Yakushima National Park: Cedar Forest and Unique Shapes


Osumi Islands


February 24, 2014

On Yakushima Island, The National Park is the perfect location for my last day in Japan.

The Natural Recreation Forest or Shiratani Unsuikyo is situated 800 meters (2625 ft) above sea level.  The primal forest of Yakusugi Cedar groves covers an area of 424 hectares (1048 acres). Peering through the thicket of ancient trees, and alone in the forest-primeval, my view from the mountainside to the sea is ever-green and misty-obscured.

I hike the well-maintained trail up along a rising field of boulders and across a suspension bridge.  The trail runs parallel to a rushing stream.  I spot a group of small sika deer who browse the moss, unperturbed by my presence.

Then I stop.  The trail deteriorates into a path of broken rocks and shattered logs fit only for mules and donkeys, or for hikers more lithe and agile than cautious and aged.  At that very moment I meet a young Japanese girl in her perfect outdoor attire.  Haruka, a medical student, is determined to complete the circuit.  She dances ahead along the rocks and detritus as if the laws of gravity and balance are temporarily suspended.  Lithe indeed!

In the waning moments of my own adventure, I take a solo detour along the main paved road.  In the pristine quiet forest, I encounter a gallery of primal shapes and sizes.  They wait to pose for me, in patience and in silence,.


On the two-hour ferry ride from Yakushima Island back to Kagoshima, with Haruka asleep in the seat next to me, I paused to begin to consider this, my first, trip to Japan:

Japan has been called the “Galápagos of Countries.”   Indeed the Galápagos syndrome (ガラパゴス化 Garapagosu-ka) is a term of Japanese origin, which refers to an isolated development branch of a globally available product.   The cell phone is a prime example.  The Japanese cell phone is so complex that it cannot survive abroad.

But even more, it is the Japanese culture that seems to have evolved independent of the rest of the world.  There were moments when I felt a bit of “Culture Shock” during my travels.   Here are just a few of my superficial observations:

-The streets, shopping malls, railroad stations and trains are immaculate.  Everywhere, it’s immaculate.

-Public transportation of every mode is comfortable, convenient, and precise in the schedule.  My ticket from Osaka to Kagoshima read 07:04 departure and 11:14 arrival.  So even after a four hour journey, with multiple stops, the train arrived at the station exactly on time.

-Everyone, young and old, is neatly and stylishly dressed.  No torn jeans or ripped shoes.

- At first, folks seem cold, uninterested and in a rush.  But if I start a conversation, faces brighten with a broad smile and a lively dialogue ensues.   How do you think I met Haruka, Maiko, Minori and Rikako?

-Everyone is extremely polite and considerate, not only to foreigners but amongst themselves as well.

-Japan seems to be over-staffed with personnel highly trained with a customer service mentality.  In an airport I am approached voluntarily by a smiling young woman who provides accurate information.  At a bus station, a dispatcher searches on his smartphone to give me directions to my hotel.  At a taxi stand, a driver points me to the location of a bus that I need, and then follows me down the street to be sure I find my way.

-Japan is highly developed and industrialized, a true first world nation.  How did they manage to achieve such success after being mostly obliterated not so long ago? 

There are many reasons for their success, to be sure.  One that I have read about and have heard spoken here is that the Japanese study a product or service and then find a way to improve it.  (Ford versus Toyota for example.) 

To illustrate that attitude of improvement, my final moment in Japan provided a trivial, yet wonderful example of Japanese efficiency, ingenuity, and regard for excellent customer service:

At Narita Airport, Delta ungraded me to Business Class for my return to Bangkok.  With time to spare before my flight, I indulged in a few snacks at the lounge.  Hey, what about a beer?

No bottles or cans.  Beer is dispensed from a machine that looks like a soda machine. 

I place my tall glass under the spout.  I press the red button.

BUT, just before the beer begins to flow, the base of the machine tilts the glass back at a slight angle!

After the beer fills the glass to the brim, the machine tilts the glass to its original upright position.

Voila!  A full glass of cold beer with a gleaming head of precisely measured foam!


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