Thursday, June 20, 2019

I'm not your mom (or dad) and neither is mother nature!

Look what treasures were left!
(Re-posted with permission.)
Several times a year, I sign up for "toilet patrol" duty and I usually come back with a grudge. This is the glorious job of hiking up the trail to lightly clean and inspect the huts and toilets. We do a little light maintenance work on the trail when we can and pick up litter along the trail, too. It would be fun, enjoyable work if we didn't also pick up the crap people leave behind (both in the huts and in the toilets).

The root of the problem is usually ignorance and poor preparation of both international and domestic visitors. So, I'm going to start off with a short list of some of the stuff I've personally had the pleasure of schlepping down the mountains, and then I'm going to follow up with a short quiz on mountain manners.

Things people carry up and leave behind (in no particular order):
  • Hats/socks/towels/shirts/glasses/lens caps (The late Douglas Adams would ask, Do you know where your towel is?)
  • Sleeping bags (If you've got the energy to carry a big, bulky bag up a mountain and the money to leave it behind, you could have rented a compact bag! )
  • Air mattress (And with battery-operated inflater-fan, too!)
  • Prayer flags (Disrespectful in so many ways!)
  • Christmas decorations (An emergency shelter is not your home. Santa does not come here.)
  • Fuel for camp stoves (Try leaving it at a rental shop, your accommodation, or an information booth, or even with the airport authorities.)
  • Used disposable toilet bags (The whole point of the bag is for you to carry it back with you!)
  • Chopsticks/toothpicks/rubber-bands/candy wrappers/drink cans/food packaging (Part of being thankful for food is not leaving behind the evidence.)
  • Orange peels, carrot peels, seeds/pits (Yes, these are contaminants that cannot naturally be found in the mountains of Yakushima. If you want to be Earth-friendly, ask your accommodation back in town to take your compostable waste.)
  • Rubber sandals (I swear these multiply like rabbits!)
  • Broken umbrellas (Trust me, I hate carry back broken umbrellas as much as you do!)
  • Cigarette butts (Leaving behind cigarette butts is the environmental equivalent of the American middle finger.)
  • Problems (Just kidding! But you're welcome to leave your problems behind!)
The only things I am happy to pick up are chocolate bars and rubber tips for hiking poles that I can pass on to other hikers. Metal points damage trails.


Quiz Time
Okay, here's the quiz. Let's see what you know:

Question 1) Mountain Toilets

In every mountain toilet in Yakushima—excluding disposable toilet booths and the toilets in the Shiratani Unsuikyo Hut—what are you allowed to dispose of?
Check all that apply:
❏ a) Human waste
❏ b) Dissolvable toilet paper
❏ c) (Facial) Tissues
❏ d) Wet wipes
❏ d) Food scraps
❏ e) Disposable toilet packs
❏ f) Sanitary napkins
❏ g) Tampons
❏ h) Diapers

Answer:
You should have checked a) and b) ONLY! 
In Shiratani Unsuikyo Hut, toilet paper and feminine hygiene products are separated. Feminine hygiene products can also be disposed of in buckets at toilets at trail heads and on the train tracks, but not at toilets at other mountain huts. Except in Shiratani Unsuikyo, or unless the toilet is clogged or it is otherwise posted, please dispose of toilet paper in the toilets.

Question 2) #TooGrossToPost
Who gets to fish out c) through h) and carry it out?
a) A hazmat team that works for the forestry agency.
b) Locals.
c) Nobody has too; it's automatically sorted.
d) Nobody has too; it all gets buried in the mountains.

Answer:
b) Locals, including me. It's not part of the job description, but, yes, I HATE YOU! (No, I don't. Yes, I do!)

Question 3) Mountain Manners #LeaveNoTraceInYakushima
When you go hiking in the mountains in Yakushima, which of of the following actions are okay?
Check all that apply.
❏ a) Rinsing out dishes/cups.
❏ b) Making campfires.
❏ c) Taking a dump near the trail or a water source.
❏ d) Defecating (even urinating) in the bushes near popular trails.
❏ e) Defecating/urinating in a disposable toilet booth without a disposable toilet pack.
❏ f) Damaging tree bark.
❏ g) Stepping off the trail to avoid mud/puddles.
❏ h) Leaving behind "art" like finger-painting in the clay, stacking stones, creating faces in the leaves, etc.
❏ i) Collecting fallen leaves or rocks to bring home.
❏ j) Flying a drone (of any size) so long as it's away from people, buildings, and roads.
❏ k) Feeding the deer, as long as you feed them special food like "deer senbei."

