#74 – MIYANOURA-DAKE
Two days after Kaimon I was reclining in the departure lounge of the Toppy Ferry Company, all the dark clouds of despair swept away by a couple of good nights’ sleep in a cramped Kagoshima business hotel. A joint with no fire escapes but instead, with windows large enough to crawl out of and rope ladders bundled in the corner. I assumed guests confined to wheelchairs either burned to death or bungee jumped to safety. Although the bundle of twine had the appearance of an approved fire rescue device I made a quick mental note to make sure it was fastened to something sturdy and nailed down, before slinging it out the window should some type of disaster occur – and let me tell you, in Kagoshima City, some sort of disaster lurks right across the bay.
I ogled the tempestuous Sakurajima through the plateglass windows of the Toppy deparutre lounge, 1100 metres of fire breathing volcano rising out of the tranquil waters of Kagoshima Bay. She called my name but sensibly I resisted. Anyway, my days of freedom were numbered. The world of work loomed and I had business across the seas to the south to attend to. I was bound for Miyanoura-dake, the highest of the peaks on the island of Yakushima, an eons old blob of magma that rose out of the earth’s mantle some fifteen and a half million years ago.
Whenever I had mentioned my intentions of concluding my hundred mountain quest on Yakushima Island people who wouldn’t recognise a hiking boot from a hat stand swooned. What did they know that I didn’t? All I’d heard of Yakushima before setting foot on it was that it was wet. So wet they said that it rains some thirty-five days a month. That’s a lot of wet. But the weather man on this occasion begged to differ in opinion and had promised blue skies. For three whole days, even. I prayed he was right but rechecked my rain gear was at the ready in the top of my pack just in case.
The first order of the day was getting to Yakushima without getting wet. Having harassed tourist information into organising my passage to and from the island, I was cheerfully informed that I was booked into the earliest Jetfoil ride the following day. Jetfoil: it sounded fast and it sounded flimsy and it rhymed with my arch nemesis the Jetboil to boot…I hoped they had better luck starting theirs.
A quick perusal of the pamphlet presented to me when I checked in and collected my tickets didn’t inspire confidence. It was an outline of the Toppy fleet. All sleek looking craft, they appeared as though they’d get me to Yakushima in no time. There was Toppy 1, and Toppy 2, and Toppy 3, and 5 and 7 were there too. Great, impressive stuff, an armarda of jetfoils – but where were Toppy 4 and 6? Had they been decommissioned? Or were they now the jungle gyms for the future sushi and sashimi dishes of greater Kagoshima? There was no time to get back and quiz Tourist Info about it. And what would the Toppy man at the ticket booth have to say? Not much I’m sure. I boarded my Toppy and held on for the ride.
Needless to say we carved up the ocean and I was off and on solid ground and bussing up into the hills in no time. The ugly coastal towns around the port belied the beauty of the wild interior of the island where a mass of mountains, rising through three distinct zones of vegetation, have been granted World Heritage status. No one has ever lived out there, in recorded times at least. Logging, when it occurred was selective for the most part, until a century ago, when milling became more rapacious but this was halted relatively quickly and much of Yakushima’s forests retain their primeval character. The monsters of the woods, the thousands of years old Yaku-sugis, massive, gnarled cedars nearly as old as civilisation itself sit silently in the forests, sentinels from centuries past and centuries to come. The plan for day one was to get to the most famous of these timber titans, Jomon-sugi, said to be some 4000 years old. The hut just beyond it would be my home for the night.
Plunging into the greenery at Kusugawa, above the port, the surrounds resembled the Gondwana rainforests of home in Australia more than anything I’d wandered through in Japan. But then, Yakushima is a different world from the rest of Japan and from that point on it didn’t take long for my own swooning to start.
By lunch time my trail into the interior met the main day hike trail to Jomon-sugi. A reclaimed narrow gauge train track for the long lost timber trade. I snacked at Wilson kabu, a spot where a fellow hiker directed me into an enormous, ancient stump, by way of an opening at its base. He made a heart shape with his hands and pointed to the heavens. Inside the stump, a hunk of tree as large as a small room, was a small shrine. Peering skyward, through the opening above, to the canopy of the forest and beyond, I understood what the bloke was on about as I stared through a heart shaped opening to the heavens.
It didn’t take long for an afternoon mist to settle in the woods as I climbed the rising trail to Jomon-sugi. The cheerful sun dappled woodland took on an air of mystery as I entered the inner sanctum of the Yaku-sugi. Mammoth, grey trunked behemoths lurked, peering out through the mists and tangles of much younger trees. And then up a flight of wooden stairs I climbed onto a deck and beheld Jomon-sugi in silent repose. 4000 years old they say. It first poked out of the earth 2000 years the other side of Christmas. A long bloody time to sit around in one place. A few fellow hikers stood in awe at the railing beside me. Another, sensibly as it turned out, began setting up his bivvy right there on the deck. It was low season and all the day hikers trekking in along the rails from a closer trailhead had long gone.
