I haven’t written about my trip to Japan for a while but when thinking about how I would address the ‘awkward’ photo meme I found myself remembering the hikes we made in the temperate rain forest on Yakushima island.
Yakushima island is 37 miles south of Kyushu, the third largest island of Japan, in the South China Sea. The island is classed as sub-tropical and on the lower slopes and coast you see a wide range of sub-tropical plants growing such as Dicksonia, Hibiscus, and a range of fruit; in fact the island boasts being able to produce fruit every day of the year.
Whilst the sub-tropical plants are fascinating the island is renowned for its extensive mountainous forests that cover the majority of the island and are home to Japanese cedar trees (Yakusugi), some of which are thousands of years old.
Due to the high rain-fall, it rains every day apparently, the forests are full of crystal clear mountain streams which run down the slopes creating spectacular waterfalls and rocky rapids. This atmosphere has led to beautiful and ethereal mossy forests, so magical that they have inspired a Studio Ghibli animation Princess Mononoke .
The island’s unspoilt ecology is so important it was declared a UNESCO world heritage site in 1993 and is a mecca for planthunters, particularly those with a weakness for ferns, of which there are apparently some 400 varieties.
There are trails throughout the forests suitable for a variety of abilities and for the keen it was easy to hire a guide to enable you to hike to the highest points. We undertook a couple of hikes in the forest, which like the hike on Mt Daisen, are among some of my favourite memories of the trip. You might think from seeing the photo further up of the board-walk that the routes were simple going but you would be mistaken, as were we. The routes nearest the tourist car parks are generally simple and straightforward but suddenly, and really unexpectedly, you find yourself negotiating some rotting steps – which makes you a little wary.
Then you come to areas of tree roots which you have to pick your way through. The ones above are nothing unusual but if you imagine these tripled and a drop to your right down to the rocky stream you can see that it gets a little more tricky, or awkward.
You find yourself going down, picking your way from one firm footing to another, waiting for others to catch up, catching hold of a mossy branch to steady yourself.
Then you find yourself climbing upwards, virtually on your hands and knees, holding on to steps which you feel might disintegrate at any moment and who knows how you will pull yourself over the rocks at the top.
Even when you do come across the remains of a path you can’t make speedy progress as you are having to negotiate slippery mossy rocks.
But this is the view you get once you get a reasonable height up the mountain – quite spectacular and on the way you have seen innumerable ferns, lichens, stewartias, arisaema.
The hikes might have been awkward and challenging but the sense of achievement and enjoyment was vast, just like the views.