Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Pukari-Do: The Little Gift Shop

You'll find little gift shops popping up all around Yakushima, but few of them are smaller than Pukari, whose little blue door opened in 2012. One can hardly stay in Anbo without taking a short stroll up the river, and on the way you are likely to stumble across a little blue sign pointing up a staircase towards Pukari-Do (ぽかり堂). There you'll find a little white shack with the blue door flung open in good weather, and when you peak inside, the owner will throw on some light music and you'll wonder how so much charm can fit in so small a space. 

Especially convenient for folks without a car, you'll find aromas by Yawaraka, Yakushima original T-shirts, CDs, half-aprons featuring the Honbo Shochu brewed a few kilometers away, and beaded jewelry along with pictures, postcards, trinkets, and some more standard Yakushima products. There is even a canopy set up outside so you can string your own beaded jewelry as you gaze across the river. Gift-shopping was never so relaxing!

Location: Anbo 27 (30.3146, 130.6529), on the town-side of the Anbo River.
Hours: 9:30am to 7:00pm. Closed on Wednesdays.*
Website: http://www.pukarido.com/

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

St. Pote

Looking for an atmospheric night out? Or a casual lunch with a touch of class? How about a couple of cocktails? For inspired western dining with an impeccable riverside view, St. Pote (pronounced san poté, and written 散歩亭 in Japanese) in Anbo is in a class of its own.

At first glance, you'll be struck by the building, renovated by one of my favorite local architect/builders. The interior is full of light, and provides a welcome escape from the space-saving boxiness of city living. The entrance and terrace have the light, airiness of a lunch cafe, while St. Pote's roots as a jazz bar are obvious in the first floor bar room. Quiet during the day, and often a bit boisterous at night, inside, a small selection of souvenirs and Japanese books and a rotating display of hanging art remind visitors of Yakushima's charm.

The food is about quality, presentation, and taste, although I wouldn't recommend lunch if your stomach feels like a black hole. I often meet the owner out looking for wild vegetables, and the drink list also offers many locally produced tastes. I think most folks who comes here orders a full meal, but when I envision the outdoor area as well as the rotating desert list (yes, you can get a cofee+desert set) and tropical drink list, (I'm looking forward to beer with passion fruit-syrup on my next visit!) I have to recommend St. Pote for its appeal as a cafe and bar as well as a restaurant.

So the next time your partner asks where you'd like to go for a lunch or dinner date: St. Pote, Yakushima.

Oh no! I just realized that for all the times I've eaten here, I've failed to take a photo of the food! lol. Quick, someone send me a photo before I have to head over there for another beautiful meal! Well, St. Pote's website has plenty of photos, but let me warn you not to look on an empty stomach!

Location: Anbo 2364-17 (30.3127,130.6524), on the south side of the little bridge over the Anbo River.
Hours: 11am-2pm (but you can stay until 3pm) and 6pm-11pm (but you can stay until midnight). Closed for lunch on Sundays. Closed for dinner on the 1st and 3rd Sunday of the month.
Website: http://www1.ocn.ne.jp/~st.pote/

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

Note about Parking: I do not recommend trying to park a car in the little alley where St. Pote is located. Instead, look for community parking. (For example, the pagoda next to the bridge has parking if you take the first left on the other side of the traffic light.) Of course, if you're staying in Anbo, leave the car behind so that you can indulge in the drink menu!

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Tabira Gallery

I need to update this photo:
The grass has died, but the
charm has burgeoned.
Yakushima isn't exactly a hotspot for art collectors, but I would venture to say the arts are growing here. While there are a few artistspotters, painters, woodworkers, even a jewellerwith private galleries displaying there works, I think the gallery at Tabira with its rotating exhibitions stands out.

Tabira is an established eco-tourism/guide company on Yakushima that recently built a lovely gallery on their premises. It consists of a single minimalist room with a loft and soft, warm lighting. Entrance is free and exhibitsusually the works of a photographer or painter who was inspired by Yakushimachange several times a year, which makes it popular among the locals. I think my favorite past exhibition was by the photographer, Shigeo Horie. However, it is usually empty, and you can take off your shoes, walk up to the loft, and enjoy quiet solicitude with the artwork.

This month is works by Shoko Mukai, a local artist
who uses the island's volcanic ash and iron sand to express
the spiritual side of island life.
It's within walking distance from the airport, so you can enjoy a few minutes of quiet time before catching your flight. There are also a few prints and books for sale.

