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Explore the Heart of Yakushima Where the Ancient Jōmon Sugi Tree Stands Guard

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Written By Lakeisha Ethans

Heritage Gardener with Grafting Expertise

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Home » Ancient & Remarkable Trees » Explore the Heart of Yakushima Where the Ancient Jōmon Sugi Tree Stands Guard

Jōmon Sugi, standing proudly on Yakushima, a lush island designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Japan, is no ordinary tree.

This ancient titan of the forest is the oldest and largest example of Cryptomeria japonica, also affectionately known as yakusugi.

Its roots reach deep into Japanese history, with estimates of its age ranging wildly from a mere 2,170 years to a staggering 7,200 years.

That’s old enough to have seen civilizations rise and fall!

Jōmon Sugi
Jōmon Sugi is the oldest and largest Cryptomeria tree on Yakushima

The Jōmon Sugi has earned its name from the Jōmon period, a prehistoric era of Japan known for its cord-marked pottery—suggesting that this tree was already a seedling when humans were just figuring out the finer points of ceramics.

At 25.3 meters (about 83 feet) tall, with a trunk girth of 16.4 meters (54 feet), and a voluminous presence of around 300 cubic meters (close to 11,000 cubic feet), it’s not just another tree in the park—it’s the largest conifer in Japan, holding court like an arboreal emperor among lesser plants.

Located on the north face of Mount Miyanoura, Yakushima’s highest peak, getting to Jōmon Sugi is no Sunday stroll.

It requires a four-to-five-hour trek through mountain paths, which either builds anticipation or tests your patience, depending on your fitness level and fondness for hiking.

The tree’s seclusion didn’t stop it from becoming a superstar, though.

Jōmon Sugi Tree

Discovered in 1968, Jōmon Sugi quickly became a symbol for conservation and a celebrity in the local tourism brochure, contributing significantly to the island’s economy.

Viewing this monumental tree, however, comes with limitations. After Yakushima was recognized as a World Heritage Site in 1993, access to the Jōmon Sugi was restricted to prevent love-struck fans (read: tourists) from getting too close.

An observation deck 15 meters away allows admirers to gaze upon its ancient bark and massive stature without the temptation of carving initials or snapping a piece of its history as a souvenir—a lesson learned after vandals took a piece of its bark in 2005.

Jōmon Sugi Tree in the Mist

The tree’s endurance isn’t just in its age. It’s a stoic figure, described by arborist Thomas Pakenham as a “grim titan of a tree,” rising like a rocky monument rather than a living organism, with muscular arms presiding over the surrounding young cedars and camphor trees.

In 2009, Jōmon Sugi even found a trans-Pacific partner in conservation, linking with Tāne Mahuta, a giant kauri tree in New Zealand, proving that tree diplomacy can be just as fruitful as the human kind.

Tane Mahuta
Tāne Mahuta, ‘God of the Forest’, a giant kauri tree in Waipoua Forest in Northland Region, New Zealand

So, if you’re up for a historical hike and want to meet a celebrity of the dendrological kind, Jōmon Sugi awaits. Just remember, it’s a view-only meet-and-greet; keep your hands, and any other appendages, to yourself!

Digging Deeper

Location

Jōmon Sugi is located on Yakushima Island, Japan, specifically on the north face of Mount Miyanoura, the highest peak on the island.

Yakushima Island
Yakushima Island

Type of Tree

Jōmon Sugi is a Cryptomeria japonica (Japanese cedar), known locally as yakusugi, a subtype found on Yakushima Island.

Is Jomon Sugi Still Alive?

Yes, Jōmon Sugi is still alive and continues to thrive as one of the oldest living trees in the world.

Can You Visit It?

Yes, Jōmon Sugi can be visited by undertaking a four-to-five-hour hike via established trails such as the Kusugawa Hiking Path and the Arakawa Trail, with the closest observation being from a deck set 15 meters away from the tree.

Conservation

After its discovery and the subsequent boost in tourism, measures have been implemented to protect Jōmon Sugi and its environment, including restricting access to prevent direct contact with the tree and designating the area as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Legacy

Jōmon Sugi’s legacy includes sparking conservation efforts for Yakushima’s forests, bolstering the local economy through eco-tourism, and serving as a symbol of endurance and natural history, often drawing comparisons and fostering connections with other ancient trees globally.

Want More?


Intrigued by Jōmon Sugi?

Explore more of the world’s remarkable trees, like the eerie Ghostly Sunken Forest in Lake Kaindy, the resilient ancient Methuselah, and the Moon Trees, grown from seeds that journeyed to the moon with Apollo 14.

Don’t miss the Tree of 40 Fruit, a single tree with multiple fruit varieties, showcasing artistic and botanical skill.

These trees together present a collection of wonders, encouraging you to explore their stories and their important contributions to our understanding of nature and history.

Sources – Wikipedia & Japan Travel

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Lakeisha Ethans

Heritage Gardener with Grafting Expertise

Lakeisha grew up in East Africa, literally surrounded by nature which sparked her interest in learning more about trees and plants from a very young age. She belongs to a family of gardeners, so for her, gardening is a way of life, a tradition she’s proud to uphold. As a self-taught gardener, Lakeisha has successfully grafted trees to produce hybrids for gardens and landscapes. When she’s not gardening, she’s writing about her experience with nature or watching baking fails!