A slightly bizarre start made for a delicious meal you can only get on this remote southern Japanese island!

Our Japanese-language reporter Seiji Nakazawa has been touring the remote island of Yakushima in southern Japan lately. Though Seiji didn’t want to go to the expense of renting a car, he’s done a lot of neat things on the island, which is known for its beautiful, Studio Ghibli-inspiring forest, including finding some less famous but still easy-to-access gems well worth visiting and trying a new kind of sashimi.

One other worthwhile stop Seiji discovered was Yakushima Airport. Flying directly to Yakushima is far more expensive than taking the ferry, so you may not think to make a point of visiting it, but there’s a certain charm to the airport that makes it a fun place to see.

The airport is serviced only by propeller planes, and the gate areas there felt almost like classrooms to Seiji. They brought back memories of the cram school he used to attend when he was in junior high. But what awaited just before the gates is what really attracted Seiji’s attention: a souvenir shop that also has a food menu.

It was a completely ordinary-looking souvenir shop, but it boasted a huge menu with over 40 dishes, including teishoku set meals, rice bowls, and noodle dishes. Seiji looked around, but he didn’t see any place to sit down and eat. Did they even have a kitchen? Seiji decided to ask the staff there what the deal was.

“It’s the menu for the airport cafeteria,” they said. Oh…Seiji did remember seeing a cafeteria way past the souvenir shop at the very far end of the airport. Stuck to the wall, amongst many other signs, was a barely noticeable poster that said “Restaurant Airport Yakushima”. When Seiji later saw it again, he thought it had a very “southern island” air to it.

Seiji purchased his meal at the souvenir shop, where, in the style standard to Japanese cafeterias, he received a ticket which he would take to the cafeteria and exchange for his meal. The cafeteria’s interior was much more spacious than expected. Broad, bright windows opened up to a view of the runway, giving the space a really open feeling.

Seiji got to watch a plane take off just as he entered the room, the purr of the propellers rumbling through the glass as it zoomed by. This is definitely a great place for plane fanatics!

The ticket reception counter was on the wall opposite the windows facing the runway. Seiji handed over his ticket, and a few minutes later, his food appeared in the same window. It secretly reminded Seiji of the winnings exchange window at a pachiko parlor.

Seiji ordered the Yakushima Soba (1,000 yen [US$6.95]). That’s a little on the expensive side, especially considering this is a simple rural airport, and Seiji would have been a little disappointed if all he received was an ordinary bowl of soba noodles. But what actually popped up in the window…

…Was a proper meal with a real Yakushima flair to it! The dish came with a fried flying fish that still had its pectoral fins intact, which is something you’d probably never see anywhere but Yakushima. Flying fish is a delicacy there, with over 30 different kinds available.

Flying fish was used as a topping for the soba, too, in the form of a fish paste. The whole dish was full of fishy deliciousness, in fact, as the broth was made from mackerel, which is another delicacy of Yakushima. There was a reason they gave this dish the name of “Yakushima Soba.”

When Seiji tasted the broth, he noticed it had a nice mild flavor. It was closer to the flavor of tsuyu broth you’d find in Kansai, which generally puts more emphasis on the pure, fishy dashi flavor.

For Seiji, who is originally from Osaka, this was definitely not a bad thing. But perhaps because he’s now used to the Tokyo style of soba broth, Seiji felt like the richness of soy sauce was missing, so he decided to add some of the Yakushima Soy Sauce provided on the table.

That completed it! There’s nothing like the way dashi and soy sauce combine to make something beautiful. Seiji decided that the original broth would taste good with udon noodles, but the soba was best with soy sauce added in.

Upon checking the label of the soy sauce, it did, in fact, seem to be made in Yakushima, apparently tailored to pair well with Yakushima delicacies.

In the end, Seiji was really quite pleased with the satisfaction-to-price ratio he experienced at Restaurant Airport Yakushima. Plus, unlike many of the other restaurants on the island, Airport Yakushima is even open during the in-between-lunch-and-dinner hours of 2 and 5 p.m.

It’s great that you can get a hot meal there at any time of the day (between their opening hours of 9 to 6:30). There weren’t any restaurants like that when Seiji arrived at the harbor, so if you decide to fly into Yakushima instead of sail, then you’ll definitely have a place to stop for a bite before starting your Yakushima vacation. And if you find yourself looking for a place to eat in the in-between hours, you can also make a pit stop here and get a load of its country airport charm!

Restaurant information
Airport Yakushima / エアポートやくしま
Address: Kagoshima-ken Kumage Yakushima Koseda Yakushima Airport
鹿児島県熊毛郡屋久島町小瀬田 屋久島空港
Open 9 a.m.-6:30 p.m.

Photos © SoraNews24
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