Friday, May 16, 2014

Yakushima, Part 4

May 7th


I had been scheduled to participate in a hiking trip led by a tour guide from the Yakushima Nature Activity Center, which is only a few blocks from the Seaside Hotel (it's one of the older tourist services on the island). The guide arrived in a van to pick me up at 8 AM and we stopped at the YNAC building to take care of the $150 tour fees. The hotel rents rain gear, so I rented a hiking outfit for $10 (up to three days), just in case, but it turned out that I never needed it. I was told that I'd be ok hiking in sneakers, but the ground was slick and mossy enough in places that I did take a tumble 3 times. I highly recommend wearing hiking shoes that offer good traction on smooth wood. From here, we drove about 20 minutes up into the hills to the mouth of the Yakushima National Forest. Yakushima is really big on protecting the natural state of the hills, so there's a "what you carry in, you carry back out" policy, which was detailed in a video during the ferry boat ride. There are only a couple toilets at the ends of the hiking route, so you're expected to use the rest rooms at the parking lot before setting out.

In about 1600 AD, the Shimadzu lord in Kagoshima sent out several boats to conquer the islands leading down to Okinawa. He levied tax on Yakushima in the form of harvested cedar for use in shipbuilding and certain other building projects. The island was divided up into roughly 240 regions, and only one region would be harvested in any given year. That one would be replanted, and the next region would be cut down the next year. When the workers got to region 240, region 1 would have had 240 years to grow back. Cedar has strong anti-water, anti-insect and anti-moss properties, which makes it good for boats. But, eventually the inner core is going to rot away, and that makes the lower 10-15 feet of the trunk useless as lumber. The Edo-era workers would set up scaffolding or ladders at a point 15 feet up the trunk where they'd do the cutting, which resulted in the big stumps left over from that time. Eventually, moss would cover the stump, and seeds from the other trees would land in the moss and start growing. The final result is the strange appearance of the forest, with big trunks scattered around, and 10-20 little trees growing out of the top or from the sides. Additionally, with cedar, because the cell structures of the trees are so compatible, they'll grow together and merge into one big super-tree.

I think spruce is the other tree that grows in with the cedar. Spruce and cedar aren't compatible, but because of the winds, rain, etc., the trees will twist around each other in kind of a stranglehold, with the one in the center eventually getting killed off. When this happens, it's easy to tell that there's more than one kind of tree in the cluster.

The mushrooms that grow here are very hardy.

When one tree is knocked down during a storm, others will start growing from on top of it. Along with soil erosion during a typhoon, or the granite rocks being washed away, you get structures where there's holes under the main trunk.

We did see about 7 deer. Japanese deer, here referred to as Yakushika, are only about waist height, fully grown. They're pretty brave, getting within 10 feet of the trails in their search for ferns and moss. My guide mentioned that at one area on the island the government had tried replanting more cedar trees, but the deer killed all the seedlings. We never saw any of the monkeys living on the island, and only a couple songbirds that never stayed in one place long enough to allow for photos. No tanuki or weasels.

Japanese trees conveniently grow their own signs, making them very easy to identify.

This photo turned out really weird, making it worth keeping. Some bees had made a hive in a hole in a tree near the trail, and maybe 10 or 20 of them were flying in and out all the time. My camera was having trouble focusing on the hive and ended up getting a "stutter" image of one of the bees.

A better image of the hive.

My guide was braver than me. He also had a really nice camera set up for taking detailed macro photos. Where I could only get a close up of the hive, or a patch of moss, he was photographing individual bees within the hive, or tendrils at the end of individual fernlets.

He'd handmade a foamcore attachment for redirecting his flash at his subjects to help get better pictures.

Breaking for lunch. Along with providing a huge amount of information about the area, my guide was carrying a small camp stove and food. We made a stop along one river for lunch, which consisted of grilled ham and lettuce sandwiches, and hot ham and onion soup, plus instant hot coffee. Tasted great. He also gave me a rice ball in case I was still hungry, which I saved for the ferry trip back home that evening.


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