After a night of tossing and turning (Eddie and I had to share a pillow because I forgot to bring a spare), we began our journey to Yakushima by hopping on the 9:45 ferry to Miyanoura Port. Upon arrival, I got my first glimpse of Japan’s most famous World Heritage Site. It looked like Oregon meets Hawaii. The green, rounded hills reminded me of Maui, or perhaps the opening scenes of “Jurassic Park” (which was filmed in Hawaii, I think), but the cloudy skies, mild temperature and heavily forested landscape was all Oregon. Eddie placed a call to the Minshuku Yakushima owner (every time Eddie has to teach in Yakushima, he stays at this guest house) and soon we were getting settled into our room.
Our next stop was the Visitor’s Center, which provided me with some useful, general information about Yakushima. Apparently it is revered for representing all the climates in Japan – the base and lowlands are subtropical, but the tops of the mountains get to be as cold as Hokkaido. They have a variety of wildlife, including sea turtles, macaques, deer and flying fish.
After the Visitor’s Center, we took a walk out to a shrine located in a cave overlooking the ocean. It looked promising from a distance, but upon closer inspection it turned out the the shrine itself was little more than a (poorly) painted shed. Next we visited the Banyan Tree Park and picked up some massive and painful mosquito bites (I mean, it wouldn’t be going outside in southern Japan if you didn’t get at least three bug bites…). We had lunch at the Issou Cafe, which had a beautiful view, delicious mint tea and well-seasoned, but nevertheless disappointing, curry.
The last stop of the day was Shirotani Unsuikyo Park, which is the park that inspired the scenery in Miyazaki’s “Princess Mononoke.” It was pouring rain, but we wanted to hike, so we donned full rain gear and made the best of it. As we walked, I was reminded less of “Princess Mononoke” and more and more of Oregon. Green mosses covered everything and the effects of the rain were lessened by the lush canopy overhead. The air was crisp and fresh and there were sword ferns in abundance. The main attraction on Yakushima is the jomon-sugi, or several thousand year old cedars. Trees that have fallen on their own are used for all manner of crafts, but felling the trees is strictly prohibited. The trees were beautiful – bark stripped off in places to reveal the bright red-orange cedar color underneath and covered in knots and gnarls befitting trees of their age. The whole experience made me me realize how much I miss trees, and more specifically Oregon. I had always thought of Portland as a rest stop of sorts – comfortable and nice, but never someplace I would really ever think of as home. I guess it was more of a home than I had previously thought.
We had dinner at the minshuku, where we enjoyed a feast of sashimi, oden, clear soup, pickled garlic, salted fish, barnacles, savory something marinated in miso, some soba and cucumbers and a whole fried flying fish. Flying fish was shockingly delicious – the wings were the best part. Utterly exhausted, we are now getting ready for bed and as I’m writing this, I’m having my first major nose bleed (actually, nose bleed of any kind) in who knows how many years.