Both of these hikes have a relatively easy access. Jomon sugi is a destination you will likely hear as soon as you arrive on the island as hotels have a habit of insisting that this is the hike you should do whilst on Yakushima. Very often, those that insist upon you taking the Jomon sugi hike have never actually done the hike, but as the Japanese media focus upon the tree when covering Yakushima then it has become the island's biggest attraction.
Jomon Sugi (縄文杉)
Jomon Sugi is the most famous of the Yaku sugi trees, which is why it attracts hoards of visitors every year. The Japanese make what resembles a pilgrimage to the country's oldest tree, and also one of nature's oldest living monuments. In the winter you may be lucky to pass only a handful of fellow trekkers, but in the peak season of Golden Week (early May), early August or the national holiday in September then you will be sharing the trail with hundreds of others. From spring through to late autumn you can expect the trail to be crowded at weekends though less so during the week.
Jomon Sugi is estimated to be anywhere between 2200 and 7200 years old and is presumed to be the eldest of the remaining Yaku sugi trees. Due to the numbers that wish to see it, and in order to protect its extensive root system, a viewing deck is situated some distance from the tree itself and you cannot go beyond this viewing deck. Long gone are the days when you could actually touch the tree! The viewing deck was erected in 1996.
In early 2013, one of Jomon Sugi's major limbs was diagnosed as being in danger of falling. As a precautionary measure, two thirds of the viewing deck has been removed and thereby making it difficult to get a clear view of the tree.
Aside from Jomon Sugi there are various other interesting sights to see along this route. Most notably, Wilson's Stump (ウイルソン株) and the abandoned logging village of Kosugidani (小杉谷). Wilson's Stump is the remains of a large felled Yaku sugi cut down over 400 years ago. The outer tree still remains, but the inner has all decayed and you can now walk around inside. Little remains of the Kosugidani village. Only the foundations of houses, a school and other buildings can be found. The forest is very quickly smothering the remains of former human habitation. A wander around the area is definitely recommended as you can quickly conjure up an impression of what life must have been like for the few hundred that lived in this remote village up until 1972. (If you pay a visit to the Yakusugi shizen kan you can watch some fascinating old film footage of the village in its heyday)
You will also encounter many other large trees along this route and there are many picturesque scenes of moss forests, waterfalls, old railway bridges and more. No matter who tries to take a photograph of Jomon Sugi, you cannot capture this tree's immensity with a camera.
Make use of the toilet at the entry point if you can as toilets along the trail are few and far between. If you use the toilets along the trail then consider offering a donation to the sewage collection and trail maintainance. There's a donation box at the entry point and 500 yen would be appreciated.
The Jomon Sugi trek is a moderate trek in the sense that most people with a moderate level of fitness can make it there and back (unless the upper trail is knee-deep in snow). However, it is a VERY long day from 9 – 11 hours. For the first 8 kilometres you walk along the old logging rail track and then undertake a 2 hour trek through the forest (largely on wooden platforms and steps to prevent erosion). The last bus back from the Arakawa trail head leaves at 18:00, so don't attempt this hike if you cannot get to the Arakawa trail head by 7am. If however, you're planning to stay in one of the mountain huts near to Jomon Sugi then a later start is possible.
Between March 1st and November 30th, to prevent road congestion, it is only possible to get to the Arakawa trail head via a bus from the Yakusugi Shizenkan near Anbo Town. The return bus fare is 1740 yen. Buses run from 04:40 to 06:00am and the return buses are from 15:00 to 18:00. You are asked to purchase your bus ticket in advance and this can be done from any of the tourist information kiosks. Don't worry if you forget to do this as they are also available on the day at the bus stop early in the morning. If you miss the bus then you have one feasible option and that is to take a taxi to the trail head.
You can also access Jomon Sugi via alternative routes such as via Shiratani Unsuikyo. Although this route is steeper and longer, you can still do it in a day and actually save time during the peak season by avoiding the hoardes on the Arakawa trail.
Another option to avoid the crowds is to stay in one of the mountain huts overnight and make your way down the next day. The Takatsuka hut is the closest at 200m up the trail from Jomon Sugi. It has a toilet and can accommodate 14 people. There is enough space around the hut to pitch a few tents. Running water is available from a stream down the track from Jomon Sugi, so collect some water by the tree before heading on up to the hut.
If Takatsuka hut is full then the next option is the Shin (New) Takatsuka hut – about 1 hour further on up the trail. This hut accommodates 40 people and has a much larger camping area, toilets and the luxury of a tap!
Please take a look at our recommended Yakushima Hiking Equipment Check List.
Tachu Dake (太忠岳)
Half of this hike is through the Yakusugi Land forest (covered in the easy hike section). Where it becomes a moderate hike is when you leave the Yakusugi Land trail and commence climbing the two hours to the top of Tachu Dake (1,497m). Even if you don't go all the way up to Tachu Dake, walking the first 30 minutes after leaving the Yakusugi Land path is worthwhile. There are some big trees in this area and many leftover signs from the logging days. Around halfway along this trail then it begins to gain altitude quickly and when you arrive at a HUGE granite boulder that makes a good shelter from the rain to have lunch then you can feel satisified that the hardest ascent is over. This doesn't mean that it's easy thereafter!
Gradually the trail makes it way upon the ridge of Tachu Dake and should you be upon the ridge on a windy day then you will certainly know about it. There are some lovely rhododendron along this ridge and if you climb the mountain at the end of May and into June then you should be able to see them in bloom. The ridge is also littered with granite boulders and the trail meanders through and around these rocks. There are a few rope sections to climb, but nothing too taxing.
Finally, the trail comes out at the incredible Tenchu Seki (Heavenly Pillar). This is a 40 metre monolith stuck on the very summit of the mountain. Trying to look up to the top of it strains the muscles in your neck! There is a final rope to a granite plateau where you can sit and either eat your lunch or sunbathe (if you are lucky enough to have a sunny day for the hike), but do be careful with the rope climb to the rock as there is a small section that will test the nerve of some.
Tachu Dake can be seen from the Anbo Village down by the coast and it is little wonder that it is a revered pilgrimage mountain. As such, please treat the summit with respect as it has ancient and profound spiritual meaning for the local inhabitants.
Due to Tachu Dake having such a cultural connection with the people of Yakushima, we highly recommend you consider taking the YES Tachu Dake Tour so that you can better understand where you are walking as well as receiving a wealth of other information regarding the flora and fauna of the area.