Japan is a land of mystery, natural wonders, and beauty, and Yakushima Island could easily be considered one of the country's crown jewels. Located on the Kagoshima Prefecture, the island is known chiefly for its enchantingly twisted cedar forests and array of local wildlife. The well-maintained hiking trails that wind through the woodlands are the best way to see this stunning island; they take you to the island's most popular attractions like the Shiratani Unsuikyo and the Jomon Cedar. In addition, the island has a number of beaches and turtle nesting grounds, adding to the location’s scenic beauty. All of Yakushima’s beautiful attractions make it an island that is an absolute must-visit on a tourist’s itinerary. And though we might have a vision of Japanese nature through popular anime (in particular, the Yakushima-inpsired forest in Studio Ghibli's film "Princess Mononoke"), absolutely nothing compares to hiking the trails of the real thing.
How about we start off by telling you when not to visit Yakushima Island?
Yakushima is lusciously green and beautiful and nature doesn’t fail the island, so you can expect a lot of rain. The island a lot of rainfall during June, and can be a little less rainy during the other summer months. Therefore, it is better to avoid the island during the month of June and some important Japanese holidays, such as those of Obon (the month of August), and the Japanese Golden Week (which is in May). If it is not feasible for you to visit on a non-holiday season, then make sure you hike on less crowded hiking trails to be able to take in the experience (the fewer the people on the island, the better).
So, when is the best time to visit Yakushima? Any time between September until November is good.
Once you have decided when to visit Yakushima Island, here is some basic equipment you need for hiking.
1. Hiking boots (only if you wish to take the more difficult hikes)
2. A backpack that has waterproof materials and covering
3. Gear for rain (when out on Yakushima during its rainy months)
4. Hiking maps of the island and a compass, of course (make sure you know how to read and use one)
5. Flashlights, flashlight batteries, spares—preferred are the ones that come mounted on helmet-hats
Many tourists stay in huts during hikes. You will need specific equipment to ensure you have a comfortable and secure stay.
From utensils to extra clothes, here is all you will need to have a comfortable experience:
1. Sleeping bags and mats
2. Additional warm clothing (this applies to summers, too)
3. A burner and some fuel for cooking
4. Utensils for cooking and food items (depends on what you eat and are willing to)
While you should not be underprepared when visiting high-profile tourist destinations like Yakushima Island, there are many shops and sites there where you can rent things you will need in the Yakushima Mountains. Although the island comprises many shops, we have narrowed it down to a few spots that are the most convenient to tourists and hiking enthusiasts alike.
Located on the main street at the epicenter of Miyanoura, Nakagawa Sports has it all. It is usually packed with tourists who come in to buy hiking gear. The shop provides all kinds of hiking goods on rent, including hiking boots, tents, and more. To cater to your hiking needs, the staff will help you choose the best hiking gear for your body.
Keep in mind, Nakagawa Sports is closed on the first and third Wednesday during the off-season.
Yakushima Kanko Center
The Kanko Center has more than just hiking equipment. When you look for it online, you will come across souvenir items as well. You can visit The Kanko Center to purchase the perfect gift items to take home for your friends and loved ones. Apart from their souvenirs, they also have high quality mountain climbing equipment that is quite durable. So, you should definitely choose to buy it from The Kanko Center. Kanko also has a restaurant and offers bike rentals, along with their usual mountain gear.
Yakushima South Village
The South Village is actually a youth hostel in Hirauchi, in the southern part of Yakushima. They have everything you will need for your trip and more. No one does variety better than the Yakushima South Village.
Upon arriving at the hiking point, a small donation is required that is payable for hiking. All the money goes into the conservation of the environment or the mountain. It is chiefly used to conserve the environment and ensure that user safety is maintained while hiking in the trails.
This means that not only do you get to enjoy some scenic hiking but you are also playing a role in keeping nature safe. This will make your hiking experience even more fulfilling. Believe us when we tell you this: You want more out of this hiking escapade? You will get this more by donating.
