycle, almost all are designed for that people can ride them in almost same way riding a bicycle on land.

 In addition to that technical innovations have brought very easy maintenance. A day in a week, it needs to be washed by freshwater, but in other words, it means it is enough by only that. And because it has mini wheels under the trunk, it is possible also to move them by pulling on land if in a short distance and allowed to park on a place for land bicycles. And of course, a driving license is not needed.

 The inventor of bayak was an owner of a tiny bicycle shop in Tsukuda island, who loves kayaks. He seriously wanted that the river would come close to our daily lives. This spirit is alive even nowadays when the bayaks had become commonplace as an easy traffic style on the water and is being made around the world.

 On this river, in the first period when people started to use this craft, bayak riders tended to be called ‘trouble makers’ by water bus drivers or traditional restaurant-boat crews. But now, almost all sailing problems were solved by the local government which reconsidered many ways of using this river. Even basic traffic lines on the water surface were redrawn. Because almost all shoreline along with the river of this city is made as concrete vertical dikes, in old days people who want to use a bayak frequently in the daily lives had to solve also the problems of the tidal gap between land and the water surface. The sea is very near, so this area is affected by the tide at any time. But this problem also is the same as the above, already got solved by the local governments which focused on the increasing bayak users and on the future role of the craft as ‘eco’. They have decided to make many public slopes (a place where skippers take down their boats into the surface of the water). So, these tilted cut points carved on the dikes for use by bayaker are increasing rapidly in recent days. Is there any reason that this comfortable riding environment would not be welcomed by the people who want to make the river connect with their daily lives? Nothing. So now, except stormy days, we can see bayak riders on the river at almost all times in the daytime. And moreover, ‘bayak’ had given even a new local culture to the river.

 In her eyes, he may have looked to be boring and spending the time wastefully. For that,

 “Don’t be playing alone, sheriff! …hey, hold this, you too!”

 At the time when received the tip of the rope from her, Ho’ori unintentionally leaked out a bitter smile.

  “Do you know the reason why I’m here?”

  Of course, that was for observing her and her pirates, but,

  “Don’t be stubborn, sheriff!”

  “And, do you remember what I always want to you? I’m not ‘sheriff’, I’m…,”

 I’m a government riverkeeper to monitor amateur fishermen like you…, he tried to explain about his true mission, but she didn’t hear that to the end. Before he finished to say ‘not sheriff’, she had shown the back and had dived into the river making a splashing.

 Ho’ori shrugged and looked down at his own hand holding the rope. Then, he looked around, saw the children around him. Strongly gripping the same rope together with him, sparkling the eyes, filling up the youthful faces with the great expectation, they were in here. When seeing them, though it was faint, he felt as if the world had gotten light a bit. It was probably getting affected by the lively strong aura of the children of the river.

 (This is not so bad, too…,) 

 He wiped away the sweat on his forehead and let his cap and sunglasses straight again. Today it was so hot, so he had to warn the children sometimes.

  “Hey, don’t forget to drink water at moderate intervals! Let’s prevent heatstroke!”


  “I’m OK!”

  “I took it already!”

  “Now? You say so…, now?”

 Now, any words couldn’t reach their minds. The kids were concentrating on their front sight only.  

 “Ok, ok…, but let’s take hydration again, just after this. Promise me.”

  “O, K!”  “Promise you!”

 He smiled as getting tired a little, but on the other hand, also felt like he had seen something good. Something good, something very very fresh.

 It’s June still yet, but the atmosphere of the river shore seemed to be an early afternoon of summer vacation. Mixed chorus by brown cicadas, robust cicadas, and bear cicadas was so noisy as if it was sounding for all over the world, the shouting, which was from between the thick trees lining streets on both embankments, was covering the whole of the river. White sunlight reflection was roasting people’s eyes and the direct rays heated the ground, so the pavement bricks covering esplanades were very hot as if it was the surface of a stone pan on a stove.

 It seemed that some girls had thought they could have cooled the atmosphere by widely scattering river-water onto the ground (this way is traditionally called ‘Uchi-mizu’), but unfortunately and as very natural results, the water had all vaporized immediately. And contrary to the tiny goodwill, the air around of them had gotten sultry more and more.

 Under the burning sky, in the dreadfully humid air, the children were seeming even to be panting. Of course, rather than being here, there was no doubt that it was so easier and so healthier and more peaceful to lick an ice candy in a cool room of their houses. But, at this moment, such an idea must never occur to them. At the deep inside of their sweated foreheads, all of the children, who were holding the same rope together with Ho’ori, must be vividly imagining the lively view of underwater. A big bag shape fishing net beautifully opened under the water surface, the huge herd of fish winding and swelling in the middle of the mainstream, senior children who were driving the fish into the net by powerfully swimming like sea lions…

 Such spectacle should be being recreated clearly into the inside of each tiny head now.