Answer:
None of those acts is okay!
a) Soap and food/drink leftovers can kill the moss and attract bugs. Also, do you know where that stream goes?
b) The wood in the forest is NOT YOURS TO BURN! But you may use portable gas stoves.
c) GROSS AND DANGERUsing dish soap.OUS! Are you trying to spread disease?! I hope I never meet you!
d) In the past, off-trail defecation was the norm, but it got out of hand, and the town of Yakushima doesn't want to take chances anymore. I highly encourage hikers to bring a disposable toilet kit—available at information booths, rental shops, and even in the ¥100 store last time I checked—so that you are never caught off-guard. They work great for car sickness, too!
e) I have a special hate for people like you.
f) There are thousand-year-old trees along the trails. I see people scraping their boots on the roots, absently picking at the bark, or kicking/trampling parts of the tree to get close to the trunk. While some trees (like tall stewartias, which I hug all the time) are fairly resilient, Yakusugi trees are not. Some Yakusugi are just barely scraping by, and the damage you inflict today could be a death sentence served a hundred years hence.
g) Stepping off the trail to avoid mud/puddles makes the mud puddles grow even bigger.
h) Okay, maybe I'm not 100% innocent here, but a lot of people go to the forest to get away from evidence of people.
i) Much of Yakushima is part of special conservation zones where this is illegal. Also, there's the old adage about if everybody did it. . .
j) Actually, you can fly drones in most areas as long as you abide by basic safety rules AND HAVE PERMISSION OF THE LAND OWNER. In a national park in Japan, that means you need the permission of the forest agency (I'm not going to go into the details because I personally find drones obnoxious. If you're scheduled to hike with me and you want to use a drone, then you can ask me by email.)
k) Deer senbei is only in Nara. Most animals in Yakushima do not know about human food and we want to keep it that way, thank you.

Question 4) Smoking
Where/when are you allowed to smoke on the trail in Yakushima?
a) Anywhere in Yakusugiland and Shiratani Unsuikyo, as long as you are not walking and you are not around other people.
b) Along the trail to Jomon Sugi, but only at designated areas at the Arakawa Trail Head, behind the Kosugidani rest area, next to the toilet building at the end of the train tracks, and behind the hut beyond Jomon Sugi.
c) Anywhere along other trails, as long as you are away from other hikers.
d) All of the above, but you must bring a portable ash tray.

Answer:

d) All of the above, but you must bring a portable ash tray.
However, most smokers do not realize how obvious the smell of cigarettes (even e-cigarettes) is to other hikers and how far the smell travels. You know how you can smell the toilets before you can see the toilet building? It's like that.

Bonus Question: Park Donations
How can you donate to park/trail maintenance in Yakushima?
Check all that apply.
❏ a) Make park donations at the entrances to Shiratani Unsuikyo Park and Yakusugiland.❏ b) Ask to donate at an information booth.
❏ c) Look for collection boxes along the trail.
❏ d) Leave change at mountain shrines.
❏ e) Pay-pal or credit card form on the Yakushima Town home page.
❏ f) Donations are already included with your bus ticket in 2019.

Answer:
a) and b) only.
Please note that money collected in Shiratani and Yakusugiland stays in those parks and is not pooled with money collected for other trails. If you donate at an information booth, you are welcome to ask for a receipt.
Wrong answers:
c) Collection boxes along the trail have gone out of style (although you may still find a couple).
d) Metal coins (particularly zinc-containing one-yen coins) are bad for the environment and hardly worth the effort of carrying down from shrines. If you want to donate to a shrine, please do so in town. On the other hand, please do not remove offerings that have been left at shrines.
e) If you'd like to donate online, please comment or message me so I can suggest this feature to the town council.
f) Because of a long-term robbery incident reported in 2019, we are not currently (2019) actively asking for donations, even when you buy a bus ticket to the trail head.


Well, that's my rant after returning from toilet duty. I hate to pass on my bad mood, so to lighten things up, here's a picture of a monkey sitting on a fungus:


I'm sure I'll be adding to this post when my next round comes up. Thank you everybody for doing your part to make Yakushima evermore pristine and beautiful!

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Renting a Car

Renting a car gives you the freedom to tour the island and access to trail heads that you just can't get with a bus, and light "K"-class cars are a wonderful option for navigating narrow mountain roads.

