11/08/2010 (Wed) -> Joumon-sugi
This will be another very long post with tons of photos, so I’ll split it into two! But if you’re interested in hiking up to Joumon-sugi, I’ll give your the super short version of my tips & notes.
A hike to Joumon-sugi is…
- absolutely an amazing experience, and after a hike to Joumon-sugi, you feel like you can accomplish anything. I recommend anyone who goes to Yakushima to try it!
But I wouldn’t recommend it if…
- you have a fear of heights.
- you have bad knees.
Anyway as I mentioned, this was probably the biggest day of our trip. Of course, everything we had done so far since we got Japan was pretty big but this was so big that I was very nervous since we planned to do this before going to Japan. (the proposal wasn’t part of our plan so it won’t count!)
This was the day to go to Joumon-sugi, the oldest known cedar tree on Yakushima in Japan, and it’s probably the most famous and popular spot in Yakushima. Joumon-sugi is located at an elevation of 1300m (0.8 mile) high in the mountains, and it’s a 10 hour hike round trip.
Derek goes to kung-fu class three times a week, and I may not get out of house much but I’m not that out of shape. Even still, we’ve never went on a 10-hour hike, and naturally we were a bit worried. It’s very unlikely that you’ll get lost on the way to Joumon-sugi, but I really wanted Derek to learn a lot about the forest, trees, and the history of Yakushima so we hired a tour guide who could speak English. My friend’s father who often visits Yakushima asked his acquaintance living in Yakushima and they introduced us to our guide. Hiring a tour guide in Yakushima can be pricey. Our tour guide cost 25,000 yen for the two of us, but in the end we were SO GLAD that we had our guide.
Our bento were waiting for us in the dining area at 4:00 AM. We changed into hiking gear and checked to make sure we had everything.
TIPS & NOTES: Breakfast and lunch for a hiking trip
We had asked the lodge owner to order breakfast and lunch for us from a bento store. If you plan on going hiking in Yakushima any hotel or inn can arrange you a bento as early as 4:00 AM.
Our guide, Wada-san picked us up at the lodge. It was about an hour drive to the shuttle bus which takes you to the bottom of the trail that goes up the mountain. It was sprinkling on the way there, and we were worried. But luckily that was the only time it rained.
There were other hikers, already lining up for the shuttle bus at the parking lot. We paid 1640 yen for round trip bus tickets. (You can buy the tickets at the tourism office too) We got on the bus which took another 45 minutes through curvy mountain roads.
We got to the hut by the entrance of the trail. We all sat on the floor and ate breakfast. After breakfast, we spent some time stretching.
We began hiking! Well, the first 8 km of the hike we would be walking on the track of mini-train car. (I’d want to call it “mine-car” because it’s basically the same, but they don’t use it for mining.) There used to be a village in the mountain, and they used the car to transport food, necessities and people to and from the town. It’s still very functional but now they only use it to transport human waste from the bathrooms they have in the mountain.
TIPS & NOTES:
I’ll write about the hiking gear later, but the most important item for hiking to Joumon-sugi is a rain coat! The one that has a separated top and bottom. Also put all important things into a ziplock.
We came to the first bridge we had to cross. The bridge wasn’t really for people but for the train car, so they put a wooden board about 2-feet wide in the middle of the track, and we had to walk on it very carefully. It was probably higher than 10-feet, no net to catch us underneath. There were wires on the side but they were for a train car and not for you to hold onto them. We’d soon learn that bridge was just one of many ahead.
I’m not scared of heights at all and neither is Derek, but even so we were little nervous. We tried not to stop or look anywhere but the wooden board we were walking on. Wada-san told us that because people are usually extra cautious around obviously dangerous spots like the bridge, almost no one gets hurt there. He said people get hurt when they aren’t nervous and not paying attention. I’ve read that it’s not uncommon for people not paying attention while walking on the track to slip on the wet wood and fall down the mountain side. (Some falls can definitely kill you.)
We walked by a shrine, so we prayed for a safe hike. We later realized that it looked a lot like the shrine from Totoro! It is said that the Chichibu area by Tokyo is based on the location of Totoro, but I just had to compare these two.
Right by the shrine, there was a bridge named “Kosugidani hashi.” (Kosugidani bridge) It was pretty high and below the bridge were huge white boulders. We were focused on walking, but then Wada-san stopped in the middle of the bridge and said “You can see this area in Princess Mononoke.” We both went “OOoooooh!” and started taking photos.
After we crossed the bridge, we had our first break at the area where an elementary school used to be.
Afterwards we started walking on the train track again. No hard climbing yet, except the occasional deadly bridges. I hear it constantly rains hard during summer (peak season), but I can’t imagine crossing those bridges in the pouring rain.
