Zápisky, postřehy a fotky z mé cesty po Japonsku na podzim roku 2016.
Yakushima was the main destination of my trip to Japan. Yakushima is an island located off the far south coast of Kyushu. It’s almost a tropical climate there, hot and humid, raining and drizzling all the time. Obviously everything green grows like crazy, plus, Pacific typhoons often sweep over this area on their way to Japan. One of these typhoons named Chaba 18, held me in the port of Kagoshima for one whole day. I was forced to wait for the sea to calm down so that some ship could give me a lift to the island. When boarding the first morning ferry after the typhoon, I was told there is fifty percent chance that we would be forced to return to mainland due to the weather. If it should be it will be I said to myself. I had a soba soup in the ship’s canteen and slept on floor during the trip. The rough waves cradled me like a baby and then I was there.
There are cedars on Yakushima that are thousands of years old. Three hundred and fifty years ago one could find them everywhere and locals considered the trees to be sacred. They believed the Forest Spirit lives in mountains. Later on, some Confucian scholar came and convinced local people and the government to lumber the ancient forest. So they cut their sacred trees for roof tiles.
These days, you can find around 50 to a 100 original trees which are over 1000 years old. The rest of the forest is “just” around 100 to 350 years old. You can say it is not so much, but it is a legit jungle for us and those old trees are something that was worth enough for me to travel across whole Japan, or the world, if you like.
I was roaming though the island for almost four days – woods, beaches, taverns, mountain streams, hot springs. You will find them in the photo gallery. One day I decided to pay a visit to the oldest tree there – Jomon sugi. It is over 6000 years old.
I started this trek before dawn. A bus took me to a common starting point. I went slow-paced, enjoying the view, hiking through the forest following an old abandoned railroad. Passing gaps, over waterfalls, through new forests or old corridors left there by lumbermen 300 years ago. I wasn’t alone. Other tourists were passing by me with their typical responsible Japanese tempo. There were almost no foreigners there.
The fun started when I got onto a real track. In that moment I started to understand why all the trails on my map were measured in minutes not kilometers. Intense elevation, descents and switchbacks. Over wooden stairs, over stones, through streams and sometimes almost crawling on all fours. One kilometer could be two hours of intense hiking. Here it was me who was passing by, my feet loved this terrain.
There are no Shinto shrines or Buddhist temples in this forest. There is no reason for them. Once in a while you pass by a tree which is around 2 to 3000 years old or you see the ten-meter-high trunk of a 3000 year-old (ex)cedar, from which grow two of its 350 year-old children. There was a stump with circumference of 13 meters – you could put a whole school class in its cavity. You walk over (or under) the roots which go tens of meters off the ground and are strong like the trees we normally see in Europe. This mosaic of life creates such energy and atmosphere that no chapels are necessary. On every step you can see and feel why people considered the old cedars as sacred.
As I was approaching closer and closer to the oldest tree on the island, suddenly the sun disappeared and mist took its place. It felt like the Forest Spirit was coming. I was swimming through this haze for an hour and old trees were telling me not to stop by them. Rush, rush, they whispered. I was almost running up the hill to see Him.
What you see in photos is vanity. Those trees are so huge that you cannot photograph them. You can’t even look at them. Eyes won’t cover the whole area, your head can’t lean back so much and it’s not possible to take a look under the ground. It surpasses measures of mind. You’re standing there, looking at Jomon sugi and what you see is just a part of its trunk, which has 16 meters in diameter. Pictures, numbers even words won’t help to describe it.
Imagine consciousness which materializes into hard wood and spreads from the vast sky deep down into the ground. Imagine a being that has been giving life to the island through its roots and seeds for thousands of years, a being that is aware of the life, being that reigns that life.
Imagine the being – it was an adult for a long time when the Chinese were experimenting with simple picture characters, when in Ancient Greece they decided that joining a few villages into a “state” would be a nice idea. This being remembers woods without people and when people started to come to the island, it was observing how they learned to survive there. This being was helping people and in return was worshiped by them. The being has witnessed the massacre of its brothers and children, destruction of the bonds which they had been creating for thousands of years. This being was watching it all for millennia and still observes calmly.
When I visited Rome, I saw huge ruins there. I was sitting on the fallen stones which were hewn 3000 years ago and I was slightly amused by the vanity of the human effort. On Yakushima, I have met the living being that showed me the immensity and infinity of life. Even today, Forest Spirit stands behind Jomon sugi and speaks about times which we forgot a few thousand years ago.
On my way back, the sun showed up again. I bowed down to the old trees I had passed before. I took a side trail and made one more trek over a hill into the next valley. I got home in the evening, I took a bath, I went for a dinner and sake. Everything seemed to be the same as before and yet absolutely different.
The following video nicely (and scientifically) explains how forests work, how trees cooperates, how they help and support each other and communicate together. It pleased me and also brought a better understanding what has been going on Yakushima for thousands of years: