Day 1: Ferry-bus-Jumon sugi-Takatsuka hut
Day 2: Miyanoura dake-Kurio dake-Yodogawa hut
Day 3: Yakushima cederland-bus-bus-ferry
In the days leading up to out trip to Yakushima, I had told a number of Japanese hikers of our plans to hike to the famous Jumon Sugi tree on the same day as arriving at Miyanoura port at 12:30 on the ferry. “Humm, impossible! It cannot be done. Many people die on the trail in the bush and cannot be found” was the typical response. So given the rather off putting remarks we received I wanted to use this space to tell you just how possible it really is with no overnight stop in an expensive ryokan required.
Take the ferry from Kagoshima at 8:30 which arrives at 12:30 – this is half the fare of the hydrofoil. Head to the info centre, fill out the death form confirming your planned itinerary, just so they know where to locate the body, then hire any kit you may require. You will be directed to the shop closest to the info centre and as such, charged accordingly. If you are prepared to walk a little further down the main street to Nakagawa sports it will cost a bit less; so we hired a stove for three days for ¥1100, but could have got it for ¥756. You can hire boots, sleeping bags and even tents- but don’t bother with the tent*. Now head to any of the bus stops on the main street heading south and get the 14:00 bus to Shiratani Unsuikyo trail head. The ride costs ¥500 and arrives at 14:35. Pay the entrance fee of ¥500 and get walking.
To make it there in daylight you must do it in 4 hours, which we did. As a rough guide to our abilities, Helen has a PB for 10k of 57.30 and has been dragged around the Lake District and Snowdonia a fair few times, but is by no means a mountain goat.
At the info centre you may have been tempted to buy a topological map like an os map of the trail. Unless you want it as a souvenir don’t bother. We navigated using just the flow chart they give you and it is impossible to leave the trail as the forest it too dense, plus as soon as you attempt to use the map, it will get soaking wet. A feature of the flow chart is the guide to how long each part of the journey will take with times “based on the time it took the average climber who carried 20 kg backpacks and break time excluded”. Firstly, 20 kg!!! That’s madness. That’s a third if the average Japanese man’s body weight (67.6 kg)! Even with a tent and rope you would not carry 20 kg! I took our two sleeping bags, inflatable mats, warm clothes some of the food and water and this came to 11 kg. Anyway, I digress slightly, the flow chart says it will take 6h15 to reach the hut, we took 3h45. The one thing I have picked in Japan is their cautious nature, and this is simply another example, just like no Japanese will cross the road on a red man even with no traffic about. Coupled with the constant drizzle that ruled out any good views, walking quickly to the hut was really the main goal of day one.
So we arrived at the Takatsuka before sunset. It is a 3 story wooden hut with tape marking each sleeping area, cooking inside appears to be acceptable. We travelled Monday to Wednesday two weeks before golden week at the end of April and there was only 5 of us at both huts. They have no power and are dark inside and don’t be surprised to find the Japanese in their sleeping bags by 3 pm; on that note, we were both warm enough with our 2 season Vango ultralights. The next day will take 6-7 hours, lead you up Miyanoura dake and should you wish a short detour Kuromi dake the third highest mountain on Yakushima. Starting out at seven and with more breaks we were inside the Yodogawa hut by 3:30. Keep any food you have suspended from the ceiling as mice will have it! We left at 8 am the next morning and walked to Yatsusugi cedar land to pick up the 11 am bus to Anbo, then the 11:59 bus to Miyanoura arriving at the port at 12:43, perfectly timed for the 1:30 pm ferry. Keep aside ¥1550 for the two buses.
* the only place you can put up a tent on this route is on the decking of the huts.
~You will no doubt be longing for a wash after 3 days avoiding death and spirits on the island, fortunately the ferry has showers and sauna, perfect!