Yakushima, the magic island

Yakushima’s call

I am right now in the Hikari 522 Shinkansen from Osaka to Tokyo, for the last part of my Japanese journey. Looking through the window, I see glimpses of the places I’ve been over the past weeks instead of the rails, trains and cities that parade now in front of my eyes. From all these flashes, there's one that still takes my breath away: Yakushima.

The Yakushima island is one of those remote places that Japanese people have heard about, but not many did actually go there. As for the foreigners, there are very few who heard about Yakushima and even fewer who dare to take the logistic challenge: 7h (or 8?) of bullet train from Tokyo to Kagoshima with a change in Kobe and, afterwards, 4 more hours on the ferry from Kagoshima to Miyanoura. There is also an airport on the East coast, but this is more a shortcut for lazy tourists. The ferry is an important part of the prelude, like a slow ritual of initiation into to secrets of the island.

“And everything was green and submarine”

(Echoes, Pink Floyd)

From the ferry, Yakushima first reveals a mountain-shaped silhouette covered in the deepest green I’ve ever seen in the middle of a perfectly blue sea. Its peaks sometimes hide under blankets of fog and clouds, from where they stream their wisdom in rivers and waterfalls that roll into the sea.

The ferry Yakushima-2 arriving in Miyanoura
Granite beach in Kurio

The road to my guesthouse in Tainokawa passed above a waterfall in the middle of a forest, and then over a stone bridge from where you could see Mocchomu-dake, the steepest summit on Yakushima. Pure nature. Pure bliss. From the bus station to the guesthouse, in less than 300m, I made at least 5 photo breaks, gazing in awe at the surrounding green, avidly breathing in the yuzu blossom and cedar notes that filled the air, so limpid and vibrant.

The stone bridge leading to Yakushima Guesthouse
Around Tainokawa, view on Mocchomu-dake summit
Yuzu tree
One fragrant little flower whose name I don't know
Nightfall over Tainokawa valley

The moss-covered island

People mostly go to Yakushima for two reasons: [1] seeing the forest that inspired Hayao Miyazaki’s “Princess Mononoke” and [2] diving into one of the rare primeval forests in the world, populated with secular and millennial cedar trees.
For me it was the mix of two. I haven’t met Mononoke, true, she must be hiding somewhere in the deeper forests, but my heart was irresistibly suffused with magic and wonder at Shiratani Unsuikyo and Janokuchi-take waterfall, the two trails that I did during my short time on the island.

I should have spent at least 2 weeks to do all the trails and explore all the magic forests of Yakushima, but I keep saying to myself that I'll go back one day to do that… and next time I’ll rent a car, for sure: yes, the buses are cool, but they are rarer than I thought and everything becomes too complicated when you have a bus change. This implies early waking hours and late returns, the need to adapt your walking pace to a bus schedule. Also, the bus doesn’t cover the Western part of the island, which is, I’ve heard, a paradise for walking, diving, eating, enjoying the beauty of nature.

The moss-covered forest from the Shiratani Unsuikyo Ravine

Someone I met on the trail to Yanokuchi waterfall, living in Japan for 50 years, said that Yakushima was his "power place". The spot where he recharges his batteries. I can totally understand why. Untouched forests. Untainted rivers. Surrounding clear blue seas. Black granite beaches. Living trees keeping under their bark millennia of wisdom. Fish galore. Small towns and villages with kind people. A place where you can breathe, walk, connect with nature, with yourself and other people just like you.

Yanokuchi waterfall

Yakushima Photography Festival

Founded by Kodo Chijiiwa, who I had the pleasure and honor to meet, the YPF is meant to connect Yakushima to the rest of the world through photography. It is a cross-culture photographic project whose aim is to encourage sharing and dialogue under the magical spirit of the Yakushima island. Various guest photographers coming to Yakushima can have the chance to display their best creations at the YPF. For the moment, the YPF is essentially an exhibition, but I wish that Kodo will find the strength to grow YPF into something bigger and permanent in the future, with different expressions and ways to foster talents.

Searching for Mononoke at the Shiratani Unsuikyo Ravine

View from the Taikoiwa rock

Twilight encounters in Anbo

Yakushima has the privilege of being off the "conventional" Japanese touristic map: most of the tourists roam around the Honshu island, between Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, Nara and Hiroshima. Once you step out of this perimeter, you step into the real Japan without the fear of being pushed by thousands of tourists standing in line to take pictures of the big touristic targets. That’s fine with me! Such a green paradise just for me and few others :). Not to mention that such destinations work as people filter, so the chances of doing relevant encounters are at their highest.

There’s something special about Yakushima that makes people deactivate their shields and talk like they knew each other forever, on a forest trail, at the guesthouse, in the bus, on a concrete dam from a faraway port, where fishermen and fishercats wait patiently for their evening prey...

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©Madalina Diaconescu 2017