In the beech forest of Shirakami in the north of Honshu, there are the last stocks of Siebold beeches, which once covered the entire area of the northern Japanese mountains, in a protected area of 170 km². The forests are also a refuge for the world’s northernmost red-faced macaque monkey population. Seraue, collar bears and over 80 species of birds also live there.
Beech Forest of Shirakami: Facts
|Official title:||Shirakami beech forest|
|Natural monument:||Completely under nature protection since 1992, total area of 169.71 km² with a core zone of 101.39 km²; Heights up to 1243 m|
|Country:||Japan, North Honshu|
|Location:||Mountainous region of Shirakami, border of the prefectures Aomori and Akita, north of Akita and Noshiro|
|Meaning:||in Japan the last primary forest with Siebolds beeches and in East Asia the largest remaining beech primary forest|
|Flora and fauna:||over 500 plant species such as Siebold’s beech, the endemic catchweed family Silene aomoriensis, the globally endangered species Hylotelephium tsugaruense, the bluegrass species Poa ogamontana and orchid species such as Calanthe discolor, Cypripedium yatabeanum and Tipularia japonica; 87 bird species such as the golden eagle, black woodpecker, Nepalese crested eagle, which is threatened with extinction in Japan; also serau and collar bear, 7 reptile, 9 amphibian and 2212 insect species|
Original Japanese condition
“There were no paved roads, not a single sign. An uprooted tree blocked the way and no one cleared it aside! Before we went there, we looked for information material: hopeless. Of course we didn’t have the right equipment. The trees were so dense that you could hardly get through. To stay overnight we had to go all the way out again. This area is different. «These are the astonished-sounding words of a Japanese woman who has already experienced many adventurous excursions in her life.
When the Heavenly Ones created the Japanese archipelago, they did not seem to have thought of the unpredictable forces – typhoons, earthquakes, and volcanism – that plagued the land from then on. In order to be able to live here at all, the Japanese have put their Japanese order like a very close-knit network over their country. Here and there, however, this network has wide meshes, for example in the north of the main island of Honshu: it is sparsely populated and hardly industrialized. Winter comes early and lasts long. This region is snowy between December and April, when the white splendor towers up to five meters high.
»Sanchi« is the »mountain country«. It rises with its highest peak Mukaishirakami up to 1243 meters. “Shirakami” translates as “white kami”. Kami are the deities of Shintoism. The largest original beech forest in East Asia thrives here and at the same time the last practically untouched forest of Siebolds-Buchen, named after Philipp Franz von Siebold (1796 to 1866), a doctor from Würzburg who was in the Dutch service in Nagasaki.
On a 90 million year old granite plinth, volcanism formed today’s mountains around 16 million years ago from liparite and quartz porphyry. The jagged rock and the steep, deep cuts are just as characteristic as the numerous watercourses that cascade down into the lowlands at an altitude of 1000 to 1200 meters in impressive cases and collect in lakes.
»Mountain and Hair (Tree)«: According to thereligionfaqs, the Japanese use these characters to write their word for the beech. It is the predominant deciduous tree in northern Japan that people have long used as construction timber. The fact that Shirakami-Sanchi escaped the impact is probably due to the inaccessibility of the terrain.
Spared from ice ages, the Japanese beech forest has five to six times more floral biodiversity than European beech forests. Over 500 plant species thrive in Shirakami-Sanchi, and the park’s symbolic bird is the Kumagera, the black woodpecker.
For the »Nihon-zaru«, the Japanese red-faced macaque, this mountainous region marks the northernmost zone of its occurrence. The “Tsukinowaguma”, the “crescent moon bear” weighing up to 200 kilograms, better known as the collar bear, so named because of the fur on the chest, finds a safe refuge here. The Serau, which resembles a small mountain goat, is also native here.
“Waves” of Japanese can be heard when the most important haiku poet, Matsuo Basho (1644 to 1694), who traveled almost as far as Shirakami, is commemorated with an annual poet contest. And meanwhile there is a Santa Claus village on the northern edge of Shirakami: »Santa-Land Shirakami«. Will Shirakami-Sanchi remain a blank spot for a long time? It remains to be hoped. So far, the area has never been open to human activity, there are no paths and access is only possible with the permission of the administration.