Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Among the Yakisugi



Normally at the beginning of these little travel pieces I start out very poetic, praising the unique features of the area, and highlighting how much I benefited from the experience. Although I did enjoy staying on Yakushima, the hiking, the main feature, was subpar by my standards. Oh, don't get me wrong – the sights, the sounds, and the smells were all what I expected, and all quite extraordinary. But the quality of the journey, the terrain, and following the footsteps of the men of old, were not so enjoyable.

Yakushima (屋久島), as you may know, is one of the major islands off the southern coast of Japan. Just like Tanegashima (種子島), it's less than two hours from Kagoshima Port by ferry. And it's unique. As unique as any other island out here. Where Tanegashima is sandy and tropical, Yakushima is very much a wilderness, with rocky shores and trees thousands of years old.

I'm just recently starting to discover the wonders of these southern islands; there are three directly to the south, the Mishima group (Takeshima, Ioujima, Kuroshima), and a collection south of Yakushima, the Tokara islands (one that is supposedly the subject of the story Treasure Island).

But I digress, more on Yakushima...


The Cities

Miyanoura (宮之浦)

Miyanoura is the major entry/exit point to Yakushima. Although ferries do dock at Anbo (安房, to the south) as well, most traffic is in and out of this little coastal town. I'd highly recommend this as your major base of operations, for hiking or sightseeing - おみやげ stores (gifts), rental equipment (everything from tents to hiking boots), restaurants, grocery stores, and most of the tourist industry resides in Miyanoura.

If you're in the mood, I believe there is a kayak rental store that allows you to go upstream towards the mountains; once you're clear of the semi-urban area, this would be quite a sight.

Onoaida (尾之間)

Onoaida, just a little over an hour by bus or car from Miyanoura, is another good base of operations. Be warned, however - there's not a lot here. Hotels in abundance, and a quality onsen, but restaurants, convenience stores, and shops of any kind are lacking. There is one supermarket, a bakery (ペイタ, Peita, very good), and a pachinko parlor, if you can believe it. If you do stay in this area, bring all the supplies you need from Miyanoura, and order meals at the hotel.




Jyoumon Sugi (縄文杉)



Jyoumon Sugi is a cedar tree located very far inland on the bigger hiking trails in Yakushima. The oldest cedar tree in Yakushima, Japan, and the world, estimated to be between 2,170 and 7,200 years old.

Although this certainly is worth seeing if you're on the island, don't expect fireworks; after all, it is just a tree.

This was one of the major qualms I had with the the trail leading here. If you're traveling from Arakawa, you're hiking on railroad tracks for the better part of two hours, and then on carefully placed wooden platforms leading up the mountain. While there's no doubt that these precautions are necessary given the tourists on Yakushima (including children), they take away from the journey. I want nothing but hiking boots owning the wilderness, my hands grasping for branches as they guide my body across a difficult terrain... the spiderwebs are the same, though - right in your face at an inopportune moment.

Height: 25.3 m
Circumference: 16.4 m

Along the trail, be sure to notice...

Wilson's Stump (the opening shaped like a heart if you get the angle just right)



There used to be a small town, complete with a middle school, in the middle of the mountain.




Access

From the Yakushima Youth Hostel in Hirauchi, there is a 5:02 AM bus (stops at major areas in Onoaida and Anbo) that takes you right to the Arakawa trailhead - one of the highest points accessible by car. From there, it's about a 3-4 hour hike to the Jyoumon Sugi. If you have enough time, there is a small peak about another hour away. The first bus going back leaves at 3 PM, the last at 5 PM.


Miyanouradake (宮之浦岳)

Miyanouradake is the highest point on Yakushima island, reaching 1936 m. Unfortunately, there's no possible way to reach the peak and come back safely before dark in a single day; if you want to see all of Yakushima, plan on camping out.

Access

All trails lead to Miyanouradake. It's almost the exact center of the island.


Onsen

Onoaida Onsen (尾之間温泉)

A small little onsen just off the highway, about a 15 minute walk from Onoaida. It also happens to be at the base of one of the popular trailheads. Not a bad starting point if you're intent from beginning at the base of the mountain, but I prefer taking a bus past the "boring" areas.