Location: Koseda 815-31. Just north of the airport beyond the Italian restaurant, Il Mare. (30.3845,130.6578)
Hours: 10:00am to 18:00pm*
Website: http://tabira.biz/gallery/index.html

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

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Common Birds in the Mountains

I'm often asked why we don't see more birds along the trail. There's quite a few song birds in the forest, but they are small and the brush is thick! In fact, I usually don't point them out to my guests unless they are particularly visible or we have plenty of time to spare. Sometimes, I'll even wager a can of coffee that you can't spot the bush warbler, who often sounds so close, but hides quite well.

Here are some birds that are often seen, or rather heard, along the mountain trails. If you're lucky, you may spot others, such as a woodcock, owl, or ashy minivet. In the coastal plains and around town, you can see other birds, including pheasants, blue rock thrushes, and wagtails; and of course, there are many waterfowl near the coast and the mouths of rivers.

Varied Tit, Parus varius (yamgara)
Often comes in small flocks of friendly birds. They have both a horse, jay-like caw and a sweeter chikapi~, chikapi~ voice.

Coal Tit, Periparus ater (higara)
Smaller than the varied tit and grey.
Often in flocks that sometimes mix with other species such as varied tits.

 Brown-eared bulbul, Hypsipetes amaurotis (hiyodori)
Pretty common at low altitudes and near the edge of town. Beautiful birds, but really obnoxious cries.

Eurasian Jay, Garrulus glandarius (kakesu)
Especially good at mimicking other birds and remixing "new" tunes, but the usual cry belies its relatives, the crows.

Japanese White-Eye, Zosterops japonicus (mejiro)
Sweet chatter that once created a market for these birds as pets. They are visible looking for flowers year-round, and are especially visible in winter, when flocks from colder areas also visit Yakushima, and when the camellias and sakura trees bloom.

Japanese Bush Warbler, Horornis diphone (uguisu)
With its characteristic, "ho---kokekyo!" call, this bird symbolizes rural Japan as much as any, but it is notoriously hard to spot in thick brush.

Eurasion Wren, Troglodytes troglodytes (misosazai)
Small bird with a big voice, heard in spring through late summer. The males will stand atop a branch, point their tail-feathers straight up, and open their mouths wide to sing.

Japanese Robin, Erithacus akahige, (komadori)
I once had a client who kept mistaking this bird for her cell phone. The female is a more drab brown. I often see them in pairs, with the male following the female and calling to her.

Daurian Redstart, Phoenicurus auroreus, (joubitaki)
These birds winter in Yakushima. I can't explain why the males seem to be more visible in the mountains while the females are more prominent in around town.
Daurian Redstart, Phoenicurus auroreus, (joubitaki)

Japanese Green Woodpecker, Picus awokera (aogera)

Large, easily identifiable bird. If you hear a prolonged knocking, it may be either this bird, or the much smaller black-and-white pygmy woodpecker.
Pale Thrush, Turdus pallidus (shirohara)
This bird winters in Yakushima. It makes a sound that reminds me of wet flip-flops as it leaps down the street; quite startling when you're driving.

Brown Dipper, Cinclus pallasii (kawagarasu)
Often seen in solitary on rocks in the river.
Narcissus Flycatcher, Ficedula narcissina (kibitaki)

 Whistling Green Pigeon, Treron formosae, (zuaka-aobato)
A shy bird, but the call like a siren or flute is unmistakable.

Japanese Wood Pigeon, Columba janthina (karasubato)
Even shier than the whistling green pigeon, this bird has a very deep, owl-like hoot. It is a registered national treasure.


Pacific swallows seem to be pretty common, but especially when glanced from afar, I wouldn't put my money on naming swifts and swallows. Come spring, flocks swoop overhead or through town and often build nests in carports. To my untrained ears, the voices sounds similar to an ashy minivet, which is another bird you don't often get to see close up.

Yellow, grey, and black-and-white: Wagtails are especially visible in open spaces at low elevations during colder months. But yellow ones [officially called Grey Wagtails] like this one can also be seen flitting down the trail among the central mountains.
Black Kites
(tobi or tonbi)

These birds are a common but lovely site above the coasts. Where I grew up, we have lots of sea gulls and terns, but in Japan, black kites dominate. While they're not really forest birds, if you're hiking in the outer mountains, you may spot them overhead.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Kiina - Cafe next to the Banyan Tree Park

The sleepy town of Shitogo doesn't usually make the tourist books, but it's got a few things going for it, like the Shirakawa organic tea farms in the foot hills, a beautifully clear river, the Banyan Tree Park by the coast, and--as of this March--Kiina Cafe.

Banyan Tree Park next door
Honestly, I've always thought the Banyan Tree Park leaves something to be desired--maybe once the trees have matured another 30 years or so it will be amazing. But pair the Banyan Tree Park with Kiina, and you have a descent afternoon destination for folks staying in the North, or  riding bicycles from Miyanoura.

