Noriko`s friend, the volunteer guide was in the lobby 15 minutes early: “Didn`t want to keep you waiting!” She then donated 6 hours of her time driving and guiding me around some of the best nature sites in Tohoku. All for free. She even gave me a satsuma. In return, I gave her a handful of peanuts and my email address.
We spent all morning in Shishigahana Shitsugen, The Lion`s Nose Marshes, on the slopes of Mount Chokai. The marsh is famous for its beech trees, or “green dams,” as the guide called them. Each tree can store 8 tons of water.
On the drive up, we passed a suiro, a manmade waterway, the first power of water spectacle. Concrete steps were added to the waterway to increase the chilled water`s exposure to sunlight, raising its temperature sufficiently for use in the rice fields below Chokai-san. The other half of the mountain`s water is diverted for hydroelectric dams.
If it`s not for food production, it`s for electric. I am getting the hang of this environmental thing.
The woods used to be popular with charcoal burners in the Edo period. Many beech trees survived the chop as they were not highly valued. It is the odd-shaped ones that attract attention now.
The guide asked me which was appropriate: ikei 異形 (unusually-shaped) or kikei 奇形 (deformed).
“You can say whatever you like love, now chuck us another satsuma will you?” is what I did not reply with.
I think I suggested unusually-shaped. The king of the unusually-shaped beech trees, called the Agariko, had a trunk circumference of over 7 metres. Roped-off, it is given sacred treatment. The Agariko looked undisturbed by all the attention, in fact all the ikeis did. Funkily-shaped might be a better description for them.
Next came the moss. 163 species of moss, 162 more than I knew. Green moss everywhere, it was at its most impressive swaying and shimmering beneath the clear waters of the stream. In places, the moss grows to over a metre deep – “It takes a 1,000 years to grow that long.”
I never imagined moss could live that long. (Note to self: Spend more time thinking about moss.)
Thick canopy kept the forest gloomy. It was lit up in spots by komorebi (lit. sunlight leaking through the trees). The guide was rightfully proud of that word.
The guide really believed in the mountain. Looking at the moss on a rock, type 123 I recall, when I said: “Wow, it`s as if the rocks are alive,” she jumped in and said “the rocks are alive,” and walked off with a smile.
The Mototaki waterfall at the end of the tour was a highlight: full of clear, inviting water cascading down moss-covered rock on the edge of a cryptomeria forest. As a volunteer, the guide hopes to lead breast cancer patients to the waterfall. She admitted to gaining strength herself from spending time close to the waterfall in the past.
(Note to self: Live close to massive waterfall)
EVENING: Dropped off at Kanmanji temple on one of the 99 islands. Basho visited Kanmanji by boat and wrote a haiku about silk trees. The silk trees are still there. No need for a boat now though.
At dusk walked from Kanmanji through rice fields to the inland islands. OK, they`re not islands anymore, but it is nice to think of them as if they still are. Scattered amongst rippling rice fields, the small ISLANDS were more moving than the sea-surrounded islands of Matsushima on Tohoku`s east coast. On two boat tours of Matsushima, officially one of the 3 most beautiful spots in Japan, the islands have completely failed to interest tourists as much as feeding dive-bombing seagulls shrimp-flavoured crisps.