June 29, 2014

The Shiratani Unsuikyo Hike in Yakushima


Our trek through Shiratani Unsuikyo (白谷雲水峡) in Yakushima was magical.

There is really no way I can explain to you how amazing this forest is. This was the highlight of our trip and as the sun was out and the birds were singing, S and I couldn't have asked for a better day to hike there. After our breakfast by the river, we drove up to the entrance of Shiratani Unsuikyo. The drive up the mountain was long and winding (about 30 min.) but it gave us a fantastic view of the mountain range.

Once there, we got our gear together. Very amateur gear, I can tell you. This was only the second time I'd worn my hiking shoes (they made their debut on Mt. Fuji). But we were beyond excited and soon we set off into the forest!

Shiratani Unsuikyo, designated as a forest for recreational use in 1972, is a stunning mixture of lush plants, unique rocks, and woodland creatures. The forest is approximately 424 hectares (over 1,000 acres) of hikers paradise, located along the Shiratani Ravine at 600 to 1,000 meters (approx. 2,000-3,000 feet) above sea level. We saw so many types of subtropical evergreen plants, including Yakusugi (屋久杉), the ancient Japanese cedars that are over 1,000 years old. We skipped from rock to rock, crossing over the ravine several times. We also bumped into deer and monkeys that live in the forest. They were gracious hosts in letting us walk through their territory without a worry in the world (I'm looking at you, monkeys in Nikko).

Did I also mention that this forest is covered in moss? Lots and lots of moss! Of the approximately 1,600 species of moss of found in Japan, a whopping 600 of them can be found right here. Isn't that amazing?

We ended up hiking through all the trails around Shiratani Unsuikyo for about five hours. I loved how some parts of the trail had stone or wood paths laid out, whereas other parts you just had to maneuver through the forest on your own, following the pink ribbon that you see tied to branches here and there (we may or may not have taken a wrong turn a couple times). Although there were many people hiking the same area, we were surprisingly alone for most of it. It's really the most fabulous feeling being surrounded by so much nature.

S and I started off the hike stopping every other second to gasp over a certain view or to take a picture, or sometimes doing both simultaneously. But we soon discovered that we were not skilled enough camera-people to capture the entire beauty of this lush green forest and decided that we would just take it all in with our senses.

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Sight...lean back to admire the old towering Yakusugi tree.
Smell...breathe in the pristine air, oh so fresh.
Sound...echo of water trickling down the ravine.
Taste...the excitement around every corner of the trail.
Touch...brush our hands over the soft damp moss.
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Okay, I cheated a little on the 'taste'...it's not really a flavor, but it was no less true! Despite enjoying parts of the forest without our cameras, I still ended up with over 60 photos when I first narrowed them down. Every part of this forest was a postcard waiting to happen and it was almost humanly impossible to stop taking pictures. You'll know exactly what I'm talking about once you step foot in Shiratani Unsuikyo yourself.

But until you do, here are some photos:

Full of smiles after our amazing hike in Shiratani Unsuikyo :D

6 comments:

  1. Kaori, these photos are amazing!! I could practically smell the moss. Seriously blown away. And for some reason it really reminded me of Mononokehime. Thanks for sharing :)

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  2. Thanks, Miwa! Hard to believe I forgot to write about it but you are right on! This forest actually inspired several scenes on Mononokehime. I have another post coming up about a rock that was also included in the movie! ;D

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  3. What a gorgeous place! I can't wait to go there myself one day. I'm wondering though, is hiking gear really needed in your opinion? I am not really a person to get hiking gear and usually just wear some sneakers and comfy clothes haha.

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    1. Thanks for the comment, Sacha! And that is a good question. I think it really depends on where you hike and when. If it's a sunny day like ours, Shiratani Unsuikyo would probably be okay with just sneakers and regular clothes. My friend wore nike sneakers and we both just wore a tshirt, shorts and a hoodie. But if it rains, it could get quite slippery and you'd want shoes with good traction and waterproof gear. So it really depends, but with great weather you may not need full-on hiking gear. It's just recommended :)

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    2. Thanks for the explanation! I think I would want to visit on a sunny day anyway haha. I guess I will try in regular clothes then :)
      Can't wait to see more of your Japan posts ! Even though I've been to Japan before I always love reading about others' trips to/in Japan and get some inspiration for my upcoming exchange year in Fukuoka :)

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    3. Yes, I would recommend a sunny day (or at least a non-rainy day) for your hike! Having the luxury of being flexible with your schedule would be great too because apparently it rains quite a bit on Yakushima.
      A year in Fukuoka sounds great! Kyushu has so many interesting places and things to explore, I'm sure you'll love it! Looking foward to reading about your expreriences on your blog :D

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