3 amazing feats of flora and fauna in Japan

When you think of a country like Japan, with a capital city considered to be a veritable technological utopia, it is understandable that one may forget of the spectacular feats of nature that exist within its borders.

Yes, Tokyo is known for being ahead of the times even in the digital age – wherein tales of bullet trains, capsule hotels and robotic pop bands have managed to be shrugged off as the ‘new normal’. As Japan becomes synonymous with such technological advancements, its equally striking examples of natural beauty have unfortunately faded into the periphery. Japan’s is no longer most associated with traditional gardens with their intricate arrangements of flowers that designed with an almost architectural specificity. That does not mean breath-taking feats of flora and fauna are not to be found in the remarkable island nation.

Indeed, the land of the rising sun is also a land of rising shoots and blossoming flower buds.

In this article, I will survey three spectacular examples of efflorescent nature in the equally spectacular nature of Japan.

If you are visiting the country, I implore you to counter the futuristic sights of many of its cities with the breath-taking instances of horticulture that ensure Japan is equally rooted in the rural as it is the urban.


Wisteria tunnel

The first feat of phenomenal flora is the Wisteria tunnel situated in the Kawachi Fuji Gardens, in Kitakyushu, situated about a 4 hour drive away from Tokyo. The Wisteria tunnel isn’t merely a mellifluous name attributed to a generic tunnel pass, in fact the structure of the tunnel itself is comprised of an undulating canopy of breath-taking wisteria flowers. There are over 150 wisteria flowering plants that make up the length of the tunnel,  which span 20 different species.

The fact that these various species also vary in colour (ranging from white, blue, purple, violet and pink) allows for an orchestrated gradation of tones that make the sight of the Wisteria tunnel so utterly breath-taking.

There is nothing more enchanting than progressing through the tunnel as the overhead flora hangs merely inches above your head and as the hues alter from one pastel colour to  another.

It is crucial however that you visit the Wisteria tunnel it late April or early May, during what the Japanese call the ‘Fuji Matsuri’ (the Wisteria festival). This is because – in such a tragically poetic way that fits the fairytale environment you are in – during the other months of the year, the tunnel is strikingly desolate. In fact the ‘Atlas Obscura’ attests that visiting the area outside the recommended time period yields a ‘disheartening mass of lifeless, twisted branches’. Interestingly, the temporary nature of the tunnel just adds to the appreciation you will find when witnessing such a fragile beauty. Like a butterfly, the most exquisite moments in nature are often the most fleeting.


Pink moss flower hill

The pink moss flower hill of Hokkaido is a second example of Japan’s stunning flora. Contrary to what the title suggests, the hill isn’t topped with moss, but a remarkable bounty  of nearly one million pink shibazakura (moss phlox) flowers, spread over an area of 100,000 square metres. Granted, as the flowers are so compact and closely planted together, it is easy to miss the fact they are separate from the structure of the hill itself.

The effect of having a hill covered in flowers as such is incredible and otherworldly; you feel as you are walking in a fantasy land that is as ethereal as it is majestic.

What is also remarkable is the fact that when the pink moss flower hill was founded (in 1956), only one box was of shibazakura seeds was planted; with an ever increasing number of flowers every year since.

Hokkaido is an island off of mainland Japan that is abundant in tourist destinations, so a trip to the pink moss flower hill rewards you with not just the view of the breath-taking immediate surroundings, but of the coast and the nearby town of Takinoue. In fact, there are winding pathways that begin in the town and undulate along the peaks of the hilltops.

Similar to the Wisteria tunnel, there is an optimal time of year to visit the pink moss flower hill – this time being between May and June when the flowers are in full bloom. During this period, the sweet aromas are met by a festival held by the locals of Takinoue in which themed events, performances take place and souvenir stalls are erected.


Bamboo forest

There isn’t a plant that is more quintessentially Japanese than the bamboo. An exotic, giant grass, Bamboo has captivated Japanese artist for centuries – appearing in not only art work but prevalent in Japanese culture and folklore in an array of forms. It is also a crucial tool in the building of tea houses and fences; and the construction of tools ranging from weaponry to chopsticks. It seems fitting therefore, that final entry on my list of the greatest flora and fauna in Japan is a forest comprised of monolithic bamboo shoots. The walk through the bamboo forest of Arashiyama follows a man-made walking trail that narrates the picturesque view of the graceful clusters of giant bamboo.

What’s more is the mellifluous sound of the wind blowing through the poles, creating a completely natural take on the sound of wind-chimes. 

Arashiyama is a tourist destination historically enjoyed by Japanese nobility and contemporaneously enjoyed by many. Furthermore, it is in close proximity to the city of Kyoto. It therefore has access to incredible amounts of beautiful architecture and sights – including Shinto temples originating from the Heian period – I can confidently attest however, that the Bamboo forest is one of the most inspiring and numinous sights one could encounter.