Japan hikers! Here’s a magic number for you: 1200 meters (4000 feet)
For years I’ve noticed a big difference when exploring in the coastal forests of central Honshu (Japan’s main island) and the inland regions of this same area. Though many plant species are similar, there is more of a sub-tropical feel to the lowland regions and a definite difference in terms of the animal life (specifically insects and other invertebrates). While lowland forests are often endless tracts of cultivated Cedar growing so dense as to create near lifeless wastelands below the canopy, the forests of the higher elevations instead consist of a variety of native conifers as well as broad-leaf deciduous trees beneath which many layers of life zones are found. These forests offer habitat to many animals not found in the lower elevations such as bear, boar and the indigenous Japanese Snow Monkey. These old or second growth forests are intermixed with groves of bamboo ranging in color from green to yellow which seem to flow, billow and rustle in the lightest breeze. The deeper mountains also feel different in terms of relative humidity, precipitation as well as the curious sensation of sounds which is more subtle and distinct that the lowlands. For example, though today it’s bright and sunny here in Shizuoka city I can guarantee that the rain will begin falling at almost exactly 4:00 PM this afternoon (and every afternoon) in one particular very remote canyon I frequently visit. This is due to the shape of the mountains which seems to funnel air up to form perpetual mists along the peaks which always begin dropping rain as soon as the afternoon begins changing into evening. This rainfall is so regular I can almost set my watch by it. Anyway, if you come to Japan and wish to experience what I consider a wilder and more true feeling of the mountains then you really need to get yourself above the magic 1200 meter mark; where plants, animals and weather all conspire to pull your senses further from the urban bustle which is the more typical defining characteristic of modern Japan.