Japan is an island full of ferns and similar plants. Researchers have said that there are about 630 different kinds of ferns in Japan. Except for tropical zones, it is one of the most fern-filled islands in the world, along with New Zealand. When you compare Japan with England – an island located in the Northern Hemisphere that has about 70 different kinds of ferns – you can see that many kinds of ferns flourish in Japan, despite its small surface area.
The dawn of the fern occurred about 400 million years ago, during the Silurian Period of the Paleozoic Era. Ferns appear alongside dinosaurs in many illustrations in scientific books, and also in movies like “Jurassic Park.” Dinosaurs are now extinct, but ferns have survived.
Most Japanese people do not pay much attention to ferns, because they are considered commonplace – you can see them everywhere in Japan, even in parks in urban areas such as Tokyo and so on.
However, I myself have been attracted to the beauty of ferns for a long time. Their fine leaves look like natural embroidery, and in addition their brilliant green color is too beautiful for me to resist sketching, painting and taking pictures of them – especially when they shine on mornings after rainy nights. That’s why I even went all the way to Yakusima Island several times when I was younger to sketch ferns.
Yakusima Island is one of the world’s natural heritage sites, and is located near Kagoshima City. It is famous for its wide range and biodiversity of plants. The top of the highest mountain on the island is in the Temperate Zone, and the seashore area is in the Tropical Zone. It rains a lot there, and they say that it “rains 35 days a month on Yakusima Island.” Also, the island is sometimes hit by typhoons. It is easy to understand why ferns flourish there, because many kinds of ferns love water, humidity and moisture.
Nowadays, Yakushima Island became much more popular than it used to be, due to its fame as a World Heritage site and as the scene of the movie “Princess Mononoke” directed by Hayao Miyazaki. So, a huge amount of people throng to the island.
Now, February will soon end and spring will come. There is a custom in Japan of cooking fern sprouts, called “zennmai”, “warabi” or “kogomi,” during early spring. I can’t wait to eat them and see their beautiful green colors and shapes again after this winter.