Yakushima, deep forest dream

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architecture, art, bamboo, forest, japan, meditation, mind, nature, peace, travel, zen

Last week I went to Yakushima, a island about two hours by ferry from Kagoshima, a port city at the bottom of Kyushu. I can confidently say it was the best thing I’ve done since I arrived in Japan over a year ago. Best known as the inspiration for one of Studio Ghiblis best loved films Princess Mononoke, the island is formed out a collection of towering mountains of solid granite. An abundance of springs means the rocks are covered in thick, delicious forest, rivers and waterfalls.

I stayed at South Village Hostel, and due to the summer being well and truely over (I don’t want to talk about it) I was almost the only person there. I was kindly invited to a leaving party of one of the guides who lived at the hostel, and at this party struck up a friendship with another guide, Moe. The next day was her holiday so she invited me to come along with her on a hike, the upshot being that I ended up landing a free and wonderful guide for the day, she took me to a totally secluded hike and was amazing company, hopefully I’ll see her soon in Tokyo when she comes up to see her family for New Years. After the long hike we threw our sweaty bodies into the cleanest ocean water I’ve ever seen, then made tea on a camp stove whilst hiding from a sudden squall of rain. We finished the day with a soak in the hottest onsen I’ve experienced, in an old wooden building in one of the small villages. The bottom of the bath was filled with the same huge smooth pebbles we clambered over at the beach, glowing up through the slightly blue, steaming water.

For the next two days another extremely kind person, Kubo San, took a real shine to me and basically ferried me about everywhere, including a hand made bento lunch box and interesting restaurants. He took me on a waterfall tour, proudly showing off no less then four separate falls including the 88 meter Oh-ko no Taki. I’m just waiting to get his address so I can send a thank you card because he was amazing.

I had a weirdly lucky trip, the island is much larger then I expected and having so many car lifts directly to hikes, onsens etc. was brilliant, getting around with the infrequent and expensive buses would have been a real time sucker. Yakushima is famously rainy but, apart from one short and actaully kind of fun shower, I had beautiful weather for my entire charmed stay. I managed to get to one onsen a day, two of which where directly next the sea, I was even lucky enough to get my own private seaside bath, watching the sunset over black coastal rocks whilst dangling my finger tips in the fresh cold ocean. Three days was truly not long enough, I wish I’d had a week and a tent to take advantage of the amazing beach and forest campsites.

Despite its being a little crowded (I’d hate to see it during peak season) Shiratani-Unsuikyo, the moss forest where Hayao Miyazaki sat and sketched while dreaming up Princess Mononoke, was absolutely the highlight of the trip. I’ve had a slowly growing moss obsession for a while now and this was the culmination of all my dreams. I think I’m going to have a write a separate post one day about why I love moss, I must have taken over 200 pictures of the stuff. It’s just so… green. It’s greener then anything else that’s green, it’s totally matt, endlessly complex surface includes every shade of green that has ever been or ever will be. It folds itself over edges and into crevasses, softening every form it touches into a masterpiece. It’s soft, inviting, fresh, cool and magical… or at least it is too me.

I fell in love with the many tree hollows that have been transformed by Yakushimas wonderful moss, I’ve always loved the feeling of being enveloped, enclosed and protected, and what better thing to be surrounded and held by then these ancient living things. This is with out a doubt the start of a long, long project for me, I have to try and re-create this feeling with a future design, and I will.

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Private sea side hot natural bath (onsen) phone picture… does it 0% justice

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