Skunk cabbage sounds revolting in English, but much nicer in Japanese--mizubasho--where it fairly rolls off the tongue.
And in Oze, Japan's largest high-elevation marshland, the flower is beautiful and ubiquitous in early summer.
Sprawled over parts of Gunma, Fukushima, Tochigi and Niigata prefectures, Oze and its mizubasho gained national attention when both were featured in a hit song in the early 1950s called "Natsu no Omoide" (A summer's memory).
Modern visitors can leave Oze with memories, too, regardless of the season.
There is Lake Ozenuma, whose surface is 1,665 meters above sea level. And nearby Mount Hiuchigatake and Mount Shibutsusan, both topping 2,000 meters, provide a picturesque backdrop to the marshland.
It used to be part of Nikko National Park, but Oze was upgraded to become the country's newest and 29th national park in 2007. Needless to say, it is a popular destination for hikers who come in droves to see the skunk cabbages, wild flowers, birds and dragonflies.
This popularity comes at a price, and in the early 1970s, Oze was one of the first places in the nation to recognize the need for nature conservation.
At the time, Japan was growing at a furious pace, tossing up thoughtless buildings here and huge concrete expressways there. Soon pollution and overdevelopment were a problem. Nothing was sacred and the government proposed building a highway in the area.
Local residents and other nascent conservationists were aghast. A protest was led by Chosei Hirano, who, like his father and grandfather before him, was proprietor of a lodge in Oze.
Buichi Oishi, the first director-general of the forerunner of today's Environment Ministry, canceled the road construction after visiting Oze in 1971.
It was one of the first and rare times a protest beat back the infamous "road tribe" and their fanatical quest to pave over the entire nation.
Private vehicles are limited in the Oze area. Visitors are educated to take out everything they take in, with no garbage bins in place within the park. Nothing is to be left behind, not a gum wrapper, not a bit of bento.
Traversing the marsh itself are elevated wooden walkways. Hikers are asked to stick to the planks and not stray off onto the marsh, ignorantly trampling the delicate denizens of the wetlands.
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From Tobu Asakusa Station, take the Yagan Railway to Aizu-Kogen Ozeguchi Station, about 3 hours and 10 minutes by rapid service, and then take a bus to Numayamatoge, a ride of about 2 hours. From JR Ueno Station, take the Joetsu Line to Numata Station, a ride of 2 hours and 30 minutes; or take the Joetsu Shinkansen to Jomokogen Station, a ride of 1 hour and 15 minutes. Take the bus to Oshimizu or Hatomachitoge, which takes about 2 hours. Night trains and bus services are available, depending on the season.
Check out (www.oze-info.com), (www.oze-fnd.or.jp/main/frmain.html) and (www.jnto.go.jp).
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