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Nature's Beauty

Shirakami-Sanchi: Japan’s Enchanting Primeval Beech Forest

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An archipelago on the eastern edge of Asia, Japan is a nation rich in history and biodiversity. Shirakami-Sanchi, registered in 1993, is one of 25 World Heritage Sites in Japan, situated in the mountains of Northern Honshu, the largest island. Shirakami-Sanchi, the “White God Mountain Range,” consists of the largest remaining virgin beech forest in East Asia, its wilderness area covering one-third of the Shirakami mountain range. Shirakami-Sanchi is a very important site for the study of terrestrial cool-temperature ecology and for long-term monitoring of climate and vegetation changes.

The beech forest has undergone countless cycles of regeneration and growth. An extraordinary canopy of green leaves makes its way all the way up to the mountaintop at a rate of 10 meters a day. Even though heavy rain pours down on the forest, about a third of the falling water is blocked by leaves. As water travels from the leaves to the trunk, eventually soaking into the thick layer of rich soil, the layers of leaves and branches on the forest floor retain a large amount, acting as a natural dam. Beech trees retain their leaves longer than other broad-leaved trees. The leaves stay until the first snowfall. With their strength and flexibility, these trees thrive in the snow.

There are a few entrances to the Shirakami-Sanchi forests in the towns of Fukaura and Ajigasawa, and the village of Nishimeya, from which visitors can climb the mountains or go on treks. Popular attractions are the Anmon Waterfall in Nishimeya-mura, Kurokuma Waterfall in Ajigasawa, and Juniko in Fukaura. At the foot of the highest peak, Mount Shirakamidake, is Aoike Pond, or Blue Pond, whose mysterious green and blue hues change throughout the day. The enthralling brown and grey rock formations of Nihon Canyon resemble a miniature version of the American Grand Canyon near the entrance to the Juniko.

The Shirakami-Sanchi formed at the beginning of the Jōmon period some 8,000 years ago. To help preserve the forests, the locals rallied together with researchers to make Shirakami-Sanchi a World Heritage site and conduct surveys there. Unfortunately, global warming is threatening the health of this beautiful ecological system. May we all do our part to protect the welfare of our precious life-sustaining planet by swiftly adopting the most effective, climate-stabilizing vegan lifestyle.

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