Flying fish and dolphins accompany us to Yakushima, skipping at the bows of our ferry in synchrony before disappearing into the ship's wake. Despite a strong headwind, our journey from mainland Kagoshima has been plain sailing, and the clouds that hung oppressively over the bay that morning have receded northward over mainland Japan.

Enticed by blue sky, we move our breakfast party out on deck where the five of us, a ragtag group of Brits and Americans, sit hunched over bowls of udon — bought from the ferry's restaurant — slurping the noodles and relying on the wind to cool the scalding soup.

Three hours into the crossing, and ahead of us the north shore of Yakushima looms, a facade of mountains that grows from the sea, climbing almost vertically to peaks nearly 2,000 meters tall. What scant trace of human life that exists on the island is collected in the port town of Miyanoura, a speck of activity dominated entirely by its forested backdrop.