There's a new outdoor activity making waves in Japan, and it's known as ... moss viewing. (Drop that skeptical eyebrow and bear with me for a moment!)
Sure, at first the idea of staring at moss as a recreational activity might sound about as exciting as watching paint dry or grass grow, but when you think about other mellow outdoor activities like forest bathing and bird-watching, examining the intricate environments of these tiny plants is really not that weird.
While many outdoorsy folks tend to focus their cameras and binoculars on grand, sweeping vistas or chance encounters with wildlife, intrepid moss observers prefer to whip out their magnifying loupes and point to mosses, lichens and various fungi that adorn rocks, tree stumps and the forest floor.
While it might still seem like a bizarre activity, according to a recent Japan Times article, the act of staring at moss for hours on end is only rising in popularity. There are even overnight group excursions for observing mosses organized by Japanese bryological enthusiasts — that's the folks who study mosses and other tiny plants.
"What I like [about mosses] is that they are surviving with toughness as they reach out for water and light," moss enthusiast Mari Sugiyama said in the article. As a 27-year-old office worker from Goka, Ibaraki Prefecture, Sugiyama takes solace in this pensive activity because, as she explains, "seeing clusters of mosses living together, I can forget about our competitive society."
Although Japan boasts many beautiful mossy landscapes, you don't have to travel far to witness their whimsical beauty. There are plenty of places in North America that offer spectacular views of these unassuming, non-vascular plant organisms.
Perhaps the most well-known is Olympic National Park's Hoh Rain Forest, which is touted as the "finest remaining example of temperate rain forest in the United States."
The Hoh Rain Forest brims with thousands of epiphytic organisms (non-parasitic plants that grow harmlessly on other plants), but the most accessible spot for prime moss viewing is the Hall of Mosses trail.
Located just a few hundred feet from the rain forest's visitor center, the trail is only a short 0.8-mile loop, but it packs quite a punch. Everywhere you look, ancient Sitka spruces and bigleaf maples are draped in thick blankets of green and brown spikemoss. Meanwhile, carpets of moss and ferns cover the forest floor — all kept lush by the 140-170 inches of rain that the forest receives each year.
When a tree dies or is knocked to the ground by a violent storm, it doesn't take long for the surrounding environment to envelop the fallen tree (as pictured in the photo above). These resulting "nurse logs," as they are called, provide a fertile and malleable surface upon which younger plant organisms may integrate themselves and thrive.
Continue below to see more images of this gorgeous, straight-out-of-fairytale forest.