2016 Japan Trip Day 3 – Yakushima (Shiratani Unsuikyo)

Despite two frantic days of international and domestic flights to reach Yakushima, our body clock had not adjusted to Japan’s time. Both of us woke up in the middle of the night and were unable to get back to sleep. However, we soon noticed that the nighttime scenery outside was beautiful, and ended up staying up to take photos of the surroundings. When it approached sunrise, we walked to the nearby bridge to take photos, but found that the mountains in the distance was blocking our view. Luckily we managed to make it back to outside our hotel room in time! Shortly after, we had breakfast which was provided by the hotel, then drove off to a destination I had always wanted to explore – Shiratani Unsuikyo.

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For those of you who do not know, Shiratani Unsuikyo is a cedar forest in Yakushima which supposedly served as the inspiration to background art in Princess Mononoke, one of the most famous Ghibli Studio movies of all time. This was the main reason I chose to come to Yakushima on this trip! It was also one of the main reasons we rented a car, since the buses between Miyanoura and Shiratani Unsuikyo are rather infrequent. The drive up to Shiratani Unsuikyo was very winding, and parts of the road was rather narrow. Thankfully the road wasn’t too steep so our 550-650 cc rental car didn’t have too much trouble with it. We soon made it to the carpark and headed through the entrance. We saw a group of people warming up at the front which should’ve given us the indication that this was not that easy of a hike, though it is one of the less demanding ones on the island. We ignored the warning signs and continued onwards without doing a proper warmup.

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We took the easiest track through Shiratani Unsuikyo to reach Taikowa Rock, and soon found ourselves in parts of the forest surrounded by thick moss. I had never seen anything like this before, and I could see the resemblance to the setting of Princess Mononoke. Throughout the hike, we did run into a number of guided groups who helped us take photos or kindly let us pass when we were quickly approaching them from behind. Apart from that, most of the hike was very quiet, which allowed us to take in the atmosphere of the place.

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After about 2-2.5 hours of hiking, we finally reached the top of Taikowa Rock. From here, we had an amazing view of the valley below. We sat down to rest for about an hour with the occasional guided group arriving to briefly take in the sights. We did make a mistake of eating there as we were not aware we weren’t meant to, though luckily it was small snacks rather than a full-on meal. After taking some time-lapses and photos, we started our descent back to the car park.

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It was at this point that I started to realize that warming up before the walk was probably a good idea, and so was wearing anything else apart from jeans. There were many stones and roots on the path, which made it difficult to descent without slipping on something. In my opinion, the hike down was a lot tougher than going up because of this. We did eventually make it to the car park in one piece, headed back to Miyanoura to return our rental gear, and headed back to the hotel. As we were dead tired, we did not do much else apart from having a quick walk around town and have dinner which was also provided by the hotel. Overall, it was as beautiful as I had expected it to be, and I’m glad that we managed to kick-start our trip in such memorable fashion.

Daily Expenditure (per person)

1) Transport
None (rental car cost included in previous post)

2) Accommodation
Yaedake Business Hotel – 7,344 yen (meals included)

3) Food
None (breakfast and dinner provided by hotel, and snacks were brought from home countries)

4) Attractions
Shiratani Unsuikyo – 300 yen (entrance fee for upkeep and maintenance)

5) Others
None

Total daily/entire trip
7644 yen/176,507 yen

Average per day (excluding international flights)
18,169 yen

2016 Japan Trip Days 1-2 – Arriving in Yakushima

Mid-November had finally arrived, and it was time for a long-awaited holiday to Japan! We had been planning this trip for months, and we were excited to finally be taking off. It was a cloudy and frankly depressing weather back home when I left, and admittedly the food on the plane wasn’t that great either.

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I touched down at Narita Airport Terminal 1 just as the sun started to set, and made my way through immigration and customs. I exited out the south arrival gate, made my way through the crowds to the north arrival gate, and managed to find Sheepy, who would be my travel buddy for the next month, waiting for me there. Together, we managed to obtain data sim cards we ordered online from the post-office upstairs, then headed to the JR ticket office to reserve train seats to get to Shinagawa station. I did buy a dorayaki and an oolong tea just before our train ride, which was my first purchase of food and drinks on this trip!

