Mount Takatsukiyama–beginning at the back of the main Zamami hamlet, it looms tall with a 431 foot vertical drop. Conveniently located a few steps from the back entrance of the Zamami elementary-middle school, Takatsukiyama is a mountain often ascended by tourists and locals alike, but nearly without fail by means of motorized vehicle. The slope’s steep and winding road provides an invigorating, albeit winded, walk.
This morning at around 10:00 Zamami island’s preschoolers began their long and arduous ascent. The teachers planned the trip to teach the island’s youngsters about the various plants in their own backyard. Each student armed his or herself with a list of plants to be found and a canteen the size of their torso. Upon identifying a plant specified on the list, a child would scream “Hakken,” (discovery) and his or her compatriots would come running from all directions within earshot to confirm what all the fuss was about. Split into two groups of about 14-16 members and lead by a couple of outdoor enthusiasts from the community, the students made quite a lot of hakkens in one day.
The list included poisonous plants, carnivorous plants, a form of touch-me-not, tropical evergreens, berry-yielding shrubs, and butterflies. The children made their way up the hill grouped off in pairs, holding hands as they searched the surrounding forest for the items at hand. It’s tough to say how much of the nature-enthusiast guides’ information actually stuck, but everyone was certainly having a good time.
An hour and a half later, upon reaching the observation deck at the top of the mountain, the preschoolers took a brief pause for a refreshing swig from their canteens. However, the journey was not yet over. In the same two groups (the pear team and the grape team), the munchkins once again set off with the guides to locate the final few entries on their handouts. After another half-hour loop around the summit of Takatsukiyama, the children and teachers alike called it a day. From atop one of Zamami Island’s highest peaks, the village preschoolers finally busted out their lunchboxes and enjoyed their handmade onigiri with some of the best views in all of Japan.
It’s kind of nice being a kid in the Kerama-shoto National Park.