Yakushima, Japan | All You Need to Know – Visitors Guide to Yakushima

Yakushima Onaida hike waterfall

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Yakushima Will Enchant You

Yakushima captivates your soul immediately after setting foot onto its precious soil. An island, where the forest brims with ancient cedars that were sprouting in times when ancient Empires still ruled the world. An island where high rainfall creates mesmerising waterfalls and crystal clear mountain streams begging to be admired.  An island, where unique wildlife thrives, that an abundance of animals that can be found nowhere else in the world.  Yakushima keeps enchanting the tourists and travellers visiting this extraordinary archipelago south of Kyushu and so were we during our recent stay.

Plan a Trip

In this post I will try to guide you through the island’s sights and the highlights of everything else you might need to know if you are planning a trip to Yakushima.

Where to stay

East and South Coast

We divided our trip to Yakushima into two parts, a few days along the Northern Coast near the famous turtle beach, Inakahama and then in the rural southern coast, near Hirauchi Onsen.  Although the island can easily be circumnavigated by car in as little as two hours, we chose to focus our time on the specific areas for sightseeing and activities.  Most hotels are centred on the east side around the main port towns Miyanoura and Anbo, plus there is a scattering of accommodation along the Southern coast.   The west is very rural and unspoilt but correspondingly has few centres and places to stay.

North Coast

The Northern part of the Island is also largely void of mainstream stays, but has some options, however finding a hotel or minshuku maybe hard to come by during the busy times of the year so it is a place to plan ahead.  Arguably most travellers avoid a stay in the Northern parts of Yakushima due to the lack of sights, restaurants, supermarkets and accessibility, however those seeking a true and authentic experience away from the crowds should look no further.

Where we Stayed

Inakahama Beach

Blue Marine Resort

South Coast

Hirauchi House

Sankara Resort treat yourself to a truly luxurious stay on the island.

Getting Around

Car Hire

Car hire is probably the preferred option for visitors and there are plenty of options on the island, especially for families or small groups.  It will work out cheaper than using many taxis but will require an International Driving license to complete the hire.

Bus

Buses are quite infrequent and may take a long time to reach a destination. However the “Free Pass” valid for the Yakushima Koutsu Bus (one of the bus lines operating on the island) offers great value to those who prefer to explore Yakushima by public transport (1 day 2000JPY), note that the narrow roads in the unspoilt north west prevent access to this pristine National Park area, in fact this road is also closed to all traffic overnight.

Cycling

Some people maybe tempted to cycle and although the roads are not busy they do undulate, so certainly in the summer months it could be strenuous and the roads into centre of the island would stretch even the fittest.  Although there are places to hire bikes in the main centres and this could be a good option for short trips around the coast and beaches.

Please also refer to my last post on “How to Get to Yakushima” for some tips on transport.

Activities

Hiking

Inland the verdant mountains are calling all hikers. Yakushima offers hiking trails to all abilities, for young and old and of varying length. Depending on how eager you are to discover the island’s three climate zones you can choose to cross the entire island on demanding trails and stay overnight in mountain huts or camping, or you can discover carefully laid out way-marked family walks that can be achieved in a few hours.

Beware of the Dangers

In fact most visitors to Yakushima are keen mountain hikers or country lovers and may purely come to explore the greenery and nature on a number of hikes.  However everyone should be aware of the many dangers and tribulations hiking on the island holds and I will therefore write an in depth post to explain more. Hopefully we will also inspire you with our incredible treks along the Shiratani Unsuikyo Ravine through the moss covered forest that inspired Hayao Miyazaki for his feature “Princess Mononoke” and up the lesser roamed Onoaida trail to Janokuchidaki Waterfall.

Beaches and Snorkelling

Yakushima’s coastline is sprinkled with pristine sandy beaches and rocky coves. However, surprisingly often, the beaches are overlooked by tourists intent on the cedar forests, despite the relaxing respite they offer after a long hike through the yakusugi forests. During the summer months, the coral reefs surrounding Yakushima present an easily accessible underwater world, where even children may get close to turtles and other incredible fish and sea creatures.  Snorkel spots such as behind Isso Beach offer a wonderful experience to those prepared to don a mask and some fins. The Kuroshio Current wraps the island in warm seas all year round (between 20-30C), although the Japanese only tend to flock to the shores in July and August.  On all sandy beaches please be aware of and respect the turtles nesting, when snorkelling do not touch the coral or any wildlife.

Diving

Fervent divers will be able to venture into the depths of the Japanese Sea at various dive sites around the island, reaching deeper into the clear waters and experiencing superb dives such as the one to find a Zero plane engine and propeller that nowadays provides an unusual home to a large array of fish.  There are a number of dive operators on Yakushima, the boys dived with Yakushima Diving during our time in the north of the island.

Wild Swimming

The heat and humidity during the summer months may get oppressive at times and while the sea would be the obvious choice for a swim, the cool waters of the mountain streams and natural pools are equally refreshing. Our favourite swim spots were on Nagata River, Miyanoura River near the Botanical Gardens and Janokuchi Waterfall. One note of caution near any rivers on the island please beware of flash floods during heavy rain in the mountains!

Kayaking

The emerald waters of the placid Anbo River are perfect for an easy half day kayak trip, either on a guided tour or independently. Bring along a picnic to savour the scenery and take a plunge to cool off in the clear waters. 

Natural Onsen, Hot Springs and Spas

Hot Springs (Japanese onsen) can be found all over Yakushima, bubbling through the surface in diverse locations. Visitors can choose to sample the waters from luxurious hotel spas to spectacular seaside spots like Hirauchi and Yudomari. Try to leave any inhibitions at home for a truly rare experience to soak your nearly naked exhausted bodies among the locals relaxing by the sea or even under the stars.

