Right off of a highway in Nagano Prefecture’s Yatsugatake mountain range lies an expansive moss forest, offering visitors a refreshing escape to untouched natural beauty. The forest can drastically change in appearance based on the weather, transforming into a rich, otherworldly thicket just after the rain.
Rich Rainfall Keeps the Beautiful Moss Plentiful
When the weather forecast calls for rain, you don’t hear of many people rushing out to enjoy the great outdoors. However, there are places whose natural beauty is amplified by precipitation. One of these is Koke no Mori, the “moss forest” of Nagano Prefecture’s Kita-Yatsugatake district.
Unlike many of their other plant cousins, mosses have no roots and thus cannot absorb water straight out of the ground. They instead use their entire surface to absorb water from rain, morning dew, and even the water vapor in mist, making moss forests all the more vibrant and lustrous after a shower.
While Koke no Mori presents a beautiful, green face on sunny days, when it rains the greenery of the forest becomes practically divine. This is truly one forest where visitors can see notable changes depending on the day’s weather.
Another World, Waiting Right Off the Highway
Taking one step onto the mountain climbing path located off the highway is like entering a totally different world—a primeval forest with trees hundreds of years old covered in thick, green moss.
It’s a pleasant surprise to find such verdant flora so close to the road. The forest’s untouched natural beauty, waiting only a matter of steps away from the parking lot, is perfect for hikers of all ages and abilities, thanks to the walking path that leads to Shirakoma Pond, just south of the highway.
There are 10 locations in the area around Shirakoma Pond that have been dubbed with special names, each exhibiting different mosses with their own bewitching beauty. The photos here show specimens growing in the Shirakoma no Mori area of the forest, located from the Shirakoma parking area up to the pond, as well as the Mononoke no Mori area located on the far side of the water. The pond is about a 15-minute walk from the parking area, and a stroll around the pond takes around 45 minutes, but the beauty on display often stops visitors in their tracks as they gaze at the forest’s splendor.
Nearly 500 Kinds of Moss to Discover
The moss forest surrounding Shirakoma Pond, selected by researchers and specialists at the Bryological Society of Japan as one of the most important locations in all Japan for studying different types of mosses, is home to 485 different types of bryophytes, nearly a quarter of all the species indigenous to Japan.
One item that visitors should not forget is a magnifying glass. Examining the carpet of moss spreading out at one’s feet reveals that what at a glance appears to be an uninterrupted tapestry of green is actually full of different mosses, all of varying shapes and shades.
The local Kita-Yatsugatake Koke no Kai (Moss Society) also offers observation tours around Shirakoma Pond for those looking to get a crash course in all the bryological species on offer. These guided walking tours are sure to provide visitors with fascinating close-up looks at the ornate flora.
After the rain is when the beauty of the moss forest really shines forth. What better time to go cool off in a misty thicket than on a hot summer day?
Take National Route 299 (the Merchen Highway) west from the Chūbu Ōdan Expressway exit at Yachiho Kōgen, or east from the city of Chino, Nagano. Park at the Shirakoma-ike parking lot just east of Mugikusa Pass and take the trail from the south side of the road.
Address: Yakōri, Sakuho, Minamisaku-gun, Nagano Prefecure, 384-0704
(Originally broadcast in Japanese on FNN’s Prime Online on July 7, 2018. )
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