Sunday, October 30, 2016

NAbura! -- Warm up after a hike with noodles in a friendly atmosphere.

(There is a new ramen shop in its place.)
After trudging through the rain for ten hours, I want nothing more than calories when I  get back to town. Local specialities like flying fish and sashimi are all good, but sometimes all you want is a bowel of noodles. And I'm not talking about chicken soup; I'm talking about ramen! Or even better. . . abura-men!

The literal translation of "abura-men" is "oil noodles," but don't let that turn you off. This is ramen without the broth water! Oh, I love the warm, salty greasyness of Kyushu-style ramen, but after a cold hike in the rain, sometimes I don't need my noodles to be soaked too! At NAbura, the signature dish comes in two phases: Phase 1 will fill your craving, and Phase 2 will fill your stomach!

Phase 1: When you order your noodles, the server will tell you to stir everything up as best you can. (You can add a little vinegar, too, but I like to save that for the next part. . . ) Even then, after you've slurped up the noodles, you're bound to end up with a pile scrumptious morsels at the bottom of the bowel. That's okay. In fact, do leave some extra morsels behind for the next phase!

Phase 2: Let the server know you've finished the noodles and he'll bring you a bowl of rice to dump atop the left-over morsels. I usually order the "Omori" (extra noodles) and together with the rice it's about the right size to fill me up.

If you're extra-hungry, it's all good though: Fried rice, or  garlicky gyoza, or fresh-tasting deep-fried chicken, or even ramen with the broth!

I like the atmosphere, too. It feels like it could be a little noodle shop tucked away in a big town. There's counter space in front of the TV, but there's also table-space and you can see into the kitchen.

By the way, if Nabura leaves you hungry for more ramen, at lunch time you can find ramen down the street at Jijiya, a local staple, or up the hill at Koshiba--but be forwarned: Koshiba is favorited by the locals and once they run out of broth, that's it for the day!

Location: Anbo 140 (In the heart of Anbo.)
Hours: 11:30am-14:00pm, 6:30pm-9:30pm, closed on Sundays.*
Website:屋久島ラーメン-Nabura-1620380304955160/*Of course, hours are subject to change!

Friday, October 14, 2016

Ki no Mi -- Order the mushroom pizza!

For years, now, I'd been hearing about "the best pizza on the island" located somewhere "on the way to Sankara," but the only eatery I could think of in the area was an unpretentious cafe, and it seemed to be closed rather often. So when a bunch of friends called to say they were going to go check out this pizza place, I jumped aboard.

The full name of Ki no Mi is "Ki no Mi: Stone-Oven Bread Factory" (Ki no Mi meaning Fruit of the Tree), and, yes, they have good bread. In fact (at the time of writing), a couple times a week the Pukori Don shop just south of the airport features a selection of Ki no Mi breads.

However, we didn't go there for the bread. We didn't go there for the relaxed atmosphere with a view of the ocean. We went for the pizza. We ordered several and were quite happy with the thin, crispy crust covered in sauce and cheese. But we were overcome with unanimous taste-bud happiness when we reached the mushroom pizza.

Get the mushroom pizza, or two of them. That's all you need to know.

(I should probably mention though, that Ki no Mi is up in the hills, quite a distance from the main road. If you can't get there and you are craving pizza, Il Mare, which is just next to the airport, is an Italian eatery with a variety of wonderful pizzas which I hope to post about soon!)

Ki no Mi(樹の実)
Location: Mugio 335-75. On the windy road that leads to both Sankara and Senpiro Waterfall.
Hours: 10:00am to 6:00pm on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays ONLY.*

*Of course, hours are subject to change!

Sunday, October 2, 2016

YukiGokeYa: Shaved ice for adults

"Coffee float" kakigori
Say you just arrived in Yakushima. You just debarked from Yakushima II, the "slow ferry" and, on a whim, you walk into the first building you see. (Maybe you even had some outdated information that said the information booth was there.) Well, these days, there's not much inside besides the ferry ticket counter, a restroom, and some coin lockers that can only be used until 5pm. EXCEPT for the cafe that opened last year on the second floor. You would never guess what an amazing treat awaits those who wonder upstairs: Snow cones have grown up. Kakigori has reached a level you've never experienced.

