Satoyama: Japan's Secret Watergarden

Satoyama: Japan's Secret Watergarden

2006, Environment  -   42 Comments
Ratings: 7.95/10 from 75 users.

Satoyama - Japan's Secret WatergardenEach home has a built in pool or water tank that lies partly inside, partly outside its’ walls… A continuous stream of spring water is piped right into a basin, so freshwater is always available. People rinse out pots in the tank and clean their freshly picked vegetables. If they simply pour the food scraps back in the water, they risk polluting the whole village supply. However, carp can scour out even the greasy or burnt pans. They do the washing up in Satoyama villages. This traditional arrangement is called the riverside method. It’s used all over Japan. Cleaned up by the carp, the tank water eventually rejoins the channel.

Imagine a realm where the season's rhythms rule, where centuries of agriculture and fishing have reshaped the land, yet where people and nature remain in harmony. Sangoro Tanaka lives in just such a paradise. At 83, he's the guardian of one of Japan's secret watergardens.

Over a thousand years, towns and villages have developed a unique system to make springs and water part of their homes. From inside their houses, the stream pours into Japan’s largest fresh water lake, near the ancient capital of Kyoto. This is a habitat so precious, the Japanese have a special word for it, satoyama, villages where mountains give way to plains. They are exceptional environments essential to both the people who maintain them and to the wildlife that now share them.

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42 Comments / User Reviews

  1. Iman

    The world needs this the environment from chemicals that poison our earth.

  2. kim salmon

    hi,can you buy this on dvd?

  3. bringmeredwine

    I was led to believe this was a film about how the people in Saytoyama use water running from the springs into their homes.
    You will not get to see any of this.
    It's a doc about a beautiful, sustainable water ecosystem that surrounds the village, maintained by people and nature.
    Incredible footage of insects and cat fish who live in these waters.
    I enjoyed it very much but it wasn't what I was expecting to see.

  4. TO

    Very nice! At the same time, it left out a lot of background information that is pertinent to much of rural Japan. The chances are this place is a depopulating area with a high percentage of the elderly. Much of these mountainous locations have been abandoned. It's very difficult to live off of growing rice with falling prices with this much of small-scale land even with a good amount of government subsidies. These rice paddies are getting rarer in Japan mostly tended by people over 65 years old. Granted, many young people are settling in these areas and engaging in farming, but the number is not large enough to stem the tide. Do they use any pesticides or chemical fertilizers? Maybe not, but it used to be very common up until the 1980s-1990s, with predictable results to bugs and insects. Most other rice paddy waterways in flat areas have been engineered with concrete so that lots of fish cannot make it to rice paddies now. It's getting increasing common in the last few decades to see more wild boars, monkeys, deers, and other half-wild animals eating crops. Most farmers do not like them, so they put up fences and perhaps have local hunters shoot wild boars. It was also interesting that the program did not air any locals' voice at least to give a little more perspectives on their views on these bugs and creatures. Anyway, it's likely that in 20-30 years, it would be much more difficult to make this kind of film, given that these natural features are partly produced by human labor and care.

  5. K7ktr

    Thanks, Another great video. With the constant bad news from Fukushima it is nice to see something positive from Japan that the people can enjoy.

    Meanwhile someone else wants to Bomb Nuclear Reactors.. Idiots!

  6. Frank N. Blunt

    Community where everybody is at harmony with their neighbor & nature. Something that ScAmerika has lost and that is a terrible tragedy.

  7. Oaxaca Gold

    I was very destructive to this little creatures growing up...oops

  8. MM

    Thanx V

  9. Kipp Bonanza

    Sometimes we need to see life from another perspective.

  10. John Krisfalusci

    can you imagine the fat ugly, disrespectful americans doin' this? not in a million years... btw, don't shoot up our schools!

  11. kittybrat

    @Sangoro Tanaka, this is delightful. Thank you very much for sharing this, and for inspiring me. This is a reminder of how precious clean water is.

