Searching for Princess Mononoke, everyone would tell me about Yakushima, a small island with tall mountains (up to almost 2000m) south of Kyushu. Great virgin forests, some of the oldest cedar trees in Japan, that gave the maker of the Princess Mononoke movie lots of impressions. Went there by ferry from Kagoshima on a misty rainy day. The small island with its high mountains is quiet a cloud catcher in the Southern Japan, which results in lots of rain. And the rain and the suptropic climate made the virgin forests which became one of the first Unesco World Natural Heritage. Therefore, there is only a road surrounding the island, and to get into the real virgin forest one has to walk. There are many hotels and affordable guesthouses (Minshuku) available in the few towns arround the island, as well as camp sites. On the hiking trails on the mountains are some basic lodges with wooden bed shelfs for overnight stay, yet food and sleeping bags must be carried.

I arrive at the ferry port in pouring rain. I was warned before, and I do not mourn. The tourist info at the Miyanoura ferry port provides extensive information on accomodation as well as pamphlets with the major hiking trails. Decide to take the nearest and cheapest Minshuku (2000Yen) a few kilometers off Miyanoura town, with friendly hosts and a super market nearby.

On the next morning, the rain had stopped. Leave the Minshuku with my backpack, some food and two sleeping bags, heading uphill on a barely used foot trail. Bye bye you vending machines. The mist of last nights rain hangs in the trees of the thick forest. Small rivers run down the stony and mossy river beds beside the trail in litle waterfalls. The trail becomes more and more invisible, and harder walk. After a while, a strange whisteling attracts my attention. I watch out for a while, and then I discover a deer a few dozen metres uphill to my right side. And beside the deer, there is one of the small pink rubberband foot trail markers that I haven't seen for a while. Thanks my deer, for leading me back to the correct trail! I follow the whisteling that keeps me leading for the next one or two hours until I reach the entrance of the Shiratani park with its great ravine and its ancient cedar trees within the primeval forest that is called Mononoke forest. Moss on the trunks and branches of the tall cedars in the mist, vivid green moss with tiny raindrops on the stones and on the ground. Deer and monkeys are all over in the woods. An incredible scenario. At lunchtime I'm finished with the park. According to my map, its about 4 hours more to walk to Japans oldest Cedar tree, Jomon sugi. Other people on the way told me about its magic - it could change ones live on the first view. A hut is located nearby the cedar, and the weather is still good - easy decision: I go for it. Hiking feels so good up here, and is a nice change to all the cycling of the past weeks! A few kilomters easy going on a small railroad track, many hiker groups return to their bus station. Then the hiking trail leads steep uphill, sometimes supported with wooden steps and small ladders. Its getting quiet now, there are barely any other hikers on the trail no more. After a while I meet two woman and their quiet young tour guide on the way. Their are heading for Jomon sugi too. We chat for a while about the mystic of the place, about Jomon sugi and the hut nearby. The guide carries a hugh backpack with all the food and lots of equipment for the ladies for their overnight stay. We split again, and I keep walking my pace. Soft rain when I reach the ancient Wilson stump, and still raining when I finally face the giant Jomon sugi with his light grey trunk standing like a ghost tree in the foggy mountain forest. I have all the time of the world to contemplate on the age of this very tree. Some say, it is 2000 years old. Others estimate its age to 7000 years. Either way, to watch something living of this age that has survived all sorts of nature or man made catastrophes is incredible. Meanwhile, I am not only wet by the sweat... The hut is not desserted, a few more well equipped hikers are there too and the bed shelf on the upper stage is wet. Luckily, I still get a dry place on the lower level. No electricity, and no oven either, and no open fire allowed except for gas cookers. Looks like its gonna be a cold and wet night up here for me. On the way to the fresh water spring I meet the ladies and the guide again and tell them the situation. He'd stay overnight in a small wooden shelter nearby, so there would still be room enough for the ladies in the hut. We are talking about his job and how he came to do this while he prepares diner for his customers. In the end, he even hands me some Japanese heating packs (O kairo) for the night. Nice guy, that guide!

With the heating packs in my sleeping bags I sleep better than expected that night. Rain in the morning, time to go back. Yesterdays fog is away, now its just pouring rain. The trail is like a small river, and I jump from stone to stone, root to root. Slipperly, slippery... By 11 AM I reach the park entrance again with its bus station. I'm wet all over, and can swim in my bicycle shoes. Decide to take the bus back to Miyanoura instead of more adventureous hiking. Time for a descent nap on my warm and cosy futton, time to warm up and dry the clothes and shoes. Another guest gives me a ride to the nearby onsen. Happy happy in the hot bath tube. Back in the guesthouse, a neighbor of my hosts offers sake and deer sashimi (thin slices of raw deer meet). I hope it wasn't the one that led my way yesterday...

On the following day, the rain has stopped and the sun is shining. Best conditions to hit the road again, and so I cycle almost half way arround the island, the ocean to my left and the mountains to my right. Along the road, there are nice Hibiskus bushes with big red blossoms, banana trees and palms. Tropical feeling, the first time since 6 or 7 weeks. Just before Onoaida, the town I intend to stay tonight, a road is leading uphill towards Senpiro no taki, a famous waterfall. No tourists up there, just me and the white noise behind the valley between my plateau and the distant waterfall. Camping for 800 Yen in the beautiful garden of a guesthouse, drinking in the evening with the other guest and the host. On the next day I go for one more hike to another waterfall, Yanokuchi no taki. Again a lovely lonely hike on small trails uphill, across the stone beds of small mountain rivers.

In the afternoon, I hit the road again. Kurio, the next target, is a small town in the west of Yakushima. A few guesthouses, and a nice campground with bungalows that is closed. Off-season, the lady tells me on the telephone. However, I can camp there for one night. Next morning I go on to the Ohko no taki waterfall, a few kilometers behind Kurio. The next part towards Nagata is a small road in the forest only accessible for small cars, which is part of the core UNESCO World Natural Heritage area. Barely traffic at all, just Macaque families and deer sitting on the asphalt, watching the sweating cyclist climbing up the steep rocky coast road. In Nagata, an elderly woman tells me about her German tentant who lived in her place for two years, and gives me a big piece of home made Japanese cake. Next stop is Isso, another little town with a nice beach with a small cave shrine and a lighthouse on its neighbouring penninsula. Sun is shining, just the right time for a short swim. An English guy is swimming as well. Afterwards, we visit the small cave shrine. In the end of that day, I return to my cheap homestay again. My hosts are happy to see me again, and I'm very happy to sleep on my futton again. I have a bath in a tube over open fire in their house. Incredible feeling...

For the following day the weatherforecast is good and I decide to go one more time up in the mointains, heading for Aiko dake (1200m). Lovely hike in the thick forest, and after about two hours I see my peak the first time. The sun smiles through the roof of the trees. Rock climbing with a few saveguarding ropes to the top. Just before me and the guided group that I catched up with reached the peak, a missile starts with loud noise from a naighboring island. I it wasn't that cloudy we would have seen the rocket. Instead, suddenly a heavy ice rain started, and the footpath back down turned into a river of ice cold water...