When Yukigokeya first opened, everyone was talking about the "new curry place," but even though they no longer serve curry, you won't leave hungry (unless you're prone to cold headaches). Now they serve toast and muffins, gourmet coffee, and kakigori (shaved ice deserts). When I last went, they had Ethiopian coffee, Mandarin coffee from Indonesia, and Brazilian coffee with a taste "to make you dance." My advice: If you like rich, dark coffee, order the Mandarin coffee if they have it, and pay the extra 80 yen for an order-made single serving. I know 480 yen is expensive for coffee, but it's good.

"Coffee float" on the left and azuki-milk (red beans with cream) on the right.
Wait! Before you order the coffee, order a shaved ice! At 500 to 600 yen, these aren't exactly cheap either, but these are no carnival-style snow cones! I ordered the "coffee float" kakigori, which features a good serving of ice cream tucked into a mound of fluffy ice. Next to the bowl of ice is a spoon and two small  pitchers: One with delicious black coffee and the other with creamy milk with which to flavor the ice. I have never had a coffee float this good.

2016 Winter Menu: Apple & Banana Hotcake!

I wouldn't have expected such a stylish cafe (with an equally stylish women's fashion shop attached) in the ferry port!

Yuki Goke Ya (雪 苔 屋)
Location: Miyanoura Port, 2nd Floor of the big white building (above the Yakushima Ferry 2 ticket office)
Hours: 10:30am to 4:30pm, closed on Wednesdays and sometimes other days too.*

Check out the pottery!

Friday, September 30, 2016

Common Butterflies in Yakushima

I get asked quite a bit about butterflies, and I admit, I have a hard time remembering the English, so here are a few of the butterflies I've passed and that you might pass as well! I know I'm missing some common ones (especially the Hypolimnas bolina リュウキュウムラサキ which just won't stay still for me), but as I have more time, I hope to be uploading more photos and notes, and perhaps make a page for moths, too.

Papilio maackii
(Papilionid/Swallowtail family)
Alpine Black Swallowtail

One of my favorites for its irridescent blue/aqua/black coloration.
Papilio helenus (Papilionid/Swallowtail family)
Red Helen

In this photo, the white markings on the hindwings are mostly hidden. There are a few other species of back swallowtails, too, that I don't have photos of (yet). These include P. protenor (クロアゲハ, the Spangle) and P. memnon (ナガサキアゲハ, the Great Mormon)
Graphium sarpedon (Papilionid/Swallowtail family)

Common Bluebottle or Blue Triangle

These often congregate at shallow puddles or streams.
Parantica sita (Nymphalid family)

Chestnut Tiger

These butterflies follow an annual migration south, and some may be tagged with numbers on a wing. You may also spot similar species from various islands.

Hebomoia glaucippe (Pierid family)
Great Orange Tip

What image could be more tropical than one of these east-asian beauties on a hibiscus flower?
Dichorragia nesimachus (Nymphalid family)

If you haven't noticed, I love iridescent blue/green/black insects!
Eurema sp. (Pierid family)
Grass Yello Butterflies

I suppose I should leave photography of flighty little yellow butterflies to the pros! But I'll always have a soft-spot for yellow butterflies because my father used to make up bedtime stories about the adventures of a particularly brave one.
Cyrestis thyodamas (Nymphalid family)
Common Map

This is the first butterfly I learned in Yakushima. I often see them on early morning jogs in the summer.
 Udara dilecta (Lycaenid/Blue family)

Of course, there are many species of similar butterflies with gray-white wings that open up to reveal iridescent indigo-shaded hues.

Argynnis hyperbius (Nymphalid famiy)
(Indian?) Fritillary

I love to see fritillaries flying around above the bamboo grass and rhododendrons!

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Deer Trends -- A tribute to a deer I once knew

Well, you're not shy, are you?
Life in the forest lasts for thousands of years for the sugi (Cryptomeria) trees,
but, alas, on this scale, the animals are fleeing transients, glimpsing only a few years, a single tick on the astronomical clock before their time is gone. They cannot know the dark past of logging, as even we can only imagine the forest before the axe was set upon the massive trees. Who knows how many deer thrived on the island back then, with man as their only predator!

Let's briefly go back to the beginning. Yakushima was connected to mainland Japan during the last ice age, say around 10,000 years ago, and both people and deer, but no wolves or bears came to Yakushima. Then, 7,300 years ago the Kikai Caldera, a volcanic group halfway between Yakushima and Kagoshima blew up and coated Japan in ash, killing just about everything in southern Kyushu. In Yakushima, only a small part of the island in the south remained unburied, allowing a handful of deer and monkeys to survive to repopulate the island. Before long, people were also back.