 In the Edo era, this place was a mere sandbar, but now, the whole surface is perfectly covered with thick concrete, and the sharp edge of the land shape which is against the river is splitting the mainstream as two. Facing the river mouth, the right-side flow is called the mainstream of this river. The water goes through under three bridges and merges itself into Tokyo bay. The left is split into some tiny canals after flowing through under Aioi-bridge, then these gradually mix themselves with the sea, in the end, itself becomes the sea as well as the right.

 At this river branch point, the northern end of Tsukuda island, the water stream is usually strong, comparing with other fishing points around here because of the land shape, so the water of this area is containing enough oxygen at all times. And observing an aeronautical chart, it is noticed that the mainstream from upstream bumps into this branch point straightly and directly. Because of that, the split water streams are physically compressed and get more power by tidal moving. As a result, the new water containing fresh air is always coming and going continually and powerfully, in this area of this river.

 Generally, fish tends to come together into environments containing rich oxygen. So naturally, this place becomes the best point for fishing in this area. And, in addition to the water quality itself by the landform here, in the first place, an estuary is also the place which the two water meet with each other. The one is the freshwater from mountains, being rich in natural nourishments such as organic matters. The other one is the saltwater from the sea. As well known, this is rich in minerals. It means the river mouth water is containing a lot of elements that are essential for life activity. So naturally, a large number of planktons gather in such places for efficiently taking in such necessary nutrition.

 Thus, tiny fish like anchovies or baby mullets, and other little lives living underwater, for example, shrimps, crabs, all too gather this area for eating these smaller creatures. And ultimately, various big fish come together to gulp those tiny living things.

 Essentially, every river mouth area is rich in great biodiversity and a wonderful ecosystem, unless it is polluted excessively.

 Tsukuda island also is exactly such a place. Has many reasons to be a good fishing ground, and is truly a marvelous fishing ground. Even corner to corner of the river is filled up with life. Tiny fish are dancing, crustaceans are marching while making noisy sounds with their armor, shellfish are hiding in sands and eating organic matters one after another by filtering. The fish-eater fish are hunting prey by using all of their strength and intelligence as possible as they could.

 And the children targeting these fish.

 The Kids who had the eyes of cormorant.

 The children of this ‘the river’ cleverly and freely steered bayaks while showing off the cheerful smiles and almost every day lively ran around on the surface of the water, from right to left, upstream to downstream. Moreover, they unite themselves together in each local area and even could plan and perform group-fishing in their territory on a bigger scale and more boldly than what degree adults imagine.

 Being called ‘river’, but this area is close to the river mouth, so the water here tends to be salty. Especially during a time of high tide, it can be said even that it mostly becomes saltwater perfectly. Here is the place where the narrow river is filled up with the ocean.

 Because of that, the targets of the children consisted of saltwater fish like anchovy, sardine, tiny herring, Suzuki (Japanese snook), black sea bream, flatfish, anago (conger), and some kinds of shrimps. Almost all of them are classified as the life of the saltwater in an illustrated guidebook of aquatic lives. And more others, for example, seaweeds like ‘Nori’, or many kinds of shellfish, the river gave rich gifts for children through all seasons.

 So, the children of this river naturally mastered many fishing ways to receive the blessings. To say nothing of ordinary skills with a hand net or a fishing rod, from the most primitive fishing called as ‘ippon fukase’ to hand spearfishing on skin-diving to various trap fishing, to casting net fishing, though they had proficiency gaps, the children ordinarily mastered almost all of these before they become a middle grade of elementary schools. Because, in this region, that was the thing like the minimum necessary license to join big games.

 In particular, pulling net fishing to be begun from now was one of the difficult ways of fishing because of being complicated and large scale than ordinary. Leader’s high ability in reading the fish flocks movement in complex currents, cooperation between chasers driving fish into the net by swimming under the water and bayak riders spreading the big bag shape net into the water from on the surface of the river, the harmony of the lower grade kids pulling the rope of the net from on land, many elements made this way difficult. In addition to that, they did not use a fish finder so the fruit of the fishing depended on only their eyes and senses. Moreover, their fishing was not professional working, was mere child’s play if from adult’s eyes, and was just a special case unchallenged within the local rules. So, considering that their fishing points were on the public areas used like roads on land, they must pay attention not to make any trouble against other passersby.

 But for kids, difficulties like these were just one of stimulates of imagination or the seeds of ‘sense of wonder’. This event was very popular among here children. The fishing itself was of course, and the excitement in large solidarity for the great harvest also was powerfully luring them always.

 Ho’ori looked at the glaring water surface narrowing eyes. The lively cheers of the kids were echoing in the sky. Lower-grade kids were shining their eyes waiting for that moment. Senior grade children were controlling bayaks very well and sliding on the vast water surface like whirligig beetles. Skillfully spread the net into under the water being careful on one occasion but being bold on the other, they never got to surrender to the strong sun reflection. The power of their shining faces was looking like to fill up even faces of people seeing them with vitality. They were endlessly giving off popping and refreshing aura, and showing off young vigor.