    1. Akash Rai

      actually.. water in precious.. keeping it clean is our job.. :).. and yes.. this is a reminder as to how we are forgetting that fact and taking it for granted..

  12. jaycius baker

    how do i watch more then 5 minutes

    1. Matthew Standley

      When you watch the video, at the top of the (video portion of) the screen, there is a clickable link if you move your mouse over the video. It links to an installer. Veoh Video installs without a re-start and once finished, if your refresh your page, the whole 50 minute video will appear. Good luck.

  13. spillindillon

    I don't understand vegans.. does a plant not wither and die if you pluck it from its roots, are fruits and vegetables not grown from seeds just like animals. You still kill things, cook and eat them but just because you can't hear them scream it's better. I guess this is more so towards vegetarians but still aren't vegetable farms the same as cattle farms you just don't hear the carrots scream

    1. carly jean

      yes i agree! and some autistic people can hear plants scream. Plants emit a gas when killed that is audible to some humans, ask one of these people if harvesting a huge mono-crop of carrots is different to a cattle slaughter house and they might have a different view of vegetarianism. Also do vegetarians realise how many bugs/microbes/bacteria/fungi and other 'living' beings are killed with mass production of main crop vegetables for the market? its not the meat or animal products that people should be wary of- its the production of them and the respect given in thanks for what becomes our food. id much rather eat a beast killed from the wild than a carrot grown for the mainstream supermarket!

  14. T!TS

    here's the backbone for resourced-based economy pruposed by jacque fresco.


    back to the roots.

  15. Proud2BaBrit!


  16. MIchael22541

    This was just plain AWESOME! living in perfect harmony. I would miss not having access to TDF, but other than that just watching this was relaxing, it made me forget my troubles which I have plenty of. This Doc gets 10 out five stars. I am curious about the fermented fish? just one little taste for me.
    Are ther earthships here in this site?

  17. Sam

    beautifully crafted documentary. its really a peace of joy to see how man comes so close to nature for their day living. amazing work is done by the camera crew. Love Japanese way of living.

  18. Carl Hendershot

    @Sangoro Tanaka
    No Problem. Now can i get directions =). Im moving there.

  19. Carl Hendershot

    @gero2006 If there is ever a catastrophic event I hope you change your mind. Because bugs and worms and anything you can put in your mouth will start tasting good and keeping you alive. If not it was nice knowing yah. More meat for me. LOL. I respect your choices. But if s@#$ hit the fan id hope you would at least try to keep yourself alive.

    @JD I feel you =).

  20. JD

    What a beautiful example of living in harmony with nature, as it should be. Technology has not necessarily brought us health or happiness, it seems as if it has actually enslaved us and taken a huge toll our health, robbed us of our peace of mind, and destroyed much of the natural beauty of our earth. How sad we cannot all live this simply and beautifully. Thanks so much for this wonderful documentary.

  21. gero2006

    As a vegan I reject aspects of this lifestyle e.g. the torment of fish used for meals and sacrifice - so much suffering! I was horrified. But there are other aspects which I find very attractive e.g. having a stream flowing through my kitchen. If I could adapt the lifestyle for vegan living then I might be interested. However, although it looks very romantic I suspect it is probably quite impractical. The house is probably always damp - mouldy in the heat of summer and rheumatic in the cold seasons. I think it would be a very hard life. The grunts of the old fisherman every time he bends or lifts suggest he has joint pains. He's paid for his lifestyle although kudos to him for being so active in his eighties. God grant I may do as well! As regards using this as a model of how Mankind might live sustainably, I am not convinced. I doubt that this lifestyle could be replicated in other parts of Japan, still less other parts of the world. Not sure that there is anything we can take from this documentary but there is some pretty scenery.