Wildlife Watching in the Primeordial Forest National Park

Yakushima is a treasury of flora and fauna, among them numerous species of endemic animals, birds and plants are only found on the island. Sika-deer (Yakudeer) and red-bottomed maqaques can easily be spotted on a drive through the National Park on route 78 between Nagata and Kurio (please note this part of the road is closed overnight and only accessible to cars). Bird watchers might find themselves in a form of paradise, as there are 167 species waiting to be discovered, including the Ryukyu Robin, which has even been declared a Japanese Natural Monument. You might also encounter some of the lesser-liked animals on the island, including a giant but harmless spider common in rustic accommodation, snakes in the woods and at times plentiful mosquitoes.

Turtles

Loggerhead and Green Turtles are a frequent visitor to the island’s beaches, especially around Inakahama, Maehama and Yotsusehama. They return to their nesting site during May to July and about 1-2 months later little turtles hatch and scuttle across the beach and into the sea.  Both exciting events may be experienced on special night events, run by the local conservation and non-profit organisation. Please note that the chances of actually witnessing a turtle on the beach are low and not guaranteed. We were not lucky enough during our stay, however we were shown an informative video about the life of turtles on Yakushima. Booking ahead is highly advisable.  When visiting the beaches be aware of the turtles, their nests and respect them.  Do not touch any turtles, however cute they may seem.

Sightseeing

Yakusugis, Cedar Trees

Yakushima offers few man made sights but the forests and the huge ancient yakusugi cedar trees make up for this. A large number of these giant trees have been named. The Jomon Sugi is undoubtedly the superstar of all, reaching over 16m around the trunk. Flocks of enthusiastic Japanese pilgrims wander along the tedious Okabu Trail to hug the weathered trunk and pose for selfies inside the heart shaped Wilson’s trunk another giant cedar that was cut down in the 1800s leaving a selfie paradise trunk standing. We decided to skip the famous tree due to the rather monotonous trail along the railroad tracks in favour of other giant trees and trails.  For those wanting an easier access there are short trails for families in Yakusugiland and near the entrance to Shiratani Ravine park.

Shitoko Gajyumaryu Park – Banyan Tree Garden

This small park in Shitogo, just behind the concrete sea wall, has plenty of banyan trees with knotted and entangled roots that make these trees such an interesting sight. Some of the banyan trees are over 500 years old and there are other plants and flowers to be admired. Next door, is Kiina, a cute, little café, serving delicious local homemade cakes and sandwiches.

Botanical Garden

Sadly a vastly overlooked sight on Yakushima, the Botanical Garden showcases an extensive selection of local plants, flowers and trees under the roof of three green houses and the landscaped gardens, that invite visitors to take a leisurely stroll. On my visit (during the boys diving sessions) a friendly clerk provided me with a map and even some biscuits, despite our language barrier. Also take a wander through adjacent parkland to the open-air stage and be tempted by a dip in the Miyanoura River.

Waterfalls

At least one of the many impressive waterfalls should be visited during a stay on Yakushima, which are all a splendid and dramatic sight especially after heavy rainfall. On the west coast Ohko No Taki is selected as one of the top 100 waterfalls in Japan and is easily accessible by car, while others are harder to be reached, including Ryuonodaki Falls in the middle of the mountains.

Local Food, Drinks and Crafts

No trip to the island would be complete without trying some of the local delicacies and produce.   The island is known for its flying fish and these will be on the menu in different forms, grilled, fried, in sandwiches or even as flying fish fingers at many of the local eateries.  For meat lovers Yaku deer meat is a must to sample, and will help with reducing the overpopulation (there are more deer than people on the island!).  Green tea is grown and can be sampled direct from the tea plantations or as yummy matcha ice cream near Koseda in the south.  The older members of the family might fancy a taste of the famed Yakushima Shochu (Japanese vodka) in one of the restaurants or izakayas.   Ponkan oranges and juice will keep the smaller ones happy.   Local crafts from cedar wood products, to pottery can be found on route when circumnavigating this wonderful island.


Where we stayed in Kyushu:

Kumamoto

Minshuku Hiroshimaya

Kagoshima

Remm Hotel

Kirishima

Kyocera Hotel

Kirishima Kokusei for those wanting to stay in Kirishima Onsen

Takachiho Gorge

Kokumin Syukusya Hotel

Ryokan Shinsen if you fancy a luxury ryokan experience


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5 thoughts on “Yakushima, Japan | All You Need to Know – Visitors Guide to Yakushima

  1. Hi, I will be off to Yakushima soon (3 days at Sankara Hotel) and your tips are much appreciated, great work! From some things you mentioned I haven’t heard yet although doing some research. Do you have remarks/suggestions regarding our hotel, I understand you liked it? Many thanks and lots of happy traveling to come!
    Kind regards, Franziska

    1. Hi Franziska,
      that’s amazing! I hope you will enjoy the island and Sankara just as much as we did! Are you going to just relax or explore as well?
      Do you have any other plans for Japan?
      Kind regards,
      Vanessa

      1. Hi Vanessa,
        Of course, we will explore the island. We plan to drive around its perimeter and to do hikes in Shiratani Unsui Gorge as well as in Yakusugi Land. As for the rest of Japan, it is our first visit, so we will go to the usual spots (Tokyo, Hakone, Kanazawa, Takayama, Kyoto & Osaka) and also add some unusual ones just as Yakushima as well as Kiso Valley (hiking from Magome to Tsumago/Nakasendo trail).
        Kind regards, Franziska

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