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Story of Moss – From Green Valley to Terrarium


Bonsai has been a favourite hobby for many in Japan and China.  It’s satisfying to tend to a plant you love and watch it as it it slowly grows.  The image of Bonsai as an old man’s hobby is being challenged in recent years, and a new generation of mini botanists is on the increase.

Palm Top Bonsai in the Modern Environment

Many cafes, restaurants, office desks and reception are decorated with palm top Bonsai pots.  Tiny dainty cups containing beautiful plants are often sold to shops and fashion outlets. They can be colourful and modern, or simple and traditional to match every mood and surrounding.  Many gardening stores and gift shops offer workshops on how to create your original mini-Bonsai and how to look after them.

Young people are taking on little bonsais to bring some nature into their lives.  It is almost like a partnership or family relationship, and something similar to having a pet.  With a limited budget, space, and time, plants are becoming an alternative to animals.

One company took it further and created Bonsai in conjunction with AI, so that it reacts when its owner talks to it.

The attraction is the same, ie, having a companion.  But the fan-base of basic mini bonsai is growing, even without the help of advanced technology.  Among the plants available, one species is drawing particular attention.

Moss:  The Plant Mentioned in Japan’s National Anthem

The proverb “A rolling stone gathers no moss” can mean that those who keep on moving do not gain any stability.  An alternative interpretation looks at this more positively, ie those who keep on moving do not get trapped in encumbrances.  Both ideas associate moss with a long, slow-growing process.

The word Moss, “Koke” in Japanese, appears in the national anthem of Japan, “Kimigayo”.  Here is a translation by Basil Hall Chamberlain, one of the foremost British Japanologists of the late 19th century.

A thousand years of happy life be thine!
Live on, my Lord, till what are pebbles now,
By age united, to great rocks shall grow,
Whose venerable sides the moss doth line.

This verse wishes that the emperor’s (here translated as my Lord) reign will continue for a long time. Abundant moisture is the ideal growing environment for a variety of mosses.   Moss covered tree trunks and rocks by streams, or fresh air in temple gardens constitute the original scenery of Japan. People feel both a sense of continuity and humbled by being surrounded by structures and vegetation that have existed for many generations.

Moss as Low Maintenance Friend

With the publication of books titled such as “Mosses:  My Dear Friends”, “Moss:  Picture Reference”, more Japanese city dwellers are starting to grow small green spaces in containers, resulting in the coining of a new word “Kokerium”, being a combination of Koke and Terrarium.

The attraction is to recreate calming green spaces with minimum effort, time, and cost.  As moss is everywhere in Japan, it is possible to pick a bit up from a side street, or from your garden (books and websites appropriately warns beginners not to pick them from private lands or from parks and shrines).  The plant will keep itself quietly alive in a jar or a pot for a long time.

Hotels and inns sell packages such as  “Moss Girls Stay”, targeting women who look for relaxing away-time in nature. The Oirase Valley in Aomori prefecture, where many different varieties of mosses cover volcanic rocks and trees, offers an activity-filled day, guided by local experts. Guests make sphere shaped mosses, “kokedama”, to take home and keep in their home terrarium.

Most Resilient Green

Even without going on such a trip to bring back a kokedama, you can pick a small amount of moss from your neighbourhood (again, be careful not to remove them from public property), get a small container with a lid, and put it on top of a small amount of moist soil.  That is all. Once in place, it is best to leave it alone and let it take care of itself, with an occasional spray of water when needed.  This produces a calming effect without much effort and cost, perfect for modern busy lives.

No rapid visible growth or decay occurs. Moss will keep itself alive and happy alive, just slowly growing. There is no sense of urgency in the small container. The flow of time inside is entirely different from that outside, and the sensation is like that experienced when visiting ancient valleys, shrines, or moss-veiled temples.


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