 The zone of this river from Azuma bridge to the mouth is called ‘O-o-Kawa’. This word means ‘the big river’, and to the residents of central Tokyo, “the river” tends to refer to this area. From the smallest canals to the main four rivers, in short Edo-gawa, Ara-kawa, Tama-gawa, and of course our Sumida-gawa (O-kawa). It was not a so old story that these rivers, which were called the ‘Tokyo water basin’, had been recognized as ‘the Japanese best beautiful aquatic environment’ by the Ministry of the Environment of Japan and the International Aquatic Science Society.

 Now the system was winning the praise by people as the area keeping the best water quality with the most modern technology, and even there were the voices recommending it for the new world heritage, but all of above was only the thing which had recently started.

 Before the environment had been completely purified like now, even in the period after the ‘Aqua city project’ which had been mainly led by the Tokyo local government had been started, it was only that the water which we can never call ‘good water’ even in flattery was just passing through in the canals, in the rivers.

 Of course, the circumstance had been the same in ‘the river’ too.

 From before the name of the city changed from ‘Edo’ to ‘Tokyo’ and till the end of WW2, or during a short period after that, each of the rivers of Tokyo was continuing to be one of the best fishing places in the Kanto area. But, before people realized it, the water of the rivers had been started being gradually polluted by the bodily wastes of the metropolis. And especially in the high growth period of Japan 1955 – 1973, it was desecrated like the hell, where a few kinds of very strong fish and shellfish only can live.

 Needless to say, in this period, other rivers of Tokyo and bay areas also were in the same situation. But in ‘the river’, because itself is closer to our life than other rivers, the polluted water had been more attracting people eyes in worse. For example, in some canals connected with ‘the river’, the dead-rotten water had laid stagnant ominously and had been giving off dizzy bad smell…, a local history book tells so.

 By legislations about the environment, the water of the rivers had started to show the signs of restoration at the end of the 20-century. And then at the beginning of the 21-century, the water quality seemed to be becoming much better and some aqua living things also come back. But, even still, no one imagined that this river would get admired as the best water environment in Japan or maybe as one of the tops in the whole world. No, people could not imagine it.

 Sure, on the usual daily scene it had seemed to become better than before. Some people enjoying fishing to target Suzuki (Japanese snook) or other fish had started to appear, so the ecological system also had looked rebuilt considerably. But, still on that, if a black muddy current would always spring from the bottom to the surface after big boats passed, or if bad smells like rotten eggs coming from the drain directly connected the river would fill up the whole city on rainy days, who could have imagined the future of the river and of the children will become more beautiful like now?

 Diving into the beautiful clear river from their heads or doing fishing or swimming cheerfully, or boldly driving the new watercrafts, showing powerful smiles, such next-generation had been only one of the imaginary futures at that time. The gifts coming up from the ocean through all seasons, glittering fish maelstrom riding on waves, people who were doing skin-diving, fishing, enjoying the river from their hearts…, these were the existences which must have been already lost. Old people had thought that it had perfectly gone. And young, in the first place, didn’t know even that it had been surely there before.

 But the times change. It changes greatly and certainly.

 The new Tokyo basin system is the beautiful currents rebuilt by modern science. Because it is going through the middle of the big city, especially ‘the river’ had been received blessings of special high technology than any other rivers in Tokyo.

 Of course, because every water is connecting with each other, so the planners had had to solve the problem from a vast perspective at once. And they did that practically.

 Setting the new water and sewage system in the whole area without even a gap, completely separating off between rainwater and sewage even on a flood happening on a sudden heavy rain, making automatic AI washing system always work in all drain pipes, making innovation for water-purifying technology about both on volume and on quality, completely removing sludges and other harmful sediments on the bottom, irradiating sunbeam to canals which can’t get sunlight because of being along with under elevated highways, building and running huge oxygen supply facilities here and there around the river…, and more all of others, every new knowledge, every high technology, every possibility was used by country and Tokyo local government which are planning more activation of the tourist and eco industries. They had let even other local governments around Tokyo which has the source of rivers involve in the project, and completely worked every technology and knowledge.

 As a result, they had finally succeeded in purifying all water of this city, from of each house drains, from of tiny canals, of course from of the rivers, to of moats of the Imperial Palace. As well, they had created pure environments like high mountain’s underground lakes even into the inside of the huge drainage nets under the city, even though it had been the hell of hydrogen sulfide gas and poisonous mud before.

 While passing through the center of the landscape of the megalopolis which was consisted of traditional wooden houses and modern high-rise buildings being mixed with each other, the river had been reborn now after the all efforts of all people. Nowadays, especially on a sunny day, the water of ‘the river’ usually had 30meter transparency and that is classified as the top class of IIWQ which is the Index of International Water Quality.

 Now if people slit the surface of the tide and go deeper, open their eyes under the water, they should be able to watch that the biodiversity built by so many life species is working gracefully and brilliantly. Except almost all shorelines were being covered with vertical concrete protection dikes and their upper part got maintenance as the esplanade, it even can be seen as if the environment of the prehistoric age had rebirth to our age. This is the Tokyo water basin of now, and of course, is ‘the river’ of now.

Ⓒ 2016 Takagi Tokio