Japan: Yakushima – the island that inspired a Ghibli film

For Christmas Break one of my best friends from high school came to Japan to visit and do some traveling with me.  We decided that the main thing we wanted to do was go to this island just south of Kagoshima Prefecture called Yakushima.  This island is famous for inspiring the scenery seen in the Ghibli film, Princess Mononoke as well as boasting what is believed to be Japan’s oldest tree.

However, the island isn’t exactly easy to get to. You have to take a ferry which takes either 3-4 hours depending on the boat you take and they only leave in the morning.  So we had to fly to Kagoshima, buy our tickets for the 4 hour ferry the next morning and then stay the night in Kagoshima.  When we arrived at the port the next day there was nobody at the boat and we couldn’t figure out where it was loading. I went into the lounge area and asked the receptionist how we were to board the ferry. She proceeded to pull out a sign (in English) that says: Because of typhoon the ferry is canceled today.

It was sunny outside.

We decided to try to go buy tickets for the quicker (but more expensive) ferry at the other port.  When buying those tickets we were told that the two morning ferry services for that boat had also been canceled but we could buy tickets for the next one but if the weather was too bad the boat would turn around. We decided to risk it and off we went into the “storm”

And oh boy they weren’t lying. The whole ride down to the island it was raining and the waves were 10-15 feet high at times. Somehow we made it to the island alive and we were able to start our adventure.

For our first hike we planned on hiking Joumonsugi.  Joumonsugi is the cedar tree believed to be the oldest tree in Japan and to get to it, it’s a 10 round trip. Or quicker if you decided to never stop and enjoy the scenery. Which, how could you not:

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We caught a bus at 4:20 am to take us to the trail head.  The previous night we joked about people renting headlamps. And then we got to the trail head…oops.

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The first hour of the trail is on these old railroad tracks that are half falling apart and right next to this steep cliff next to a gorge. We turned the first corner and we have to cross a bridge. where the path is about 2 feet wide and about a 4 story drop below us.  No handrails, pitch black with no headlamps, and a few random holes in the path.

…Good start.  What had we got ourselves into.

Here’s what it looked like in the daytime.

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5 hours later we made it to the tree:

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It’s not the biggest tree ever but it is estimated to be between 3000-7000 years old.  It is so old that 10 different species of plants have started growing on it, essentially creating it’s own miniature forest inside of a huge one.

The next day we did the hike only the mossy trails that inspired the movie Princess Mononoke.  We were there during the off season when everything has lost much of it’s green but it was still amazing.

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A lot of the trail is paved.  Much easier to deal with than train tracks.

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The part that isn’t paved is really too beautiful to complain about.

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The Yakushima forest because of it’s placement between climate zones is considered to be one of the most important ecosystems in the world hosting around 1,900 species and subspecies of flora as well as 16 mammal species and 150 bird species as well as mountains rising to nearly 2,000 meters.

Were the countless hours spent on planes, in buses, riding boats through typhoons and the 20 hours of hiking worth this experience?

Absolutely.

 

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