Cherry blossom season at the park. Photos by Taiyo Reimers

Cherry blossom season at the park. Photos by Taiyo Reimers ()

Beneath a ceiling of light blue, lies a carpet of green. It rolls like a velvet blanket, lined by dense hedges of maple, zelkova, and cherry. At times, a host of clouds dot the sky; formations crisscrossing and drifting with the breeze that rises from beyond the tree line – Negishi Forest Park rests on a cliff overlooking Yokohama. Most times, it’s a blank, cloudless canvas.

The walking path rises and falls with the topography of the park, taking walkers around its periphery, through an archway of greenery surrounded by grass and leafy detritus. A small pond, a grove of plum trees, down hills and up steps, benches dot the path. A group of runners dash by. Occasionally, I come across a wall of earth, or a metal fence looming at the top of an elevated hill.

Through the gaps of the forest cover, the park’s centerpiece comes to view. It’s a space that’s hosted elementary school picnics and cherry blossom viewings. On summer mornings, recordings of radio exercise programs with a piano soundtrack fills the silence. In the evening, the 5 p.m. going-home bell rings across its expanse. Do I dare leave the path, to venture into this sea of space? It’s a vast unobstructed openness that’s consuming, that I could get lost in. I’m the main character of my own movie, in the limelight, when navigating the plot of no-path. The outside world is closed out, besides the breeze, birds, and sounds that flow over; they know no borders.

Take to the skies, where kites soar in January, thousands of cherry petals drift to the tune of the wind in April, and legions of crows cry with the cicadas in August. They come from across the hedge that borders the park, where the remnants of the Negishi housing detachment still stand.

The park extends over a dormant street, which while walking across one can see Mt. Fuji looming in the distance. Benches surround an unnaturally round patch of grass that slopes up at its center. Townspeople, young and old, run, walk their dogs, or run after their dogs. Some carry portable radio sets broadcasting the listener’s favorite enka. Others read newspapers, while blissfully surrounded by pigeons pecking at breadcrumbs (perhaps to the park administration’s frustration).

At the overlook, the wind rises from the valley (across from which once stood the housing units of military dependents) to brush the branches and roll the leaves with a crackle in November. Far down below, children play tag or jump on the jungle gym, and in the sand box. A slide extends a part of the sloped area down the hill - I imagine a popular attraction for the children. Basketball dribbling echoes off the vined, concrete wall of the grandstands, a foreboding structure with windows like eyes, staring blankly towards the Miura Peninsula.

It’s a silent onlooker of generations gone by, to the development that has become of the greater Yokohama area. An iconic skyline, with Landmark Tower at its center, spreads across the view it sees, telling of a time far from when the Imperial Navy occupied the building to use it as a printing press, or when the U.S. Navy used it as an administrative building. Rays of sunshine - gold as honey - pour over the edge of the grandstands, sparkling through the waving branches of trees and rustling leaves. A deep purple hue lights the sky at dusk in December.

It's an atmosphere that suggests a natural origin – as if it’s always been this way, and always will be forever. Yet the trees were planted when the land was returned, on what was a 9-hole golf course used by U.S. military members, built on an area spared from the air raids of Yokohama during World War II. Over a century ago, it was the first western horse racetrack in Japan, hence the concrete grandstand. The walls of the track, and the roads leading to it remain mostly the same, but the park itself is no stranger to change.

Negishi Forest Park, as its name implies, is just a park. It’s a ways from JR Negishi Station, although buses to the area are frequent. There isn’t much beyond beverage and ice cream vending machines, as well as small, local eateries in neighboring Yamamoto-cho.

When I was younger, the clouds seemed distant. Nowadays, I feel as though I could reach out a hand, and just touch them; they feel closer. Yet, the sky is still blue, and the breeze still blows like it did so long ago, reminding me of what was, and pushing me towards what has yet to come. The clouds that drift by are a reminder of the many paths that have, and that will, cross at Negishi Forest Park.

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