NAGANO - One day in June, a group of 17 people, mostly women wearing colorful outfits, got together at a scenic lakeside area at the foot of Mount Kita-Yatsugatake in Nagano Prefecture.
Instead of using binoculars to look at the panorama around them, these people were gazing downward with the aid of a loupe, sometimes crawling around on their hands and knees. They were captivated by the colonies of moss growing in the area, known as a “green carpet.”
The key to moss viewing is lowering the body to the same level as the mosses, said Takeshi Ueno, a 44-year-old plant ecology expert at Tsuru University who was leading this moss observation expedition near Lake Shirakoma.
Moss-viewing excursions like this are becoming an increasingly popular activity in various parts of Japan.
For example, in 2013, Hoshino Resorts Oirase Keiryu Hotel in Aomori Prefecture launched a one-night stay program including a tour to observe moss colonies in a riverside forest region.
The area around Lake Shirakoma has been designated by the Bryological Society of Japan as a “precious moss-covered forest.” The moss-viewing excursion there, organized by the operators of mountain huts near the area, started in 2011. Because of its growing popularity, the excursion’s frequency was increased to eight times per year in 2014 from its initial five times. Most participants are women.
As he guided the two-day excursion, Ueno showed the wonders of the world of mosses.
When clusters of a variety of sunagoke moss were sprayed with mist, the leaves opened out and their color changed from brown to green, prompting a marveling group member to cry, “This is like magic.”
“Women are rich in emotions,” Ueno said later during relaxation time after a seminar session at a mountain hut. “They can innocently enjoy changes in the shapes and colors of leaves, for example, so they are well-suited to moss viewing.”
The moss-viewing boom coincides with the vogue of mountain hiking among young women. “Many women admire plants and flowers as they hike, and that may have piqued interest (in moss),” said Hisako Fujii, 37, the author of a book entitled “Mosses, My Dear Friends.”
Mosses, which are rootless, do not necessarily need soil to live on, so they can prosper in a great variety of locations. Around the world, there are about 20,000 varieties of moss, of which some 1,600 have been confirmed to be present in Japan, according to Ueno.
“What I like (about mosses) is that they are surviving with toughness as they reach out for water and light,” said Mari Sugiyama, a 27-year-old office worker from Goka, Ibaraki Prefecture, who was participating in the expedition in the Lake Shirakoma area.
For Sugiyama, moss viewing apparently offers a respite from the stress of everyday life. “Seeing clusters of mosses living together, I can forget about our competitive society,” she said.