Yakushima, in the footsteps of Miyazaki

Tuesday, January 5, early in the morning, a ferry carries me in four hours, 60 kilometers south of Kyushu, on the island of Yakushima. Located in the archipelago of Osumi, the island has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1993. Yakushima’s environment has greatly inspired Hayao Miyazaki for the achievement of Princess Mononoke.

Yakushima is mainly composed of mountains covered with lush primary forest housing an impressive number of “sugi”, Japanese cedars, called “Yakusugi”, some of which are millennia old. The oldest and best known cedar in Yakushima is located in the center of the island, about ten hours away. Called “Jômon sugi”, according to the legend it would have been about 7000 years old (according to scientific estimates: 2300 years old) and would therefore date from the Jômon period. The Jômon period covers the prehistory of Japan from 15000 to 300 BC. J.C..

Nature in Yakushima is particularly abundant: many flowers, hundreds of rare mosses, 1900 plant species and subspecies … All this abundance results from the fact that Island is one of the wettest places in Japan. It rains almost every day. A local proverb even says “it’s raining 35 days a month in Yakushima”.

This is true because I arrive under a gray sky and a humid atmosphere. I take a walk in the port village of Miyanoura located on the north coast of the island and where my hostel is located. The sky is threatening but I still decide to go see the beach of Inaka-hama, located on the northwest coast. Between May and July, the beach is filled with sea turtles that have come to lay their eggs. It takes me an hour by bus to reach the beach I spend talking with the very friendly bus driver, Keiji. Fifty years, all smiling and lively! I arrive at the beach at the end of the afternoon, under really bad weather. But that does not detract from the beauty of the place. Peaceful atmosphere, gurgling birds, white sand, turquoise blue water, palm trees and shells, a true paradise.

Inaka-hama beach – Yakushima – © Claire BlumenfeldThe Soyotei ryokan - Inaka-hama beach – Yakushima – © Claire Blumenfeld

I walk the beach in search of shells, I walk around the Soyotei ryokan, traditional inn all dressed in black, fascinating architecture (white stones are placed on the roofs contrasting with the black walls) and passes a long moment to fix the sea. I feel perfectly well there. Alas, the night falls and it is necessary to go back. Return by bus back with Keiji and I go to the only local supermarket to buy my meals for the next few days.

The next day is a disaster. Torrential rain fell on Yakushima. Although I stared at the sky imploringly, it does not seem to want to stop. Depression. Me who planned to go for a hike in the mountains! I still decided to face the rain and head for Anbo in the southwest of the island to visit the Botanical Research Park. My now assigned driver, Keiji, drops me off at Anbo, an hour later under the torrential rain.

Anbo in the rain - Yakushima - © Claire Blumenfeld

I take a quick tour of the city without finding anything to eat and then takes the bus that drops me 20 minutes later, hungry in front of the botanical garden. I take my ticket and ask the lady holding the ticket office if I can find something to eat in the area. The garden being in the middle of nowhere, I have some concerns. Fortunately, she shows me a tiny gargotte on the other side of the road. Two old grannies prepare me the only dish available: udons. Thick pasta made with soft wheat flour, I had never eaten it before. Accompanied by vegetables in tempura (fried donut) and onigiri (rice balls), it’s a treat! They offer me a gigantic orange that I carry with me. Full stomach, I attack the garden tour. This is a small wonder, filled with plants and flowers all more beautiful than the others: bananas, papayas, lychee, guava, coffee, hibiscus, bougainvillea, oranges, apples , coconuts … Everything is not in bloom but what I see is a feast for the eyes!

Botanical Research Park – Yakushima – © Claire BlumenfeldBotanical Research Park – Yakushima – © Claire BlumenfeldThe view of the mountains from the botanical garden is impressive: covered with mist, they give the impression of an impassable barrier. Returning to the entrance of the garden, I am entitled to a small “snack” consisting of fruits of the garden: pineapple, orange, passion fruit and flesh of cactus leaves (if I’m not mistaken) with soy sauce. Glutinous, sticky and tasteless, the cactus flesh has a little trouble passing my throat. Return to Miyanoura under a rain that never ends.

Botanical Research Park with mountain views - Yakushima - © Claire BlumenfeldMy "snack" - Botanical Research Park - Yakushima - © Claire BlumenfeldThe next day, Thursday 7 January, the rain has finally stopped but the sun is still absent. Too bad, it’s my last day in Yakushima and I’m going to see what I mainly came for: the Shiratani Unsui-kyō Forest (which means “Shiratani’s water and cloud gorge”), a place that inspired Miyazaki for Princess Mononoke environments. The forest is even nicknamed “Mononoke-hime no mori” (“the forest of Princess Mononoke”). I walk with my eyes dazzled by so much greenery, moss and roots. A real jungle! Some fleeting rays of sun make the eyes truly dazzling. What a pity it’s cloudy! Old Japanese cedars dot the forest. I do not push to the well-known “Jômon sufi” (hiking for more than 9 hours, I can not do it), but I’m still at the feet of the venerable “Yayoisugi”, 3000 years old. Curious trees with orange trunks, called Himeshara contrast with the dominant green. Seemingly their sap is cold and it is recommended to squeeze the tree in your arms if you are too hot. The weather is rather cold, I do not have the opportunity to test. While walking through the forest, images of Princess Mononoke come to mind.

Shiratani Unsui-kyô Forest – Yakushima – © Claire BlumenfeldShiratani Unsui-kyô Forest – Yakushima – © Claire Blumenfeld

Shiratani Unsui-kyô Forest – Yakushima – © Claire BlumenfeldAt the top of Taikoiwa rock, the view of central Yakushima is breathtaking. The few rays of sun illuminate the ridges in the distance by transforming them into shades of shadows and lights. I stay a long time despite the cold wind to appreciate the landscape, before going down.

View of the center of Yakushima from Tokoiwa rock - Shiratani Unsui-kyô Forest - Yakushima - © Claire Blumenfeld

View of the center of Yakushima from Tokoiwa rock - Shiratani Unsui-kyô Forest - Yakushima - © Claire Blumenfeld

View of the center of Yakushima from Tokoiwa rock - Shiratani Unsui-kyô Forest - Yakushima - © Claire Blumenfeld

I re-watched Princess Mononoke a few days ago. Absolute masterpiece that has not taken a wrinkle and very actual, I find in the film the influence of Yakushima. Some plans really look like the places I went for a walk: the vision of the forest filled with moss, the majestic old trees, the view of the mountain and ridges … I made some screenshots to illustrate .


Mononoke Hime - Ghibli studios - Hayao Miyazaki

 

The three days on the island have passed quickly, despite the bad weather. Friday, January 8, I leave Yakushima again in the rain, to reach Tanegashima, another island of the archipelago of Osumi, located a few kilometers east of Yakushima and hosting one of the main launching base of Japanese rockets. Direction the space!

3 comments

  1. C’est vrai que ça ressemble trop à la forêt de Princesse Mononoké ! Trop cool ! Mais t’avais pas peur toute seule dans cette forêt toute sombre ? ^^ Dommage pour la pluie, mais ça rend le lieu encore plus mystique et mystérieux non ?
    bisous ~

    1. Non ça allait ! J’ai quand même croisé quelques autres randonneurs :). Mais c’est vrai qu’à certains endroits (notamment que je suis montée voir le Yayoisugi), il y avait personne, il faisait tout gris, j’avoue que j’avais quand même un petit sentiment d’angoisse dans un coin de mon cerveau, ah ah. C’est sûr que le lieu faisait mystérieux. Après pour les photos, avec le soleil ça rend toujours mieux.

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