Yakushima is an island found in Kagoshima Prefecture. It is most famous for its cedar forests and for being a sanctuary for both wildlife and plants. Many people visit the island and its town to escape the city and reunite with nature. Museums and onsen are part of its charm.
Table of Contents
- Yakushima’s Geography and History
- Hiking and Mountaineering in Yakushima
- Leisurely Activities on Yakushima
- How to Reach Yakushima
Geography and Population
Yakushima 屋久島 in the southwestern part of Japan is part of Kyushu Region’s Kagoshima Prefecture. A considerable distance of 60 kilometers from Kagoshima’s shores, it is accessible only by ferry, ship or plane. The subtropical climate island spans more than 500 square kilometers. A portion of the island, around 20%, is designated as a World Heritage Site for its biodiversity. The island has a unique ecosystem that sustains several endangered species of flora and fauna. The island has several mountain ranges like Mt. Miyanoura as well as expansive rainforests of cedar trees.
There are around 12,000 inhabitants on the Island as of March 2020 according to the Kagoshima & Kuchinoerabujima area guide.
※ ScienceDirect, "Biocultural diversity of Yakushima Island: Mountains, beaches, and sea" ※ Kagoshima Prefectural Visitors Bureau, "Welcome to Yakushima & Kuchinoerabujima," p.5 ※ UNESCO, “Yakushima”
For a secluded island, Yakushima has had a long history of occupation dating back to prehistoric Jomon Period. This is evidenced by the findings of simple huts built on the island. Yakushima’s properties as a biodiverse island were noticed as early as the Heian Period when it was recognized by a visiting Chinese monk for its medicinal plants. Ornamental shells from the Island also became popular.
As the Edo period dawned, Yakushima’s forests caught the attention of industrialists. There was an urgent growing need for lumber following Japan’s development and all manner of buildings were commissioned. At first the Yakushima villagers were against the delogging due to their close relationship with nature and the forest's trees but were persuaded (cunningly) that the Gods permitted it. As the forest suffered, Yakushima’s villagers profited from not just the lumber industry but also agriculture, fishing, and tile sectors.
In present times, Yakushima is mainly in the tourism industry especially since its World Heritage Site recognition. The balance between environmental protection and tourism development is always a concern for the island.
※ YES! Yakushima, "Yakushima – A Brief History"
Yakushima National Park
Yakushima National Park is made up of two islands; part of Yakushima and the entirety of nearby island, Kuchinoerabujima. Consisting of mountain ranges and cedar forests, most of Yakushima’s highlights are within the national park area.
※ National Parks of Japan, "Yakushima (Island) National Park"
Blessed with mountain ranges and lush forests, hiking and mountain climbing are Yakushima’s greatest attractions.
An easy hiking trail suitable for beginners, Yakusugi Land is one of the best places to admire Yakushima’s pride and joy, Yakushima Cedars. These ancient trees are over 1,000 years old.
Right next to Yakusugi Land is Shiratani Unsuikyo, a beautiful park with a flowing river and also large cedar trees. This forest park inspired Studio Ghibli movie Princess Mononoke. Fans of the animated movie may find parts of the forest that look familiar.
Shitoko Banyan Tree Park
Next up is your chance to see a rare forest of Banyan trees in the Shitoko Banyan Tree Park. The Banyan trees in this park are quite small compared to the wide forests of cedar trees within the island but still impressively large. More of a walking trail, there are also flowers to enjoy along the trail.
※ Yakushima Town, "Shitoko Gajumaru Banyan Park"
Jomon Sugi Trek
Jomon Sugi is the oldest Yakusugi Cedar tree on Yakushima at over 7,000 years of age. The trek to this great tree is not for beginners being 11 kilometers long, not taking into account the return trip. Aside from being physically ready, packing for the trip is equally important for this half-day or full day trip. The first 8 kilometers of the trek is relatively easy with proper walking paths but the remaining part becomes more difficult with stairs and uneven surfaces. There are limited rest stops along the way where you can fill up on water and have a toilet break. Some of the highlights of the trek are the Wilson’s Stump, shrines, and bridges.
TIP: Pack water bottle, light snacks, raincoat, warm jacket at the very least.
Kyushu’s tallest mountain is situated in the center of Yakushima. Hiking the mountain is no easy feat for those able to complete the journey, but the view is worth the hard climb. On the way, you may even encounter deer and monkeys. If you’re planning to reach the peak, keep in mind some parts of the journey can get very steep with rope-climbing parts. There are many trails, so do some research beforehand for one that best suits your capabilities.
For more information about the various hiking trails, check the link below.
※ Yakushima Town, “Mountain Routes and Trails”
Aside from working up a sweat with strenuous activities, there’s also plenty of fun to be had for the homebodies.
Senpiro Falls Observation Deck
Just because you’re not into hiking doesn’t mean missing out on beautiful nature views. South of Senpiro Falls is an observation deck with a great vantage point of the waterfall. The deck is accessible by car.
※ Discover Kagoshima, “Senpiro-no-taki Waterfall”
The mountain ranges and volcanoes on Yakushima come with the bonus of hot springs! Here are some places to get soaking:
Onoaida Hot Spring is highly recommended for its high temperature baths
Hirauchi Kaichu Onsen is popular for its outdoor baths right next to the sea. Bathing times are subject to the tide
Kusugawa Onsen is quite small, fitting only 10 people. Its charm is being able to bathe while surrounded by the forest.
Yakushima has its own domestic airport, Yakushima Airport which is around 20 minutes away from the biggest town. You can take a flight from Kagoshima, Fukuoka, or Osaka directly to Yakushima Airport. You can also take a flight from Tokyo with a transit at Kagoshima.
Alternatively, ferries and ships from Kagoshima also depart for Yakushima. You can get a ferry from Kagoshima Main Ferry Port which will take you to Miyanoura Port in Yakushima.
※ Discover Kagoshima, “Access to Yakushima Island”
Yakushima is for visitors looking to get some exercise whilst enjoying nature at its best. From rare trees and plants to uncommon wildlife, hiking through the forest and parks of Yakushima is an adventure in itself. Not to forget there are also leisure activities like visiting the museums and soaking in hot springs on the island. It is truly an island vacation we all want.