The Alien Among Us

by | Jul 25, 2022

Long before I locked eyes with him, he had been studying me intently from beneath the shroud of ferns between us. If he had the will and the means, he could have easily lunged silently from his hiding place and murdered me, leaving me to the bountiful creatures of the subtropical forest who would have devoured my lifeless body within days. But he was an Amami tip-nosed frog, and murder was not on his mind. Rather, his intelligent golden eyes regarded me curiously as if to inquire what sort of alien creature had set foot in Kinsaku Baru.

You Don’t Belong Here

These are the protected lands of Amami Oshima Island, with only about a 1-kilometer-long trail accessible to the average visitor, and even then, only with a registered guide accompanying them. It is representative of about 85% of the vegetation on the island, about half of which is still unexplored. Every few years, a new species of plant or insect is recorded here, usually through the persistence of the scientists and explorers intent on pushing deeper into the mysteries of the forest. Even driving to the trailhead, the forest seems to encroach upon the road as if trying to heal a wound that brings the infection of mankind. You are unwanted, unneeded here.

When you finally begin your trek, it is imperative that you slow your pace and absorb the fullness of what is around you. If you are hoping for grand waterfalls or towering trees of colorful foliage, you will not find them here. Instead, you must look into the shadows, under the ferns, among the tree branches. Let your eyes wander, and when you sense something is there, move in closer. Nothing in the forest can kill you, except the venomous habu pit viper, but our guide Eiji had my back.

Tiny movements began to catch my attention. The quivering black hair turned out to be an 8-centimeter-long leg of Kinsaku Baru’s version of the “Daddy Long Legs” spider whose distant relatives lived comfortably in the corners of my bedroom in California for years. This version was about three times larger with a plump black body resembling an Imperial Probe Droid (although, in fact, it was likely the inspiration for the character Kamaji who operated the baths for Yubaba’s bathhouse in “Spirited Away“). A colorful scramble revealed a cluster of red and black beetles with creepy skull-like patterns on their flattened backs. Beneath the moist decay on the ground, a shiny armored millipede with yellow racing stripes emerged briefly before heading back into the darkness.

To Live and Die in Kinsaku Baru

The cycle of life turns quickly in Kinsaku Baru, Eiji explains. Rarely will you find any living thing over 100 years old here, whereas in other forests of Japan, you’ll often find ancient trees that are hundreds, even thousands of years old. Things die every day, they are consumed by the creatures whose job it is to consume them, and new life springs forth again.

As you trek deeper into the forest, you make yourself believe you will grow more comfortable with your surroundings. Yet you do not. Even the foliage seems alien at times, ferns that have a bone-like pattern, and even the famous Flying Spider Monkey Tree Ferns seem to be from a different era, one when they might have been munched on by dinosaurs.

Leaving the Forest Primeval

Eventually, your thoughts will turn on you. You cease to wonder, “What is this alien place I am in?” to “Who is this alien in this place?” And the realization sets in that there are places on this earth that simply don’t need us, that would be better off without us. That we came into the garden and trashed it when it was created in perfection.

The residents of Amami Oshima face this shameful realization every day after introducing the mongoose as an invasive species to kill the habu vipers in 1979, a strategy that quickly went south (go figure). The mongooses soon realized the defenseless Amami rabbit and frogs were much easier prey than the feisty snakes, and soon the mongooses numbered in the thousands while the rabbits and frogs quickly became endangered. Only after trapping and eradicating the mongooses for decades has the population of rabbits started growing again on the island. This is why we can’t have beautiful things.

Once you realize you don’t belong here, you will resign yourself to leaving, to driving back down the narrow road, which seems to have grown even narrower in the past hours as the trees desperately close in on both sides. You may long to return to Kinsaku Baru, and one day, you may, but you know in your heart it is not yours and never will be. You may find yourself at peace in natural surroundings whose love for you isn’t so unrequited, a shady spot on the beach or a rocky cliff above a valley. But the image of Kinsaku Baru will haunt you, in a wistful way not entirely unpleasant, and it will change you.

Take a guided tour in English with the highly knowledgable Eiji of Low Key Amami.

Like what you're seeing?

Let’s talk about how I can help your business in creating custom content promoting your products and services!

Tokyo Street Fashion Inspired By Houseplants

"The city is so hard. Just cement on top of dirt on top of rock. Even weeds have trouble growing here." Butsu Shoku kicks at the asphalt beneath her feet. The long vine of pothos trailing down her sleeve swings freely. Butsu is part of...

Workation – The Key to the Recovery of Japanese Tourism

What is workation in Japan and how will it help the Japanese tourism economy recover from the devastating effects of COVID-19 on foreign tourism to Japan?

AI-yah! – Will ChatGPT Soon Replace Travel Writers?

When it comes to the idea of technology crossing the blurred line into the creative fields, I am a pragmatist.

Tea Ceremony, Rebooted

This past weekend, I finally exhaled. Well, that was the feeling anyway, as my tea ceremony teacher along with another group of teachers and students hosted a tea ceremony event at a lovely venue in Nihonbashi. When COVID struck Japan...

On Becoming a Tokyo – Kyoto Commuter

As I have been in negotiations for a full-time position at a company I have been freelancing for, I have been "practicing" to be a full-time worker again after 8 years of freelance work. One of the perks already was joining the company...

A Time To Grow

I’ve wished my life wouldn’t pass me by so quickly, that I would have time for myself. And now that my wish in some twisted way has come true, why am I not doing the things that I always said I would?

Blooming Alone In Tokyo

Why risk gathering in crowds to enjoy cherry blossoms in Japan? It seems every neighborhood has a hidden gem of a place waiting to be discovered where one can enjoy Spring sakura.

Where’s The Beef? Discover the Kobe You Never Knew

If Kobe Beef is all you know about Kobe, there are much better reasons to see this miraculous city for yourself. It boasts modern architecture, historical quarters, jazz influence, and a rich sake production history. Ever resilient, Kobe has rebuilt itself after the devastating 1995 earthquake, offering much more beyond its culinary fame.

Get Outta Town! 5 Japan Destinations for Cherry Blossoms Better than Kyoto and Tokyo

The fifth update to the annual Japan Meteorological Corporation's Cherry Blossom Forecast was released this week, with the 2024 season slated to start a day earlier than the 2023 season here in Tokyo. The full season begins from roughly...

Why You May Never Go To Kochi (Even Though You Should)

Ask many city-dwelling Japanese if they have ever visited Kochi Prefecture in the southern part of Japan's Shikoku Island, and the reaction might include a bit of teeth-sucking. 行くにのちょっと不便だねー Iku ni no chotto fuben da ne? "It's a little...

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This