YAKUSHIMA - WHAT TO DO
WHAT TO SEE & DO
Outdoor activities are the main agenda for most visitors to Yakushima, and the steep mountains and pristine forests attract hikers from all over (but mainly Japan) with trails to suit all abilities.
This giant cedar tree, which scientists estimate to be between 2000 and 7200 years old, is the main attraction on Yakushima. Said to be the oldest tree in Japan, it dates from the Jomon Period, from where it gets it’s name. At 25 meters high, it’s not very tall, however, at 15ft in diameter, its trunk more than makes up for it. It was mosty likely discovered by loggers in the Edo Period, but thanks to it’s irregular shape, it escaped the axe. It was rediscovered in the 1960s and has since been protected along with the rest of Yakushima's forests when they became a national park.
The trail to the Jomonsugi passes some of Yakushima's other famous trees including the Meotosugi, a pair of trees that resemble a husband and wife embracing; the Daiosugi (lit. Great King Cedar) one of the largest trees on the island; and Wilson's Stump, the hollowed out remains of a giant cedar that was felled nearly 300 years ago.
This is a long hike, taking approximately 10 hours round trip. The first half of the hike (the Anbo Trail) runs along a seldom used railway track, and is flat and relatively easy. The second half (the Okabu Trail) is a combination of dirt trails, boardwalks and wooden steps, and is frequently steep. If you prefer a more leisurely hike, you can do it in two days, staying overnight at the Takatsuka hut, just past Jomonsugi or the newer and larger Shin Takatsuka hut which is a half mile or so further along the Miyanoura Trail.
Japanese and English speaking guides are available but now necessary. They do, however, provide lots of information about the history and ecology of the sites and area.
About half an hour north of Miyanoura, in the center of the island, is Shiratani Unsuikyo, an area of dense mossy-green forests, trickling streams and the occasional white-spotted sika deer. Well-marked trails run along a ravine and lead to a number of ancient, individually named cedars, such as Nidaiosugi, Kugurisugi and Yayoisugi. Some trails are also historically significant, and it’s possible to trace routes followed by inhabitants of the island from Japan’s Edo period, from the 17th- to mid-19th centuries.
The recommended trails vary in length from one to five hours, but you are free to wander around and choose your own route among the paths. English markers are provided throughout.
For the more adventurous, this area marks the beginning (or end) of a challenging three-day traverse through the island’s interior, passing landmarks, such as Wilson’s Stump, and the oddly-shaped granite outcrops that characterize the high mountain peaks. There are a number of very basic huts along the way, but you will need to bring your own bedding and supplies.
Yakusugi Land is a nature reserve populated by a number of ancient cedars such as the Buddhasugi, Futagosugi and Sennensugi. This is one of the most accessible places on Yakushima to see the ancient cedar trees, as many are just a short walk from the parking area.
The park has a diversity of hiking trails to choose from that will accommodate nearly all abilities, and vary in length from 30 minutes to 2.5 hours. The shortest boardwalk trail quickly leads to the yakusugi (ancient cedars), while the more challenging hikes continue farther into the forest over more diverse terrain. The longest hike leads to the peak of nearby Tachudake. There are English signs throughout the park as well as English pamphlets available at the trailhead.
Hirauchi Kaichu Olsen
Carved into the rock shoreline of Yakushima's southern coast, is Hirauchi Kaichu Onsen. The three stone baths at this natural onsen (hot spring) are filled by both the cool water from the ocean as well as the warm water from a sulfur-rich hot spring.
These natural baths are only accessible twice a day, during low tide and besides offering a wonderful therapeutic soak, they also afford some stunning views.
Strip down (a small towel can be used to enter the water) and be sure to follow local etiquette by rinsing yourself before entering the pools.
Just down the road from Hirauchi Kaichu Onsen, is Yudomari Onsen, which has a bamboo divider separating the sexes and, for those who can’t stand the heat, the water here is a pleasant 38C.
In summer (June and July), on the northwest and southwest beaches, loggerhead turtles return to the place they were born, some 30 years earlier, to lay eggs their eggs. Enjoy night time turtle watching with a local guide.
SNORKELING / SCUBA DIVING
The Kuroshio current flowing by Yakushima brings with it, high temperatures (averaging around 60F in winter), high salinity and water clarity.
The warm water provides conditions where coral can flourish, and the swift current brings an abundance of sea life including sea turtles, flying fish and mackerel. There is certainly plenty to see under the water and annual surveys have found Yakushima to have the greatest variety of sea life in Japan.
Several diving/snorkeling companies on the island offer a range of diving services for all experience levels. Diving/snorkeling is possible year round, although late spring to late autumn is the most comfortable season. The prime beach dive spots are Isso in the north and Kurio in the south.
Good snorkeling spots include:
Tzukazaki Tide Pool
River kayaking is a wonderful way to experience nature on Yukashima, plus it's a year round activity. The most popular kayaking river is on the Anbo River. The river is wide and calm, meandering slowly between deep-forested valley walls, and is suitable for all skill levels. Keep a look out for monkeys feeding in the canopy close to the river, or even sea turtles swimming upstream.
Other rivers that are suitable for kayaking include the Miyanoura and Kurio Rivers. A river kayak is usually a half-day activity.
Sea Kayaking is also a wonderful year-round activity and there are a variety of tours available. Most depart from either Isso, Nagata or Kurio and vary in length from half- to full day excursions.
A particularly spectacular kayak excursion is to Toroki Waterfall near Onoaida in the south.
Okonotaki is a spectacular waterfall, just off the main road, on the west side of Yakushima Island. The 270 ft high waterfall is considered one of Japan's top 100 waterfalls and can be viewed near the parking area.
Senpironotaki is another of Yakushima's larger waterfalls and is located near the southern coast of the island. The viewpoint overlooking the falls is a short walk from the parking area.
EXPLORING IN GENERAL
One of the best ways to see the island is to drive around its perimeter. The mountainous slopes and cliffs along parts of the coast offer some excellent scenery, especially along the western coast where UNESCO world heritage site extends to the sea and the roads are inaccessible to buses.
Whether hiking or driving, you are likely to encounter Yakushima deer and monkeys, locally referred to as Yakushika and Yakuzaru. As in all national parks, do not feed or approach the wild animals.