Travel Blog- Plant expeditions
I have decided to make this page of my website, a blog of my adventures/plant hunting experiences around the World. I am lucky enough to have the oppotunity to visit some amazing countries and see the amazing plants there in. Recent trips have included South Africa, Taiwan,China,New Zealand and Australia.
At the moment I am in Japan. This time this is more than just a plantie trip for me, it's a bit of a stroll down memory lane. Almost 30 years ago, as a young man, I lived here for a time and it was an experience that changed my life.
I am starting my trip on the Island of Shikoku.Basically it's the third island down the chain. Hokkaido being the top, Honshu (where the capital Tokyo is) is next and then the subtropical Island of Shikoku.Shikoku has several large cities, but a large percentage of the island is covered by forest. It has high mountains, deep valleys, great rivers and is certainly a place for the nature lover.
I am going to skip the pre-arrival stuff, as airports and travel are just sooooo boring. And you don't want to know how my bag was lost for three days!!AHHH!!!
Day 1- I set off this morning bright and early (7.30) bahh jetlag!!!-don't worry I'm not superman, I felt it later!!!! Got the train from Tokushima, where I am staying for the next 6 nights, to the quiet northern town of Naruto. Took about an hour an 20mins. The Japan rail pass makes travelling by train a real pleasure, sooo easy. Once at Naruto I started walking up to the top of the island via a coastal route. Really beautiful walk along the coast, watching the fisherman sorting their nets and the masses of fish eagles diving for their dinner, then flying off in to the forest with their catch. The walk was long, but well worth it! I set my sights on the temple of Fujiko, but never actually got there as spent most of the time looking at plants and time ran out. Lots to see here such as Quercus species, Lithocarpus, Katsura vines, Vitis species, Ampelopsis and much more!! On the walk back it was fun looking at the traditionally small Japanese gardens and even more interesting to see several using Rubus trifidus as an ornamental feature. This thornless species is definately one that needs using more in the UK. The other thing I love about these gardens is how they cloud form everything! So many trees squashed in! Cloud forming is just that, pruning trees and shrubs so they have a cloud-like appearance (see pic1). The round trip took about
6 hours. Legs aching, feet desparate for a soak, but very contented. Tonight I am feasting at the local Ramen resturant, really local, it's two minutes from my hotel. Had an amazing pork dish and some very tasty veg!!Sometimes in the UK it is hard for a non drinker like me to find something to sup on. Here they do a wide range of juices, smoothies etc, as regular. I am rather addicted to a mixed grape juice at the moment.
Slept very well!!!!!
Day 2 -Started my day with a traditional Japanese breakfast, some salad, some fish and a couple of things that tasted nice, but haven't a clue what they were. This morning I've got my energy back and am excited about exploring a little deeper in land. Setting out early this morning, the train journey today is taking me to the mountain valley town of Oboke. Phew, it's a hot one today, which is going to make the trek even tougher. Of course, I still have the silly shoes, so no idea how far I might be able to get. This is basically the Iya Valley, an incredibly beautiful place and the home to one of Shikoku's major attractions, the famous vine bridges. I am heading for possibly the most famous, Kazurabashi of Iya. The Station at Oboke is very cute and old fashioned, and is at the bottom of the mountain gorge. Therefore it is one hell of a trek up hill all the way. It is so lush here, so much to see alone the way. The forests up here are heavily populated by Cryptomeria japonica, probably no surprise really, but seeing that I have only ever seen these trees as specimen trees in Gardens, it's an incredible sight to see a forest, a vast forest of them!!! This coniferous tree is used alot in gardens here, as a hedge, as a cloud form or even bonsai. obviously a well loved tree. They do have a tendency to shed alot of pollen in the spring, which can cause breathing problems, so probably best to avoid this place in the spring. Other interesting plants include Hibiscus, various species of Ficus (Fig) Aralias, Fatsia and other Araliaceae. Ground flora such as begonias, ferns, violas, and arums are common. Saw 4 distinctly different rubus along the way too, so that kept me happy!!
About half way I came across a tunnel, now my instinct tells me that this tunnel was not meant for humans to walk through and it's perhaps a little risky, but there was no way I was turning back, so as quick as I could, I jogged along the service channel. Unfortunately, it was about a mile long, so by the time I reached the light, you know, the light at the end of the tunnel!!!!, I was utterly knackered. However, also very relieved, well apart from the fact that I had to do it again on the way back, ahhh. There to greet me by the exit was an adoreable little arisaema in full flower. At this point the road started to head sharply downward. I thought that this might mean some relief for my legs, but oh no, my thighs had to work over time to stop me just rolling down the mountainside. Finally got to the Iya river and wow, it was worth it, sooo beautiful. Stopped for pics and walked towards the vine bridge. Desided not to be a tourist and didn't cross the bridge. Actually didn't have time, as I had to head back now so that I could make it in time for my train. Since there were only two more returning trains today, I couldn't risk missing it. By the time I reached Oboke station, I was totally drained. Love the fact that the Japanese have drinks machines everywhere. I sat and went through several ice cold drinks, before my train arrived, exactly on time, as you would expect in Japan.
