Yakushima: Japan's First World Heritage Site
Yakushima Guide 屋久島
Travel, Vacations, Activities and Information for Yakushima
With a backdrop of lush green mountains, sparkling blue water, and rare flowers and animals, Yakushima is an incredible place to spend a few days.
Yakushima has activities for all types of vacationers; you could spend your days lying on the beaches, soaking in the hot springs, and driving to the various viewpoints. Or, if you're an avid and active nature lover, there are also several activities to cater to your interests.
There are hikes for all levels, from short paths that take you through the cedar forest and over suspension bridges, to two-day treks to the top of Mt. Miyanoura (1936m), Kagoshima's highest peak. In the summer months, you can rent canoes and paddle down the great river that runs through the island. Yakushima also contains several flower parks and even a few waterfalls, one of which is ranked one of the Top 100 Waterfalls in Japan. No matter your inclination, there are many ways to enjoy yourself on this splendid nature island.
The flora of Yakushima is remarkably diverse because of its location in Japan's southwest islands and its considerable height. Rhodendrons in bloom bring welcome splashes of colour to the dark greens of the forest.
Over 75% of the island is made up of mountains, with more than 40 peaks reaching higher than 1000m. There are varying climates; in the winter the island is covered in snow-capped mountaintops and during the summer one can enjoy the subtropical coastline.
Highlights: World Heritage Site
In December of 1993, Yakushima was the first site in Japan to be recognized as a World Heritage Site. Today, 21% of the island is considered to be World Heritage territory and 96% of that area is made up of natural forest. There are several difficult hiking routes through the World Heritage territory (see our Japan book section for Lonely Planet's Guide to Hiking in Japan). In order to gain World Heritage recognition, a site has to contain remarkable value in terms of aesthetic, ecological, and scientific perspectives.
Yakushima itself contains several endemic and endangered species of plants and animals. The islands Yaku-sugi trees are huge, natural cedars that are unique to the island. There are several paths with varying lengths and difficulty level, some as short as 30 minutes for non-hikers that just want to get a glimpse of the forest. All trails will take you through the forest on Yakushima to get a view of these trees.
On your way, you will undoubtedly spot several of the island's Yakusaru (endemic monkeys) and hopefully a few Yakushika (endemic deer).
On Yakushima mosses and ferns abound, occurring as epiphytes on trees that themselves are growing on the stumps of ancient cedars.
The island's most famous cedar, while being named the poetically memorable 'thousand-year-cedar', is actually estimated to be 5,000 years old. Although somewhat long and difficult to get to, being 25.3 meters high with a trunk 16.4 meters in circumference, it's a worthwhile hike.
Seniro-no-Taki and Ohko-no-Taki (88 meters). Ohko-no-Taki is ranked as one of the Top 100 Waterfalls in Japan. In order to view Seniro-no-Taki, you must stand at a viewing point across from the waterfall, as it flows down three large mountains points, but it is a spectacular view. However, you may walk right up to Ohko-no-Taki and grab a wet seat on the rocks below it.
In the sea, amidst dark, rocky formations, pools of natural hot springs have formed. Some of the springs are only large enough to soak your feet, while others may hold a few people at a time. At any time of day, this is a beautiful spot to visit; you can stand among the waves crashing over the rocks, with your feet soaked in warm water, admiring the wonderful view. However, the best time to take a dip is around five o'clock, when the tides are low and you can enjoy the springs without fear of the cold ocean waves breaking over you. However, you should be aware - foreigners may be surprised to come for a quick dip and find many of the island men sprawled out like seals on the rocks, enjoying this relaxing spot in the nude.
Beaches and Turtles
The island is lined with many beautiful beaches that you can relax on for a lazy day in the sun. From mid-May to mid-August you may be able to catch the island's turtles laying eggs on the shore. There is a turtle information center on the island that houses a small museum of sorts where you can see many of the large turtles' shells and eggs.
Getting Around Yakushima
The best way to make your way around the island is to rent a car. There are a few car rental places within walking distance from the ferry port. They will provide you with a map, in English, of the main sites of the island. It is fairly easy to make your way around without Japanese skills the main sites are off of one main loop road around the islands and attractions are pointed out with English signs.
A two and a half hour fast boat that connects Kagoshima City, Ibusuki, Tanegashima, and Yakushima (11,300 yen return from Kagoshima City)
Four hour ferry from Kagoshima city (7000 return).
Kagoshima or Makurazaki airport both run flights to Yakushima (around 40 minutes).
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