Yakushima is an island that contains the remains of a warm-temperate ancient forest and is the last ecosystem dominated by the Japanese cedar.
There are high peaks up to 2000m, all covered in dense forest. Together they form a superb scenic setting.
The Japanese cedar (Cryptomeria japonica) or Yakusugi is endemic to the island. It is a very large evergreen tree that can reach up to 70m. Some of the trees are thousands years old. The sacred values of the ancient forests of Yakusugi are also recognized.
Yakushima is Japan's wettest place, and precipitation in Yakushima is one of the world's highest at 4,000 to 10,000 mm. It also is the southernmost place in Japan where there is snow in the mountains.
Visit May 2012
I arrived at Yakushima’s Miyanoura Port from Kagoshima by jetfoil. There are several boats a day by various companies, which is indicative of the popularity this island has among Japanese holidaymakers. People do come here mostly for hiking, and in the main street of Miyanoura well-outfitted Japanese hikers are a common sight. The town itself has a few thousand inhabitants, several good restaurants, a large supermarket and places to stay. And plenty of souvenir shops of course, selling mostly wooden items.
Hiking is what I did on my first full day too. I went to Shiratani, located a mere half hour uphill by bus. This is the starting point for several short and longer walks. The drive up there already was enough to win me over for this island. The scenery really is spectacular – trees, trees and more trees, in every shade of green that exists. I was on a “normal” local bus, but the bus driver halted at a viewpoint anyway to let me and 6 fellow passengers take photos of the landscape. And he did so too when we encountered a group of Japanese macaques by the side of the road. Many “oohs” and “aahs” were uttered at the sight of these monkeys just next to our bus. It even got better when they were joined by a Sika deer. So we had seen the two most prominent mammal species of the island before even getting into the national park.
At Shiratani, I opted to hike the full loop (about 3 hours long). The trail is well-marked by fluorescent pink ribbons that are tied to trees. I guess someone walks out there every morning to tie new ones. The first half of the walk leads up to Shiratani Hut, and is quite easy. At least I thought so, until I had to cross a stream marked on the map with “watch out for high water”. Japanese are no wimps, and hikers of all ages managed to cross the stream by stepping/jumping from stone to stone. Maybe it helps when you’re covered in expensive gear. While I was watching them to find some courage in myself, I saw a troop of monkeys appear. They crossed the stream also, not disturbed at all by the presence of humans. And they also had a little Sika deer in tow. A very fun thing to watch. It gave me enough of a boost to cross this and many of the other streams that were to follow. Of course I passed several of the old Sugi-trees too, some of which have split at the bottom so you can walk through them.
The second part of the hike became more of a run, as rain has started to pour down. I saw no more animals, and I found the forest even more dense and gloomy at this side of the route.
So in one day I had seen it all, the islands most remarkable flora and fauna. But I did not enter the core zone of the WHS! Although almost the whole island is covered by the ancient forest, the designated part is a smaller area which includes the highest mountains and the untouched forests. It is also smaller than the national park, leaving the Advisory Body to suggest an extension could be useful (“Some prime areas of old-growth forest and some scenic features and waterfalls fall outside but adjacent to the nominated area”).
Therefore the goal for my second day on Yakushima was to set foot into the core zone. It is also the least accessible zone of course. But I found out that the WHS extends to the coastline in the western part of the island. It also includes a scenic road: the Seibu Rindon Forest Path. It is too narrow for buses, but I could get to the Ohko-no-taki waterfall and walk from there. It looked like a 3 to 4 km hike on the map, and in reality it surely wasn’t more. Fortunately it was a very sunny day. After about 40 minutes I encountered a sign board “Welcome to the Natural World Heritage Area”, with a map clearly showing “You are here” – just at the border of the core zone! I strolled around for a bit, enjoying the fine views on the forested mountains, and encountering even more macaques and deer. I heard and saw many more birds here than at Shiratani, probably a sign that it is more quiet at this side of the island.
The conclusion of this review may be clear already: Yakushima is a lovely getaway island.
Gary Arndt - March 2017
I visited Yakushima in 2007.
Yakushima is my favorite world heritage site in Japan, hands down.
When I visited, I was the only non-Japanese person I saw on the island. Being located south of Kagoshima, the southernmost city on Japan's four main islands, it isn't on the radar for most tourists visiting Japan.
Yakushima was the inspiration for the animated film Princess Mononoke.
A cedar forest located in the clouds on top of the island, the mood can be very eerie and surreal.
Read more about Yakushima on my website.
Aovana Timmerman - December 2008
I travelled to Yakushima this year in April. The purpose was to see this 7000 yr old cedar tree called Jomon Sugi by the locals. To get to yakushima, we caught the rocket ferry (fast ferry) from Kagoshima.We stayed at the Youth Hostel there and it was clean comfortable accomodation with english speaking host. We were given very clear directions and maps on how to climb to Jomon Sugi. The next morning, we set off around 430am very early to catch a bus to the starting point of the walk. By the time the bus got there , it was alredy 6am. It took us 5 hours to get to Jomon Sugi and another 5 hrs to get back to the starting point .. we saw monkeys, birds,snakes, lots of unusual mountain plants, streams, rivers.. it was just all very well preserved. The walk is very well maintained..and most of the time, you walked on the old railway.. or on wooden steps. sometimes, you will have only dirt tracks and tree roots and rocks to walk on. By the end of the whole walk, I think we were all ready to catch the bus and get back for a shower at the hostel. Good things too about Yakushima is the seafood there, the wagyu beef there. The Japanese people there are so friendly.. and we met one that spends a whole week trekking around Yakushima. Its an amazing island to go to.
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Full name: Yakushima
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