Winter in Yakushima – Chapter Four: Back into the Woods

It was dark outside at five o’clock. I pushed aside the curtain and tried to see the sky. No stars. That at least meant it had become cloudy. Ten minutes later, the sound of heavy rain surrounded the hotel. That was what the weather forecast for today had stated: rain in the morning. No matter. I had my rain gear ready and I prepared my backpack with a pack cover. Prior to leaving for Yakushima, I had applied water repellent spray to my boots. I was ready for rain. And in fact, I was looking forward to it. My previous visit had been a hot and dry trek through the forest and over the mountains. I had not seen Yakushima’s forests as I had hoped: green and misty and damp. This was my chance.

The volume of the rain slackened and when we loaded the van at six it was just a usual rain. As we drove to the mountains, however, I spied a light in the clouds and soon the moon appeared lighting the edge of a dark rain cloud. What a contrast as the mountains remained dark and obscured while over the sea stars looked in and the moon watched us ascend the winding road into the inky blackness.

Somewhere dawn came, and by the time we reached the parking lot and rest house at the logging trolley tracks, there was light enough to see the dull colours of the grey winter forest scene. The four of us disembarked from the van and our guide and three porters greeted us. I noticed a Caucasian man with a bushy beard sitting in a small parked car, and as we hauled our loaded packs into the shelter of the rest house, a young Japanese woman on a motor scooter arrived in outdoor clothes, her jacket wet from the rain but her eyes carefully prepared with mascara and eyeliner. After we had eaten our bento breakfasts, I approached the young woman and struck up a conversation. She had come here to climb up to the Jomon Sugi (that mightiest of the ancient cedars) and photograph herself holding a sign congratulating two friends on their wedding. The weather, however, was not favourable and so she intended to head back down. She saw the TV camera and asked if we were here for a television program. I explained that we were shooting for an NHK World program called “Journeys in Japan” and that we were going to climb Miyanouradake. She asked if I would mind taking a photo together with her.

Once we were ready to go we shot the commencement scene where I meet my guide, Mr. Koga and we set off along the trolley rails together. The rain would ease off for a moment and return with such frequency that I gave up optimistically removing my hood and just left it on my head for a while. We crossed the first bridge and I got a view of mists rising from the forested slopes of the mountainside. Just then, a beam of sunlight brightened a streak of treetops. It faded but returned and repeated its fleeting appearance. It was like a Morse code slowed down. But that at least reaffirmed my faith in the weather report which had called for rain only in the morning. Somewhere up there the clouds were moving about and the sun was finding a way in. Which meant that I had better get as many green and wet forest shots as I could while the conditions prevailed.


Walking along the trolley tracks I tried to remember places I might have passed. There was a tunnel we had to pass through, a few bridges to cross, and some views into the misty river gorge. Hail fell at one point and the rain continued to come and go. Blue sky appeared through the clouds now and again. We passed under a flume that directed water over our heads. It splashed down onto the track on either side. There was a broad granite slope that had been desiccated on my previous trek buy. I remembered seeing the brown and shriveled sundew plants. Now the rock face was green and wet. Mr. Koga said it was too early for sundew plants but we spotted a few anyway.


Along the way, there were stops for filming. Mr. Koga and I had to wait while Mr. Mori and company ran ahead to set up and shoot us walking up the tracks. At one place I had to wait several minutes and took the opportunity to shoot some forest scenes. The light was rather low and I should have been using a tripod but I never knew when I would have to be ready to shuffle off. So I did my best to shoot handheld by bracing the camera against a tree when possible.


Our path crossed yet another bridge over the Anbo River and at the other side was the site of the old Kosugitani settlement. This had been where the logging community had lived until August 18th, 1970. That day the settlement was officially closed and logging of the yakusugi no longer permitted. Here, the others did some more filming of scenery while I went to shoot from the bridge. Sunshine continued to make fleeting appearances. The rain had finally given up.



From here we went onwards and after a while we encountered snow on the track. A small yakushika, the native deer crossed the tracks in front of us. The animal was in its winter coat I noticed, recalling the scene I had captured the last time of light brown deer with white spots. With its thick dun-coloured coat, this deer looked like a separate species.


When we came to the end of the track for us, we took a short break and then began the trek up into the forest. There were many steps to climb up steeper parts of the path and snow had been trampled into ice. Mr. Koga had given us these rubber things to slip over the soles of our boots. They had small knobs of metal on the bottom for gripping into icy patches. Intended for safely navigating iced-over city sidewalks, these simple little things would actually be sufficient for our entire snow experience on Yakushima.


We stopped to admire trees and Mr. Koga shared his knowledge. I felt a little sorry for him because Mr. Kikuchi had told me so much the last time that there was not a lot of information that was new to me.

We stopped to shoot at Wilson’s Stump and I successfully made a better exposure looking out of the stump than I had in the summer two years before. And after pressing on for a time more, we came to the Jomon Sugi, my second time to lay eyes upon the symbol of the island.


IF   Not far from the Jomon Sugi was a shelter. We were actually supposed to have stopped at the Shin Takatsuga hut some distance farther along the path but we had spent time shooting here and there. The daylight was beginning to fade and the clouds were filling the forest. Granular snow started falling. Mr. Ichino and Mr. Koga conferred and it was agreed that we would spend the first night here and move on to the Shin Takatsuga hut in the morning. As for the weather, we had received the predicted morning rain and even had a bit of sun in a few random patches. With nightfall came the clouds and wind that we were told to expect on the second day. So far we were off to a pretty decent start.

One response to “Winter in Yakushima – Chapter Four: Back into the Woods

  1. Good to see that it actually does rain on Yakushima…. 🙂

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