Yakushima is famous for its wooden Yakusugi crafts. These are made from Yakusugi tree trunks, often 1000s of years old, which were lying on the forest floor. They are brought down the mountain, sliced into manageable pieces and distributed to craftsmen around the coast. It is an incredibly difficult task to change these chunks of wood into things of beauty and it takes years of practice. How do I know? Well, I used to do it for a living.
Crafts made from Yakusugi wood are very popular souvenirs and there are many businesses offering hand-made chop sticks, bowls, vases, tables etc.
I used to work for the oldest Yakusugi crafts business on the island, run by the Kashima family and is in its third generation. Their workshop and shop - called Kashima-Kougei 鹿島工芸 - is on the main road heading south from Anbo and is well worth the visit.
Don't be fooled by the modest buildings and shop - this has been the centre of Yakusugi craft-making for many years - many of the giant trees that have been made into furniture in the island's shops have come here first to be cut. The piles of giant trees and much of the work is usually out of sight, but take a look around at how the traditional work is really done. If their work load is not too busy, the Kashimas will show you how to make your own chopsticks or key ring.
Above is Kashima-san, a master craftsman who specialises in vases made from thousand year old trees. And below, his father, and the head of the business painstakingly preparing a wooden beam.
You couldn't meet more genuine, honest, friendly and open-minded people anywhere. If you want to support local business with impeccable ethical practices, give them a visit while you're there.