Happily, when I arrived back at the hotel, my bag had been dropped off! Yipee!!!! I intend to give my silly trainer the funeral they diserve! Straight in the bin, with a few choice words!!!!!
Day 3- Took the train this morning to the small coastal town of Kuwano. From here I started a 3 hour walk to the foot of Mt Tairyuji. Probably should have taken two hours, but stopping to check out plants every so often slows you down. Kuwano itself, is nothing much to talk about, but 10 minutes walk in to the counrtyside and you are walking through paddy fields. This first section of the walk was pretty much lowland and although a little eerie walking through the paddies and farming areas, there was a peace and quiet, that you seldom find anywhere else. The forests and jungles, even when you are alone, are quite noisy with all the insects and birds making alot of noise. After about half an hour the path started to rise, until eventually it was all up hill. Crossed a few narrow bridges crossing the gorge, with very beautiful views over the, mostly, bamboo forest. Finally, got to the base of the mountain. Some intersting plants round here, including some very big Chimonanthus. There is a lot of a certain species of fig round here and they are covered in fruit at all stages of developement. Found a very pretty blue, forest crab scuttling alone the path. A female laden with eggs. Strange to see crabs so far from the sea. Here you'll find them in streams and ponds too. Lots of swallowtail butterflies along the trail. The rain is starting to come in now, so I am heading on back to the station. At a pace it should take about 2 and a bit hours I hope. Had a great day and saw lots of stunning countryside and forest.
Day 4- Went a little off my schedule today! I read about some marshlands that are home to some particularly rare terrestrial orchids flowering throughout the year, so thought today I would trek out to see them. I started from Minara station, not far from Ikeda and the Iya Valley. This is a quiet mountain valley town, very traditional housing and quite pretty. The route for this trek is simple, but challenge physically in parts. The start of the walk was along a minor road passing through several sweet villages, until eventually I came to the up hip rain forest section. This is a damp, slippery part for about 2 miles or so and lots of mozzies!!! Also, some stunning plants, so that makes up for the bug attacks. Along the steep ledges of the trail were many types of fern, begonias, lillies and a wonderful species of Tricyrtis. No idea of the species, but certainly not T.hirta. The flowers were white with pink blotches and the glossy leaves had varying degrees of silver patternation. Later up the track several species a rubus were spotted, yet to be identified. About 3 hours in to the walk I stopped for my lunch by the side of the road. Half way through a tasty roll, a car pulled up. The window rolled down and a very friendly Japanese lady (speaking French-not sure why!) asked me if I needed a lift. I said where I was going and she said that is where she was going too. As I wasn't totally sure of the way and was pretty tired at this stage, I took her up on the offer. Mikiko told me that her husband had been one of the people prominent in saving the Marshland from being turned in to a golf course and she liked to go and see it now and again. I asked her how she knew French, but not English and she explained that her and her husband put up French students that come to study in Japan. It turned out that the Marshland was actually only 5 minutes round the bend, but my feet were happy for the break. Once there, I thanked Mikiko and set off along the various trails. There were orchids everywhere!! Predominantly two species. Habenaria radiata, a white marsh orchid that looks like a bird in flight, is common here.This area is stunning and I am so glad I made the effort to come.
Day 5- today is my last day to trek on Shikoku. I am staying close to home today! Tokushima has it's own mountain, Mt. Bizan is in the heart of the city. The area is a National Park and incorporates thousands of acres of forest. I decided to climb from the bottom rather than take the tourist cable car. It is a steep, but easy walk. Luckily the weather is good today, in fact it's boiling, so lots of water needed today! As this is a well-trodden path I didn't expect to see much flora of interest, but there were a few nice surprises, including an iris species in flower and some attractive ferns. Despite being close to a large city, the area has remained very green and vibrant. There are some lovely views over the city too.
My experiences on Shikoku have been very special! It's a beautiful Island, very green and untouched in many parts. I am a bit early in the year, but am told the Autumn colour is amazing. The spring is also a good time to be here for cherry blossom and the azaleas.
Now I fly back to Honshu, where I will stay in Chiba prefecture for the next week. I will be exploring the forests of the peninsular, around the Katsuura, Kominato, Kamagowa districts.