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Fallen tree

It begins with rain falling from the sky. It flows down the mountain, along the valley, into the ocean. Simple as it is, this journey of rainfall allows for the birth of many forms of life all the way from the mountain to the ocean. Without exception, as humans have benefited from those many lives, I think we are one of the beings living between the mountain and the ocean. Among those lives, what particularly caught my eye were the huge trees quietly living in the forest. These trees, known as yakusugi, are the Japanese cedars aged 1,000 years or more and native to Yakushima, an island off the southern coast of Kyushu, the southwestern-most of the Japan’s four main islands. Cedars in the nation’s largest main island, Honshu, have a lifespan of 500 years. So, yakusugi trees live at least twice as long as their counterparts in Honshu, or longer. Some of these trees are more than 3,000 years old. Also, here and there in the forest, there lies debris from the huge fallen trees. Nobody knows for sure how long it has been there.

Because yakusugi trees grow slowly, they have tight grain, and the older the trees are, the more resin the wood contains.That is why they are so resistant to decay after they fall. To return to the soil, the trees are said to take the same amount of time as their lifespans. Once the trees have fallen, it is not long before they are covered with moss. Then, with its moisture as a nutrient, new lives begin to come out. Not only the cedar sprouts but also countless life forms, such as various other tree species and fungi, start growing on the fallen trees. Covered with life, fallen trees give the impression of blurring even the border between life and death. 

Walking in Yakushima’s forest and looking at fallen trees that have an aura of quietude about them, I felt like strong emotions in me lost their targets and faded away. I cannot help thinking that emotions like surging anger and lingering sadness come from the short period of our lifespans. In the forest, two types of life coexist, one that has lived for thousands of years and the other that will live for the next thousands of years. The fallen trees sometimes look as if they were the grandparents holding a baby in their arms. Standing in this eternity, I cannot help but think humans have also repeated the cycle of life and death in the same way as the trees in the forest. It may be a cliché that a precious life is passed on to the next generation. But that is the simple answer in the forest. If it is safe to say everyone lives momentarily between the infinite past and future, in an in-between time, so to speak, I think we can say passing the individual existence on to the next generation is exactly the meaning of our life. (Translated into English by Hisato Kawata)

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