Yakushima was given the honor of begin named Japan's first World cultural and Natural heritage site in 1993. Over1300 types of plants and 3000 species of animals inhabit-Yakushima. Its beautiful scenery of mountains with the Kyushu's highest mountain Minanouradake is called the "Alps of the Ocean". Yakushima is popular spot for hikers. The giant Yaku cedar "Jomon-sugi" which is believed to be 7200 years old is well-known. Recently eco tour is getting popular.
A circular island, an ancient tree, green as far as the eye can see... Could these be the beginnings of a love story? Believe me, they are.
Welcome to the world that is Yakushima. Le Guin's 'The Word for World is Forest' might well have been referring to this jewel in Japan's crown. Yakushima is a world within itself.
It boasts ancient cedars, spectacular waterfalls, granite grandeur, challenging and beautiful hiking trails, turtles, indigenous deer and monkeys, as well as hiking crabs (well they aren't actually called that, but why else would they be up there) and frogs galore. It is also home to Kyushu's highest peak, Mt. Miyanoura.
Abundant would be a fitting word to describe this 'circle', 130 kilometres around, roughly 30 kilometres across, and which rises to a glorious 1,935 metres to meet the clouds that often envelop it.
Its natural world heritage status should come as no surprise to anyone. Yakushima is truly a thing of beauty.
People come to walk cycle or drive around, hike over, snorkel, dive, kayak, soak in the onsens or just generally soak up the ancient forest atmosphere. The green island is known for its 'healthy' rainfall. Anything from 3 to 10 metres fall yearly in the mountains. I guess, for a lot of green a little rain must fall.
There is plenty to see, much to do and lots of mouth-watering places to hang out in. In the last year or so container cafes have sprouted up (totally unrelated to the rain, I assure you). Whether you arrive by fast speed ferry (The Toppy), car ferry or come by aeroplane, a container cafe will not be far away. Anbo, boasts Smiley. A stone's throw away from the Toppy port, it serves coffee, delicious cakes and English-style toasted muffins. Not far from the airport heading north, is Il Mare, offering strong coffee, Italian fare and the best tiramisu in Japan. If you are looking for something less boxy and more traditional, then Kotobuki on the hill near Kusugawa is definitely worth checking out. The place was built by the owner and serves delicious traditional food in keeping with its beautiful wood and stone surroundings. Ose in Mugio is another popular spot with a varied menu and the freshest of salads. Of course this small selection is just the tip of the iceberg, with regard to the culinary journey you could make.
Yakushima has 2 outdoor onsens by the sea. One is in Yudomari and the other in Hirauchi. The latter is very hot depending on the tide. However if hot is what you are looking for. Onoaida Onsen (200yen) is probably the hottest on the island and now features an outdoor foot bath perfect for those who have just done the pleasant 2 and a half hour-hike to Janokuchi no taki (a waterfall), or done the more grueling Onoaida trail.
Many people come to hike the mountains of Yakushima. There are at least 14 possible hiking routes that often converge at Mt. Miyanoura. These are clearly marked in hiking maps available from bookshops and some omiyage stores. However, one of the biggest draws to Yakushima is Jomon Sugi, the ancient cedar that resides a 4 to 5 hour walk away, in the heart of the forest.
It is not easy to talk about the joy that is Yakushima on one page, so my suggestion would be that you discover it for yourself and, assuming you love the colour green, make your next trip the one to this 'circular paradise' right next door.
(Frances, from New Zealand, has been living on Yakushima for 3 years working as the Yaku-cho ALT. )
- 2004, June -
ALT stands for Assistant Language Teacher.
They work in local government organinzations throughout Japan.