Take a trip to this tiny subtropical island that inspired Japan’s greatest and best known animator, filmmaker, screenwriter, cartoonist, and manga artist! A trip to Yakushima Island was what set in motion Hayao Miyzaki and his lead artist’s ideas for the setting and location for his critically acclaimed movie ‘Princess Mononoke’. Many tourist now visit the island to get the same creative inspiration that Miyazaki harnessed from the landscape, though it’s hard to say if Yakushima has yet to become any up-and-coming artist’s muse.
Even if you’re not a fan of locations that are important to some of Japan’s biggest superstars, the island still has plenty of sights, sounds, and attractions for visitors to enjoy. The small, secretive island is covered in thousands of cedar trees, many of which are over thousands of years old – there are even some that date back 7000 years! It’s since become a Natural World Heritage Site and national park, which has attracted hikers and nature lovers from around the world.
If you’ve got the time, it’s definitely worth it to take a trip to Yakushima Island. It only takes an hour or two to explore the wonders of natural, Japanese beauty, ancient trees, and calm surroundings. Make sure you’ve freed up your day – you just might find that you want to stay longer than you expected!
Without further ado, let’s get down to how to get to Yakushima, where to stay, and what to do while you’re there!
How to get there?
You can take a high speed jetfoil boat that leaves the high speed ferry terminal of the Kagoshima Port for 8,400 yen. Reservations can be made online, and the boats depart every few hours – though the times are more scarce if you travel during winter in Japan. You can also use the high speed boat to get to Tanegashima Island in case Yakushima Island doesn’t satisfy your need for adventure!
If you don’t want to get to the island in a rush and want a car to travel around in while you’re there, a car ferry might be a better option. The daily car ferry leaves each and every morning from the Kagoshima New Port, which is located just south of the central Kagoshima Port. One way trips are 5,000 yen and take up to four hours to reach the island, though you’ll have to pay up to 20,000 yen if you want to bring a car with you.
If you’re one to get sea sick, then you can catch one of the many flights that leave each day from the Kagoshima Airport. The flights only last about 35 minutes, and the usual cost for a one way trip can be from 10,000 to 16,000 yen, though there are usually discounts available if you book in advance online.
Where to stay?
Though Yakushima Island may seem like a small area, there are plenty of options available for where to rest your weary head after a day full of exploring and sightseeing. Listed below are the top three picks, including a guesthouse, hotel, and ryokan. From casual and cozy to authentic and traditional, there’s always somewhere on the island to suite any travelers’ needs.
Guesthouse Yakushima Island – Guest House Yakushima
Recently opened to the public in 2014, the Guest House Yakushima is situated right on the southern area of the island with free parking, complimentary WiFi, and luggage storage. The guesthouse can even arrange tours and guides for activities throughout the island, so you don’t have to worry about language barriers as much. The rooms have either futons or bunk beds available for guests, and all rooms are non-smoking.
Why Guests Love It: Guests are absolutely in love with the decorations and cleanliness that the guest house provides, as well as the friendly and knowledgeable staff. The location of the guesthouse is perfect for having access to all the important areas of the island, and many say that they feel like the guesthouse is more like a second home than a rented place to stay! If you’re looking to meet up with other adventure-enthusiasts and welcoming locals, try the Guest House Yakushima!
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Hotel Yakushima Island – Yakushima Green Hotel
You can choose between Japanese and Western-style at Yakushima Green Hotel, though the public bath and Japanese stone sauna can be enjoyed no matter which rooms you pick. There is free WiFi throughout the hotel, and all rooms come furnished with a Tv, fridge, and en suite bathroom. A traditional Japanese meal is served during breakfast, and dinner features a traditional multi-course meal using local specialties.
Why Guests Love It: Guests are extremely pleased with the gorgeous surroundings around the hotel, which only aids to show the beauty of each individual room. The Japanese rooms, which have tatami flooring and futon bedding, are just as enjoyable as the Western rooms with carpets and standard bedding. From friendly staff to delicious fresh meals, the Yakushima Green Hotel will be sure to surpass all expectations!
