Exploring a Japanese mangrove forest by canoe
A KEEN canoeist for years, I was delighted to discover on a recent trip to Amami-Oshima island in Kagoshima Prefecture, that it was possible to explore a mangrove forest in Amami’s Sumiyocho district by canoe.
“This is a good tide,” said my guide Kazuhisa Saijo, 53, pointing upstream as I boarded a canoe from a dock at the river mouth. “We are going to a waterway that’s passable only at full tide.
My fellow participants on the 90-minute tour started paddling their one-person canoes. We moved ahead while looking at a mangrove forest on the banks of the river. One of the attractions of canoeing is that the paddler's eye level is closer to the surface of the water than on a ship, making you feel like a part of nature.
Every tree in the mangrove forest grows in marshes, so these trees take firm root in the soil, with their roots spreading like an octopus' legs. Even during stormy seas, it's quiet in the forest, according to Saijo.
"There is no tree named mangrove," Saijo explained. Mangrove actually refers to trees growing in brackish-water regions, where fresh and salt water are mixed. Around the mouths of the Sumiyogawa and Yakugachigawa rivers, trees grow in clusters on about 71 hectares of land.
This is Japan's second largest mangrove forest, following that on Iriomote Island in Okinawa Prefecture.
We finally came to the waterway, which turned out to be just one metre wide. I was almost sent back by the reverse flow but quickly remastered my canoe to enjoy the challenging but exciting spot.
A native of Amami, Saijo went to college in Fukuoka Prefecture, when he again felt attached to the environment of the island. After working for a tourist association in the city, he established a tour company with a friend in 1998.
The Amami region was once ruled by the Ryukyu Kingdom, and later became a directly controlled territory of the Satsuma domain.
Shimauta – the traditional folk music of the region and Okinawa featuring tremolo and falsetto – is said to have emerged from the wails of the people at a time when heavy taxation was implemented in the region. The taxation was called “kokuto jigoku” (“hell of kokuto brown sugar)”, reflecting the fact that annual taxes in the region were then paid in kokuto brown sugar.
With such a history behind it, the Amami region has been attracting attention recently as a unique area, one that is well worth a visit. Last year, Japan's budget airline Vanilla Air launched a service between Narita Airport and Amami-Oshima island, invigorating the island.
A Kandelia obovate seed that looked like a fishing float was bobbing on the water's surface. The seed drifts with the tide to enter the nesting hole of a crab and then come into bud.
"That's the curious wisdom of plants," Saijo grinned.
As I turn to smile back at him, I could hear songs of a ryukyu ruddy kingfisher, a migratory bird spending the summer in the region.
IF YOU GO
< Canoe tours of the Kanko Network Amami depart from and arrive at the company's office in central Amami.
< Bookings should be made 24 hours in advance by calling (0997) 54-4991
< The tour costs 5,700 yen (Bt1,700) for an adult and 4,600 yen for primary school students.
< Tours start in the morning or in the afternoon depending on the tide.
< Canoe tours also are offered |by the Mangrove Park at |(0997) 56-3355 and Mangrove Tea Room at (0997) 69-2189.