Saturday, May 22, 2010

Yakushima, Japan


Don't worry, if the high speed ferry breaks down, you can totally just do like this nice family and chiiiiiiiiilllllllll.


I still remember going to some art house cinema in San Francisco, back in 1997, to see Princess Mononoke. Although I can count the number of times I've seen Japanese animation in a theater on one and a half hands, this was the first. Miyazaki's beautiful creation, a land on the border of man and nature, is stunning to say the least.

Yakushima is the island that inspired this movie. It has always been somewhere that I aspired to go.

With my Hiking in Japan guidebook as my... guide, I set out for a 3 day trip to the island.

Before I continue, let me talk shit about this book!

These hikes are WAAAAY tough. I've gotten used to Japan, where if a hike is listed at 4 hours on the trail markers, it will take me 2.


My book's recommended route was to hike from Onoaida in the south to the base of the mountains in 1 day (12km), hike over the mountains on the 2nd day (13km), and then leisurly descend on day 3 (14km). I added 12 and 13, and figured I could easily do 25km in one day. I was traveling light, and an early start would give me ample time.


I didn't pass a single person on the start of this hike. Surprising, since this is the Golden Week holiday, the weather was clear (a rarity for this island), and the ferries were running at capacity.


Beautiful and lush, that's for sure, but this trail is poorly maintained. I got lost countless times looking for the next trail marker; a piece of pink ribbon tied to a branch.


I'm reminded of the first hike I took with this book, back in 2006. We went to Mt. Tateyama, and it was a horrible experience for anyone who didn't have a history with the Boy Scouts.


Enough complaining. Just take my advice, if you aren't fairly confident with your hiking abilities. Do what the Japanese people do, stay on the most popular trail, hire a guide, spend thousands of dollars on top quality hiking gear for your once a year hiking vacation.

My recommended hiking route would be to start from the Yodogo-iriguchi trailhead (you can take a bus from Ando, or just hitch it), climb the mountains, stay at the hut, then head back to the port the next day.


This tiny island is also the tallest mountain in Kyushu. You'll pass through numerous climate zones.


Sometimes hiking, sometimes climbing.


I reached the end of the first leg at about 2pm. The next leg was described as "now it get's tough!", so I changed up the plan. Circumnavigate the mountain peak by way of hitchhiking, get to the main trail hub, and power walk to the hut where I could spend the night.


That plan totally worked, and I was at the Arakawa Dam trailhead at just after 3.


This is one of the most popular trails for hikers. Buses frequent this spot, and if you catch the early one, you can hike to the famous trees and back in about 10 hours. 6 hours up, 4 down. It gets dark in 3. But, according to the Japanese model, I can do a 6 hour hike in just that amount of time.


Oh, this is gonna be easy.


You hike along a railroad.


I passed at least a thousand people on their way down. As usual, I like to take a simple situation and make problems out of it. I sort of ran out of food. Oops, my bad.


Just as twilight set in, I reached my goal.


Oh snap, it's some people I met on the ferry ride over. They had been there since the afternoon, and were just making dinner. Score!


It's ramen adventure time!


The guy who treated me to this feast spoke great English, and talked about how he had cycled all over the world. He said to search for "Fumy on bike". The only one I found was Fumy Beppu, a Japanese racer who has competed in the Tour de France. It can't be... can it?


The most visited place on this island is by far Jomon Sugi, an ancient cedar tree that is somewhere between 2000 and 7000 years old. If it's toward the later, then this is the oldest living thing on earth. (insert a yo mama! joke here)


Along the trail, you can see many more of these ancient trees. Or in this case a stump. Wilson's Stump is named after 1800s plant collector Ernest Henry Wilson. Thanks wikipedia!


Back down the railway tracks.


I got way lucky with the weather. Yakushima is the wettest place in Japan, and every guidebook says that the locals say that it rains 35 days a month here. Which is stupid. Because there aren't 35 days in a month.


Homeboy was doing Japanese tea ceremony on the top of a mountain. How awesome is that!


Down through the Mononoke forest, the descent is easy going.


Oh, yeah, I was still out of food this whole time.


Next: Fukuoka. "It's all the kick ass sleaze of Kabukicho, but with a nice river and benches to chill on." - Me


illahee said...

i hate hiking. :P

can't wait to hear about your time in fukuoka, though!

blue said...

I'm glad to know that you enjoyed Kyushu trip, which I came from, though I have never been to Yaku-shima. And now your gorgeous pics inspire me to walk around and take some pics. I would do that more often if only my camera is a little lighter.