Yakushima Hike Day 1: Mountain Hut Debut

I’m up at 5:30 AM. Tent is still standing and all pegs are still in the ground. Not really wanting to risk the campsite toilet, I break camp and go to the parking area toilet to wash up. I head back toward town to the bus stop for an 8:15 bus to Shirataniunsuikyo, which is supposed to be the inspiration for the forest in Princess Mononoke. I hope to pick up breakfast on the way to the bus stop to replace the one I ate for dinner the night before, but everything is still closed. The supermarket doesn’t open until 9 AM and the Tourist Info Center and cafe is closed on Tuesdays (good thing it was open yesterday!). Finally, at 8 AM a tourist trap omiyage shop opens and I am able to purchase some bread and Jagariko for breakfast.

The bus gets me to the trail head at Shirataniunsuikyo just before 9 AM. I dutifully use the toilet (toilet opportunities are limited in the mountains on Yakushima and peeing and pooing in the bush is discouraged because of the fragile ecosystem — you are supposed to do all emergency business in wag bags), turn in my “tozan todoke” hiking registration, and pay the recommended 2000 yen donation to the park service for overnight park users.

The “Mononoke Princess forest” is full of the little kodama forest sprites you see in the movie.

kodama

Nah, it’s full of tourists stopping in the middle of the trail to take photos and messing with your hiking pace.

At 10:30 I reach the turn off for the side trail to Taiko-iwa. Another hiker has dropped his pack at the bottom of the trail so I put mine right next to his and start climbing up to Taiko-iwa carrying only my phone to take photos with. Taiko-iwa is an amazing lookout onto a river and river valley painted all shades of spring green and dotted with pink mountain sakura.

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View from Taiko-iwa. Sorry the photo does not do justice to the view, the lighting started to get better later in the day.

By 11:30 I reach the Kusugawa Junction with the Arakawa Trail, which is the most popular trail to Jomon-sugi, the oldest and largest known Yakusugi cedar. Arakawa Trail is an old logging railroad track which makes for super easy walking, so instead of breaking for lunch I just snack as I cruise along.

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railroad track trail

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nice composting bio-toilet

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little shrine and spring inside the Wilson Stump

Past the Wilson Stump (a bit of interesting history about Wilson Stump here) the trail gets a bit harder and looks less travelled. I start to wonder if I’m going the right way because isn’t Jomon-sugi the most famous attraction on Yakushima? Then the trail starts to open up with some wooden platform resting areas and then north and south viewing platforms surrounding the famous Jomon-sugi. Later I would meet a 70-year-old man who would wax poetic about when you could walk right up and hug the Jomon-sugi.

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unnamed yakusugi

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Jomon-sugi

I didn’t know how fast I would hike so I didn’t know if I would stay at Takazuka Hut just past Jomon-sugi or make it to Shin-Takazuka Hut. It’s only about 3 PM when I arrive at Takazuka Hut so I decide to press on for another hour to Shin-Takazuka Hut.

When I arrive at Shin-Takazuka Hut, there are two Yakushika deer hanging out in front by the sign for the toilet. I quietly slide open the door and poke my head inside. “There are two yakushika right outside the hut!” I whisper expectantly to a group of four older gentlemen heating up their dinner by the entrance. “We’ve seen countless yakushika today” one of them says and turns back to their dinner. No one is impressed and no one exits the hut to take a look.

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yakushika hanging out by toilet sign (photo taken from my second floor window in the hut)

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Shin-Takazuka Hut

It’s only 4 PM but everyone has already unfurled their bedrolls to claim a spot and has a Jetboils fired up to prepare dinner. Shin-Takazuka Hut has an occupancy of 60 people, but that would be in a survival situation with people packed in like sardines, each sleeping pad lined up right up against the next. I’m either the last or the second to last person to show up for the night. The second floor on one side of the hut is completely unoccupied so I climb up the ladder and unpack. I manage to change into a dry T-shirt and clean leggings under my sleeping bag. There are some ropes and hooks strung up inside the hut so I hang my sweaty hiking things up to dry. I had read that you have to hang your food inside the huts or it will get eaten by the cute little yakunezumi rats. I’m pretty sure the rat situation is not helped by everyone cooking in the hut. There is an exclamation downstairs (“Wow, that must be heavy!”) as someone whips out a real frying pan and starts to stir-fry something that smells mighty tasty.

The clouds had been clearing over the course of the day and it’s nice out so I set up my cooking station outside. One of the four older gentlemen that had been cooking near the entrance stops by on his way back from the toilet and asks when I came from today and where I plan to hike to tomorrow. Typical hiker conversation. After a few sentences exchanged he says, “You aren’t Japanese are you? That makes sense. A young Japanese woman wouldn’t go on a solo hike and stay at a mountain hut alone. Do you know Japanese ‘yama gal’? The ones with all the jangling bits hanging off of them.” *motions with hands* (The Japanese was 「チャラチャラしている」) “You can’t tell if they really like mountains or if they are just hiking to look cute.” Another old man in the group pipes up, “I don’t mind the yama gal. They add color to the mountains.” First guy continues, “You, you don’t look out of place at all. “ (「違和感ない。」) Thanks?

Turns out the four are all 70-years-old and part of a hiking group out of Tokyo. They have come from the opposite direction as me and summited Miyanouradake that day. I ask them to invite me along on some future hikes and we exchange contact info.

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dinner!

There is one other solo woman hiker staying in the hut but besides me, everyone seems to be of retirement age. After dinner, it’s not even dark yet but everyone zips into their sleeping bags, so I do the same. Hiker lights out is 7 PM and I think I manage to fall asleep by 8 PM.

Date: April 18 • Start: Shirataniunsuikyo • End: Shin-Takazuka Hut • Distance hiked: 10.7km
Achievements Unlocked: first time solo-hiking • first time cooking on a canister stove • first time staying in a mountain hut

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