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Yakushima

The long-anticipated journey to Yakushima was finally here, and my wife Kanako and I boarded a Shibushi bound ferry from Osaka port. The schedule was tight, as connections were crucial to making it all happen. It was Golden Week, and I made all necessary efforts to book the hydrofoil from Kagoshima port. We boarded the ferry, settling into one of the large carpeted rooms with shared sleeping on the floor. A few hours later, while strolling around the lobby, I noticed a sign with the arrival time posted. “That’s odd,”, I wondered, “it’s one hour later than I’d anticipated.” Sure enough, the ferry company had completely changed the timetable from April 1st, the start of the fiscal year. This meant that we’d miss our connecting ferry to Kagoshima, since Shibushi is a whopping 2 hour bus ride from Kagoshima city. Yep, we had a fight on our hands.

Kanako and I approached the info. counter and she let me do all of the talking. My argument was simple. I’d bought the ticket in March, before the ferry company changed the schedule, planning my entire trip on the initial arrival time. The ferry company changed the time and made no effort to notify passengers who’d already bought tickets. The people behind the counter, in classic Japanese form, muttered the all-too-familiar “doushiyo kana” utterance. Around an hour later, we were ushered into a back office and met with the head honcho of the ferry. He apologized for the muck-up and told us the ferry company would pay for a taxi from Shibushi all the way to Kagoshima city (it’s a 12000 yen taxi ride!) I’m not sure if a Japanese person complaining would’ve got the same treatment, but I was happy for my “kinpatsu power”! We were the first ones off the ferry and the taxi was waiting VIP style at the edge of the boat. Sure enough, we didn’t have to pay a thing and made it to the Kagoshima terminal with plenty of time to spare.

The ferry ride was smooth, and we could see tons of flying fish along the way. The weather? Perfect, with not a cloud in sight! We were planning to meet our friend, affectionately nicknamed “Sea Turtle John” (more on that later) at the Anbo bus stop. He was there, right on time, and we all jumped in a taxi for a quick ride to the Yodogawa trailhead. It was 6pm by the time we started hiking, but 30 minutes later we arrived at the hut, ready to bed down for the night. Interesting enough, all of the campsites were taken, but the hut was completely empty. Why set up a tent when you can sleep in comfort?

The next morning we woke up early and started the long trek to Mt. Miyanoura. The weather today? foggy. I searched my backpack for my raincoat and realized to my great chagrin that I’d forgotten to pack it. Here I was in one of the rainiest places on earth without my wet weather gear! The scenery was nice but we never got to see any views. Up and over the top and down to Shin-takatsuka hut. We found a wonderful campsite just off the main trail in a wooded area. This place was teeming with hikers, most of which were staying in the nearby hut. We cooked up a feast, filtered plenty of drinking water, and reflected on our day. Kanako crashed out early, while John and I told campfire stories until well after bedtime.

We got a leisurely 9am start the next day in perfect conditions! It’s funny how we had awesome weather both the day before and day after our summit hike – talk about bad timing! The closer we got to Jomon-sugi the thicker the crowds became! We were entering the touristy part of the hike, where our greetings of “konnichiwa” went unanswered. The path was narrow, with plenty of wooden planks, and our huge packs forced under-equipped day hikers off the path. Down we went to a huge junction and train tracks! Hiking on the tracks for what seemed like an eternity, until escaping off to the left for a nice climb up to Tsuji-toge and a spectacular lookout from some exposed rocks. It was a short, steep climb from the main trail but we were rewarded with a birds-eye view of the rugged ridge line we’d spent the previous day traversing. This must’ve been where Hayao Miyazaki got his idea for the Mononoke forest in Princess Mononoke. Speaking of which, from the mountain pass we passed right through the “Mononoke forest” until reaching the decrepit hut of Shiratani. “What a dump”, John added. We all agreed and found a flat spot right at the junction of the main trail and spur trail to the hut.

The next day, we completed the short hike to the trailhead, ending our epic traverse of the mountains. It started raining the last 10 minutes of the hike. We flew down to the port and boarded a bus bound for Nagata. John pitched on the beach, while Kanako and I opted for luxury in a nearby minshuku. That night, we met up for a guided walk to look for sea turtles. The meeting time wasn’t until 9pm, so John killed time sitting on the edge of the shore, listening to the waves and soaking up nature. One of the child volunteers ran over to him, thinking he was a sea turtle, hence the nickname we gave to John! We all sat on the beach with the volunteer guides, waiting for the sea turtles to come and lay eggs. Only one came on shore, but was scared away by the headlights of a passing car. Golden Week is a little early for the elusive creatures, as by mid-summer there are nightly sightings of the giant turtles. We’d have to try another time, later in the season. We will be back to attempt Mt. Miyanoura, using the Nagata trail, in hopes of catching the spectacular views from a summit: free from fog.

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