Sitting upon the summit of Mt Takachiho, it was a crazy last-minute decision to go to Yakushima.
S: “I’ve heard that Yakushima is great for hiking too and experiencing a unique natural ecosystem. I really want to go.”
K: “Me too! I want to see Jomon Sugi. A man told me this morning that in Shinto belief, the trees there have “inviting souls”… maybe the trees are inviting us?”
S: “Ok sold! Tomorrow morning, let’s go!”
It is true that there is a ancient Shinto belief that old trees have Kodama, or “a tree’s soul and its echo”, which draw god’s souls towards them.
For this reason, 15 different species of sacred trees in Shinto and Buddhism; Sugi (cedar), Ogatama-noki and Pine to name a few; have been used for religious purposes in Japan. To make important shrines, to be stood at the entrances as an invitation for the gods, or are protected and conserved as a heritage for citizens.
Kodama also are present in Hayao Miyazaki’s Princess Mononoke. A film about a Wolf Princess trying to stop the Blacksmith town from descending into war and destroying the beautiful forest.
Some of the film’s scenery is inspired directly from Yakushima, now a World Heritage site dedicated to preserving its thousands-of-years-old delicate ecosystem.
After taking the Yakushima2 ferry from Kagoshima Port, on the first day we had planned to hike to Taiko Iwa, Princess Mononoke’s rock.
I had said goodbye to my car and my friend offered me a seat on the back of his 125cc scooter. We ditched half of our stuff in the Yakushima Kanko Centre’s coin lockers and rented light camping gear from Nakagawa Sports.
Bento’s bought from one of only three supermarkets on the island, we loaded up the bike and set off to Shiratani Unsuikyo. Starting at Kusugawa Trailhead, we started an hour’s afternoon hike aiming for Shiratani Cabin, one of the mountain huts on this trail.
After climbing through huge trees, sliding over moss-covered granite rocks, and being chased by bees the size of your thumb, we reached our crash-pad for the night.
Shiratani Cabin is very reasonable, there is running water straight from the streams, a toilet and bunk-bed-like shelves in a concrete house to look forward to. I recommend bringing a sleeping bag and mat at the bare minimum here as it gets cold.
The light was still around, so instead of surrendering to the hut early we headed up for another hour’s hike to Taiko Iwa.
It was worth it.
The view was so captivating I didn’t want to leave.
There was no ash. No dead, barren landscapes here. Just life. Thick, green, breathing forest covered these mountains. This sight made me feel alive.
As the sun started to travel down the sky, the view started to change. What were bright green peaks, turned to shades of grey, the monochrome sun-rays streaking across the valley like a watercolour painting.
The prospect of hiking back in the dark dragged us away from seeing the sun disappear into pinky hues behind the mountains.
We began our descent, hungrily running back downhill over rocks and roots to the cabin for food and..
I felt my stomach lurch as I went over on my ankle and heard it pop out. Stupid move. I had a 10 hour hike tomorrow. Wincing, I told myself I was fine and carried on.
The final gift Yakushima had for us that night as the sky turned from dark navy to silky black, was hundreds and hundreds of brilliant stars.
There was not an inch of the sky that wasn’t covered with tiny bright lights – like someone had turned on a million LEDs.
The hut has a clearing in the trees above it’s outside table so we were able to lie down and search for constellations for hours. It was so clear we could see tiny satellites moving slowly across the sky, amongst a couple of shooting stars.
Tomorrow, Jomon Sugi!
4 hour Yakushima2 Ferry is cheaper that the 2 hour high speed Toppy: 8900¥pp return. Leaves at 8:30am. Return 1:30pm from Miyanora Port. Motorbikes are additional price around 1500¥.
Driving a motorbike around the island is probably the best way to experience the wildlife and nature on the island, provided it doesn’t rain..!
Essential Camping Items that we survived with:
Sleeping bag: rental from ナカガワスポーツ (Nakagawa Sports) 1200¥ per item for one night, 400¥ each night afterwards. Summer and Spring/Autumn types available.
Gas Camping Stove, Gas Canisters and Wind Shield
1 Saucepan with lid, 1 Frying pan, cup, chopsticks!
Rainwear – it rains 35 days in a month on Yakushima!
Walking Shoes – my trainers were a terrible choice in which I almost broke my ankle 0_0
Yakushima Kanko Center has equipment for hire, and is the only place to leave your bags in a locker over time. Small locker is 300¥ for 48 hours. Larger lockers are available. The staff are super nice in there so they will keep your gear if you accidentally run over on time by a few hours.
Shiratani Unsuikyo Trail is 300¥ entry. If you tell the guy there that you are planning to hike to Jomon Sugi the following day from the huts he will charge you 2000¥…. you have been warned 😉