Cedars there have a high content of oil and are very hard. When they die, the outside remains hard, and gets hollow inside. Then other cedars will start to grow from it.
Wada-san stopped and pointed at a tree that was growing horizontally, which had white branches growing from the tip of the tree. He explained that the white part was caused by fungus. He asked “Doesn’t it look like the Forest Spirit (Night Walker) from Princess Mononoke?”
Soon after we left the Forest Spirit/Night Walker cedar, we encountered a Yakushima monkey!
Shortly after seeing a monkey, we spotted a Yakushima deer!
Yakushima deer are pretty small because of the terrain of the mountain. Also they are the biggest animal in the forest in Yakushima, so they don’t have any predators and they aren’t afraid of humans at all. (but of course feeding any wild animals is strictly prohibited.)
We got to the last bathroom area until Joumon-sugi, and that was where the “real” hiking began.
Right off, we climbed a 45 degree trail up for 5 minutes or so. It wasn’t bad, but then Wada-san said “There’ll be three long staircases ahead, and it’ll be one of the toughest parts of this hike. Especially the second staircase. ” We immediately realized that he wasn’t kidding. The wooden staircases were man-made, but it was like they were made for someone who was 8-foot tall with very tiny feet. Each staircase had so many steps. Each step was about 14-inch~18-inch high, and very very narrow. I’ve NEVER climbed staircases like that in my life. It was like climbing up the staircases to HELL. Oh yeah, did I mention that we each had a huge backpack on?
The steps were just freaking high for me (I’m 5’2″) but I didn’t want to slow us down. Wada-san was walking in the front, then Derek, and me in back. So I kind of detached my mind from the body, and just looked at Derek’s feet, making my feet follow his feet, one step at a time. It was like I was trying to hypnotize myself to do the repetitive movement.
I came to the conclusion that I HATE stairs. I was really despising the stairs. I hated them so much that I wanted to curse at them. Sorry but no pictures of the staircase to HELL. I hate them that much.
After that, we climbed some very steep mountain trail, and some parts were so steep that it was like we were climbing on a wall, some steps were even higher than that of the stairs, but I didn’t mind it at all. Not only that, I LOVED climbing up the rocky mountain covered with roots and rocks. I think with the stairs, the repetitive movement and the fact that you can’t choose the width of your step really bothered me.
We finally got to Wilson’s Stump. Wilson’s Stump is estimated to be over 3000 years old and the base circumference is 32 m (104 feet) and 4.39 m (14 feet) across at chest height. It was named after Ernest Wilson to pay respect for his dedicated study of the forest in Yakushima. The inside the stump is so big it reminded us of Totoro’s nest!
But the most famous thing about this stump is this.
You see two people taking photo from the inside the stump in the photos above? That’s the spot for “<3″. It’s on the right after you walk into the stump. Wada-san said that someone found out about this not so long ago, and now it’s the second most popular spot after Joumon-sugi.
We walked some more after the stump and Wada-san pointed out a pipe that was sticking out of the side of the mountain, which had water was coming out. It was natural water from the mountain. There were a couple of spots like this but according to the tests done on water quality in the mountain, this one had the highest quality. I didn’t want to drink too much water because I knew there wasn’t bathroom ahead, but I tried, and WOW. It was the BEST WATER I’ve ever tasted. To be honest, I don’t like drinking water that much. I just felt like I can always “taste” water, even though if it’s bottled water, and I don’t like the “taste.”
But this water tasted soooooooo clean. It was coming right out from the mountain and I couldn’t taste anything at all but “water”! It was truly amazing. Derek and I couldn’t just believe how delicious the water was. Wada-san was laughing, saying that he thought the water was too tasteless that it could use some “flavor.”
We regretted we didn’t take any empty bottles with us. We saved some in our water bottle but because we had flavored water in it before, it didn’t exactly taste like the “pure water” later. =(
TIPS & NOTES:
This is why the people in Yakushima care so much about keeping the forest clean. If you ever go, please don’t ever think of peeing or even spilling your juice on the ground. If you smoke, take a portable ashtray with you. They sell portable bathrooms (like a big ziplock bag) everywhere and encourage people to use it in the mountain in Yakushima. They even have a tent set up in the mountain so people can use a portable bathroom, and they also have a trashcan for the used portable bathroom.
It’s been more than 4 hours into the hike, and only about an hour and a half until Joumon-sugi.
We have over 4000 photos from this trip and there’s no way I can post them all on my blog. So I’m uploading photos from our trip to flickr as I write a post for each day. If you’d like to check out random photos from Japan or us goofing around in Japan, check out my flickr collection by clicking the link below!
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