It wasn’t really broken. Just pretty swollen! … As our planned hike to Jomon Sugi was going to be 5 hours each way, Kei found us walking sticks and we set off into the woods as “Wild People”.
As we passed Taiko Iwa for the second time, we caught some fellow hikers excitedly discussing the view and we were quickly persuaded to take a detour for the morning view. It was different to the sunset view, yet just as breathtaking.
Nearby is another famous view that was used in ‘Princess Mononoke’. A huge rock that Moro the wolf sat on to talk to Ashitaka.
Director and creator Hayao Miyazaki visited here many times, and has really captured the essence of this mossy forest full of life.
The Jomon Sugi is named in reference to the Jōmon Period, a time inhabited by a hunter-gatherer culture. However the est. 7200 year old Jomon Sugi at the end of this course is considerably older than this time period.
Due to Yakushima’s high granite content on the island, these trees thrive on the mossy rocks as the moss holds more water than the ground. Furthermore, these harsh conditions make Jomon Sugi grow much slower than regular cedar trees, making their tree-rings tighter, and their wood denser.
The Jomon Sugi are all grown in generations, we saw many third and forth generation trees here. This means that the first generation tree has died and rotted inside, and the second generation tree has grown from it, and so forth, leaving these huge hollow tree trunks with a new tree growing atop of it.
After 45 minutes of clambering down slippery granite rocks and twisted root paths, tracks of a trolley path awaited us. This is a breeze from the uphill and downhill struggles and we relaxed for 3 hours along this disused railway.
Only it is NOT disused!! A truck rattles past with clean disposal tanks for the toilets. Yes, there are working toilets along this trail. One of which flushed your waste using like a cement-mixer of compost (I kind of geeked-out over this).
After climbing 40 minutes from the track up on a stone path past Yaku-deer and cute Yaku-weasels, we reached Wilson’s Stump.
One of the famous Jomon Sugi for it’s heart-shaped hole, the inside is so big you could fit a small car inside. They have built a little shrine in there so it was a good chance to take a rest-stop-pray and have some lunch outside.
The rest of the hike was pretty busy, we had come out of peak-season and passed many, many tour groups on the 90 minute trail ascending and descending wooden stairs. The polite thing to do is stand aside and shout “douzo!” letting the others pass, however we had very, very polite people coming the other way so we were forever running up flights of steps, bowing and replying “arigatou gosaimasu!” or “konnichiwa!” *sweats*
Needless to say, there was a lot of thigh-burn on this part of the course..!
However we made it to Jomon Sugi! A really impressively sized tree, at 83ft tall, it’s about 15 times the height of me (I’m 5ft5). Its trunk circumference is about 16.4m (54ft), and its volume is 300m³, making it the largest conifer in Japan.
After basking in this amazing tree’s presence, the crowds had gone, the light was turning gold and it was time to head back for 5 hours to the bike.
It was slow, relaxed, and the ankle was hurting. We had no rush apart from to get back before dark so we took our time to explore the stillness of the forest.
Only it wasn’t still. This was feeding time.
Trees swayed and shook overhead as Yaku-monkeys appeared.
One, two, then more running across the tracks past us. A mother and tiny baby stopped in a tree next to us and started stripping the leaves. We watched with held breath as this newborn shakily practiced climbing the branches away from it’s mother.
We could not have asked for a better hiking experience. As we were headed back down on the bike in the dark, starving, exhausted and thoroughly sweated-out, the views of the sunset over the valley completed the day.
But It was not over yet…
We got to the only supermarket in Miyanoura Town at 7:51pm. 9 minutes before closing time. Cup-Ramen eaten in style in the supermarket car park next to the bike was probably the best meal I have ever had.
Finding a campsite in the dark was a challenge. Eventually, driving down a small track towards the sea, we found a patch of grass with a couple of sleeping tents there. We decided to find the caretaker in the morning to pay (don’t do this, you will get in trouble!) and started looking for a good camping spot.
Kei runs over to me unable to speak. The only word I got was “ホタル!” (Hotaru). This word wasn’t yet in my vocabulary. He led me to a small stream which lead into the sea…
Hotaru means Fireflies.
And in an instant, my belief that fireflies only existed in fairytales and disney movies was disproved. I was looking at a good handful, maybe 50, glowing yellow flies hovering around the banks of this stream. Their lights pulsed in sync with one another as they chased each other through the reeds and over our heads. Wow.
This was something only eyes could capture despite our best attempts to video it.
A couple of local ladies joined us, and they said that the Hotaru begin to sleep at 9pm so we were lucky to catch them. Sure enough, at 9pm on the dot, they slowly disappear.
Hike from Shiratani Cabin to Jomon Sugi and back on the Shiratani Unsuikyo trail: 8-10 hours. Wear good footwear and make sure you pack plenty of onigiri and caloriemate with you!
The Shiratani Unsuikyo trail is longer and slightly more challenging that the Arakawa trail from the bus. The bus return from the Yakusugi Museum is 1740¥. You can’t drive or walk on this road to the Arakawa trailhead, you have to take the bus. At the trailhead of Shiratani Unsuikyo there is parking.
Camping at Miyanoura’s Ocean View Camping Ground was 800¥pp per night. Has a large mixed dormitory room for 1200¥pp per night and sleeping bags for 300¥ per night.