“Mt. Mocchomu-dake”— concentrating all the attractions of Yakushima Island
Although at an elevation of 940 meters, “Mt. Mocchomu-dake” is popular for the wild-looking bare rocks and the superb view of the ocean from the large rocks of the summit. This mountain in the southeast of Yakushima Island has an imposing figure that overwhelms those who see it and, as a sacred mountain, has been worshipped by the island’s people since ancient times.
For tourists visiting Yakushima Island, the Mt. Mocchomu-dake Climbing Tour is “a challenge to take on some day”—an aspirational mountain. Mocchomu-dake is a mountain that concentrates the attractions of Yakushima Island, according to Taro Watanabe from Sangaku Taro, the Yakushima Island Company that runs the Mt. Mocchomu-dake Climbing Tour.
Watanabe: On Mt. Mocchomu-dake, you can see the unique island custom of “takemairi” where farmers climb the mountain to pray for a good harvest, and the “vertical plant distribution” which was the decisive factor in the World Natural Heritage registration. Also, it is possible to experience classic aspects of Yakushima Island nature such as Yakusugi (Yakushima cedar) including the “Bandai sugi” and “Mocchomu Taro” with tree ages of more than 3,000 years and steamy moss-covered forests.
Watanabe: The greatest attraction above all is the superb view from the summit. It is only from Mt. Mocchomu-dake that you can enjoy the ocean panorama spreading out as far as you can see. Yakushima Island’s surrounded by the sea, so that’s the reward on offer for making the climb.
Although the distance to the summit is a short one, there’s many steep sections and the footing on the trail is not good. Near the top there are sections with ropes to assist climbers get up.
Watanabe: For the Mountain Climbing Tour, we’d like you to bring along hiking boots, rainwear, a rucksack, rucksack cover, hiking stick, headlamp, and portable toilet. As some climbers can suffer accidents and this is a serious trekking course, individual climbers should not forget a map. Because there is also the risk of slipping and injuring oneself, on our tour we require all climbers to get trekking insurance.
We recommend the Mt. Mocchomu-dake Climbing Tour for intermediate to advanced level climbers with trekking experience. Having said that, the tour seems popular with a wide range of generations, from people in their 20s to their 60s, and gender is irrelevant.
Watanabe: And not only on this tour, but there are almost no toilets on the climbing trails on Yakushima Island, and to maintain the rare natural environment and water resources of Yakushima Island, the human waste from the mountain toilets is carried out to town by people.
In order to continue environmental conservation activities, the World Natural Heritage Site Yakushima’s Mountain Environmental Conservation Donation program started from 2017.
Donations are voluntary, however visitors can drop them off at any of the various tourist information centers around Yakushima Island. The suggested amount for visitors taking a day trip into the mountain area is 1,000 yen. This is a very important activity to protect Yakushima Island’s precious natural environment and water resources, so we ask for visitors’ understanding and cooperation when they visit Yakushima Island.
A unique way to quietly enjoy the nature of Yakushima Island
There is only one climbing trail to Mt. Mocchomu-dake. You enter the mountain from the entrance to the climbing trail near the Chihiro Falls observation deck. It takes 8-9 hours on the single trail and about 5.6km for the round-trip to the summit.
By the way, from the Chihiro Falls observation deck, you can see the Chihiro Falls with its white plume of water dropping 60 meters to the waterfall basin and the imposing granite monolith that spreads across the riverbank.
After enjoying the scenery at Chihiro Falls, it’s on to the entrance to the mountain trail. From there the steep slopes begin.
Watanabe: On the way there are no rest stations. When you get tired walking, take a rest on one of the rocks on the climbing trail. Compared to the climbing course for the ancient Jomon sugi (the ancient Jomon cedar), which gets swamped with tourists, this is a quiet part of the mountain where you can relax feeling you’ve become part of Yakushima Island.
At times it can take about 90 minutes to cross the mountain slope and climb the steep sections by rope. Some Yakusugi appear that have a completely different type of presence from the other surrounding trees, as their roots harshly grip the surface of the mountain. These are trees with an estimated age of 3,000 years that are called the “Bandai sugi.”
Where the Bandai sugi stand is at an elevation of approximately 800 meters. At the entrance to the climb, the evergreen broadleaf forest characteristic of Yakushima Island’s subtropical zone spreads out before us. However, in this area grow coniferous trees that you see in the subarctic zone, such as cedars, firs and tsuga. You realize that you are gradually approaching the summit.
Then, it is only approximately a further 30-minute walk from the Bandai sugi to where you can see “Mocchomu Taro,” the largest Yakusugi at Mt. Mocchomu-dake. With a thicker trunk than the Bandai sugi, the tree’s distinguishing feature looks like a mysterious figure wrapped in moss.
When standing directly below you’re not able to see the tip of the tree as it’s obscured by the surrounding trees. Though you can feel up close the intense form of Mocchomu Taro including its strong branches and thick trunk.
The superb view of the summit available only to those who overcome the steep trail
After passing Mocchomu Taro, the height of the surrounding trees gets gradually lower, the surface of the mountains exposes itself, and the field of view opens up. You can see the village at the foot of the mountain, and beyond it the Pacific Ocean, but the challenging trail continues on up to the summit.
Watanabe: When you come this far, rocky areas begin to stand out. The steepness of the trail doesn’t change from that on the first half of the course. Though with the field of view opening up, you get a sense of the high altitude enough to put some fear and unease into us guides too.
At the last rope, we climb almost vertically up the rock. If you fell it would be a dangerous scene. Climbing step by step up the rock until the ocean panorama that we had been waiting for. Here is the summit of Mt. Mocchomu-dake.
The panorama 360°view from the summit monolith is simply outstanding. The superb view unique to Yakushima Island, surrounded by the ocean, so beautiful it takes your breath away. We take out our cameras and are absorbed in wanting to put it in to photographs.
At the summit we take the time to eat lunch and drink tea while enjoying the superb view. If you have plenty of time a siesta is possible. A luxury experience you can have precisely because it is the Mt. Mocchomu-dake Climbing Tour.
The descent down the mountain is a great opportunity to encounter rare animals
For the descent down the mountain we return on the trail we climbed up on. If you look very carefully around, you can also encounter Yakushima macaques and Yakusika (Yakushima deer). Having plenty of time to be able to enjoy the scenery, is likely due to the sense of accomplishment from reaching the summit.
Watanabe: Yakushima macaques and Yakushima sika are petite, adorable animals. But if you encounter them, please do not feed them, just take their image in a photo.・
Watanabe: The time to descend the mountain is approximately 4 hours 30 minutes. We want to make the descent before the sun goes down, so we will leave the summit behind around noon. Climbing down the rocks by rope, crossing the slope, there are many dangerous spots on the trail just as on the climb up so you need to take care.
When you have plenty of time, I recommend brewing tea in the stream that flows nearby the Bandai sugi and also taking your shoes off to try dipping your feet into the stream. Spend a while relaxing there as the cool water will feel good and take care of your tired feet.
After completing the descent down the mountain safely, the Mt. Mocchomu-dake Climbing Tour comes to an end. I looked up at the summit of Mt. Mocchomu-dake from the base of the mountain, thinking “I climbed that mountain!” and am overcome by deep emotion. It’s a course that has bad footing and a steep climb, but the experience at the top blows all those troubles away!
410-8 Anbo, Yakushima Island Town, Kumage District, Kagoshima