After we arrived at Shinagawa station, we transferred to another line to reach the Keikyuu Kamata station. From there, we made our way to Chisun Inn Kamata, which is our first accommodation of the trip. We dropped off our luggage, exchanged presents, freshened up, then headed out to explore the Tokyo neighbourhood of Kamata. It was already quite late by this point, so we did not get up to excessively much. It was mainly to soak in the atmosphere and let it sink in that we were actually in Tokyo! We did try to buy some tickets to the Ghibli Museum in a month’s time from Lawsons, but were unsure of which machine to use to do this and gave up. I did get another drink and an onigiri as a late night snack as I was getting hungry. We explored some gaming arcades and side streets before calling it a night due to being tired from our flights.

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The next morning, we got up early to pack and moved on to our first proper stop of the trip; Yakushima. We were quite a bit ahead of time, so we did have another wander through the Kamata neighbourhood. Afterwards, we headed back to Keikyu Kamata station to take a train to Haneda Airport. We had some time to have breakfast and wander around some shops before taking flights to Yakushima via Kagoshima. We were able to see Sakurajima along the way, which is one of the most active volcanoes in Japan located right next to Kagoshima.

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We landed at Yakushima around 2pm and rented a car. From there, we headed to the town of Miyanoura to rent some hiking equipment for the next day, went to the Culture Village, and checked in to our hotel at Yaedake Business Hotel. It was still over an hour before dinner, so we explored the area near the main bridge linking the northern and southern parts of Miyanoura. There were a lot of cloud cover, which made us nervous about the weather on the next day. Nonetheless, it was a beautiful sight seeing the town being surrounded by such massive mountains in the background.
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After our exploration, we headed for dinner which was provided by the hotel. It was a very typical Japanese meal that featured many specialties of the Kagoshima region. While I am used to food like this, Sheepy wasn’t. I will admit, a lot of traditional Japanese cuisine has a very squishy texture and is often cooked in fish or seaweed broth. It took Sheepy a very long time to get used to traditional food in Japan, and that didn’t happen until very near the end of the trip. She did really enjoy the fried flying fish though since it did taste a bit like KFC!

After dinner, we headed back out to pick up a few drinks from nearby vending machines, and explored Yakushima Shrine which was close-by to our hotel. There were sounds of residents belting out karaoke at small eating establishments along the way, which added to the atmosphere of the town. The shrine itself was very quiet as there was noone else around. It was an eerie feeling, but one that really helped us realize we were finally in Japan. We were still exhausted from the flights over the past couple of days, so we retreated to our hotel and finally called it a night.
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Daily Expenditure (per person)
One of the goals of my blog is to give readers ideas of possible trip itineraries or travel cost. As such, I often list down the daily cost of the trip at the end of each post, and the total trip cost overall. Note that my record keeping this trip was not as good as my 2012 trip, and so I am missing a lot of smaller spending events (i.e. buying drinks or souvenirs).

1) Transport
International flights into Narita Airport (return) – 122,000 yen
JR ticket from Narita Airport to  Shinagawa Station – 3,190 yen
Shinagawa Station to Keikyu-Kamata Station – 200 yen
Keikyu-Kamata Station to Haneda Airport – 340 yen
Haneda Airport to Yakushima Airport – 19,790 yen
Car rental from Orix – 8,667 yen

2) Accommodation
Chisun Inn Kamata – 5,900 yen
Yaedake Business Hotel – 7,344 yen (meals included)

3) Food
Dorayaki and Oolong Tea from 7-11 – 500 yen (overestimate)
Tuna mayo onigiri and Pokari Sweat from Lawsons – 261 yen
Inari Soba at Shinyamato, Haneda Airport – 671 yen

4) Attractions
Culture Village – 520 yen

5) Others
Hiking equipment rental from Nakagawa Sports – 2,200 yen

Total
168,863 yen

Average per day (excluding international flights)
23,432 yen