Kaori Shibo bent her head down and peered through a magnifying glass in a forest in central Japan, emitting a delighted gasp. The object of her adoration? Moss.
“Oh, this baby’s sporophyte is breaking out! I’ve never seen this before,” an enchanted Ms. Shibo shouted, her head nearly close enough to kiss a fallen tree log in the forest in Yatsugatake.
She was out on a stroll with around 20 other people who are part of a growing community in Japan obsessed with plants known as bryophytes.
“When you stare at a tiny, tiny piece of green, you find a vast world expanding from there,” explained fellow moss enthusiast Masami Miyazaki. “It’s like a micro universe,” she said.
The group was out exploring just days into Japan’s rainy season, perfect weather for an expedition to spot some of the many mosses, liverworts, hornworts and lichens thickly coating the forest’s trees and rocks.
The forest, which surrounds Shirakomanoike lake and spreads across the northern Yatsugatake mountain range, is a popular spot for micro-plant enthusiasts.
More than 500 varieties can be observed in the Yatsugatake mountain range alone, according Masanobu Higuchi, Japan’s leading bryology expert and the hike’s leader.
“I am infatuated by moss not just because of their pretty shapes and colours,” Ms. Shibo said. “I am transported by the fact that you can find them anywhere around you but never realise how magnificent they are.”
In recent years, moss enthusiasts have multiplied in Japan, with treks catering to those eager to spot different varieties and shops selling the plants in terrariums well suited to small Japanese homes.
The Northern Yatsugatake Moss Association began organising moss viewing hikes in 2011, which attracted around 40 people over the year.
But this year, 140 people scored tickets to the association’s hikes, which are held each month until October, with demand outstripping the number of spots available.
Moss has been popular with traditional Japanese gardeners for centuries, and the plants grow well in the country’s humid climate.
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