Last week’s post was about Shibuya (しぶや / 渋谷), so this week I need to start with や (ya). I had a couple of suggestions for topics this week, so a big thank goes to IMissJapan, who suggested “yakisoba”, and Brian, who suggested “yakusoku”. Both were great ideas, but I confess I had my heart set on a different topic this week…
Yakushima (やくしま / 屋久島)
Yakushima (Yaku Island) is a place I have wanted to visit for a long time, but sadly haven’t made it to yet. Yakushima is one of the Osumi Islands, to the south of Kyushu in Kagoshima Prefecture (see the tiny red circle below).
Yakushima is famous for its trees. These trees are not just any old trees, they are the trees of fairytales. The island is covered in a thick forest of old Cryptomeria trees (the ones over 1,000 years old are known as Yakusugi – a mixture of ‘Yakushima’ and ‘sugi’, which is the Japanese word for Cryptomeria). Some trees are said to be over 7,000 years old! This magical forest apparently inspired the setting in the Studio Ghibli movie Princess Mononoke.
In 1993, Yakushima’s forest was designated a natural UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the forest is visited by approximately 300,000 tourists every year. The island is small, and it only takes about three hours to drive all the way round, although you have to watch out for the wildlife – monkeys and deer – that inhabit the island. According to JNTO, “when the residents of Yakushima are asked about the population of their island, they invariably smile and reply, ‘20,000 people, 20,000 monkeys, and 20,000 deer.’”
Yakushima is probably not a place I would want to go on my own, so if I go there I expect I will take a tour. It’s not that it’s unsafe, just that I would rather share that experience with people. Lots of tours are available, such as this Kyushu Adventure tour or this Kyushu Elements tour from Inside Japan Tours. However, if I did feel brave enough to go it alone, lots of tourist information in English is available. The best site seems to be yakumonkey.com, where you can also purchase an English guidebook.
If you’re still not sure if Yakushima is the tourist destination for you, check out this short documentary:
Doesn’t it look incredible?
And don’t worry if you’re not into serious hiking – I’m not. It’s still possible to visit Yakushima, and places like Yakusugi Land have hiking courses to accommodate nearly any ability. Japan Guide says, “The shortest course follows a boardwalk trail that soon leads to yakusugi, while the more difficult hikes continue farther into the forest over varying types of trails. The longest course leads to the peak of nearby Tachudake. There are English signs throughout the park as well as English pamphlets available at the trailhead.”
As the beauty of Yakushima is natural, I feel a sense of urgency about going there. You never know when global warming or a natural disaster or something will have an effect on what’s there, and it could be a very different place one day. I’m going to go there (although I don’t yet know when) and, when I do, I will take a very big camera memory card and a lot of batteries!
Yakushima (やくしま) ends with ま (ma), so next week I will be looking for a noun beginning with “ma”. If you have any suggestions, please leave them below! And, don’t forget, no words ending in ん! (^_^)v