    1. Frank N. Blunt

      You don't get it. You really don't get it. You're lost in an illusion. ScAmerika isn't real, but a nightmare. The water maintains a comfortable temperature without the need for additional energy. The home is well ventilated. Of course you saw those people enjoying their labor, well into their elder years. That is the best example for anyone to observe how to live their existence. Where is the suffering when human beings are provided sustenance? Do you accuse the Dragonfly nymph, the Heron, or the raptor of imposing suffering when they have to obtain sustenance in order to live & provide for their offspring? I don't blame you for avoiding the industrial tripe from the murderous livestock industry, actually I applaud you, but the satoyama offers sustenance & that is a very different scenario which is respectable. Community where everybody is at harmony with their neighbor and the natural environment, where time is marked in seasons & events. Something that is lost in ScAmerika, a terrible tragedy. Obesity, disease, exploitation, disparity, corruption, pillaging of social institutions where education & medicine are luxuries exploiting citizens where they don't get an effective service for their needs but then cause them to become indebted & indentured servants, injustice, suffering, paranoia, fear, distrust, environmental toxicity, watershed destruction, ... shall I go on? ScAmerika has sheeple chasing the wrong ideas of wealth & matters of importance, others obtain resources & then waste them or pollute them so that any other life is terminated. This nation, at all levels, should ashamed. There is no threat from outside, there is plenty to overcome & address within the domestic borders. The satoyama is idyllic, especially compared to whatever this nation has become. Keep on watching it and hopefully you will be enlightened, better yet, get out of ScAmerika to realize that this is a place for the deluded to be used by the exploiters or for the exploiters to use the deluded. I'm not sure how much experience that you have, so I will withold my pity but broaden your horizons. It will do you well.

    2. bringmeredwine

      What does "ScAmerika" mean"?
      A Curious Canadian

    3. AntiTheist666

      It’s just a guess but Amerika is used in urban lingo to describe the USA as a corrupt imperial power monger intent on global domination. Adding the Sc to make scam is perhaps the method of achieving this? Quite clever of whoever coined it I thought.

  22. Carl Hendershot

    Awsome. This was very much worth the time to see.
    I really would like to try some of the fish that took forever to make. Dont think ill try and make it myself though. LOL. Enjoyable. Think i will Check out Michael Reynolds earthships !
    Thanks John Doe.

  23. Manjunath

    This is really awesome.Those people are blessed by god because they are living in HEAVEN.

  24. Irene

    Beautiful place to live. Great images, sometimes I wonder how long it takes to gather all those great shots. Very enjoyable. I know it is out of the spirit of the documentary, but I am curious about how they manage in that town the septic waters.

  25. jane haydon

    What a beautiful documentary on the best way to live, how sad we cannot all live this way.

  26. Steve

    Great documentary! I'd love to visit Satoyama someday. I live about two hours North of Biwako in Nagoya. Sangoro Sensei seems to live a very idyllic life.

  27. Skye-hook

    Wonderful! I really enjoyed this very much! Thank you!
    I wonder how they keep the water/fish room from making it cold in winter, as he said it's warm in winter, Surely the cold water itself would make it cold, besides that it looks like air from outside comes through above the water. What do they use the reeds for later? Did I miss something?

    1. Kipp Bonanza

      Yes, springs from the earth that feed the stream are less likely to fluctuate in temperature than the surface water, being exposed to seasonal change. 60, or 50, degrees F may seem warm when it's 30 degrees and snowing outside.

  28. Life.Is.The.Alien

    Wow, that is a really neat way of bringing water and fish supply right to your home. It would be a great system to use in coastal BC where I live.

  29. Sangoro Tanaka

    thank you for watching

  30. Alejandro Tobar

    simply beautiful....

  31. John Doe

    oh there's a documentary about him, too: Garbage Warrior

  32. John Doe

    for those of you interested in self-sustainability: Check out Michael Reynolds earthships !

  33. will

    Possibly the most beautiful documentary I've ever seen about man living in harmony and nature.

    Some people know the way.

    1. Trevis Robotie

      so right

  34. fernando

    very good ,interesant and beautiful