While many towns dotted across Japan are famous for local food or particular landmarks, the small village of Kawauchi is known for something pretty interesting: its frogs!
This village loves frogs so much that their village mascot is a frog called Moritaro. Moritaro features on brochures and pamphlets about Kawauchi, and even makes an appearance on the village’s drain covers!
A Frog Sanctuary Deep in the Woods
Hebusu Marsh is especially famous for frogs. This is because it is one of the only places in the world where the Moriao-gaeru type of Forest Green Tree Frogs can be found.
Moriao-gaeru have an intriguing breeding habit – the females protect their eggs by keeping them in sticky white foamy masses, often around 15cm in width. They leave these foamy nests in an unexpected place – high up in the branches of trees!
The eggs are laid in June and July, and hatch in around one week later. The next time it rains, the tadpoles are washed out of the tree branches and into the marsh below.
As it is one of only a handful of Moriao-gaeru breeding habitats, humans have to monitor frog numbers at Hebusu Marsh carefully. We learned all about this from a lovely man who was volunteering on the day of our visit.
He told us that during particularly hot and dry years, volunteers place containers filled with water under the foamy nests, so that the tadpoles will have a nice wet place to land, instead of hard mud.
Immediately following the 3.11 disaster, when residents were evacuated from Kawauchi, this practice couldn’t be continued. With no residents to check up on the frogs or the water level of the marsh, Moriao-gaeru numbers began to dwindle.
However, with the help of volunteers and the partial and complete reopening of the majority of the village to former residents in October 2014 and June 2016 respectively, numbers continue to rise.
Volunteers check on the marsh multiple times a week now during breeding season. Our guide opened his notebook and showed us a map he had recently drawn of the positions of foamy pouches around the marsh.
He enthusiastically showed us photos he had collected over the years at Hebusu Marsh.
I’m glad I was able to see his photos, as we didn’t happen to see any frogs at the marsh during our visit. That being said, there were so many in other areas of the village – at one point there were tiny little green frogs leaping around our feet with every step!
Shimpei Kusano & Kawauchi
Another man who fell in love with the Moriao-gaeru frogs was Shimpei Kusano, a famous Japanese poet from the Showa era, and a contemporary of Yasunari Kawabata. He was really moved by the beauty of the marsh, its frogs and of Kawauchi as a whole, and wrote many poems dedicated to the area such as the one below:
Forest green tree frogs.
They are born and bred here in Abukuma Highland
at the bank of Hebusu Marsh,
in the shade of oaks.
Kusano loved Kawauchi so much that he became an honorary citizen in 1960 after visiting consistently for many years. He donated 3,000 books to the village to thank them for their hospitality, and in return, the villagers built him a beautiful villa – complete with a unique front-facing window to look out over his garden.
They also built really small libraries to store the many volumes that Kusano donated.
The villa that the villagers made for Kusano is now part of the Abukuma Folk Crafts Museum, and can be visited during museum hours.
If you’re interested in Japanese literature from the Showa Era, I recommend visiting Tenzan Bunko on the second Saturday of July, when the Tenzan Annual Poetry Festival is held. This event includes poetry recitals and performances of traditional Japanese performing arts.
After hearing some of Kusano’s poetry recited in English, we headed to our final stop of the day – Café Amazon. Café Amazon is a popular Thai café chain which opened its first store in Japan last year – in Kawauchi, of all places!
It might seem odd that Café Amazon’s first Japan branch is in this small village in Fukushima Prefecture. But after spending the day exploring Kawauchi’s beautiful marshes and learning about Kusano Shimpei’s love for the greenery, as I gazed at Café Amazon’s forest-inspired interior, I couldn’t imagine a more fitting café to be at the heart of this quaint village.
Kawauchi is a very rural area with a lot to offer, especially to nature lovers and those interested in Japanese literature. It is truly a special place and I recommend you visit, especially during the Tenzan Annual Poetry festival!
By car: It takes around 1.5 hours to reach Kawauchi from Fukushima City by car
By public transport:
- Take the Ban Etsu East Line from Koriyama to Funehiki Station.
- Then take a bus from outside Funehiki Station that is heading for Yufune (ゆふね).
- Get off at Kawauchi Nokyo (川内農協).
The bus from Funehiki takes 1 hour 15 mins, and Tenzan Bunko is a 6 minute walk from Kawauchi Nokyo bus stop.
Cost: Entrance to Hebusu marsh is free, and entrance to Tenzan Bunko costs 300 yen.
More information: If you can read any Japanese, check out Kawauchi’s homepage – it is SO cute!
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