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David @ Tokyo

Perspective from Japan on whaling and whale meat, a spot of gourmet news, and monthly updates of whale meat stockpile statistics



Summer Holiday 2006 - Day 3

Early morning on Day 3! (If you missed Day 2 it's here)

We had our alarm clock set to get us up by 04:30 so that we had plenty of time to get to the nearby bus stop. Getting up was not such a hard job as we hit the sack early the previous night, and had already been woken up by the people in the room next door when they left at 03:30 - they made a huge noise opening and shutting a closet or something.
Anyway, out we ventured into the early morning darkness, and after a 10 minute wait the bus chugged along, pretty much right on schedule at 05:20 or so.

The bus ride back up the east coast and then up into the mountains took around an hour from our location on the south at Onoaida, and at the last stop we picked up some breakfast and lunch boxes from "Asahi bento". We had told the guy at our minshuku that we were planning to get up early and climb the mountain, so the previous night he had called up this place to arrange for our breakfast and lunch to be waiting for us at the second to last bus stop. As we wound our way up through the mountain on the bus to the hike entrance way, we got another view of a nice sunrise. The road was pretty nasty so I was happy to not have taken the car, although cost wise the price on the bus was about 1160 yen, so overall it might have been better to go with the rent-a-car at 4,500 or so a day.

Once we arrived we could see that there were quite a few people doing the climb. Our bus was basically full, and the car park had heaps of vehicles.
We chowed down on our breakfast, before it started to rain, and rain pretty hard as well. A work mate of mine had told me a bit about his time in Yakushima, and they say that when it rains it rains hard, but only for about 30 minutes at a time. That's how it turned out - after about 15 minutes of waiting under shelter we said "hey let's go" and by the time 07:00 came we were 15 minutes into our hike and the rain had basically stopped.

Basically the entrance to the hike path is actually something like an old station. The first 7 or so kilometres of the hike is on a tiny little railroad track. At the entrance they have a whole load of rusty looking equipment there. It seems like they built this track into the mountain, where they would go and cut down cedar trees, and then transport them back down. After we had walked along on top of the track for about an hour or so, we heard some loud horn type noise coming from behind us, and as we passed a guide leading some other tourists up the hill he told us to get off the track - the horn was apparently that of a little locamotive that was coming up the hill. It was a dinky little thing too, with about 3 guys sitting in it.

We kept walking, and eventually came to fork in the tracks. I guess the little locamotive went off to the left, but the line veered across a river to the right, which was apparently the path to the Jomon Sugi. Here the photo shows the view from the top of the bridge - there are masses of massive rocks like this all over Yakushima it seems.

Over on the other side of the bridge was the site of an old Junior High School. We didn't notice that until on the way back down, later in the afternoon actually, and we wondered who in their right mind would send their kids to school in a place as remote and hard to get to as that - which is why the school shutdown I suppose :-) Presumably it was for the kids of families who were working on the mountain in past years.

There was an interesting sign board too about how the cedar trees grow - click on the picture to get a bigger view.

The next picture seems to show just such an example of one of these hollowed out cedar trees. I can't really remember this actually, but I think you could walk around inside this guy. He's a big boy, that's for sure.

To the left is a picture of the dinky little train tracks, with Kana chugging up them in the lead. These train tracks went on forever really - 7 or so kilometres, uphill, is pretty tiring stuff. But... this was the easier part. It got a whole lot harder after that...

[UPDATED 8/30]

Another thing about Yakushima (and I guess other places too) that you don't get back in New Zealand is lots of large fauna. So many of our native birds are sadly endangered, but on Yakushima there are heaps of monkeys and cute little deer. Apparently in Japanese religion deer are considered to be messengers from the gods. We had seen some deer on the bus ride into the middle of the island earlier in the morning, and then also as we made our way up the mountain on foor we frequently came by one foraging for food. There's actually one in the picture with Kana just above, and here is another up a bit closer:
Eventually after about 2 hours of walking, we reached the end of the rail track, which also had plenty of place for resting. There were toilets here too, which were quite interesting, as they were completely self contained. So as to not spoil the nature, the toilet block apparently has some kind of treatment functionality built into it, and the human effluent is re-used to the maximum extent possible as toilet water etc. Of course, this meant that the toilets absolutely reeked like anything, but one could really appreciate the thought for devising such a thing, so as to have the minimum possible impact on the great nature.
Another great thing about the hike was that there was really no litter at all. The whole walk was absolutely spotless, so it gave the impression that the people with the spirit to walk 7-8 hours up and down the mountain also had respect for it as well. No photos of the toilets I'm afraid, but there was another nice waterfall to be seen here.

Where to from here though? The rail track ran across the bridge from which we took the photo to the above-right, spotting in a dead end at the toilets, and it was then that we realised that the next part of the hike was up these dinky little stairs that we had seen on the other side of the bridge. These little stairs were steep, giving us the impression that the final 3 km to the Jomon Sugi would be tough going, and indeed this was no deception. From here on we would often have to take a look around to figure out where the path had gone, as it was no longer completely obvious.

Still, there were many more beautiful sights and cedars along the way to enjoy. We took the opportunity to indulge in some tree hugging, who didn't seem to mind.

Around half way through this second phase of the hike we arrived at the "Wilson Cedar". I'm no cedar expert, but from what I can tell there is apparently some type of cedar named after a chap known as Wilson, and anyway, there was another large area here where people were resting and taking photos. The Wilson Cedar itself was again a big hollow fellow, who you could walk inside. A little minature shrine was present inside the hollow.

