DAZAIFU, Fukuoka-- Tiny hikigaeru common toads in this southwestern Japan city that regularly make the 829-meter trek to the top of the nearby sacred Mount Homan have been officially designated part of the local community's heritage -- the first living thing to be so honored.
Until now, only events and vistas had been classified as Dazaifu's "shimin isan," or "citizens' heritage." The toads are the 16th entry on the list.
According to the society for the protection of Mount Homan's hikigaeru toads, the animals leave a pond at the foot of Mount Homan in mid-to-late May to climb the sacred peak. Between 100 and 1,000 of the toads make it to the top of the mountain straddling the border of Dazaifu and the city of Chikushino after about 40 days, braving cars, deep ditches and hungry snakes.
Their trek is said to be unique to the toads on Mount Homan. The mountain is apparently the most climbed in southwestern Japan's Kyushu region, and it's posited that the toads follow the smell left by hikers' boots to reach the peak.
The association's proposal to recognize the amphibians as citizens' heritage was passed unanimously by members of the Dazaifu landscapes and citizens' heritage committee, comprised of private citizens, business owners and public officials.
The committee's secretariat head hailed the decision, saying, "The proposal was made to protect the toads by having people learn about their ecology, and develop a fondness for the mystical Mount Homan. We want to continue telling people about the energy these toads have as they silently climb the mountain."
(Japanese original by Seiji Kuwahara, Fukuoka Minami Bureau)