1 Aug 2017

‘Good or Bad’: Reed Bed

Eurasian Bittern (male) © HIH Princess Takamado
Eurasian Bittern (male) © HIH Princess Takamado
By HIH Princess Takamado

'Through the Lens', Fujingaho Magazine, August 2017

Click here to view pdf

Photos and text: Her Imperial Highness Princess Takamado

English Translation: Asia Club, WBSJ Volunteer Group (UENO Naohiro and KASE Tomoko)

The conversion key of a personal computer is a really convenient device. As it instantly shows a difficult or rare Chinese character, the number of Chinese characters which I can read but cannot write has much more increased than when I was younger. Besides, as it shows a number of different Chinese characters at once, it has become more often that I cannot judge which one is right. 

Oriental Reed Warbler © HIH Princess Takamado


I have made an interesting discovery in the conservation process. I have believed for a long time that the ‘Yoshi’ and ‘Ashi’ are different species of plants although they look similar. When I input these plant names however, both were converted into the same Chinese character. I have realized that these two plants are actually the same species. ‘Ashi’ is considered an older name. As the phonetic sound of ‘Ashi’ can imply a ‘bad thing’, it was changed to ‘Yoshi’, which means a ‘good thing’, gradually. The Japanese often convert unlucky-image words into those which don’t relate to bad luck such as ‘Sashimi’ into ‘O-tsukuri’. ‘Sashimi’ in Chinese character can mean ‘stab someone’s body’.

In the oldest history books of Japan, the ‘Kojiki’ (published in 712) and the ‘Nihon-shoki’  (in 720), Japan is called as ‘Toyoashihara-mizuhonokuni’ which means a country with rich reed bed. In those days, the reed might have grown near rivers and lakes and formed vast thick thickets around mudflats. There, birds such as the Eurasian Bittern, Yellow Bittern, Eastern Marsh Harrier and Oriental Reed Warbler might have flourished much more than today in the reed bed.

Eurasian Bittern (female) © HIH Princess Takamado

I would like to introduce this time the representative birds of reed bed. The Eurasian Bittern and Yellow Bittern build their nests using the stems and leaves of the reed. The Eastern Marsh Harrier is quite a special raptor which makes its nest on the ground in reed bed. The reed bed holds various organic matters which are dissolved there. It is an important plant community from the standpoint of both purification effect and a habitat for wildlife. It is also an indispensable place where freshwater fishes such as the carp lay eggs and raise its juveniles. The reed bed can be said as the stronghold for many aquatic animals such as univalve shells and crabs which occur there.

I heard that reed bed has been decreasing across Japan in these years. The biggest reason may be the importance of its existence in our life has been faded away. In the past, a reed screen played an important role for the people in order to comfortably spend hot and humid summer of Japan even a little bit, but today we can see it occasionally only in a Japanese restaurant and a beach house. People used to grow the reed across Japan before, but they have mostly abandoned now because not only the demand has decreased but also most of reed screens used today are imported ones.

Yellow Bittern © HIH Princess Takamado

The waterside environment including reed bed which once occupied vast areas around rivers, lakes and seacoasts may be one of Japan’s most widely lost environments due to developments. It can happen that ‘Yoshi (a good thing)’ for humans is ‘Ashi (a bad thing)’ for other organisms. I believe that it is essential to judge ‘good or bad’ considering the future of ‘a country with rich reed bed’.

Eastern Marsh Harrier © HIH Princess Takamado