Yakushima is best known for two things: the mossy forests depicted in the movie, Princess Mononoke, and ancient Japanese cedars that grow slower and live longer than their counterparts on mainland Japan. The magic of both phenomena is hard to explain in words and photos, and visitors who can overcome the rain never fail to be captivated.
The terrain here is rarely flat. After the crest of every hill comes a valley. And in every valley there is the trickle of water, the play of shadows, a damp and pungent breeze that nourishes a moss-covered haven. Moss forms thick spongy mats covering rocks and fallen logs and slick masses with curving leaves, glistening and half-submerged in the stream, while hanging mosses adorn the branches overhead. The world is green and full of life.
A hundred years ago, Earnest Wilson, a botanist famed for his plant-hunting explorations of east Asia, called this world a "wonderful cryptogamic (mossy) kingdom," and indeed, the forests of Yakushima run by their own mossy agenda.
Japan is currently enjoying a "Moss Boom." Moss has always been popular in Kyoto temple gardens and bonsai pots, but now there are moss tours all over the nation. Yesterday's yama ga-ru, mountain girls, have graduated to become koké-onna, or moss women. They study and grow and photograph moss and liverworts and hornworts.
But in this nation of moss, Yakushima holds a special place. Yakushima is home to well over 600 species of bryophytes--one third of all the species in Japan--so it's no surprise that several species were first identified here, but you don't have to be a bryologist (or a moss woman) to enjoy them!
Moss Viewing Tips:
- Prepare your camera.
- Many compact cameras have "macro" settings that can take close-up photos of microscopic worlds. Try to capture a sparkle of sunlight in a water droplet, or a patch of backlit moss. On cloudy days, a tripod/monopod and an umbrella may be handy.
- Carry a magnifying lens.
- You certainly don't need a magnifying lens to enjoy moss, but the structure of the leaves is hidden to the naked eye. Because the leaves are only one cell-layer thick, you can see beautiful detail with even a small handheld lens. Also, if your camera cannot take close-up photos, you may still be able to photograph moss by using an oversized magnifying glass.
- Timing is often a matter of luck.
- The best time to see moss is right after a rain storm has given way to sunshine, and the forest glitters in a bath of light. The next best time is early morning, when the soft, angled shafts of golden sunlight filter down through morning mists, and the moss is swollen with dew. As the day wears on, often the dew and mist will dry up to give way to afternoon rainclouds. The third best time is any time it's wet.
- Choose a short hiking course
- Short hikes to the Moss Forest of Shiratani Unsuikyo or around Yakusugiland will give you plenty of time to examine the moss. On longer hikes like Jomon Sugi and Miyanoura Dake, there won't be much time to stop and enjoy the moss. (Although the Hana no Ego peat marsh on the way to Miyanoura Dake deserves consideration, too!)
- Look for mushrooms, lichens, and wildlife, too!
- Funguses and lichens often live among or compete with moss, and small insects or frogs often move about among the mosses.
- On dry days, refresh moss with water.
- If you want to take a close-up, but the moss is dry and shriveled, giving it a little water will help it perk up in no time.
- Look for filmy ferns.
- Most ferns tend to have complex, branched leaves, which make them easily distinguishable from mosses with small, simple leaves that are so thin as to be translucent. However, many filmy ferns have leaves that, like mosses, are only one layer of cells thick. Like mosses they are translucent and dry out quickly, but a close inspection will reveal that their leaves are much bigger and more complex than any moss!
- Be kind to moss and lichens.
- Moss and lichens will die if stepped on by too many hikers.
|Galerina mushrooms often grow among the moss.
|An introduction to mosses (in Japanese) in Yakushima is available at the Environmenta and Cultural Center in Miyanora.
|An endemic species, Isotachis japonica