Head to the stars in Tanegashima

Friday, January 8, I leave Yakushima on a rough sea. The two-hour ride on an old freighter-ferry is a real test for my stomach. The boat sways on all sides, sometimes oscillating with an amplitude of 3-4 meters. Suffice to say that it moves hard! With each swing I see through the portholes the horizon bow and I have the impression that we will end up diving into the sea. I have a lot of stomach pain.

Tanegashima is a long narrow strip of land 20 km northeast of Yakushima. Not very popular with tourists but popular with surfers, the island has one of Japan’s leading space centers, Japan’s JAXA or Aerospace Exploration Agency. It was also in Tanegashima that Portuguese firearms were introduced for the first time in 1543.

I welcome the mainland with happiness. My hostel is located in Nishinoomote, the main port city of the island. I dig a little in the village time to find my accommodation. I barely have time to buy food that a violent rain is making its appearance again. Decidedly bad weather seems to follow me. The temperature also drops and with it my motivation. I still force myself to visit the Teppokan museum located next to my hostel. Dedicated to the history of Tanegashima’s armament, its culture and its natural history, the museum houses an impressive collection of magnificent shells including some gigantic as well as many firearms (arquebuses, rifles, pistols …) . Some are small prowess of minimalist design. I am alone in the museum. I go out and see the old samurai house Gessou Tei, whose visit is coupled with the museum. It’s freezing cold. The interior is pretty, with a reconstruction of life in the Meiji period (1868 to 1912), cute little figures, some guns and bows, calligraphy and a doll that looks alive. The two grannies who take care of the house offer me a homemade tea accompanied by a snack (including hot potatoes, their skin is purple and the flesh is yellow honey). The tea is very good, the best I have drunk so far and the little potatoes are a delight. A gentleman also taking care of the house shows me pictures from last October of a group of about fifteen French people who came to visit the house and take part in activities: calligraphy, archery, dance demonstration and traditional music … Lucky! The morale in the socks, I take refuge at the inn. It is barely three o’clock. I take the opportunity to process my photos and write my articles.

The next day, I get a few rays of sunshine! I took some pictures of Nishinoomote. The quiet and relaxed atmosphere of the city is enhanced by the many small drawings and assemblages that line the walls of the town. A gigantic fresco made of assembling small rectangles of wood stretches along the walls of the port. Representing a rocket, a heart, trees, fish, it seems to have been made in 2014 and is titled “Mirai no kaze”. Either “The wind of the future”.

Nishinoomote – Tanegashima – © Claire BlumenfeldDecorations on the walls of Nishinoomote - Tanegashima - © Claire BlumenfeldNishinoomote – Tanegashima – © Claire Blumenfeld

Destination, the JAXA Space Center two hours bus ride from Nishinoomote. Located at the southeastern tip of Tanegashima, the space center, built in 1969, includes administrative buildings, a meteorological ensemble, launching bases and a museum.

The south of the island is absolutely calm. A few small wooden barracks, large paddy fields, small hills covered with forests and beautiful beaches. The environment of the park is beautiful. I tour the museum, admire the scale models and life-size models of rockets, ecstatic me in front of a real satellite and I walk on the beautiful beach of Takesaki-kaigan. Very few people, a little sun, a peaceful atmosphere, bird callings and a beautiful environment. That’s enough for my happiness.

Sounds of Tanegashima – Excerpt from a video on the launch basis of JAXA:


Takesaki-Kaigan beach - Museum of Space Technology - Tanegashima- © Claire Blumenfeld

At 1:30 pm, I take part in the guided tour of the space center, which gives access to some otherwise inaccessible facilities. Of course the visit is in Japanese, but I’m entitled to a dozen pages of explanations in English and one of the ladies doing the tour speaks English. We will see an observation point allowing to see the bases of launch, the control center and a shed where is stored one of the true rockets of type H-II. The size of the machine is impressive! In discussion with the English speaking guide, I learn that the last launch took place in October 2015 and that the next will be on February 12, 2016. For the year 2015, five rockets were sent into space (the goal being the deployment of satellites (military, meteorological, space probes …) For the year 2016, they think to rise to a dozen.

Sounds of Tanegashima – Excerpt from the guided tour:


H-IIA rocket - Space Center JAXA - Tanegashima- © Claire Blumenfeld

Back at the museum, I have an hour left before the return of the bus. I spend it strolling on the beach looking for seashells and enjoying the calm

The next day, Sunday, January 10, I rent a bike for the morning and go for a walk in the vicinity of Nishinoomote. The driveway is filled with very tiring climbs but the return is only a result of well deserved and exhilarating descents.

Tanegashima– © Claire BlumenfeldI left Tanegashima early in the afternoon to return to Kagoshima on a rough sea, much to the relief of my stomach. Arriving on the mainland, I take a bus to the airport an hour from the center of Kagoshima. The traffic jams will make the journey longer and I arrive at my hotel next to the airport around 7pm. I spend Monday, January 11 quietly in my room watching the rain fall and waiting to fly the next day to my next destination: Okinawa.

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