They have towels, but no soap. The bath is very hot, a little sulfurous, and more than relaxing. Perfect for coming off the trail at day's end.

Ohura no Yu (おふらの湯)

Don't even bother. Coming from Isso Beach, I was expecting a semi-luxurious onsen set in the wilderness, with full facilities. Instead, I find a run-down bathhouse a 20 minute walk from the highway in what could never be construed as a romantic area. The bath is small, no soap is provided, and the water doesn't feel even remotely onsen-like.

Hirauchi Kaichu Onsen

A great natural outdoor onsen on the rocky shore. Unfortunately it's only full as long as the tide is in (midnight and noon when I was there in August).


Beaches

Isso Beach and Ohura Cape





There is another beach near Nagata on the western side of Yakushima. During the month of August, you might be able to spot sea turtles coming ashore.

Access

Take the northbound bus about 25 minutes from Miyanoura. The bus stops right in front of the beach; watch for signs.


Accommodation

Yakushima Portside Youth Hostel
Probably your cheapest option in the Miyanoura area. It's an easy walk from the port, and as central as can be.

¥3800/night, meals not available
Website

Access
Walk out of the port and turn left. You'll see signs.


Yakushima Youth Hostel
The best cheapest lodging option. This hostel is just west of Onoaida in the middle of nowhere (a town called Hirauchi, 平内); I wouldn't recommend trying to reach it on foot. Once you do reach the main building, however, I think you'll be pleasantly surprised: rental cars, rental bicycles, internet access, laundry machines, a nice dining area, and plenty of room. It's well-maintained (almost new, I think). If you don't want to order meals at the hostel, there is a decent izakaya within walking distance that opens at 6 PM.

¥3540/night, meals extra
Website

Access
Take a bus south from Miyanoura or Anbo to the Hirauchi Iriguchi stop.


JR Hotel



A nicely placed hotel close to the shore in Onoaida. This hotel is modern, expensive, and boasts its own onsen.
Website


Iwasaki Hotel
A few minutes away from Onoaida closer to the base of the mountain. Probably the most luxurious choice in Yakushima (certainly the most expensive, anyway). This hotel is on the early morning bus route, and gives you a great view of the shoreline.
Website


Camping
Camping is a popular option on Yakushima, as most of the sights are more than a day's hike away, and you have to plan very carefully if you want to catch the bus.

Although you can probably pitch a tent anywhere without consequence, the authorities recommend setting up at designated mountain huts along the trail. There are no restaurants, vending machines, or running water faucets as far as I know.


Access to Island

Cosmo Line operates three Rocket jetfoils.
¥5,000 one-way, ¥9,000 roundtrip

Kagoshima (鹿児島) --> Yakushima (屋久島)

09:00 --> 10:50
12:20 --> 13:10
16:00 --> 18:45 (stops at Tanegashima)

Yakushima (屋久島) --> Kagoshima (鹿児島)

07:20 --> 10:05 (stops at Tanegashima)
12:00 --> 13:50
15:50 --> 18:30 (stops at Tanegashima)

A notice: there are no vending machines on this ship and it moves too quickly to allow you to step outside.


Toppy operates its own jetfoils, albeit at a slightly higher price than Cosmo Line.
¥7,000 one-way, ¥12,600 roundtrip

Kagoshima (鹿児島) --> Yakushima (屋久島)

07:30 --> 10:30 (stops at Tanegashima)
07:40 --> 09:45 (stops at Ibusuki)
10:20 --> 13:00 (stops at Tanegashima, arrives at Anbo port)
13:10 --> 14:55
15:50 --> 18:30 (stops at Tanegashima, arrives at Anbo port)

Yakushima (屋久島) --> Kagoshima (鹿児島)

07:00 --> 09:35 (departs from Anbo port, stops at Tanegashima)
10:00 --> 12:40 (stops at Tanegashima)
10:45 --> 12:30
13:40 --> 15:35 (departs from Anbo port)
16:20 --> 19:15 (stops at Tanegashima, Ibusuki)


Other Observations

- Be wary of centipedes (gejigeji, 蚰蜒); they may not be fatal, but could put parts of you out of commission.
- The center of Yakushima is almost like a basin for catching clouds; even in the non-rainy seasons, you might find yourself in the midst of a rainforest.

More pictures of Yakushima

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