Fast forward to modern times. Full-fledged logging began in Edo times, and in the 19th century, the deer hunting season was set to coincide with fall and winter, when the bucks have a full set of antlers. Although measures to protect old growth trees were taken during Meiji times, logging flourished, especially during wars, reaching a peak in the mid-20th century days of post-war reconstruction. Loggers often wore a patch of deer fun at their waist, which they could use to wipe their hands or sit on, but the deer population dropped from an estimated 10,000 to 20,000 head pryer to 1950 to 2~3,000 head in the 1960s. For a period of seven years in the 1970s, hunting was banned, and as logging then slowed to an end, new growth started filling in the swaths of clear-cut land. Consequently, the deer population boomed once more, growing at a rate near 20% each year in the 21st century and approaching 20,000 head.

When I started guiding, you could hardly call a hike complete without spotting several deer, and come spring, the bellies of female deer bulged with pregnancy. Out of over 200 hikes to Jomon Sugi, only once did I go without spotting a deer. Until the summer of last year, 2015, when, inexplicably, deer along the trail started to die. At first, we attributed the carcass stench to the season: Many deer are born in early July, and it's only natural for a few pregnancies to fail. But as summer wore on, I kept a mental list of places where I needed to distract guests with weaker stomachs. Come winter, deer-less hikes to Jomon Sugi and around Shiratani Unsuikyo became quite common. Guests would ask, Where do the deer go in the winter? And I no longer had a good answer. Where were they? Dead?

I think all the guides who regularly hike to Jomon breathed a sigh of relief when deer started reappearing in the spring, and I spotted some familiar deer faces that I hadn't seen since the previous year, but deer-less hikes are still eerily common, and the annual spectacle of pregnancies and births and newborn deer is nothing like in previous years. Some folks say they've seen newborns along the Jomon trail this year. . . I'm not sure I believe them.

What I do know is that on June 16 or 17, another old acquaintance passed; I believe he was the one I depicted in a postcard last year. With that full set of antlers, he could not have been young, so perhaps it was just his time.

I haven't heard anything about disease, and some studies have concluded that populations of Japanese (sika) deer are self-regulated by factors like disease and food pressure, and I think it's quite possible that we've finally reached a peak in the population. Also, the central mountains and the West Forest are still chock-full of deer, so I suppose it's nothing to worry about. Still, it's a bit lonely to hike to Jomon Sugi without always seeing several familiar deer along the trail. And I do wonder how the population will change in years to come.

Anyways, I've learned to be grateful for each deer encounter, and to feel respect for each animal.

Sources include:

Tsujino, R. Population dynamics of sika deer. 奈良教育大学自然環境教育センター紀要, 15:15-26(2014)

揚妻直樹生物. シカの異常増加を考える. 生物科学(2013)65(2):108-116
Naoki Agetsuma : Are deer populations increasing UNNATURALLY?

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Yakushima T-shirts!


I've had several inquiries about T-shirts from Yakushima. I'm happy to say that designs seem to have vastly improved and expanded since I first visited Yakushima. (Although they are still mostly heavy-weight cotton.) There are several local designers including Green Design Works (known for the Wilson Stump heart design ) and Garamosta (whose train-track stamp design may strike a cord with anyone who's trekked to Jomon Sugi). The biggest selection of shirts is in Miyanoura at  Furosato Ichiba, a store specializing in souvenirs and goods produced locally, and at the Kankou Center next door. Folks in Anbo can find a reasonable selection at Takeda Sangyo or Sugisho (and Garamosta is a short drive up the road). Folks in Onoaida can try the gift shop in the JR Hotel.

Here are some of the designs you might spot:

Produced by Green Design Works
(I don't have a photo of the Wilson Stump heart design. You can see it here. )

Produced by Sugimoto-san and sold exclusively at Rental 10 (Anbo)
Produced by Garamosta and sold at Furosata Ichiba (Miyanoura)
Produced by Garamosta and sold at Furosata Ichiba (Miyanoura)
Dyed with local plants (pricier but unique). Sold exclusively at Le Gajumaru (south of the airport) and Yakusugiland.
Fast-drying synthetic shirts at Furosato Ichiba (Miyanoura)
Left: Produced by Le Gajumaru. Right: Fast-drying synthetic.