Upon paying a thousand yen (for a single day), or ¥2,000 (for more than one day), you will be provided a ticket along with a wooden souvenir-slash-token that has the official Yakushima stamp on it, entitling you to a number of offers and discounts from all sponsoring businesses around the vicinity of Yakushima in under a month of the stamp’s date.
Next up, the most obvious thing you may need to decide is if you need a guide. While the majority of people will tell you that you should go with a guide (in spite of the expense), the guides there rarely speak English and are mostly native Japanese.
That is precisely why many people have been exploring the place by themselves without a guide. If you get lucky, you might end up finding some native English-speaking guides there hiring whom won’t feel as feasible later on.
A number of hikers have written and published hiking guides of their own. It will do you good if you went through one prior to your trip than having to hire a guide. They have the entire hiking experience written down for you, including all the dos and don’ts. Make it an absolute adventure by independently going down there with everything you will need to go up and back.
But consider investing in a guide if you’re not the adventurous type and just want a safe and smooth, hassle-free trip.
All the paths are lined with pink strips and set apart from one another for the hikers’ ease. This makes navigating through the trail much easy. Some of the paths have been “adjusted” to meet hikers’ convenience; any wayward or jagged edges or rocks have been tamed. The paths are, hence, safer.
Telephones can be utilized up there, but as long as you keep an eye on the weather (the most noticeably terrible are thick clouds or haze), there ought to be no problems during the hike.
Having a guide on your side means access to local information; this includes all the must-visit sights and what to do. Locals also know about which ways are safer than the rest—that’s a plus. Official guides, which are registered, also have two-way radios connected to their coats. In case of any emergency, help will be available.
The climate in Yakushima can be wet! Local people will reveal to you that it pours for at least thirty-five days of the month, which is not difficult to accept given the geography of the island. It is the wettest spot in Japan and high on the rundown of wettest spots on the planet.
Notwithstanding, don't let the opportunity of rain put you off a visit to Yakushima, since the rainstorms can be fleeting. You can enjoy the rain if you like or take cover, but do not worry. The rain lasts only a short time, and when the sun comes back out from the clouds, it feels like it was never even raining in the first place. You can enjoy basking in all of the sun’s warm glory at the seashore.
As a rule of thumb, the rainstorm season begins toward the beginning of June and goes on for around a month. This can be an extraordinary chance to visit Yakushima as the island wakes up (tropical jungles are best found in the downpour). However, know that travel flights might be disrupted during this time.
The many hiking trails of Yakushima highlight the island’s natural beauty. These rugged, yet well-maintained interconnecting paths will take you around some truly splendid forest and mountain landscapes – some of which retain only the barest trace of civilization, and others that make you feel as though you’ve stepped into a fantasy realm. We will outline the most popular trails.
The Anbo-Okabu Trail is one of two trails headed to Yakushima Island’s most famous attraction – the renowned Jomon Sugi. One of Japan’s largest, oldest Sugi cedar trees, the Jomon Sugi is so called for being dated as far back as Japan’s Jomon Period – between 2,000 and 7,000 years old. The Anbo-Okabu Trail is the most straightforward trail to the mythic cedar, and the round trip takes between 8 to 10 hours. The trail itself is a mix of former railway track from before the island was protected as a nature reserve, rough stone-marked paths, and a combination of dirt roads and wooden stairs that climb through the cedar forest. The Anbo Trail becomes the Okabu Trail once the railway track ends, and from there the route becomes hillier and more challenging, though there are stairs to assist climbers. Other important points to note along the route are the Wilson Stump (named for explorer and plant collector Ernest Henry Wilson), the Daio Sugi (the second largest Sugi on the island), the Meoto Sugi (or “Lovers” Sugi – two separate yet connected cedars). This hike, despite its ups and downs, is suitable for average hikers.
