Compared to other days of our trip thus far, we didn’t have to wake up too early this day. Anna picked the hotel so that we’d be close to the ferry which made things a lot easier first thing in the morning. The ferry we were taking was a “Toppy” boat which is a high speed boat. There are photos inside the ferry building that show what the boat looks like when it’s going full speed. There’s a fin on the bottom of the boat, and at full speed only this fin is touching the water.
Boats aren’t my favorite thing in the world because I’m not a good swimmer (I suck at floating too). The boat went pretty fast, but it’s still a large boat so there’s only so fast it can go. The boat has two levels and its seats are arranged like on a plane. Usually when I think of a ferry I think of a boat that’s so large you can walk around, and look over the railing and stuff, but this boat had seat belts. On rare occasion these boats have hit whales O_O I took a bunch of photos of some beautiful landscapes, but slept during most of the trip because I was starting to feel a little bit nauseous.
Finally after 2-3 hours we arrived at Yakushima! As soon as we got out we were amazed by the beautiful mountains. I immediately started humming the theme music from “Princess Mononoke” in my head. It was partly cloudy so you could see the enormous shadows of the clouds passing over the mountains, it was really gorgeous. It started drizzling a bit after we arrived.
First thing we did was get our bus passes for the day. The only ways to get around the island are by bike, car rental or the buses that go around the perimeter of the island. Certain buses go to specific tourist areas on the island. Once we got our daily passes we walked to the downtown area where we rented a headlight from one of the shops. Again, the idea that it might get so dark while hiking that we needed a headlight made me feel anxous O_O
The hotel we were staying at was pretty far, but their main hotel was in the downtown area so we went there and were able to drop our stuff off to pick up later. Without our heavy backpacks it was much easier to explore the town. There’s really not much in Yakushima except for shops, a pachinko place and restaurants. We walked around and took more photos of the breathtaking landscape. It really was like looking at a movie.
I was getting pretty hungry so we decided to try out this black ramen place. There wasn’t anyone there when we showed up, and it looked like only two people work there. Their ramen noodles are really black! I thought it might be squid ink like on Iron Chef, but it was apparently some process with bamboo charcoal. It was really really good, we were very pleasantly surprised. I thought that my slice of charshu looked enormous, but as soon as I bit into it, it totally fell apart in my mouth. It was super tender and juicy.
Anna’s ramen had these interesting slices of charshu that looked like pork was wrapped around green fish cake green and then cut into slices when served. This was our first restaurant we walked into without researching first, but it was really delicious! If you ever find yourself in Yakushima I’d recommend checking it out.
After this we took a bus to go to the Kaichu-Onsen which means “underwater hot spring.” The hot spring was an hour bus ride away, but the bus we first got on wasn’t the right bus so we got off at an area with several stores so that we’d have something to do while waiting for the bus we needed. There was a young American couple there whose Japanese wasn’t very good and they somehow didn’t have enough money to pay for their bus ticket. The driver couldn’t believe it, but just let them go. We saw the couple go to the MOS Burger down the street and get some food. The nerve! We walked around for a bit, took some photos then got the proper bus.
Anna had been telling me about this hot spring. It’s 100% natural and literally right next to the ocean. The only time people can go in is when the tide is out which only happens twice a day. It’s co-ed, but also the rules state everyone has to be nude. She also said that it’s very open so there are frequently tour groups who will just come by to take photos. There was a long road down to the hot spring. There was a bathroom when we got there. Leading up to the hot spring area was a donation box and a guy who I guess watched over the spring. There were also plastic buckets to wash yourself with.
We actually came at the perfect time, it was very soon after the tide had gone out and there were only a few old guys in one of the pools. There were about four pools total. One is reserved for women if they want to be separate, but it’s not like there’s a fence or anything 😛 I would’ve been more timid if Anna wasn’t there, but I figured if she wasn’t feeling bashful then I could do it. She made a good point that the men were probably more embarrassed than she was.
The water was sooooooo nice. This was my first hot spring ever so I didn’t know what to expect but it was great. The bottom of the pools were very very slippery. Looking closely at the slippery stuff it looked kind of like tiny white fur. I was wearing my glasses so I was being careful to not slip and dunk into the pool. Beyond our pool you could see a big rocky area where ocean waves were crashing in. The other thing I noticed was that it smelled sulfuric, which apparently is what hot springs smelled like.
While we were there we saw two guys approach the walkway to the hot spring but then hesitated. We were joking around trying to figure out what was going through their heads as they contemplated whether or not to go. Our guess was that they didn’t want a woman looking at them naked and then they left 😛 When we finally got out I checked my watch and realized we were there for over an hour O_O it didn’t feel like we were that long at all, but I guess time just flew by.
There was another hot spring nearby that the old guys told us was about a half an hour walk away. They even told us the best spot in that hot spring that most people don’t know about. The problem was that the bus runs very infrequently and the last bus was sometime around 5pm. We decided that time was a little too tight so we took the bus back to downtown. On the way back we saw a lot of the same people that we saw on bus we took from downtown.
We picked up our stuff at the downtown hotel, and someone who worked for the hotel drove us to our hotel which was in the middle of the woods. When I say the middle of the woods I really mean the middle of the woods. The kind of place where there’s no light past the hotel. There weren’t that many rooms, I’d estimate only 5 or 6 rooms.
We checked into our hotel room and Anna told the manager that we’d be climbing to jomon-sugi the next day so she arranged for us to have some breakfast and lunch bentos for us to take on our trip. When we got to our room we started going through all the gear that Anna’s dad put into our backpacks. The next morning our tour guide would pick us up at 4:30 AM so we had to be prepared. Anna’s dad packed the bags so I wanted to go through and repack it so that I’d know where everything was. I also tried out the mini raincoat thingy I got for my camera.
This hotel has homemade meals built into their hotel cost which is super awesome. When it came time, we went to the dining area where some other people were already eating. This was the most traditional Japanese meal that we had since we got to Japan. There was a huge tray with seven different little things to eat. There were pickled veggies, snails, sashimi, octopus, a chicken curry flavored dish, tofu, and an egg drop soup with rice cake.
It was kind of funny because we felt like we were in one of those movie scenes where a couple sit on opposite ends of a very long table. It was very very quiet in there because all the other people were being very considerate by keeping their voices down. The food was very good and had a nice homemade feel to it. I ate every single scrap on the tray and also enjoyed a nice big bottle of Asahi (Anna had shochu).
After the very nice meal we went to check out the hotel. Anna wanted to walk around the roads outside the hotel, but even though we had a very powerful flashlight I chickened out. There’s not much on Yakushima except for deer and monkeys (not even the aggressive kind), but the visual of walking into total darkness with nothing but a narrow flashlight beam felt too much like survival horror games I’ve played like Dead Space 😛
We went to look at the men’s and women’s baths which were really really nice. They also had a bath for couples too. There were two toilets for the guests, and I was very happy to see the heated seat. Being out in the woods I think that seat would’ve otherwise been the coldest one in our entire trip, but it was nice and toasty.
We did some last checks on our gear and laid out the clothes that we’d be wearing the next morning for the big hike to jomon sugi! I think I probably passed out after all this.