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.

    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.

  • 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:
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 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.