The Shiratani Unsuikyo Ravine is a must-hike trail on Yakushima for its primary attraction: a truly captivating forest of twisted cedars and emerald moss-covered rock that served as part of the inspiration for Studio Ghibli’s Princess Mononoke. Other popular stops on the trail are other venerable Yayoi Sugi, Nidaio Sugi, and Kuguri Sugi. Shiratani Unsuikyo is crossed with a set of a well-maintained hiking trails – including one that has been around since the Edo period. The trails are marked by easy-to-understand signage in English, making this one of the most tourist-friendly hikes on Yakushima. While you can take a bus to the ravine, we recommend taking the following hiking trail for a better hiking experience.
The Shiratani Unsuikyo Ravine is connected to the Jomon Sugi by the Kusugawa Trail, which runs through the Tsuji Toge Pass, connecting at the end to the Anbo Trail. Because the Shiratani Unsuikyo can be reached by bus, this hiking trail is less traveled than other routes, making for some wonderful moments attended by spectacular views of mountains, forest, and coastline, with no one for company but the wild macaques and deer. The trail runs past Shiratani Unsuikyo to the Miyanoura Port. The Kusugawa Trail takes about 4 or 5 hours all together, and makes for a peaceful, enchanting hike.
Shiratani Unsuikyo Trail
Yakusugi Land is a park in the center of Yakushima Island that gives hikers of any ability the opportunity to experience the glorious natural splendor of a Cryptomeria forest – the sugi cedars of Yakushima. Among the many interesting and ancient cedar trees to see in this forest paradise are the huge Sennen Sugi, the tall Tenchu Sugi, the forked Kuguri Sugi, and the enigmatic Buddha Sugi. There are multiple courses through Yakusugi Land, including 30-minute and 50-minute trails suitable for children. The longer trails can take up to two and a half hours and lead up the slope of nearby Mount Tachu-dake. Though the path up Tachu-dake is clearly marked and well cared for, it can be a challenging upward climb, with ropes and ladders to assist in making the ascent. If you persist, you will be rewarded with a spectacular view from the summit.
Yakusugi Land Trail
After you’re done hiking the Yakushima trails, consider exploring these other excellent destinations.
Isso is where you can avail a straight path around Cape Yahau. The waters are ideal for swimming with restrooms close by (should you need to go). Swimming is certainly possible here in the months of July and August, when the sea water is moderate and dawdling turtles are out and about. Be sure to carry with you some swimming gear as it may come in handy.
Located 2km south of Anbo Town, this man-made pool is an extraordinary spot for swimming and safe for youngsters to paddle.
The town of Kurio is home to a sandy seashore and lagoon. It is here that the crystal-clear waters of the Kurio River connect with ocean water. Enjoy watching all the turtles as this spot is another favorite of the little critters.
The waters of Nagata are not suitable for swimming. The adjoining seashores of Inahakama and Maehama are instead perfect viewing sites. You will also find blockhead turtles here, which is why while this place is enjoyable, you also need to be careful about disposing of waste here or causing the turtles any harm.
Tashiro Kaigan is a beautiful part of the coast and is suitable for surfing. However, the water can be a little strong. That is why it is recommended that children visiting the site only view the seashores and avoid the waters while adults can enjoy the waters as they surf through.
Senpiro Waterfall is a sixty-meter-tall attraction on the island. Its waters have a cut through a chasm in the rock, which is visible from an appropriate height. Stroll through only a small distance from the Tainoukou transport stop and you will be by Senpiro in no time.
This waterfall may have similar origins as Senpiro, but it gushes into the sea. Follow the stream from Senpiro and you will make it to Toroki. It is also close to Pontan Kan Street, where a number of gift shops and eateries are there.
At eighty-eight meters high, Ohko is perhaps the most elevated cascade and is an amazing sight! To get to the falls, take a transport to the furthest limit of the line close to the town of Kurio.
That was it for our all-you-need-to-know blog about Yakushima Hiking.
We hope you enjoyed reading this blog and that it has answered as many of your questions as possible about hiking on Yakushima Island and how to have a more fulfilling experience there.
Good luck and have fun!