The entranceway
to Kiina
Kiina has a warm, homey atmosphere that starts on your walk from the parking lot through what feels like someone's backyard to the front door. Slide (don't push) the door open and you'll be greeted with the day's offerings. Today there were two cakes and a bacon-tomato-mushroom quiche. I opted for the quiche which was joined by a green pea porridge. So perfect for a rainy day!

Take your shoes off and you can browse the tatami-mat area, where there are displays of locally-sewn Thai pants and the owner's handmade accessory line. The book nook has only a small selection of reading, but it's a good place to bring your own book. The owner's husband happens to be one of Yakushima's popular hiking guides; so I wonder if this won't become a hotspot for knowledge exchange as well as a quaint, quiet spot nestled between the Shitogo's port and the Banyan Tree Park.

Location: Shitogo (30.44888,130.5197), next to the Shitogo Banyan Tree Park.
Hours: 10am - 6pm on  Thursday through Saturday. (Hours subject to change as the owner tries to figure out the best hours for customers.)

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Mori Cafe - Soft Serve on the Go!

It's summer. It's hot. You've spent a long day at the beach or in the mountains. You want nothing more than cold, delicious _______________ .

Alright, I'm willing to bet money you just said beer, but if you hadn't, maybe you would have said ice cream. Which is funny, because, until last year, Yakushima had no ice cream parlors. Crazy, right?

Anyways, Yakushima now has two places that cater to the crowd craving the other cold stuff. One of these is Sola Umi, which dishes up a variety of gelatos on the south side of the island. The other is Mori Cafe, which also offers a small line up of cafe treats but remains a soft-serve ice cream stand at heart.

Mori Cafe is conveniently located near the airport, and there's no waiting. Just walk up to the stand, ask the owner for the staple: a vanilla soft-serve waffle cone, (Actually, this is what we would call a sugar-cone in the US.) and there you are. The fact that this is the only place to get a soft-serve waffle/sugar cone (sorry, no photo because I always finish mine before I remember to to pull out the camera) on the island and the fact that it's super delicious jersey-milk ice cream are bonus points.

Seating is limited to a small deck in the back, but it's not usually crowded.

I've never managed to get a photo of my icecream before it's mostly gone, so I got this photo on the left from my friend, Yuki. But I did take a photo of my green tea latte before drinking it!

The food menu changes a little every day; but I'm told that the owner sells soft cream to form a customer base; and that he hopes to introduce very different foods to the line up!
Curry on Nan!
With tapioca beads and cheese hidden underneath!
Maybe a bit experimental, but my taste buds approve!
Mori Cafe
Location: Koseda (30.3867,130.6555) Just north of the airport, across the street from Drugstore Mori and the Somes Homestore.
Hours: 11-7, closed on Wednesdays during the off-season. However, the owner is still trying to figure out what hours work best, so you may find Mori closed or opened unexpectedly.
Website: None, but you can find them on the Yakushima-Marche website.

* Hours of business may change, so please call ahead.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Issou Coffee Roastery

I've been searching for this cafe for years, literally. You see, two years ago, I had a client from Korea who brought this article that mentioned the Issou Coffee Roastery (Issou Coffee Baisenjo), and the article included a map, and the map placed the cafe squarely in the middle of a hillside forest. D'oh!

 The Issou Coffee is run by a husband-wife team, and when I happened to meet the wife selling samples at a bazaar on the south side of the island earlier this year I was thrilled to learn that Issou Coffee is actually very easy to find: It's right on the main road, standing by itself in front of the park where the Nuno-biki Waterfall flows. I suppose I never noticed it because it only looks like a cafe for the five hours it's open on business days.

During the hours of 1-6, it's the quintissential cafe:

It's chic, with an impressive turntable behind the counter that comes alive during occasional music parties.

It's simple; no frills, no long menu.

It's cosmopolitan. Today's brew is a Thai coffee from from Brazil.

It's relaxing, with outdoor space to sip a latte in good weather.

It's sophisticated, harboring a range of alternative Japanese books by authors with deep ties to Yakushima.

It's retro, harkening back to the generation of Japan's answer to the beat movement.

I haven't yet mentioned Sansei Yamao (1938-2001), a poet whose name resonates with the beat movement in Japan, both a big reason for many people to visit the community upstream in Issou and for many others a big reason to steer clear of the area. That will have to wait for another blog post, but if you grew up in the beat/hippie generation, you may feel some kindred spirits calling.

If, like me, you weren't born yet, you can still sense the import of ideals seeping up from floorboards.

