And although it’s not a bird, we can also occasionally spot minoshiro. It seems like they sometimes get lost while searching for plants for small animals and wander out of the forest onto the paths near the paddy fields. Minoshiro not only improve the soil but also eat harmful insects, so they are respected and regarded as good omens by farming communities. Normally they’re about a meter tall, but giant ones are over two meters tall, with numerous, waving feelers. From the elegant way they move, there’s no doubt as to why they’re considered divine creatures.
Other revered animals are albino rat snakes and melanistic striped snakes, both of which are hunted by minoshiro. How the folk beliefs at the time compromised between their stories and this reality is a mystery.
When students enter the upper grades, they go on expeditions to see the westmost village of Oakgrove, the sand dunes of Hasaki Beach south of Whitesand, and the upper reaches of the Tone River where flowers blossomed all year round. Along the waterfront were spoon-billed sand pipers and herons, and red-crowned cranes flew by once in a while. It was fun looking for great reed warbler nests among the reeds along the sides of the river, and for haythatcher nests on top of the mountains in open fields of silver grass. In particular, the fake eggs laid by haythatchers were perfect for pranking people with.
But no matter how many animals we saw, since we’re inside the Holy Barrier, it’s not really nature; it’s more like being in a miniature garden. Basically, in the past, the animals we had in a zoo were probably the same as the ones outside of it. The elephants, lions, giraffes and other animals we see now are in reality mutations created by our cantus — false elephants, imitation lions, faux giraffes — so that in the event that one of them manage to escape from their enclosures, there is no possibility of visitors being harmed.
The environment inside the barrier is completely altered to be safe for humans. That fact became much more obvious later, but before that, I never wondered why we could run around in the wilderness all we wanted without being bitten by venomous snakes or stung by insects. Inside the barrier, there were no venomous snakes like pit vipers or ringed grass snakes. The only snakes we had were harmless, like Japanese rat snakes, Oriental odd-tooth snakes, Japanese forest rat snakes, Asian keelbacks and rosary snakes.
In addition to that, the various cypresses growing in the forest secreted, to an almost excessive degree, a foul-smelling substance that killed mold spores, ticks, chiggers, germs and other things harmful to us.