Translated by Shinji Takaramura
Yakushima - Trekking To The Ancient Cedar Tree (Part 2)
Written by Maki
This is the second part of the article about the trekking course to the Yakushima's ancient cedar tree - the Jōmonsugi.
Yakushima in Kagoshima Prefecture boasts a rich natural environment that has been well-preserved since ancient times. In 1993 it was designated as Japan's first World Heritage site, and to this day trekking to the Jōmonsugi - Yakushima's ancient cedar tree, is quite popular.
In part 1 we mentioned the various Yakusugi along the way to the Jōmonsugi. This article is mainly about the Jōmonsugi itself, and also about some unique spots for taking photographs.
Jōmonsugi: A Living Legend
A wooden observatory emerges in the forest, and a tall Yakusugi, standing out from the other trees, can be seen nearby. This is the symbol of Yakushima, the ancient cedar tree - Jōmonsugi (縄文杉). It is 30 meters tall, the roots have spread out to 43 meters in radius, and is known to be the largest Yakusugi on the island. The exact age of this tree cannot be precisely determined as the trunk is hollowed out, but it is said to be 7,200 years old.
The surface is very rough, which shows how long this tree has survived. Trekkers are allowed to view the Jōmonsugi from the observatory, so as not to damage its roots.
Taking Photographs with the Forest Residents
On the way back, you will see some unique plants in the forest. This is the Tuna Head, which looks like the profile of a tuna. It's big enough to stick your head inside, so a photograph of getting bit by the fish will make a great shot.
There is an elephant at the root, raising its trunk up while swinging its big ears.
This is the Medusa Tree, named for the monster in Greek mythology as the branches spreading out resembles the venomous snakes on top of Medusa's head.
Kodakarasugi (子宝杉) is the only Yakusugi along the course that the trekkers can touch. The Japanese word 'kodakara' is used to describe children with affection and reverence. As the lump at the root looks like an womb, it is told that people who touch it are blessed with children.
The Inspiration for the Movie "Princess Mononoke"
Getting back to the tramcar tracks after the rugged path, trekkers will be able to see the model for the Shishigami, a deity resembling a deer, which appeared in the Studio Ghibli movie Princess Mononoke. The Ghibli staff actually visited Yakushima and made sketches of the area, as they were inspired by this tree. With an opening on the right side and the branches spreading out, it really does remind us of the Shishigami.
After the Long Trek
The tramcar, used to transport lumber until 50 years ago, marks the end of the trekking course. Although we are exhausted and it's difficult even to just lift our legs, we still have a sense of accomplishment, having walked the course and seeing the Jōmonsugi with our own eyes.
The Tour Guide: A Help Indeed
The trekking course to the Jōmonsugi is a straight path, so the trekkers have little worry of getting lost. But if you are uncertain about the long-distance trekking, or want to fully enjoy the course, ask for a tour guide.
There are many travel agencies that handle Yakushima tours. But the specifics about the tour, such as multilingual guides vary according to the agency, so check the websites in advance. Tourists can also inquire about guides at their lodging places. Our guide, Mr. Hideaki Takada, has spent some time overseas and also speaks English.
Transportation to the Jōmonsugi
To preserve the natural environment, vehicles are restricted along the trekking course. The trekkers first gather at the Yakusugi Museum, which can be reached by bus or taxi. From the museum, they take the Arakawa Tozan Bus, operated by the tourism association, to the approach to the mountain (tozanguchi 登山口).
The Yakusugi Museum can be reached by buses running regular routes from the Miyanoura district and the Anbo district, where there are many lodging places. The Arakawa Tozan Bus, which takes the trekkers to the entrance to the mountain, starts at 5 AM and ends at 6 PM. Please be careful not to miss the last bus.
The time for our 22 kilometer trek was 12 hours. It was exhausting, but there was never a dull moment. We will probably be suffering from muscle aches tomorrow, but even that will turn into a good memory. If you have the chance, try the trek to the Jōmonsugi in Yakushima.
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Jōmonsugi in Yakushima
Address: Kagoshima, Kumage, Yakushima-chō
Hours: 5:00 a.m. - 6:00 p.m., in accordance with the Arakawa Tozan Bus 荒川登山バス.
Closed: During bad weather such as typhoons, and land or rock slides.
Wi-Fi: Not Available
Credit Cards: Not Accepted
Nearest Stations: Yakushima Airport (屋久島空港), Miyanoura Port (宮之浦港), Anbo Port (安房港)
Access to the Jōmonsugi:
Take the Yakushima Kōtsu Bus (屋久島交通バス) or the Matsubanda Kōtsu Bus (まつばんだ交通バス) to the "Yakusugi Shizenkan" (屋久杉自然館) bus stop.
From there, take the Arakawa Tozan Bus (荒川登山バス) to the entrance to the mountain (tozanguchi 登山口).
It is a five-hours trek to the Jōmonsugi, using the mountain trail.
Access to Yakushima by Airplane:
Ninety minutes from Osaka/Sixty-five minutes from Fukuoka/Thirty minutes from Kagoshima
Access to Yakushima by Ferryboat:
About four hours from the Kagoshima Port.
*Using a high-speed boat, the time varies from one hour and forty-five minutes to two hours and fifty minutes, depending on which ports to use.
Fare: 1,740 yen for the Arakawa Tozan Bus, including the donation used for the regulation of vehicular traffic.
Official Site: Yakushima