Getting up at 4:15 after only four and a half hours sleep was not an issue. I was going to Yakushima, and if getting up so early was what was required then that’s what I would do.
At 4:50, after the final needful items were packed, I slipped into my new hiking boots, and headed out the door with my big pack on my back and camera bag on my chest. It looked heavy and cumbersome but the back pack was not full as in the old days. I was going to Yakushima for five days but wouldn’t be hiking for but two days only. I didn’t need to carry lots of food and water, and no tent either. Just clothes, a sleeping bag for one night, and a handful of usual items I carry with me like rain gear, emergency kit, head light, and so on.
My camera gear easily outweighed the back pack as I was bringing my DSLR with a new 16mm-105mm lens, my 35mm film camera with four lenses (20mm, 24mm-85mm, 50mm with 2x converter, 75mm-300mm), and my 6×7 with a 45mm and a 90mm lens, plus a selection of filters like ND grads, circular polarizers, and a close up filter. Of course, the tripod was packed as well.
I walked the 20 minutes to my station and caught the first train of the day bound for Tokyo. Though it was a Thursday and I was concerned about transferring in Tokyo during the morning rush commute, I experienced no hassles. I arrived at Haneda Airport and met up with the director, Mr. Hatanaka and was introduced to the crew: Mr. Sasaki, video; Mr. Hazui, video engineering assistant; Mr. Okawa, sound; and Mr. Sato who would operate the radio-controlled flying device (called “the helicopter”) with camera attached. This was going to be one very exciting and new experience for me.
As I wrote in my previous blog entry, I had received email from a production company in Tokyo that produces a program called “Journeys in Japan” for NHK World. They had asked me if I would go to Yakushima and climb the highest mountain there and participate in a festival for one of their upcoming episodes. I gladly accepted.
Yakushima is a small, partly circular island located about 60 kilometres south of Kagoshima, on the island of Kyushu, the most western of Japan’s four main islands. Yakushima falls under Kagoshima Prefecture’s jurisdiction. It is an island composed mostly of granite which formed beneath the ocean crust between 15.5 and 14.5 million years ago when a bubble of magma rose from the mantle and cooled below the surface. Tectonic activity in the area caused the granite rock that formed to rise slowly up out of the sea and the island, which is still slowly rising, now reaches a height of 1,936 metres at the summit of Miyanouradake. This mountain and the seven next highest summits collectively make up the eight highest summits in all of Kyushu!
Yakushima has been connected to Kyushu in the past during ice ages when the sea level was low enough to allow for the formation of a land bridge. During these times, many plants and animals were able to migrate to the island. However, for the last 10,000 years or so, Yakushima has been cut off from the mainland since the end of the last glacial period and the sea once again swallowed the land bridge. As such, for ten thousand years the flora and fauna of Yakushima have been living independently from their mainland ancestors and there are now out of the 1,900 species on the island roughly 200 sub-species living on Yakushima, all of them tagged with the prefix “yaku”. For example, nihon saru and nihon shika – the Japanese macaque and deer respectively – are yakusaru and yakushika.
Because of the island’s rather high altitude (for such a small, non-volcanic island), there are three biozones: coastal, mountain forest, and sub-alpine. Additionally, Yakushima boasts the most southern range of some temperate species and the most northern range of some tropical species. The main attraction of Yakushima’s biosphere is the yakusugi – the Yakushima version of the Japanese cedar or cryptomeria. These trees tend to grow in the moisture-rich valleys between the granite peaks at about 1,000 metres elevation. The environment suits them well and they can live to be thousands of years old. The Jomon Sugi is the oldest tree on the island. Some believe it to be 7,200 years old. Carbon dating of a tree ring sample put the age at 2,170 years; however, the core of the tree has long since rotted away, leaving us with hundreds of years of lost data. As my guide was later to say, “Does it really matter how old the exact age is?” The fact is that it is an impressive and very old living thing. But as I was to learn, there are many impressive and interesting things about the life on Yakushima.