A selection of shirts at the Furosata Ichiba (Miyanoura)
A selection of shirts at the Furosata Ichiba (Miyanoura)
A selection of shirts at the Furosata Ichiba (Miyanoura)
A selection of shirts at the Furosata Ichiba (Miyanoura)

A selection of shirts at the Furosata Ichiba (Miyanoura)
Another shirt at the Furosata Ichiba (Miyanoura)

A selection of shirts at the Kankou Center (Miyanoura)
A selection of shirts at the Kankou Center (Miyanoura)
A selection of shirts at the Kankou Center (Miyanoura)

Sold at Sirios (Anbo)

I know it's not a shirt, but I also love this man-apron sold at Pukari-Do near the airport.

 Designs and colors are changing all the time. What designs have you found? (Please feel free to add your favorites in the comments.)

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Yakusugiland - Overlooked Beauty

Straddling the powerful Arakawa River,  at the foot of sacred Mt. Tacchu and Mt. Ishidzuka, flirting in and out of the layer of clouds at an altitude of 1,000 m, is Yakusugiland, a natural park where visitors can hike the moss-lined trails among thousand-year-old trees.

This park is home to both the "easiest" trails of sidewalks and wooden steps as well as access to full-scale mountain hiking and multi-day hikes down trails marked by bangles of pink tape. It is one of the rainiest places in this rainy island, easily receiving around 10 meters of annual rainfall. I highly recommend Yakusugiland to those hiking on their own because you can venture deeper and deeper into the forest into less maintained territory yet turn back at any time, and the bridges are constructed to make the park hike-able in all but the worst weather.

However, people often read, YakusugiLAND, and are immediately reminded of an amusement park and turned off. That means that although bus tours often visit the 30-minute course, most of the park is undeservedly empty, and a tranquil paradise for those who seek serenity.

*All trails can be quite slippery, and even icey in the winter. After a dry spell, the walking may be relatively easy, but especially after a good rain, when new moss starts to grow on the wood planks, the trails become more slippery.

*Check the map often, because trails within the park curve back to the entrance, but trails leaving the park do not.

Yakusugiland is operated by the Yakushima Recreational Forests Department, (a branch of the Forestry Agency's Conservation Center. I don't know if all of these have official English translations.) which also operates Shiratani Unsuikyo. During park hours from 8:30am to 4:30pm, the entrance donation for 300 yen (set to rise in 2017) includes a postcard and map of the park. You can also visit the gift store by the parking lot and use the indoor break room on the second floor. The toilets are open 24 hours and users are asked to make a 100 yen donation. Cell-phone service through Docomo (AU may follow soon) is available at the main building.

30-minute trail: 
Sennen Sugi is a Yakusugi
embraced by Trochodendrons.
In addition to the sidewalks and wooden steps lined by moss, ferns, and trees hundreds of years old, enjoy walking "through" both a spruce tree (Tsuga sieboldii) and a Japanese cedar (Cryptomeria japonica), and crossing two large foot bridges over tributaries to the Arakawa River. You'll see trees growing atop boulders and other trees and atop stumps and trunks cut down inEdo times, including the pair known as "Futago-Sugi" which are two trees that have melded (inosculated) together. Cryptomeria growing on the remains of other Cryptomeria are called "second generation" trees.

For just a little more exercise you can descend the staircase to the tree called "Sennen Sugi." This is a tree that was, for whatever reason, spared by Edo-period loggers and is said to be about 1,000 years old. Japanese cedars that reach this old age in Yakushima are collectively called Yakusugi trees. The wood has very dense tree rings and can be composed of 20~30% (or more!) resin and extractives.

On the far side of the suspension bridge, just before the exit, there is a staircase down to the river,  but be forewarned that is is usually EXTREMELY slippery and should not be descended by casual strollers.

50-minute trail:
A trip to Yakusugiland is hardly
complete without seeing the Buddha Sugi.
Yakusugiland's 50-minute trail is a wonderful option for those who want to venture further into the forest, but are not comfortable walking on rugged terrain, or don't want wade through the mud in downpour conditions. In addition to all the features of the 30-minute walk, you can walk down to the Arakawahashi Bridge, a suspension bridge over the powerful Arakawa River. Although the 50-minute trail does not cross this bridge, it is worth stopping here to admire the river. You will also want to make another small detour to the Buddha Sugi, a Yakusugi tree that is estimated to be around 1,800 years old. Notice that this tree is hollow and much of it has lost its bark and leaves, but it is adorned by many other plant species (epiphytes) that make their home in its branches. There is a small shelter by the Buddha Sugi where you can take a short rest to enjoy the forest.

