This month I visited a place I have had my eye on for years – Yakushima Island, just south of Kyushu in southern Japan. The interior of the island is a mountainous World Heritage listed area complete with wonderful ancient forests full of cedars, monkeys and deer. The island is accessed by air or sea, and we rode the high speed ferries called Toppy & Rocket. A lot of very useful info re accessing and exploring the island can be found on the Yakumonkey web page.
The Highlight of Yakushima: Jomon Sugi
One of the most visited attractions is an ancient cedar called the Jomon Sugi (sugi is the Japanese word for cedar, and the cedars of Yakushima are called Yaku-sugi). There are a couple of ways to reach the Jomon Sugi. One is through the serenely beautiful Shiratani Unsuikyo area, which I will be writing about separately, and the other is along the Arakawa Mountain Path. There is a hut just 10 minutes beyond the Jomon Sugi and our plan was to utilise this hut for two or three nights while further exploring the area, however, not one but two typhoons forced us to cancel the camping plan and instead spend one long day walking to and from the Jomon Sugi. And just to rub salt into the wound, apparently these were the first typhoons to hit Yakushima in June in 8 years!
The path climbs very gently for the first 8kms from 600 metres altitude to 900 metres altitude along an old trainline, which was once used to haul timber out of the forest. We even passed the remains of a town which once existed deep in the forest. Once you leave the train line, you start climbing fairly steeply up through some magnificent forest. The first point of interest is a giant tree stump called Wilsons Stump. This is the stump of a massive cedar that was cut a long time ago. You can actually go inside the stump where there is a small shrine and a view out of the top of the stump of the surrounding trees. If you stand in the right spot you can even make a heart shape out of the hole in the top!
From this point the climb becomes quite steep, but most of the steep sections have had stairs built over them! This no doubt has two benefits – one being to make the walk easier for visitors but more importantly, walking on a built pathway would reduce the impact of thousands of peoples footsteps in the soil and on the roots of the trees in the area. After a little while you finally reach the World Heritage Area, where a lot of very large Yakusugi stand silently watching over the forest. The goal for todays walk is the Jomon Sugi, which although it is only 27 metres high, it is estimated to be up to 7000 years old. And I dont know if its just me, but it looks like there is a wise old face in the trunk of the tree welcoming visitors! Jomon Sugi is at close to 1300 metres altitude.
Mt Miyanoura: A journey for another day
It was very disappointing we couldn’t stay in the hut, but apart from any safety issues related to the typhoons we also had to leave the island in order to shink back to Fukushima, and the second typhoon of the week looked like it was going to wreak havoc with the ferry services so we had to leave early. It means climbing Mt Miyanoura (the highest peak in Kyushuu) will have to wait. It was a great day for photographing a wet, vibrant forest though and it’s great to have seen a place that I have been keen to visit for a very long time.