Documents:
    1. Driver's Licence
    2. Official Translation of Your Driver's Licence: You need this if your license is from Taiwan, France, Germany, Switzerland, Belgium, Estonia, Monaco, or Slovenia. Your license is perfectly fine in Japan, so long as you also carry an official translation. Check with your country's embassy. Otherwise you can get one through the Japanese Automobile Federation for ¥3000. Do this before you come to Yakushima.
    3. International Drivers' License: Everybody else who has been in Japan for less than a year does not need a translation, but does need an international drivers' license. This is issued (usually for a modest fee) in the country that issued your drivers' license, NOT JAPAN. You will need to get it before you leave home.
    4. Passport

Where to Rent:

You have a lot of choices here, from national companies like Times and Toyota (which, I am told, may be able to provide a navi/GPS system in foreign languages) and discount companies like Niko-Niko, regional companies like Nansei (which, I believe, has an English-speaker working in Yakushima), local companies like Matsubanda, and tiny companies like Kuriyama and Shinjiyama (which doesn't employ English speakers, but offers most of the documents in English). Many of these companies offer pickup and drop-off from the ports, and let you leave the car at designated locations on the east side of Yakushima. However, at the time of writing, none of these companies are open at night. You will have to return the car during business hours or pay to keep it until the morning. 

Extra costs:
  • Get the extra insurance. This usually costs around ¥1000/day and while it may not cover some things like tire punctures, when I think about the number of scrapes my guests have incurred, I can definitely say it's worth it.
  • Plan your last gasoline stop. Remember that gasoline stands also close at night (9 at the latest, but earlier for most places). If you want to return your car before the gasoline stand opens, (for example, if you are leaving Yakushima on the first boat out, or if you're going hiking early in the morning) you're going to have to pay extra in advance. In fact, most rental shops may not allow this if the gasoline calculation is too complicated.
  • Maybe you don't need a GPS. If you have someone sitting in the passenger seat with a smartphone, you should be fine. Anyways, there's only one major road that goes around Yakushima, and it may be better to rely on directions than on GPS for the smaller roads.

Driving:
  • Rules: Left side of the road, obviously. If you've never driven in Japan, I advise reviewing basic signs like Stop and No Parking. If you have trouble finding a parking space for a store, or if you're not sure if a parking lot is public or not, just ask.
  • Seat Belts and Child Seats: Everyone is required to wear seat belts. Children under 6 must use child seats (or junior seats), which car rental shops can provide upon request.
  • Hazards: In addition to wildlife and pedestrians, (Pedestrians always have the right-of-way!) there is often a lot of construction, often with temporary traffic lights that you'll need to stop for. In the winter, roads in the mountains can get icy when the temperatures drop. It's best to just avoid icy/snowy roads here.
  • The West Forest Road and interior roads often go down to one lane, so you'll need to be ready to stop at all times and confident in reversing around turns.
Road Closures:
  • Arakawa Trail Head: From March through November, you may not drive to the Arakawa Trail Head (to hike to Jomon Sugi). There's just too much traffic, so you'll have to park at the Museum (near Anbo) and take a shuttle bus instead.
  • West Forest Road (西部林道/Seibu Rindoh): Due to shifting ground, this road is closed at night from 5pm to 7am.
  • Rock-slides, weather-warnings, ice, and snow can also cause unscheduled road closures.

Friday, January 18, 2019

Riding the Bus

For most people, this is the default option for getting around Yakushima, but buses can cost time and money if you don't plan ahead.

1) Find the Tourism Association files' page.
Probably here: http://yakukan.jp/doc/index.html
It's not the easiest page to navigate, but you'll find the basic maps, schedules, and example prices here.
  • Get a map of the island.
    Unless the link has changed, that should be the one labeled Yakushima Map(Eng).

    You'll also want Bus Routes(Eng) to find your stop name and number.

    Locate the towns of Miyanoura and Anbo (where the ports are), the airport, the Yakusugi Museum (near Anbo), Shiratani Unsuikyo, and Yakusugiland. Note that public buses do no run on the West Forest Road (aka, Seibu Rindoh or Forest Path), so you can't just hop a bus and go around the island (although you can arrange to take a tour bus around the island).
     
  • There are several bus companies. Try not to confuse them. 
    • Tane-Yaku (aka Yakushima Kotsu) is the main operator around the island. If you get day passes, they'll be for the Tane-Yaku buses. These are the pale blueish buses.
    • Matsubanda also operates limited scheduled bus service from Shiratani Unsuikyo through Miyanoura and Anbo to the Museum, and may be more convenient if you're going to the Museum or if you have big suitcases, but (as of posting) they don't have an English schedule. These buses are usually bright turquoise or yellow.
    • The third bus company, Michi-no-Eki specializes in charter buses. (If you need a charter bus, you'll need to call the Tourism Association or have a Japanese-speaker call one of these companies for you.)
  • Get a bus schedule or two.
    You should be able to find the Tane Yaku Kotsu Bus Timetable(Eng) on the yakukan.jp/doc page. The Matsubanda bus schedule is also there if you can read Japanese.

