Katie & Graham
15th December 2018
Yakushima is unlike anywhere we have ever been before. It is an island in Southern Japan covered 90% by forest and has over 40 mountains. We were drawn by its amazing hikes and the chance to see the Yakusugis – ancient cedar trees some of which are estimated to be up to 7000 years old! Here’s what we did and why we fell in love with Yakushima Island.
Hike to Jomonsugi
This is the main hike undertaken by visitors to Yakushima as it leads you to Jomonsugi – a cedar tree which is famous for being Japans oldest tree. It was very impressive and humbling to see a tree which has lived through an unimaginable amount of time. There are also many other impressive trees on the way up – one of our favourites being Wilsons Stump!
The hike is long and after reading about it on the internet I was pretty worried about completing it in one day. There were plenty of warnings about it taking up to 12 hours and people getting stuck in the forest after dark. In actual fact it took us 7 hours from start to finish.
The first part is flat and you follow an old train track for a couple of hours. The next part is along wooden walkways, platforms and stairs until you reach Jomonsugi. We got the first bus from Miyanoura at 04:50am to the Arakawa mountain trail bus stop where we then got the compulsory bus to the trail entrance (no cars allowed).
The only problem with this is that we finished the hike much earlier than expected and had to wait over an hour for the return mountain trail bus to start its afternoon schedule. If you are reasonably fit it would be better to start a few hours later to avoid this wait. It was also the ONLY place in Japan without a vending machine so we were not impressed!
Shiratani Unsuikyo Trek
We actually preferred this hike as it takes you through the moss-covered forest and over brooks and streams and was really magical. We again took the bus from Miyanoura to the trail start and took the longest trail (180 minute course) which took us two hours. The primeval forest trail was our absolute favourite section and looked like something from another world!
Again we finished early and had a long wait for the next bus – next time we would definitely hire a car.
This was most definitely a bizarre experience! We had heard how these seaside onsens are a favourite with the locals around Yakushima and that you had to go in completely naked. Ready to embrace nature we took the bus to Hirauchi Onsen – a hot spring only accessible at low tide.
There were already a handful of naked Japanese men enjoying the relaxing hot water. We took a deep breath, whipped off our clothes and went to join them! To my surprise, one of the men looked at me with a very confused expression and said ‘where are your towels?’. He himself had a wet scrunched up flannel in his hand which was in no way protecting his modesty. We perched awkwardly in the small rock pool, keeping our bits under the water level despite the fact it was boiling hot until we could no longer bear the strange stares we were getting and then made a run for our clothes to get out of there. We laugh about it now and I’m glad we did it but it was very weird. Maybe there is one rule for locals and one for tourists?!
Chopstick Making Class at Suginoya
We had a spare rainy afternoon and discovered this cute little shop where everything is made from the Yakushima cedar wood. We had a one hour class where we were shown how to sculpt our very own chopsticks from Yakusugi cedar.
It was a really enjoyable afternoon and only cost 1080 Yen each. The shop is next to the airport so was easy for us to get to on the public bus. Staff in our hostel called up and made a booking for us.
It was great using them that evening to enjoy our home made Yakisoba!
How to get to Yakushima
We travelled from Kagoshima – it was really easy to buy tickets the morning of travel and we took the slow ferry to Yakushima. For the way back we had to shell out 8400 Yen each for the fast ferry back as we had a flight to catch – we were advised to book these in advance and on the day we left there were people waiting in a reserve queue for seats.
Where We Stayed
Yakushima Port Youth Hostel – We have only praise for this place. Super helpful and friendly staff, clean spacious rooms, laundry facilities and a really well equipped kitchen. The supermarket in Miyanoura town is really well stocked so we managed to cook all of our meals to save some cash.
– Get the Yakushima bus pass if you are going to use the buses at all it will save you a lot of money
– If you can, hire a car or scooter as you will save a lot of time each end of the hiking trails. Note you cannot drive to the trail start for Jomonsugi.
– Buy the Yakumonkey travel guide – this was invaluable for planning our hikes
– Try the local passion fruit wine – amazing!