|Our Man in Yakushima...||(Entered Jul. 17, 2009)||Great Escapes...|
Seems like this month is all about reposting, but I know you'll forgive me, and I did promise almost exactly two years ago to return to Japan's little section of paradise.
When I came back from my first trip to Yakushima, I was practically frothing at the mouth, so amazed that this practically people-less island of sheer natural beauty and wonder could exist within the confines of Japan.
Not much has changed in that time. Life here is relaxed. Traffic moves more slowly, after all, what's the rush? People are friendlier, and smiles come more readily.
Yakushima is supposedly Japan's wettest place, and it's said that it rains here 35 days a month. Either I'm super lucky or July is the best time to travel here. Both times I came here, every day was sunny and hot, with nary a drop of rain to be seen.
Kumi came along with me this time. I suppose my constant ravings about it had the desired effect of making her want to see it for herself.
Days were spent swimming at beaches, and in mountain pools and rivers, hiking, kayaking, driving, eating tropical fruit, etc. Evenings were spent eating delicious food, drinking cold beer, watching sunsets, going for walks and star watching.
Yakushima has an abundance of deer and monkeys, both which can be seen almost everywhere on the island, and neither of which are tame. Please help keep it this way by not feeding them.
Yakushima is located south of Kagoshima, (the southernmost prefecture of Kyushu). Getting there from Tokyo is not exactly a painless process, but I've long since learned that if you want to get out of Tokyo for a vacation, you need to be willing to sacrifice some blood, sweat and tears.
The most economical way is to fly to Kagoshima, then take the hydrofoil from the seaport. Door to door from Tokyo? Be prepared to spend at least 8 hours. If you've got money lying around, you could save time by flying the whole way, but you'll need to switch planes at Kagoshima airport.
By now almost everyone knows that Miyazaki Hayao took inspiration for his famous animation film 'Mononoke no Hime' in the brooding cedar forests of Yakushima.
The exact place where he got his inspiration is located on the Shiratani Ravine hiking trail, and has been given the name 'Princess Mononoke Forest' which unfortunately has lead to this spot being perhaps the most touristed point on the whole island, a bit of a letdown for me. I'd avoid it unless you can get there super early in the morning, or unless you're really into crowds. There are plenty of other beautiful, untouristed hiking trails waiting for you.
The lack of rain while we were there actually had one detrimental effect. One of the best points about walking through the old forests is the beautiful green moss covering everything. It had not rained for more than a week now and the moss was dry and brittle. The silent and brooding atmosphere of the forest, heightened by the forest's usual mist and fog, was also absent...
Japan has 14 World Heritage sites, most of them historical buildings, monuments, temples or shrines, but the whole island of Yakushima is one big World Heritage site, and justifiably so.
The best way to get around in Yakushima is to rent a car. There is basically one main road that encircles the whole island, so getting lost is pretty hard. To drive completely around the island requires about 3 hours. Traffic is usually extremely minimal, but the road on the West side of the island is extremely narrow, winding, and is a favourite place for monkeys and deer to hang out. The deer move off the road for you quickly, but the monkeys are stubborn and will only reluctantly move after repeated horn honking.
I've been here twice now and there are still things I haven't done yet. One of them is to hike up to the island's peak, the 1936 meter Mt. Miyanoura, a grueling 12 hour trek. I guess the only thing to do is head back again!
Compared to the first time I visited, there were definitely more tourists. Yakushima is catching on in Japan, becoming more and more popular. Get there and see it before it becomes just another tourist mecca!
If You Build It, They Will Leave...