I made my way up to the hut and was somewhat disappointed to see what greeted me: an ugly, grey, cinderblock structure littered inside with trash and dirt. Pale orange trunked trees added some colour to the darkening surrounds, twisting skyward through the mists.
The following day sunlight shone once more and I climbed higher through a thinning, drier forest and emerged on an open ridgeline trail of knee high bamboo and enormous, house sized granite outcrops and boulders and there I finally laid eyes upon my goal of Miyanoura. This place was astoundingly beautiful. Astoundingly. Mountains appearing more like thousand metre high parfaits, the enormous ice cream creations pretty girls devour in shopping precincts across the nation, dotted the skyline. Right then it mattered not that Miyanoura was destined to be mountain 74 rather than 100. Everything was inconsequential. Nothing mattered as I took in the views. From the start of the hike the place just piled on the wonder. With sunshine warming my back I realised I was one of the lucky ones to experience this place beneath blue skies.
Up and over the lushly bamboo covered Miyanoura and down the other side the vistas kept working their magic. Stacks of stone piled upon one anoter. Enormous egg shaped boulders littered the highland meadows. Streams so clear trickled across the path that I found myself doing double takes to see if they really had water in them at all. Old spindly skeletons of trees cut against the blue afternoon sky as non-threatening cloud drifted into the valleys below. On a distant mountaintop stood a rock formation resembling sliced bread. Hikers up here were few and far between. I may have met half a dozen souls on the entire traverse that second day. I pulled up stumps at the Yodogo Hut, a reputedly rat infested joint that otherwise appeared more inviting than my lodgings in cell block H the night before.
On the last morning I rose relatively late and strolled off onto an overgrown trail. Not many passed this way. If where I had already been resembled a lost world, this was the lost world’s back block. Vines scraped. Tendrils of green moss like material draped down from overhanging branches. It was a long hike back down into the forests and by mid afternoon I emerged at the back of a township and hunted down a room for the night. The first place I found appeared to be empty, judging by the amount of slippers sitting idly in the shoe cupboard at the doorway, but I got the impression that I was being gently dissuaded from staying there. When I inquired about somewhere else the proprietor pointed me down the road and around the corner. Runnig low on reserves I pulled up at the first place I came across which turned out to be an enormous resort with gardens manicured to a state of perfection shockingly in contrast to the terrain I had struggled through all day. I imagined my wallet screaming in protest as I strode up the drive. I thought I felt it attempt to leap out of my hip pocket the moment the glass doors at the entrance silently slid open before me. The achingly gorgeous lass at reception, with lips as most and pure as a Yakushima stream and eyes as soft and caressing as a mountain mist informed me that the going rate was twenty thousand yen for a room. Two hundred dollars. I felt my hip pocket jerk. The world of work was a week away. Money would be trickling back into my bank account soon enough. What the hell. This was the turning point after all. I was shagged. My feet hurt. And I smelt. Soft beds and showers were within reach. I could walk the roads of the island hoping to find something more accommodating to my financial situation or I could just dive right in there and then reward myself with a little bit of luxury after six months in the mountains. In reality the choice had already been made. I wasn’t walking out of that joint until the next day.
Minutes later I stood in a room as large as a house sporting a pair of double beds the size of trampolines and a bathroom you could swing a cat in, a large cat at that, like a leopard or something, an oversized leopard even. There were sofas that would fill parking spaces. I hit the mini bar, napped, showered and went downstairs to dine with the fine people of Yakushima.
Twenty four hours later just to keep things real, as it were, I clambered onto an overnight bus in Kagoshima for a thirteen hour trip back to Osaka. And let me tell you, when I say trip, I mean it. Three hours in and I was hankering for the hills, longing for a night in a leaky blue train carriage, salivating over the thought of being devoured by horseflies, hoping against all hope that if I closed my eyes for a few minutes that I would wake up somewhere more comfortable than where I found myself, like between two snoring ojisans in a hut with a hardwood floor and a draft. Six hours in I think I began hallucinating. Ten hours in I may well have been hanging off the ceiling by my fingernails but I can’t verify that. Twelve hours and fifty-five minutes in I think I fell asleep. And then I was in Umeda. Osaka. The Hankyu Station blearily wandering in circles trying to locate the train platforms. And then I was home, somewhere in the sprawl between Osaka and Kyoto walking the streets past familiar old sights, the bank on the corner, the tiny canal dotted with sluggish carp, there was ‘my’ Lawson convenience store and there was my big old white, concrete, gulagesque apartment building. Home sweet home. I grabbed a yogurt and fruit jelly from the shop and walked the final hundred yards to my door, unlocked, dumped my pack, hit the heater remote and sunk into my sofa. And that was pretty much it. Life on the road had come to an end. I ate, I showered as the kettle boiled, had a cuppa and hit the sack, ab-so-lutely buggered.