Today began with a glorious morning at sea as we sailed by volcanoes in the distance and brown boobies foraging for flying fish alongside the ship. After breakfast, our two historians delivered back-to-back lectures. First, Maria Intxaustegi presented, “Age of the Samurais,” which was followed by Stephen Fisher with, “The Empire of Japan: 1868-1941.”
After an early lunch, we then called on the island of Yakushima. This small island of 13,000 people is located 60 km off the coast of Kyushu, and forest covers 90% of it. Locals say that it rains 35 days a month, and this is almost true! The island gets some rain almost every day. The most common tree on Yakushima is Sugi, or Japanese cedar, but in Yakushima, this tree has become very special. Because of the harsh conditions (poor soil and heavy rain), the trees grow much slower than usual, allowing them to build up an extra abundance of resin, which causes their rings to be much closer together. The resin protects them from disease and decay, so rather than dying at the age of around 500, as do other cedar trees in Japan, they live for thousands of years. These Sugi trees on Yakushima can be over 1,000 years old and are referred to as yakusugi.
One group visited the Yakusugi Museum. They learned about the oldest surviving tree, thought to be 7,200 years old, took a short walk in the primeval forest surrounding the museum, and visited a waterfall. Another group took a more strenuous hike through the forest in a majestic national park called Yakusugi Land and marvelled at thousand-plus-year-old trees, giant ferns, and countless shades of green as they immersed themselves in the Japanese experience of shinrin-yoku, or forest bathing. Naturalists pointed out Japanese macaques and shika (Japanese deer) on the drive to and from the forest.
Another group opted for a Chopstick-Making Experience in town and enjoyed a lesson in how to handshape chopsticks. After making a perfectly formed personal set of yakusugi chopsticks, guests then made a chopstick rest using the power sander. There was time to browse the onsite boutique or wander around the town of Miyanoura.
As we sailed away in the late afternoon, children from a local school band treated us to a farewell performance, and National Geographic destination expert Don George delighted us with a lecture entitled, “How I Fell in Love with Japan.”
It was another great day on National Geographic Resolution as we continued our journey south, away from the inland sea and towards the southern islands of Japan.