80-minute trail:

Yes, this is the trail.

In addition to all the features of the 30-minute and 50-minute walks, you will finally leave the sidewalk and boardwalks. Expect a lot of mud if it's raining, and note that the wooden planks, roots, and logs you will be walking on can get quite slippery. I encourage guests to grab on to the flora if it helps keep them upright. Shortly after turning away from the 50-minute trail, you will even find access to the river. Of course, it's usually quite slippery where fewer folks walk, and it's not safe to approach the river during/after heavy rains, so please use good judgement. You will also cross two more bridges, another small shelter with benches, and an area noted for satsuki azaleas that burst into bright pink flowers along the river banks in the summer. This is a good trail if you want to venture beyond the boardwalks and get away from the crowds, but don't want to commit yourself to a longer hike.

150-minute trail:
In addition to most of the features of the above trails, you'll see more Yakusugi trees and many more large spruce and fir trees, and you'll begin to feel that you're really in the middle of an ancient Yakusugi forest as you leave the sidewalks and boardwalks far behind. The trail makes a prolonged ascent as it winds towards the trail head for folks climbing to Mt. Tacchu. This trail head is located at another small shelter just after a disposable-toilet-pack booth. (These are booths erected so that you can use the toilet and carry the waste back with you for proper disposal. You can purchase toilet packs at the park entrance or in many other locations around Yakushima.) You'll wind around the dark and lush lonely forest and begin to wonder if this is really the same park you entered before rejoining the other trails.

Longer Options:

If you are going to Yakugusiland by bus and you are a fast hiker, or if you want to spend a longer time in Yakusugiland, then then you may want to bring a lunch with you (No food is sold at Yakusugiland.) and venture beyond the border of the park. Just keep an eye on the time so you don't miss the bus back or get caught by darkness. For example, if you're looking to spend four to five hours, follow the trail to Mt. Tacchu until you get to Tenmon no Mori and the tree known as "Shaka Sugi" just downhill beyond. There are no signs marking Shaka Sugi, but it is at a small stream only a few minutes beyond Tenmon no Mori. In the days of Edo-period logging, spirits were believed to inhabit the large trees, and there was a custom of planting a seedling for the spirit to move to whenever a large tree was cut down in this area.

My favorite Japanese wheel tree
at Tenmon no Mori
Shaka Sugi
Fit hikers with six to eight hours can hike all the way up to Mt. Tacchu (el. 1497 m), which is crowned by a 40-m tall natural monolyth. Or, in slightly less time, you can hire a guide to hike the 8-km round trip to Yamato Sugi, which is said to be three to four thousand years old and is located along the Hana no Ego Trail. (You don't have to hire a guide, but there aren't many signs along the way, and there certainly is the potential for getting lost. If you do go on your own, look for the signs for Yamato Sugi just after the sign marking the World Natural Heritage Site.)

About the Park
The Name:
Yakusugiland is often overlooked simply because of its name. But don't let the name fool you. The park was established in 1974 and was named by Hisao Takada, one of the great mountain men of Yakushima, who worked from a young age in the logging village of Kosugidani, and has done a lot to keep the memory of this era alive. When asked what he thought about Jomon Sugi's age being estimated at 7,200 years, he said that's crazy. It must be a marketing stunt. He thought Jomon should be popular because of its inherent aesthetic beauty, and I think he'd be annoyed if anyone thought of Yakusugiland as a Disney-type theme park. One of my own guests recently commented that if it was a theme park, they'd be sued for liability because of the rugged terrain.

The Location:

At an elevation of 1,000 meters (about a 30-minute drive into the mountains from the closest town of Anbo), the park bares the hallmark signs of Edo period logging: Leftover stumps and axe-marks everywhere. It was spared in the 20th century, and although it is not part of the World Natural Heritage Site, it is definitely beautiful enough to be included, and it is part of the important buffer zone surrounding the World Natural Heritage Site.

In the Area:
Kigen Sugi: At the end of the bus line.
If you go to Yakusugiland by bus, you'll want to continue past the park entrance to the Kigen Sugi bus stop at the end of the line. Spend a few minutes reveling in the shadow of Kigen Sugi, a Cryptomeria estimated to be around 3,000 years old, and then catch the bus when it goes back down, and, this time, get off at Yakusugiland.