Yakushima is an almost perfectly circular volcanic island, located 60 km south of Kagoshima Prefecture in southern Japan. With a circumference of 135 km and a total area of 505 km2, it is the sixth largest island in Japan and has one of the most precipitous climates of anywhere in the country. It is home to some of the oldest cedar trees in the world and a variety of wildlife, including the Yakuzaru, a type of monkey different from its mainland cousins and green sea and loggerhead turtles that come here to breed in the summer months. Yakushima also houses the highest mountain peaks in Kyushu, Mt. Miyanoura (1939 m) and Mt. Nagata (1886m). The possibilities for adventure here are endless.
Not only is Yakushima a designated World Heritage Natural Property, but also an Unspoiled Natural Environment Conservation Zone, a National Park Special Area, a Special Conservation Area, a Forest Ecology Conservation Area and a Special Natural Heritage Zone. I have absolutely no idea what each of these designations entails, other than heaps of paperwork and formality (both very popular pastimes of the Japanese), but the plethora of titles certainly does ensure that the island remains protected. It is also a good indication of the island’s importance and value. Development is kept to a minimum and visitors aren’t even permitted to touch Jomonsugi, the mother of all trees.
The most famous and popular tourist draw on the island is the ancient cedar trees called yakusugi. While there are cedar trees all over the island, visitors can opt out for Yakusugi Land which is located on a plateau between 1000 and 1300 meters. There are several short hiking trails and observation decks as well as a suspension bridge. The most famous of the trees, Jomonsugi, is a steep five hour hike from the main road, but well worth it. It is estimated to be between 6500 and 7200 years old, making it the oldest known cedar tree in the world.
While most visitors come to the island to see the cedars trees, there are a multitude of things to do. There are many beautiful beaches for those more inclined to sunbathing and relaxing. Kayaks, sailboards and canoes are available for rent. There are also several dive and snorkeling sites and a handful of dive outfits in the main town of Miyanoura. There are endless opportunities for hiking, from short day hikes to a three day traverse of the island. Near Anbo Port, on the eastern side of the island there are several museums and information centers, including the Yakisugu Museum, the World Heritage Conservation Center and the Yakushima Environmental Culture Village Center. And like anywhere in Japan, there are many onsens to relax in, including one right on the beach (but beware the naked men!).
Camping is abundant all over the island and visitors can choose between an official campsite with showers, cooking facilities and toilets (and hordes of people) or roughing it on any open space. There are also many hotels, guesthouses, Japanese style B&B’s and even a small backpackers’ hostel. There is a five-star luxury resort for those with means and desire for such things. Regardless of your choice of accommodation, it is important to book well in advance as spaces fill up weeks in advance and at peak times such as Golden Week, there is no room at any inn.
Yakushima can be reached by regular JAC flights from Kagoshima and Osaka. It can also be reached by ferry from central Kagoshima. The fast ferry, the “Toppi” is the more expensive of the two but takes much less time (good news for those prone to seasickness). The slow ferry takes close to four hours to reach the island but accommodates vehicles. While it is recommended that you have a car on the island the ferry costs are very high. It is a good idea to make reservations on either service during the summer, weekends and especially Golden Week. Once on the island, transportation is limited to taxi and irregular bus service and hitchhiking.
Lonely Planet, Hiking In Japan, 2001