Travel Japan: Yakushima

If you’re anything like me, by the time spring rolls around you’ll be itching to get outside to pay homage to the return of the warmer weather. One of my favourite Japan holidays to date was one such outing. Hiking through the vast ancient forests that escaped the ravages of the Second World War in Yakushima, Kagoshima Prefecture is the perfect way to shake the winter chill.

Located a 2 hour high-speed ferry ride from Kagoshima’s Dolphin Port, Yakushima is the home of ‘Yakusugi’, a name given to cedars over 1,000 years old. The air is fresh, clean, and filled with the scent of cedars both young and old. Hiking and nature enthusiasts from Japan and around the globe come to Yakushima to experience the magic firsthand. It’s not hard to see how it inspired the forests of Studio Ghibli’s Princess Mononoke.

The most famous of the Yakusugi is Jomon-sugi. Jomon-sugi is believed to be somewhere between 2170 and 7000 years old, and its name refers to the Jomon period in Japan’s prehistory. The tree can be found on the north face of Mt Miyanoura and was not discovered until 1968.

The hike to Jomon-sugi winds itself around rivers, brooks, moss, and countless cedars. A one day’s gentle hike from the Arakawa trek base station takes around 9 hours along reinforced pathways and platforms that have been put down to protect the forest and root systems that intertwine with the course.

Wilson’s stump is one of the highlights of the trek. Looking up into the canopy of the forest thought the hole in the stump at the right angle, and you’ll be greeted by a very ‘lovely’ view.

Many cedars here have taken on interesting forms over the years, including the Medusa cedar and the Kirin cedar. Some 3 generation cedars also line the much worn path, each generation growing upon the other.

Our guide took us through the forest and off the beaten path to a place where beautiful turquoise waters stretched between the trees, inviting us to soak our weary feet. We navigated the precarious stone path to the boulders in the centre of the river for a rest. The water was fresh and icy cold, come summer it would be the perfect swimming hole.

Upon reaching Jomon-sugi I felt a great sense of achievement and wonder, the light streaming through the canopy of trees just adding to the magic.

Although hiking through the forest is the main event on this beautiful island, there is still much to see. Most of the coast is accessible via the single bus route (except between Ooko Falls and Nagata beach on the western road), but hiring a car will give you the freedom to explore other parts of the island.

Ooko falls in the south of the island is 88 metres tall; the huge volume of water that falls into the river below sprays a mist across the landscape. Nearby local vendors fry up the island’s specialty, flying fish, as the monkeys play in the trees.

Yakushima’s Nagata beach, on the western coast, is known to be one of the world’s important spawning grounds for loggerhead turtles, so head there from mid-May to mid-July to take a peek.

The western road is home to the Nagata lighthouse. Many animals casually sauntered onto the road, unafraid of us as we passed by. From the lighthouse we took in the wide view of the ocean and the beauty of the steep cliffs, then turned to the spectacular view of the mists clinging the mountains across the island.

So if you are as yet unsure of the perfect way to once again become friends with nature, Yakushima is worth travelling the distance for. It really is one of the gems of Japan that should not be missed.

How to get to and around Yakushima

If you have time to spare the ‘Sunflower’ Ferry goes overnight from Osaka Seagull Port to Shibushi Port, Kagoshima Prefecture. The ferry departs at 17:55 and arrives at Shibushi at 8:55. Once in Shibushi Port, you’ll need to jump on the shuttle bus into Kagoshima City which takes around 2 hrs depending on traffic. I’d recommend a ‘tourist sleeper’. The lowest class was described to me by my friend as ‘the Dragon’s lair’; a huge humid room where travellers lay down their futons together and attempt to sleep.

For those needing to get to Kagoshima in a hurry, flights to Kagoshima Airport start from 7,800 yen one way. Train lovers can check out the new Sakura Shinkansen for around 21,000 yen one way, which takes around 4 and a half hours.

To connect to Yakushima, you’ll need to take the ferry. The high speed ferry ‘Toppy’ costs 7,700 yen one way or 14,000 yen return and takes around 2 hours.

For those with a decided lack of hiking gear, most accommodations and tour guides are able to arrange gear for your hiking needs. Some accommodations such as Kagoshima Youth Hostel also have K-cars for hire, at around 6000 yen per day (you’ll also need to re-fill the petrol tank before returning it).

For further info check out the JNTO Yakushima fact sheet @ http://www.jnto.go.jp/eng/location/rtg/pdf/pg-708.pdf

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One Comment

  1. I went to Yakusihma this year, too.
    However, I went in winter. The good thing about it was that there weren’t many tourists. The bad thing was .. the weather. It was really crazy.
    In the mountains there was too much snow, so I couldn’t access Jomonsugi at all :/

    Yet I spent 3 very nice days on Yakushima.
    Highly recommended (though maybe not during winter time).

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