Astounding Variety of Plants
Yakushima’s luxuriant canopy covers the entire island and an astounding 1900 species and subspecies are spread across its mountains. The ecosystem is considered to not only contain the widest range of plants in Japan, but perhaps in the whole of of East Asia according to the UNESCO. The three vertical climate zones can be discovered on one of the many hikes across the island or it is possible to discover the vast selection of local plants with a little less effort in the often overlooked Botanical Garden, part of Yakushima Nature Park, on the slopes of Miyanoura’s mountains.
Breakfast in Miyanoura Port
While the boys in the family were enjoying their diving adventures at nearby Isso Beach, I had time to spare so I started my day with a morning stroll and breakfast in Miyanoura at Café Gecko. With the morning to myself I decided to head to the Nature Park and Botanical Gardens, which I had spotted on google maps almost by accident, but sadly could not find any other information online. The drive took me to a serene site on the riverbank of the Miyanoura River.
Exploring the Greenhouses
After paying 300JPY (100JPY for children), opening hours 8.00-17.00, and a brief talk (in broken Japanese from my side and very little English from his) to the friendly cashier, he seemed overtly pleased to have a “gaijin” visit the Botanical Gardens. He kindly showed me the recommended route through the grounds on a pamphlet and even handed me a packet of biscuits. I started with the first of three greenhouses, the one adjacent to the entrance. There were rows of potted plants, some with Japanese labels under the glass roof. The greenhouses seemed more like a research station or a plant nursery but were fascinating all the same.
Japanese Plant Art
The myriad of pots under the glass featured azaleas, orchids and an astonishing variety of mosses – there are over 600 species on the island! Likewise a huge variety of ferns, where over 300 varieties can be found on Yakushima. I am not exactly sure how many were on display in the Botanical Gardens but they made up a large number of the plants in the conservatories. The moss was arranged and used to cover the earth of some of the plants, creating stunning natural examples of “nerai”, “kokedama” and “kusamono”, all forms of traditional Japanese plant art.
Extensive Selection of Plants
On my journey through the wider Botanical Garden grounds I enjoyed my solitude, there was no one else around apart from the guard at the entrance. The paths meandered through a rather informal layout featuring many of the local plants we had seen on our explorations. I wondered how and who kept the garden so pristine and looked after the saplings and plants in the greenhouses. Summer was possibly not the best time to see the flowers blooming, although there were some orchids and hoya carnosa (wax flowers) with blossoms. Nevertheless, a Japanese Garden is always filled with wonders in my opinion and the small, narrow paths lined with trees and rich vegetation are a joy to discover, even for kids.
After my lengthy visit to the Botanical Garden and a warm farewell from the guard I took a walk through the landscaped parkland opposite. At its entrance is an onsen available for rent by the local town hall and deeper in the park I found an impressive, concrete open-air stage used for concerts and events. A wooden boardwalk used to run parallel to the river in the woods but appeared to have been washed away by floods. The crystal clear water of the Miyanoura River looked rather inviting for a swim and I found a large boulder where I was able to slip into my swimsuit.
Cool Dip in the Miyanoura River
Sliding into the cool clear fresh water was a joyful respite from the heat and humidity. The pool was rocky but easy to slide into the deeper water although even in the centre I could still stand. After towelling off and changing I wandered back through the parkland to the car just in time to drive down and catch the rest of the family returning excited from their diving trip. The Botanical Gardens near Miyanoura are a hidden gem on the island for plant lovers and travellers interested in Yakushima’s flora.
Where we stayed in Kyushu:
Sankara Resort treat yourself to a truly luxurious stay on the island.
Kirishima Kokusei for those wanting to stay in Kirishima Onsen
Ryokan Shinsen if you fancy a luxury ryokan experience
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