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Plentiful water, particularly after a rainfall,
makes Imo Marsh a very hospitable home for a wide variety of plants and insects.

Photos and text by Yoshimitsu Yagi

In suburban Toyohashi in southeastern Aichi, just beyond a scattering of houses and rice paddies with green, newly planted seedlings, lies the Imo Marsh, a five-hectare wetland preserve containing some very unique forms of wildlife.

It is bounded by thickets of evergreens and broad-leaved trees and is crisscrossed by trails of wooden planks. Flowers are in bloom nearly all year round: bellflowers, dogtooth violets, and shojo bakama (Heloniopsis orientalis) in the spring; sagiso (Habenaria radiata), kakiran (Epipactis thunbergii), and the carnivorous Utricularia in the summer; and shiratama hoshikusa in the fall. In all, some 600 varieties of plants can be found at the marsh, of which around 150 are unique to wetland areas. Because there is abundant water and vegetation, it attracts a great many insects, which in turn lure birds that feed on them. The marsh is a dynamic ecosystem, full of frogs, snakes, and weasels as well.

The shojo bakama is a delicate springtime
flower with rosy-pink petals.
The Imo Marsh is probably most famous for the shiratama hoshikusa with small, white, spherical flowers. This flower is native to the wetlands of Aichi, Shizuoka, and Mie Prefectures and is best preserved at Imo. The Hatcho dragonfly is another indigene, taking its name from an Aichi township. Growing to only 15 millimeters, it is the smallest dragonfly in Japan, but its bright-red color can make a big impression. Both the flower and dragonfly are important inhabitants that attest to the clean waters of the Imo Marsh.

Surprisingly, this preserve is just a kilometer away from the tracks of the Shinkansen, Japan's high-speed bullet train. Considering its relatively low altitude and proximity to residential areas, it is something of a miracle that it has survived the encroaching wave of development without government protection.

This "miracle" is the outgrowth of private efforts to maintain the marsh's natural state. A handful of concerned citizens purchased part of the land to prevent it from falling into developers' hands, and owners of other sections agreed to preserve the land as is. A local mountaineering club built wooden trails to discourage people from wandering into the wet ground, moreover, and student volunteers from a local middle school come every week to clean up the litter.

These contributions from a broad segment of the local community have helped maintain this small-but-rich repository of wildlife. Such efforts are well appreciated by people who are visiting this wetland sanctuary in increasing numbers throughout the year.