Name: Stacy Smith
Location in Japan: Yakushima, Kagoshima Prefecture
Name of city/restaurant/venue: Jomon-sugi (縄文杉)
Description: Jomon Sugi is one of the world’s 10 oldest living trees, said to be 2170-7200 years old, and the largest cedar tree in Japan. It is found on the island of Yakushima, and can be reached from Kagoshima by ferry or plane. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and said to be a “power spot” that bestows its spiritual qualities on those who visit.
Ever since watching the NHK daily morning drama Manten many years ago when I used to live in Japan, I had wanted to go to the southern island of Yakushima. Specifically, I was interested in going to see the legendary “Jomon Sugi,” the thousands of years old cedar tree that was said to have mystical properties. However, as the hike up and down were each said to take as long as five hours, I knew that the journey to this UNESCO World Heritage Site was not for the faint of heart. Nevertheless, I remained determined to make the trip whenever I had the chance.
This wasn’t realized until almost a decade later, at which point I had already moved back to the States and was planning a vacation to Japan. I had close friends who were living in Kagoshima City, and from there Yakushima was just a quick flight or a bit of a longer ferry ride away. I was eager to visit as the island reminded me of parts of Hawaii, appealing because it has a variety of climate zones: subtropical on the ground but chillingly cold on top. When I floated the idea by my friend of climbing to see Jomon Sugi, he jumped at the chance as he had never been either. After planning for a three-day stay on the island to allow for pre/post-hike relaxation, we were ready for our Jomon Sugi adventure.
In order to be able to do the trip in a day we left at the crack of dawn, wearing layers of clothing that seemed excessive at the start but that we knew would serve us well when we got to the snowy summit. When we set off on the Arakawa Mountain Trail, our journey had officially begun. The climb was perilous in places, mainly because there were many bridges to be crossed that stirred up my dormant fear of heights. But traversing ancient mountain forests, taking in spectacular sights such as monkeys and deer just a heartbeat away (the latter whose rears are decorated with white, heart-shaped tufts!), finding hidden waterfalls and then reaching the long-awaited Jomon Sugi at the top, made it all worthwhile. Being the main attraction Jomon Sugi was of course swarming with people, but despite the crowds I felt like I received some energy from its majestic presence.
For those who are more comfortable staying closer to ground level, Yakushima has plenty of other attractions. There is the 88-meter high Okonotaki Waterfall, said to be one of Japan’s 100 best. There is the Hirauchi Kaichu Onsen, only accessible during low tide and set amongst natural cliffs. And for all the energy you expend on these expeditions, you can refuel by enjoying a meal of deer sashimi (unless all the Bambis you encountered have left you with a soft spot for wildlife). Numerous discoveries abound in Yakushima, even for those who have already traveled throughout Japan and think they’ve seen it all. Why not see what waits for you there?
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