My reminiscing about days I never knew in a land I've only recently moved to was cut short when the shop's husband arrived with their son on a skateboard. YES. And if you want a second opinion, check out this column in ANA's Japan travel blog.

Issou Coffee Roastery, where turntables
mix beats and skateboards with imported beans
and the seeds of thought.
Issou Coffee Roastery
Location: Issou 2282-2 (30.453,130.492) at the Nunobiki Waterfall Park, east of the Issou Iriguchi bus stop.
Hours: 1pm-6pm, closed on Tuesdays and Thursdays.*
Website: http://issou-coffee.com


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

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Dangerous Sea Creatures

Where ever there's beauty, there also lurks danger. No matter where you swim in Yakushima, there are dangers to watch out for: River rapids with recirculating currents, riptides in unregulated beaches, and a myriad of sea creatures. You can minimize the dangers by swimming with others in designated sites, and whether you are snorkeling in open water, splashing around with the kids in a swimming area, or just gazing into the tide pools, there are some creatures which you may be lucky enough to see, but should definitely avoid touching. If you're not sure, look, but don't touch.

Striped Eel Catfish (Gonzui)
By Izuzuki (http://www.izuzuki.com/) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
I've put these guys first because they are so common. Schools of little striped fish swimming so tightly together they look like a solid ball often about the size of your head . . . a ball of poisonous spines! Although these are pretty common around the island, I've never had any trouble with them. Just don't try to pet them.

Sea Snakes (Umihebi)
I spotted this guy in Kurio.

These beautiful blue-and-black striped snakes are usually docile. However, I hear that their venom is as deadly as cobra venom!

Cone Snails (Amboina)
Textile cone
By Photographer: Richard Ling (richard@research.canon.com.au) (Location: Cod Hole, Great Barrier Reef, Australia) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], via Wikimedia Commons
Shell collectors steer clear of live shells in the cone family. Cones like the textile cone (top) and the geographic cone are infamous for possessing a barb that can stick you with a barb and inject lethal amounts of paralysing venom. Other less famous cones, such as the tulip cone (bottom), should also be avoided.

Lionfish (Minokasago)
Pterois lunulata
By syu-1 (http://photozou.jp/photo/show/1035073/116196386) [CC BY-SA 2.1 jp (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.1/jp/deed.en)], via Wikimedia Commons
Beautiful from a distance. They are considered an invasive species in the Atlantic, and while one solution to the invasion is to eat them, their spines contain venom.

Portuguese Man-of-War (Katsuo no Eboshi)
Portuguese Man-O-War (Physalia physalis)
See page for author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons"><img alt="Portuguese Man-O-War (Physalia physalis)
I think most of us know to avoid waters where jellyfish or man-of-war are floating about. Not just the live ones, but also the tentacles of dead man-of-war washed up on the beach after a storm can sting.

Bottom dwellers:
If you're at a sandy swimming beach, these things aren't so much of a problem, but especially if you're snorkeling, you should watch where you put your feet.
Please, folks, don't stand on the coral. This is inconsiderate of living corals, and also dangerous. In case you're worried about getting tired and needing to stand up while snorkeling, why not put some fins on your feet that will help you with propulsion, or at least some old shoes with cushy soles that will keep your feet afloat?
There's a bunch of nasty things you don't want to stand on, and sharp rocks are just the beginning. While some sea urchins are quite a delicacy, none are pleasant to step on. Not always floating frills and tentacles, jellyfish polyps of the genus Stephanoscyphus may be attached to coral or sponges. What appears to be a placid spot of coral may not be so defenceless. Some things to watch for include sea fansanemones and bristle worms hidden among the coral.

The Yakushima Environment and Cultural Center book, 屋久島の海辺生き物ガイド, also warns about these two curious creatures which I have not been (un)fortunate enough to meet:

Stonefish (Onidaruma Okaze)
Reef0915 - Flickr - NOAA Photo Library
By David Burdick. (NOAA Photo Library: reef0915) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0) or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
I'm not sure if I would spot this fish if it was half a meter from my face, but apparently they have poisonous spines that can be deadly if stepped on.

Blue-Ringed Octopus (HyoumonDago)
David Breneman at en.wikipedia [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or CC BY-SA 2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5-2.0-1.0)], from Wikimedia Commons
Beautiful, yes, but their saliva is oh so deadly.

Still want to go swimming? Of course you do! With warm waters and a mix of tropical and cold water fish, Yakushima is a great place to explore the ocean. Just remember, don't touch things if you don't know what they are!

*Copyright note: I've used several images from the Wikimedia Commons. Images without listed copyright information are my own.