When I read Alastair Humphrey’s concept of Micro adventures (get inspired here), I figured we should do one. A multiple-day hike on a remote Japanese island in the Pacific won’t sound like a micro adventure to most of you.
However, seen within the context of our 13,5 years on the road and the expected driving of six, if not more, months in Japan, a short hike on Yakushima Island doesn’t sound like such an extreme undertaking. It actually makes sense: get out of that car and start walking!
We left the Land Cruiser in the good care of the Friendee Workshop, just north of Kagoshima. Akihiro and his wife Miki drove us to the ferry in their beautiful Land Cruiser BJ47. We brought our backpacks with camping equipment, Miki’s freshly made onigiris (rice balls), a bottle of shoshu (rice liquor) they had given us the previous evening, and a vague idea to do some hiking in the forested mountains of Yakushima that is a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve.
Hiking on Yakushima Island
By the time we had ferried to the island, had eaten lunch and taken the bus to the entrance of the park it was three o’clock. With this being the winter season plus being in the forest, it was dark early.
We hiked through a mystic, somewhat eery-looking world yet simultaneously it felt as if we were walking in some fairytale forest. It consisted of humongous trees, some estimated to be thousands of years old, and, in this first part of the forest, almost everything was covered in moss.
People had told us that it had snowed only one day prior to our arrival. We hoped to catch a glimpse of mountaintops sprinkled in some snow. But on day two we ended hiking already over slippery steps, the bits of snow here having frozen up as late afternoon fell. And from here on we’d only climb to higher altitudes.
From Moss to Snow
We woke to a beautiful day with a clear sky. As we continued climbing, from 1350 to 1936 meters, the thickness and freshness of snow increased. Coen’s shoes were quickly soaked and to prevent my feet from getting wet, I put them in ziplock bags. This helped for a couple of hours until the snow became too high and found its way into the plastic bags and my socks anyway.
It was an extraordinary day. Pristine snow that crunched below our shoes, forest that opened up to a landscape with 360 degrees views. Our main company existed of deer. Yaku deer, small ones, live on the island in large numbers and are not afraid of people. Approaching them up to five meters was no problem.
We didn’t see the monkeys that the island is famous for because, apparently, they don’t like the cold and had retreated to the coastal areas that are as warm as Okinawa (while the highest part of the island is similar in climate to Hokkaido).
It was a weird to walk here. Much of the snow had melted and the majority of our surroundings was green. However, the narrow trails meandering through the bushes were mostly in the shade, and snow gradually went up to our ankles, then to our knees.
“On the other side of Mt Miyanoura (the highest mountain on the island) it must get better,” we said to each other. Always the optimists…
Better yes, if you like more snow. If not up to the ankles or knees we sometimes sank down in the snow to our hips.
It was magnificent, it truly was. To walk here in this wilderness all by ourselves, having 360-degree views of the island and the ocean, was far beyond anything we had imagined or hoped for. Nonetheless it was tough to get down while we needed to press on because the descent took all much longer than anticipated and we stopped taking photos.
The trail meandered through ravines, we ascended and descended rock faces using fixed ropes, found our way through gullies where we walked through freezing water of snow that had just melted.
The last hour was in complete darkness, with our headlamps on. Thank god the trail was well marked and we found our way to the hut where we ate and collapsed in our beds. Like the previous night it was very cold and we were grateful for our Armadillo underwear and other gear, and the Pinewood outdoor clothes. That night we wore everything!
From Snow to Rain to a Sunset
This time we woke up to rain. This was too much. We were too cold and too wet to enjoy more hiking and instead found refuge in one, if not the, most beautifully located onsen (hot bath) in Japan. It’s only accessible around low tide and with a beautiful sunset we had a perfect end to our micro adventure.