Sleeping on concrete isn’t so easy, even coming from a night on the floor of a cave. And without the sleeping bags we decided to rent at the last second? We would have been completely miserable.

So at the first hint of light I started making enough noise to be audible without sounding like a wake-up attempt.

Soon we were all awake, laughing at each other as we jumped around in our mummy bags trying to scare the hikers passing by.

Scaring people

First we checked out Yayoi sugi, the second oldest cedar in Shiratani Unsuikyo forest. At 3,000 years, it’s almost as old as the earth if you’re a creationist. By most accounts it’s more impressive than the oldest, so we started hiking towards the now-mythical mountain hut where we’d intended to stay the night before.

Yayoi sugi

I’d like to take a second to point out how lucky we were to have two full days of sunshine in Yakushima, where locals say it rains “35 days a month.” It looks like Bob Ross’s wildest fantasy for a reason.

The first leg up to the Shiratani hut turned out to be the original Kusugawa trail laid hundreds of years ago for women and children traveling through the mountains. You could have told me the rock-lined path was 20 years young and I’d have believed it, but apparently their trails were as tough as their women.

This was golden week, where a few successive holidays turn into a week off work, so many Japanese were visiting Yakushima too. In Tokyo, no one else says hi to strangers, but on the trail everyone goes back to basics.

As a rule people get friendlier the further you are from a city.

Yakushima trees

After a couple hours of hiking with the morning sun filtering through the trees, we reached the hut and put our gear in a side room with plywood bunk beds. Elliot and I set out to do a little exploring while Ty and Elisia took naps.

There was really only one direction: up. After an hour we reached a junction and took the trail up to the closest peak. The trail as rugged as the day before’s… plenty steep and marked only with plastic ribbons. Any malicious hiker with a pair of scissors could confuse a lot of people.

Soon we found ourselves on a rock overlooking the valley with an unbelievable view. We could see the ocean off in the distance and a fast-moving river down below.

As far as we were concerned, we were on top of the world. I’m don’t think I’ll ever forget the Nujabes track Elliot played for me while we relaxed in the sun.

Elliot on the rock

We headed back down to see if the others were awake. I played noisemaker again to get ‘em rolling.

Elliot, Ty, and I took the other trail at the junction we’d found on the way to the rock, which led us down to the abandoned railroad that ran alongside the river we’d seen from above. We’d hiked all the way from the top to the bottom, and soon we’d be going back up to meet Elisia at the top.

Yakushima mountain river

But there was no way I was going to miss swimming in a pristine mountain river! We climbed down the bank and I got my skinny dip on. I couldn’t resist standing up and waving a big hello to the tour group that appeared upstream.

Back on the rock, Elisia had beaten us and was hanging out with the other hikers who’d come to check out the view. We’d allowed ourselves plenty of time before sunset to celebrate our last day in Yakushima. We had nuts, garbanzos, coconut milk, and spaghetti. Elliot brought his laptop up for a little music.

After a full day of trains, a trek through the rain, a night in a cave, a ferry, an unmaintained trail, a night on the roof of a restroom, and a hike up and down the mountain valley, we’d made it. This was the Yakushima we’d come to see.

Yakushima crew