Noyaki
Seasonal burning
on the Mt. Aso

RRR1
Photographs by Parker Fitzgerald Text by Eliza Collin

 

 

Noyaki is the name for the seasonal burning of landscapes in Japan including the annual burning of the Mt. Aso agricultural grasslands. Noyaki describes an annual disruption, a traditional practice which has been around for over a thousand years.This tradition, which maintains the grasslands as pasture for cattle and spreads fertilising carbon onto Japan’s young soils, has enabled the evolution of a specific and unique ecosystem.

Human disturbance in this instance enables evolution, hybridisation through the meeting of contrasting needs and highlighting human activity as part of that ecosystem, not separate from it. Unintentionally, wildflowers Echinops Setifer and Viola Orientalis thrive in the area which would otherwise return to forest, akin to the other 60% of Japan which is already forested land. The endangered Shijimi large blue butterfly (Shijimiaeoides divinus), the Kyushu-ezozemi cicada and Daikoku-kogane scarab beetle live on the border of forest and grassland.

Assisted burning is a practice which has its history in every corner of the earth, mimicking nature’s cycles and stemming from a mixture of agricultural and preventative practices. An alternative to contemporary mechanical agriculture.



Equipment

Local volunteers wear heavy cotton workwear, leather boots and gloves to defend from the heat and protect the body. Helmets, mouthguards and eye protection are adopted to avoid inhaling smoke and shield from straying sparks. Tools and safety equipment are strapped to the body and numbers on their chests enable identification.

 

Tools

Hikeshi-bou are used to put out unwanted sparks alongside the use of water cannons carried as backpacks. Extra water is carried for back up. Hikeshi-bou are hand-made and woven using a mixture of bamboo stick split to the middle, with vines woven between the prongs.

 

Cooperation

Though traditionally performed by farmers, Noyaki today strongly relies on volunteers and locals to maintain the grasslands. Human disturbance in this instance enables evolution, hybridisation through the meeting of contrasting needs and highlighting human activity as part of that ecosystem, not separate from it. Volunteers work in teams. Everyone has a role to fulfil to make sure the day is completed safely and successfully.

 

Preservation

Fire kills, yet rejuvenates. The existing ecosystem has evolved through the active maintenance of the land for farming by removing the succession of shrubs and larger trees. Traditionally conserving a very specific environment for the production of characteristic local foods.