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Sarukai Village

Sarukai Village is one of the communities in the Iya region built on extremely steep slopes where special agricultural techniques are used.

Sarukai Village

From the udon restaurant near the Dogama Falls on the Sadamitsu River, if you look northwards at the western slope of the valley, you can see the houses of Sarukai Village perched high up on the almost unbelievably steep slope.

Sarukai Village in the Sadamitsu Valley is one of the communities in the Iya region built on extremely steep slopes where special agricultural techniques and cultivars are required. Since there’s no room for rice paddies, grains and tubers that don’t require inundation are the staple in this area. Every year in early October, the steep slope is covered with white soba flowers which attract many visitors.

With no flat ground for growing food, the farmers of the hills developed ways of coping with the challenges of cultivation on slopes. The rows of crops follow the curvature of the hillside to prevent erosion and trap water rolling down the slope. Farmers collect wild grass and store it in stooks. This nutrient-rich organic material is then used to mulch food crops, in a completely natural and sustainable process. Not surprisingly, food produced in this way tastes wonderful too.

Sarukai_Village_farmer

These ancient farming practices have been recognised as World Agricultural Heritage. In Sarukai Village, it’s sustained by only ten villagers. Since there’s no flat space anywhere on the steep mountainside, platforms had to be created using stones as the foundations for houses and paths. These walls are made without mortar and cement, using only careful placement of the stones to keep them in place. But once built, these walls have lasted for centuries. Lower walls are also used to make small, flat spaces for resting and performing various tasks. The spaces between the stones are used for growing tea plants, a non-essential but desirable addition to the diet.

Visitors often wonder why villages were built so high up in these valleys. The answer is simple. From ancient times, the Nishi-Awa district was the crossroads of Shikoku Island with its four domains (‘shi’ = four, ‘koku’ = domain). Located in the mountainous heart of Shikoku, anyone travelling between the domains would pass through this area. Today, roads have been cut along the low-lying river valleys. But in olden times, human pathways travelled high up, over the tops of the mountains, and with good reason. The valley bottoms were rocky and prone to flooding. Dangerous wild animals lurked. The hours when sunlight falls in the valleys are short, making it impossible to grow crops. And so human communities developed on the heights, where all the necessities for life can be obtained.

Information

Name in Japanese: 猿飼

Pronunciation: sarukai

Address: Sakurai, Tokushima

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