We were standing in the middle of a long steel bridge, suspended high above a sharp tree-covered valley with crystal clear waters gushing below. We could hear a roar start to descend from the mountain tops, gathering in gusts until it reached us. The bridge began to shake and it felt like the island was showing us that it still was the master of this domain - the metal structure beneath our feet feeling very temporary, as did we.
We made our way to Yakushima strapped aboard a hydrofoil ferry, a storm in pursuit. With the clouds closing in our captain was unsure if we would make it to port and we were encouraged to familiarise ourselves with the locations and protocols regarding our life vests. The boat meticulously carved through the large swell for the next two hours with the occasional large wave taking us by surprise. Thoughts entered my mind of the current East China Sea shark population should we need to abandon ship. But needless to say, we eventually glided into the protected waters of Port Anbo. With our feet appreciating the stability of land, we felt the pulsating energy of the island, grinning to each other as we knew we had made a good decision to journey south to this atoll of granite in the sea.
Whilst the whole island felt alive, the towns appeared quite the opposite. Few stores were open and we saw little other travellers. During an impromptu afternoon cycle around the hills of Anbo we discovered lone buildings that seemed completely out of place. Brand new athletic arenas, glistening swimming pools and schools but no people to be seen. Life bustled though in the restaurants that were open with flying fish dominating the local menu. Served many delicious ways, this little aerial fish was dished up as sashimi, dumplings, curry and crispy fried.
Yakushima is an island of pure wonder, located 63km south from the southern-most point of Kyushu. Famed for its ancient cedar forests and extremely unique ecosystem, the island was declared a World UNESCO Natural Heritage site in 1993. They say it rains on Yakushima over 300 days every year, we must have had some luck because for three of the four days we spent exploring this sub-tropical paradise, the sun shone above us and our feet remained dry. When the sky did let loose, our shoes could barely find un-puddled ground so we opted to take a car and circumnavigate this magical island, starting our drive along around the aptly named Rainbow Road.
On another day we summited Mt Tachu, the razor edges of its granite mountains appeared scratching at the heavy clouds. We surveyed the leafy infinities - the forest covering everything between us and beyond. It shimmied in all known shades of vibrant green as the wind blew through, again the island appeared alive, everything around us growing in unison as one giant organism. It was easy to imagine the entire island gulping at any moment and we would be swallowed quite happily into the green forever. As we stopped to eat our own lunch, we feared in more playful imaginings, that if we ate too slow we too would soon become mossy covered beings; the green abominables of Yakusugi Land - further adding to the magic of the primeval forest that inspired Hayao Miyazaki to create his animated film Princess Mononoke.
After a very awkward introduction to onsen culture in Aso, I had begun to dread my next bathing experience. We had heard of these little hot tubs that had been carved into the rock pools lining the shore south of Miyanoura. At high tide the tubs cannot be seen, but for a few hours each day as the sea retreats, the baths appear. A small fissure in the highest of the tubs spurts natural hot spring water forcing the cold salt water in the small pools to spill back over into the sea.
When we arrived at the Hirauchi Kaichu Onsen it was raining quite heavily, and through the rain drops we could spot little steaming pools with no one around. There were change rooms but they were quite far away - so we followed onsen etiquette and left our clothes under a small shelter, donated 100 yen and ran naked down the long exposed path to the baths - of course washing under a small hose before we slid in. This was how I dreamed of spending my days in Japan, feeling like a lobster in a little hot pot while the sea crashed into the rocks around me. We bathed until our skin turned bright red, resembling umeboshi and then regretfully left our little lobster pots and scuttled back up the walkway to continue our adventures around the island.