Looking straight up from inside the hollowed out cedar, one could also spot a love heart shape if you turned your head and camera at the right angle :-)

But onwards we had to go! The climb continued, scrambling up over branches and rocks, where there was no foot path.

Along the way we found a "World Natural Heritage Area" sign board. Kana, having travelled extensively has apparently taken her photo alongside many of these signs, so she added another to her repotoire.

At some point earlier on the second phase of the hike I asked some guys who were coming back on their way down how much longer would it take us to get to the Jomon Sugi. "Maybe 40 minutes, if you're fast!" they had told us. 40 minutes came and went - apparently we were not so nimble.

But getting there we were, when we came across another fairly famous site on this hike route - a pair of cedar trees that are apparently husband and wife. They are connected together by the branch you see. A durable marriage it seems.

Finally, after more than 3 hours climbing (not including time taking resting and taking photos), we finally arrived at our destination:

That's it! The Jomon Sugi - somewhere between 2000 and 7200 years old, depending on who you want to believe. We got there at around 10:50, having started out at about 6:45 am. Was it worth it? For all that we saw on the way, most definitely. There was another rest area nearby, where we took another 30 minute break for lunch, before we started our descent back down...

An amusing episode about 10 minutes after we had set out again was as we gave way to another couple making their way up the path. "Why did you go and bring me to Yakushima to climb up this hell of a path?" moaned the exhausted looking lady. "It was you who said you wanted to come here!" retorted her male companion with a smile of irony on his face as they went by. Ah - true love!

By 13:15 we made it back down to the rail track area and took another break. At this point, and further up the path there were springs of water to quench the thirst, so there is no need to carry a massive 2 litre bottle the whole way up the mountain with you. We took a couple of 350ml guys, and probably filled up a couple of times each along the way.

We took a rest, sitting on the rock beneath the rail bridge, enjoying the waterfall (and the fact that we were 3/4 of the way through the day).Summoning a little more strength, we set off back along the loooooong rail tracks. We reached the hike entrance at around 15:30, giving us 90 minutes to kill before the 17:00 bus came to take us back to Onoaida. This was a time it would have been nice to have the rent-a-car, but just splaying out in the car park, taking in the sun and blue skies was a more relaxing way of finishing off the afternoon.
Time for an anecdote with a moral!

When the bus did arrive we made sure to jump on and get ourselves a seat, but while we were waiting to depart we noticed some big signs stuck around, reading along the lines of "there is no change for 5,000 and 10,000 yen notes available on this bus, you must pay the fare with the correct amount".

Hmmm. The smallest denomination that we had on us was 5,000 yen, but the bus fare was going to be only 1,160 yen or so. I mentioned that we might have a problem in this to Kana. We needed to get change, but where? We were already in the middle of nowhere. Should we ask some other passengers if they have change?

Kana, who claims she is a New Zealander (she can sing the national anthem in Maori), deviously suggested that we could just sit tight and say nothing until we had reached our destination - there was only one bus back out of the mountains, and this was it - we needed to be on it. Maybe we could sort the money out later somehow - maybe our hotel could help us out? Let's get off the mountain first, she advised.

Another of Kana's claims is that I am Japanese, and indeed my conscience got the better of me here, and I convinced her that we should talk to the bus driver about our situation in advance. There was surely no way they'd force us to stay on the mountain overnight for not having correct change. Being the foreigner (with the ability to play the "Oh I'm sorry, I didn't know" role), I got off the bus and frankly explained the situation to the bus driver, who was hanging around outside with the driver of another bus headed for a different destination.

"Ah, is that so? It's OK, we can get change for you at the bottom of the hill" the bus driver told me. Relief!

Feeling justified with my honesty I went back to my seat at the back of the bus and scolded Kana again for even thinking of pretending not to have seen the signs about the change, and being devious about it. (***)

Surely enough, when the bus wound out of the hills and hit the main road around the coast, instead of turning right to go back towards Onoaida, it took a 5 or so minute detour to a bus depot, where a man was waiting for us with change for our 5,000 yen. Great service! Although we felt a little bad for taking the bus out of it's way like that. A few minutes before we had arrived at the depot, the bus driver had made a call over the intercom for any other people without the correct change, but no one indicated that they too shared the same problem as us.

However, as the bus doubled back along the road towards Onoaida, another pair of travellers suddenly decided to come clean about something too - we couldn't hear the details, but it seemed that this pair also did indeed have a similar problem with a lack of change, but hadn't said anything when they had the chance. The bus driver's "are you kidding me?!" expression upon hearing this was almost priceless. There was no more doubling back for further change, and this new pair had to get off the bus where we had stopped, having no way to pay any additional fare.

"Honesty is the best policy"

We got back to our lodge, had another nice dinner out on the veranda, before retiring again for the evening.

* That's it for Day 3 - just a couple of more photos to add, when Blogger starts working again.

UPDATED [09/01]
(***) Kana tells me that I should be honest. Of course, she is usually thoroughly moral (just like me on this occasion), but after all, we had had a tough day climbing up and down the mountain. I'll cut Kana the slack that she deserves next time! No more teasing.
UPDATED [09/09] Finally uploaded the last two pictures...

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Hey David.

Thanks for the clarification on my blog. Enjoy your holiday over there.

It's I who should say thanks :-)
I have posted a comment on the WDCS pet food claim on Jen's whaling thread.

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