    Note that there are no buses at night, so you'll have to plan accordingly.

    Fares are listed on the Bus Fare Jpn/Eng document.

2) Bus fares and riding the bus:
  • Cash:
    To ride the bus, make sure you have change. The bus does not except bills larger than ¥1000.

    Take a ticket from the dispenser near the door when you board the bus. Check the number on the ticket. Match this number to the display above the bus driver to find your current bus fare. If no ticket is dispensed (when you get on at the first stop), your fare is simply the highest price displayed.

    These days, bus stop name and numbers are announced on almost all buses. The bus stop number has nothing to do with the number on your ticket nor on the fare display.

    When you get off, drop your ticket and your fare into the receptacle next to the driver.
     
  • Bus passes:
    You've probably figured out that the bus can be pretty expensive unless you have a pass. Tane-Yaku offers 1-day (¥2000) and 3-day (¥3000) passes, perfect for folks who are hiring a guide on their second day (and maybe 4-day passes, too. It's hard to stay up to date...). You usually can't buy these on the bus, so you'll need to stop at an Tourism Association information booth (or the bus office near Anbo) ahead of time. When you buy your passes you'll need to mark what (consecutive) days you plan to use them.
     
  • Arakawa Shuttle Buses:
    To hike to Jomon Sugi from the Arakawa Trail Head, you will need a separate ticket for the shuttle from the Museum near Anbo to the trail head. (Look for the document labeled Jomon Sugi / Arakawa.) The schedule changes slightly throughout the year, and when there are too many hikers, they run extra buses in the morning to make sure everybody can get on by around 6am. Each way is a curvy, winding 35 minutes, so try to go to sleep if you're prone to motion sickness. To make everything run smoother, you are encouraged to buy your shuttle tickets at an information booth a day or two before your hike. The price in 2018 was ¥2340, including two one-way tickets and an optional ¥1000 donation for trail/toilet upkeep. Children are half-price.

    Check the schedule for your return. If you need to catch the bus back from the Museum to your accommodation, check the connection times, and remember that weather or crowding could delay your shuttle bus return.

    *Sometimes the driver has to turn on the air conditioner on this bus to prevent window fog in the afternoon, so I recommend bringing an extra dry shirt on rainy days.
  • Tane-Yaku and Matsubanda also both offer sight-seeing buses that do a loop of the island. The tours are in Japanese and reservations often fill up, but if you can't go hiking, it's a good way to see the island. You can make reservations through the Tourism Association or an information booth.

3) Manners:
  • If possible, it's nice to leave the seats at the very front open for elderly passengers.
  • Don't make change or stand up while the bus is moving.
  • Please be reasonably quiet on the shuttle bus for the Arakawa Trail Head: People are trying to sleep.
  • If there's a bus-stop sign on one side of the street, but not the other, just stand across the street from the sign to wait for the bus in the other direction.
  • There are not very many sheltered stops, so an umbrella is handy on rainy days. The seats are usually protected, but if you're soaking wet when you board the bus, try to at least empty your hood and backpack cover of water.

Cheers!

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Shima Cafe "La Monstera" : Breakfast before your flight

¥400 is pretty standard for a cup of jo and a bit of down time in a cafe, but there are some cafes (quite a few in the mountains of central Japan) that continue the tradition of "morning service."




Shima Cafe La❤️Monstera (Yes, there's a heart in the name, and yes, this is the former La Monstara with new ownership.) offers toast and a small salad with your coffee for just ¥100 yen more, or make that brown rice porridge and pickles instead of toast for ¥200. Also, the ice coffee (¥600) is very good if you like your coffee black and smooth.

This little spot is one of the few cafes serving breakfast in Yakushima, and it may be the only cafe here that serves only breakfast. Since it's just south of the airport, why not get up a little early and stop in for a final piece of quiet before a morning flight.
.


This is a monstera plant, but 
note that the sign is written:
La❤️モンステラ.
Shima Cafe La❤️Monstera
Location: A few minutes south of the airport, near the Hayasaki (早崎) bus stop in the back of a small cluster of shops on the ocean-side of the road. (30.3746,130.6648)
Hours: 7am to 11am. Closed Wednesdays and Sundays.*



*Hours are subject to change, so please call the restaurant or check ahead
.