Wilson’s Yakushima: Memories of the Past

by Larissa Glasser, Library Assistant
May 12, 2014

Wilson’s Yakushima: Memories of the Past

Wilson's Yakushima

Wilson’s Yakushima: Memories of the Past
by Tomoko Furui

From the author’s preface:
“On the island of Yakushima one thousand thirty meters above sea level, stands an enormous stump holding the memory of when it was a great tree. It takes a three-hour hike from the Arakawa trailhead to the stump, which is located along a trail that follows an old logging railroad to the ancient Jomon Cedar. If you look up from the opening within the spacious hollow of the stump, you can see the sky cut out in the shape of a heart, which makes it a very popular sightseeing spot.

Ernest Henry Wilson, a British botanist, introduced the existence of this great stump to the world, and hence the great stump is now known as the Wilson stump. However, documentation on the details of the story behind this discovery, at least in Japanese, is scarce.

Wilson landed in Yakushima one hundred years ago in 1914. What was his life like? What brought him to this isolated island in southern Japan? What were his impressions of the island?

These questions haunted me, and I started studying English references and writing a biography of Wilson for a local magazine two years ago. I found out that the photographs he had taken in Yakushima were preserved at the Archive of the Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University.

In all, there are fifty-seven glass plate negatives of those photographs. They show gigantic trees in the deep forest, granite rocks covered with fresh moss, crystal water rushing down steep slopes, and scenes of quaint villages. They present the island as it was one hundred years ago.

One day as I was immersed in those photos, I noticed some people in the scenery. Looking more closely with a magnifying glass at the tiny figures beside a great tree, I found that they were local young men in kimono standing straight with serious faces. What were their thoughts when they stood in front of the camera that day?

A copy of that photo in hand, I inquired about them to old villagers living near the trailhead. Eventually, I obtained some information, and one by one the names of the three youths in Wilson’s photo were revealed. I came to learn that each of them treasured memories of the precious time they shared with Wilson. The entire process abounded in thrills and delights as the mysteries were unveiled one by one.

It cannot be a mere coincidence that [2013] marks the twentieth anniversary of Yakushima’s designation as a World Natural Heritage Site, and [February 2014] the centennial of Wilson’s visit to the island. It is as if these men have been waiting for this timing to awaken from their long slumber to convey an important message.

I would be overjoyed if this book would serve as an opportunity for readers to consider the significance of the message that Wilson left us in Yakushima.”
Tomoko Furui

Wilson’s Yakushima is included in our New Books List for May 12, 2014.

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