Not all people are inclined to explore mother nature and hike various trails. However, for those people who love the woods, the trees, and just nature in general, visiting Japan would definitely be a great choice. The archipelago consists of various islands that offer various sceneries and activities in relation to nature. With several mountains and forests in the country, as well as beaches, nature-lovers would definitely love Japan. One of its islands that is great for people who love hiking and exploring natural habitats is Yakushima Island.
Facts: Map, Weather, Access from Tokyo, Hotels, Inspiration of Princess Mononoke
A part of the Osumi Islands, Yakushima Island is located in Kagoshima Prefecture, Japan. With a total area of 504.88 square kilometers, which is equivalent to 194.94 square miles, the island has a population of 13,178 as of the year 2010. As a result, the island has a population density of 26.1 persons per square kilometer, which is equivalent to 67.6 persons per square mile.
Electricity in the island is over 50 percent hydroelectric. In an experiment by Kagoshima University, it was found that hydrogen gas is also produced by using surplus power. Yakushima Island has also served as a test site for the hydrogen fuel cell vehicle research for Honda. While there are no hydrogen cars stationed in the area, the municipality of the island operates electric cars.
With the coordinates of 30°21′31″ North and 130°31′43″ East, Yakushima Island is also situated in the East China Sea. The highest elevation of the island is at 1,935 meters, which is equivalent to 6,348 feet while its highest point is Miyanouradake. In administrative terms, the whole island of Yakushima is also known as the town of Yakushima. The town also assists its neighbor Kuchinoerabujima. A huge chunk of the island is located within the borders of the Kirishima-Yaku National Park.
The island of Yakushima houses a particular remnant of warm to temperate ancient forest. Since the year 1993, this forest has been designated as a natural World Heritage Site. The forest consists of the Wilderness core area, which has an area of 12.19 square kilometers or 3,010 acres of land. This area is known as a place where there has been no trace or record of past practice of cutting trees. With its beauty and mystery, the island welcomes 300,000 tourists each year. The forest of the island also served as the inspiration for the forest setting in the film “Princess Mononoke” by Hayao Miyazaki.
With the Köppen climate classification Cfa, the island experiences a humid subtropical climate. Yakushima Island experiences a hot and humid summer season and a mild winter season. Extremely heavy precipitation is a normal occurrence in the area, with not less than 250 millimeters, which is equivalent to 9.8 inches, in every month. In the month of June alone, the island can get as much as 773 millimeters, which is equivalent to 30.4 inches, of precipitation.
Given this heavy precipitation in the island, Yakushima is actually the wettest place in Japan. Moreover, the annual precipitation in the island is actually among the highest in the world at 4,000 millimeters to 10,000 millimeters, which is equivalent to about 160 inches to 390 inches every single year. Because of this phenomenon, it is common for locals in the area to say that it rains on the island “35 days a month.”
The drier periods of the year in the island are in the autumn and winter season while the wettest periods with the heaviest rains happen during the spring and summer season. These heavy downpours also often cause landslides in the area. The island is also the southernmost place in the country wherein the mountains receive snow for months on end. The temperature of the water in the ocean has also never reached below 19 degrees Celsius, which is equivalent to 66 degrees Fahrenheit.
There are only three ways to access Yakushima Island, whether one comes from Tokyo, Osaka, or anywhere else. These three ways are by hydrofoil ferry, by slow car ferry, and by air. Depending on the season, hydrofoil ferry coming from Kagoshima to Yakushima provides service for 7 to 8 times in a day. As for slow car ferry, it provides service only once or twice a day coming from Kagoshima. By air, one would be landing at Yakushima Airport. Planes arrive three to five times daily coming from Osaka, once everyday coming from Fukuoka, and once every day coming from Osaka.
Aside from Kagoshima, there is also a ferry connection to Shimama. However, both regular and jetfoil ferry services may be canceled due to inclement weather. As for the airport in Yakushima, it is situated between Anbo port and Moyanoura port along the perimeter of Yakushima. Aside from direct flights to and from Osaka, Fukuoka, and Kagoshima, the airport also provides services for direct flights to and from Itami.
Because the island of Yakushima is exactly the easiest accessible place in the country, one may opt to stay a night or two on the island. There are various accommodations in the area. For a budget-friendly option, one may check out Yakushima Youth Hostel. Located near Miyanoura port, its contact number is +81-997491316. Surrounding the hotels are various stores as well as restaurants. An international hostel, it offers 20 beds to guests.
Main Attractions of Yakushima: Shiratani Unsuikyo and Jomonsugi
One of the major local attractions on the island is the Shiratani Unsuikyo Ravine. A nature park, Shiratani Unsuikyo features lush, green trees and plants. It houses various ancient cedars known to grow in the island like the Nidaiosugi, the Yayoisugi, and the Kugurisugi. It only takes about 15 minutes to walk to the most accessible yakusugi in the park. Quite popular among tourists, Shiratani Unsuikyo is the place to be in order to witness the beauty of the forests without having to take a strenuous hike.
