5 Things To Experience on Yakushima Island
Yakushima, a Natural World Heritage Site and the inspiration behind Hayao Miyazaki's Studio Ghibli film Princess Mononoke (Mononoke Hime), is a true natural wonder. The subtropical island, with an extremely wet climate, is covered in dense, moss-covered forests and centuries-old Japanese cedar trees known as 'Yakusugi'. There are plenty of reasons why Yakushima should be on every traveller's Japan bucket list!
The dreamy forest scenes in Hayao Miyazaki's Studio Ghibli film Princess Mononoke were directly inspired by Shiratani Unsuikyo (Shiratani Ravine). Walking amongst its lush greenery, moss-covered rocks, clear flowing streams, and ancient cedar trees such as Kugurisugi and Yayoisugi, it is easy to see why. Properly maintained and clearly marked trails ranging from one to five hours long make it an enjoyable and enchanting hike for any skill level. The native deer and monkeys are also commonly spotted on these routes.
Hike to Jomon Sugi
For those looking for a challenge, the hike to Jomon Sugi, a Japanese cedar tree said to be an impressive 7,200 years old in its highest estimates, may be it. The hike takes a total of twelve hours, and though it can be completed in a day with an early start, an overnight stay is advised. Stunning moss-covered forests, an interesting walk down an old railway track, and a heart-shaped ancient tree stump (Wilson's stump) named after an English plant collector are just some of the sights to be enjoyed on the way. The real pay off though is being able to see the gigantic, 25m high, ancient Jomon Sugi cedar tree, and reflect on how this tree has withstood the test of time.
Stay in a Free Mountain Hut
Yakushima, an island of unspoilt natural beauty, is undeniably a hiker's paradise. However, it is also a very delicate ecosystem, so camping rules are strict. Many trails on the island are very long and arduous and require rest stops. Luckily, there are several accessible mountain huts on the island, which hikers can stay in and camp around. Though very basic (all food and sleeping bags are the hiker's own responsibility) they offer a clean, dry, safe place to stay the night, with toilets and water sources at most, and best of all they're completely free!
See the Local Wildlife
Yakushima is home to native species of animals that can be easily spotted on hiking trails, and particularly on Seibu Rindo, the forest path on the western part of the island. The most commonly seen animals are red-bottomed Yakushima macaque monkeys and Yaku deer (Yakushika), a smaller, more docile, close relative to the Honshu deer seen in Nara. The island is also a nesting ground for the endangered loggerhead turtle. Turtle watching tours with a guide run from May to July.
Bathe in a Traditional Onsen
After a long hike there's nothing better than soaking your weary muscles in some hot water. Luckily, Yakushima has many natural and artificial onsens (hot springs) that sit on the coast of the island. These range from luxury hotel baths to free outdoor seaside rock pools. Onoaida Onsen is only 200 yen to enter, and offers more privacy between genders than some of the seaside baths if you’re feeling shy. Be warned though this is a natural spring and super hot at 50 degrees! Filled mostly with locals, bathers can get an authentic taste of life on an island of only 13,000 people.
Yakushima is truly unlike any other place you'll visit in Japan, and the perfect destination to unplug from the stresses of modern life, and immerse yourself in the beauty of unspoilt, ancient Japanese nature.