A network of hiking trails that are well-maintained can be can be found along the ravine in the park. Suggested circuits differ in length, with some of them taking about an hour to 5 hours long to complete. Still, visitors are free to choose one’s route around the forests. There are trails that are more developed and paved in wood and stone, which are considerably easier to take in comparison to the historic footpaths that were constructed during the Edo period. English signs are available to guide visitors about the trails.
Among the primary attractions of this forest is a specific portion of its that was used as the inspiration of the animated film by Studio Ghibli entitled “Mononoke Hime,” which translates to “Princess Mononoke.” The lead artist for the movie, Oga Kazuo, spent much of his time in this part of the forest while working on sketches that were used to depict the forest as seen in the animated film. The Shirakami Sanchi Mountains located in Akita Prefecture also served as an inspiration for the mountains that were depicted in the film.
A small grove can be found on the trail going to Tsuji Toge Pass. The grove is located at the far end of the park. Walking on this trail, visitors would be led to the Jomonsugi as the trail meets the Anbo Trail, the point of which is around half the trail going to the entrance of the Okabu Trail. It takes around 12 hours when taking the roundtrip going to the Jomonsugi. The trail is also more strenuous in comparison to the trail that begins at the Arakawa Trailhead.
The other major local attraction of the island is the Jomonsugi. A giant cedar tree, scientists estimate the age of the tree to be around 2,000 to 7,200 years old. Some say that this tree is the oldest tree in the country, as it has been standing since the Jomon period, where its name was based on. Though the tree is not exactly the tallest in the country with the height of 25 meters, its trunk is huge with a diameter of 5 meters.
A theory suggests that the Jomonsugi was first found by loggers from the Edo period hundreds of years ago. Some say that due to its irregular shape, the tree was able to avoid logging. The tree was rediscovered in the 1960s. Since then, the Jomonsugi has been under protection, together with the rest of the forests in Yakushima Island, as they have become a national park.
Other well-known trees in the area stand along the trail going to the Jomonsugi. These trees include the Meotosugi, the Daiosugi, and Wilson’s Stump. The Meotosugi is composed of a pair of trees that look like two people embracing each other. Literally translating to “Great King Cedar,” the Daiosugi is one of the biggest trees located in Yakushima. The Wilson’s Stump is composed of the hollowed out remains of a huge cedar that felled almost 300 years prior.
Exploring Yakusugi Land in Yakushima
Aside from the two main attractions mentioned above, there are other places to check out in Yakushima. One of these places is Yakusugi Land. Also a nature park, the land is filled with yakusugi, which are Yakushima Cedars that are more 1,000 years old. These include the Buddhasugi, the Sennensugi, and the Futagosugi. A series of trails that are well-developed can also be found in the area, which leads visitors to the said trees. This nature park is among the places in the island that is most accessible if one is searching for ancient cedar trees.
Hikers, whether beginners or experts, can choose from a wide range of hiking courses in the park. The courses available differ in length; some of them can be completed in a span of just 30 minutes while others can be completed in two and a half hours. All the trails follow a single route that leads into the park but each route has different turnoff points. Nonetheless, these would all still lead back to the trailhead.
A boardwalk trail is followed by the shortest hiking course available in this area, with the trail leading to the yakusugi. However, the more strenuous hiking courses actually lead further into the forest over different kinds of trails. The longest hiking course available leads hikers to the peak of Tachudake. English signs can be found throughout the park to guide hikers while English pamphlets can also be obtained at the trailhead.
Driving from Yakusugi Land, visitors can further drive into the mountains for 15 minutes and reach another one of the giant cedars in Yakushima known as the Kigensugi. Situated just next to the road, this ancient tree is the only giant cedar in Yakushima that can be reached by car.
Tour Around Yakushima Island, Kagoshima, Japan
While most visitors travel to the island of Yakushima to witness its cedar forests and its magnificence, there are also other places in the island that one can check out. One can drive around the perimeter of the island and see the mountainous slopes and cliffs that depict a beautiful scenery. Whether one drives or hikes, encounters with Yakushima deer and monkeys is highly probable. Yakushima deer is locally known as Yakushika while Yakushima monkey is locally known as Yakuzaru. As they are wild animals, it would be best to just watch them and not feed or approach them.
Tourists visiting in the months of June and July can also go to the northwest and southwest beaches of the island. During this season, sea turtles come ashore to lay their eggs on the beaches. However, there are certain special precautions that must be followed in order not to disrupt their cycle. Hence, it would be best to avail of guided tours to watch this natural cycle of life.
One can also head on to the Yakusugi Museum to learn more about the forests in the island. More commonly known as the Yakusugi Shizenkan, this museum is only 5 minutes away from Anbo Port by car. It is open from 9 in the morning until 5 in the afternoon though its admission in only until 4:30 in the afternoon. The museum is also closed every first Tuesday of the month. Admission fee costs only 600 yen. Other places to see on the island include the Environmental Culture Village Center, Okonotaki Waterfall, and Senpironotaki Waterfall.