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Ryokan Yakushima Island – Miyanouraso
This pleasantly simple ryokan is situated perfectly to reach all the attractions of the island in a timely manner. Each guest room has a flat-screen TV, air conditioning, and amenities. The staff is helpful and kind, and a nearby bus stop means that you can get from one end of the island to the other in no time flat. Even if the staff can’t speak your language, they’re patient and capable of finding common ground to understand you, no matter what the question or request!
Why Guests Love It: This ryokan is a traditional Japanese experience that people come to Japan just to experience! As it’s located right in the middle of a natural place of wonder and spectacle, guests love that they can simply walk out the front door and step into a world of greenery and beauty beyond compare! If it’s a true-to-Japan experience you’re after, stop on by!
Book It Now: Miyanouraso
Yakushima Island #1 – Shiratani Unsuikyo
The Shiratani Unsuikyo, or Shiratani Unsuikyo Ravine, is a nature park that includes some of the oldest cedar trees to be found on the island. If you’re looking for some of the oldest trees available to see, touch, and bask in the presence of, you can take a short 15-minute stroll through the area to see the yakusugi. There are also numerous interesting networks of hiking trails throughout the area that provide an excellent walking path for explorers.
The hiking trails are well maintained and vary in difficulty and time to complete. They range from one to five hours, though there are free walking trails available for those who want to wander a bit and enjoy the sights on their own schedule. There are even some paths that have been paved and maintained since the Edo Period! Along with such historic sights, there are also helpful signs in English that allow visitors to understand where to go and which areas are more dangerous than others.
The biggest and best attraction of Shiratani Unsuikyo is the area of the forest that inspired artist Oga Kazuo, the lead artist who worked with Hayao Miyazaki on the film “Princess Mononoke’. There is a small area that served as the place where Oga sat for countless hours sketching the scenery and memorizing every minute detail with great care. Even if you don’t consider yourself an artist, you can still appreciate the beauty and wonder the forest presents to all who visit it!
And if you are lucky, you may see cute deer walking in the forest. Make sure you don’t feed them and don’t get too close to them either. They are not like the deers in Nara, the deer of Yakushima are 100% wild.
If you’ve wandered through the trails, seen the historic and inspirations sights, and are still hungry for more adventure and scenery, then you can always head over to the Tsuji Toge Pass. This pass leads up to the Jomonsugi, which is the very topic of our second point of interest!
Yakushima Island #2 – Jomonsugi
Jomonsugi is a giant cedar tree that days all the way back to the Jomon Period – hence the name. It’s estimated to be around 7200-years-old, stands 25 meters tall, and has a truck with a diameter of 5 meters! This tree is so immensely massive that you’ll wonder why loggers didn’t try cutting it down! For those who haven’t guess yet, there’s actually a real reason why the try was never cut down! It’s said that the tree was able to safely go about being a tree and not be cut down for commercial use because of its slightly irregular shape.
The area surrounding the Jomonsugi also holds several other famous trees that are just as unique and wonderful. When taking the Okabuhodo Trail, you’ll first encounter Wilson’s Stump, which -as the name implies – is a massive hollow stump left behind by cutting down one of the sizable cedar trees in the forest. Some say that if you look at the stump just right, you can make out an interesting face! Next up is the Daiosuigi, or Great King Cedar, which is one of the largest trees on the island, and right before Jomonsugi is Meotosugi, or the husband and wife tree that are in an eternal embrace!
Hiking to see these lovely trees takes some time and requires a bit of strength and endurance. To reach the entrance of the Okabuhodo Trail, you’ll have to use the Anbo Trail, pass the Kusugawa trail, keep going after you see the Sandaisugi on your right, and eventually you’ll find the entrance. While the Anbo trail is easy to transverse, there are some areas of the Okabu Trail that might challenge novice hikers. The terrain changes on the Okabu Trail to boardwalks, wooden steps, and dirt paths at random, and some parts are very steep. In addition to the deer, you may also meet few monkeys on your way to Jomonsugi.
If you’d like to stay overnight to rest after a long day’s hike, there are two camping huts available for use! The huts are not staffed, but due have proper facilities and a spacious interior in which to shelter yourself from the elements. The Takatsuka Hut is just past the Jomonsugi, and the newer Shin Takatsuka Hut is about a kilometer away from the first hut by foot. For those who prefer camping outdoors to hiking all day, these huts are perfect for resting tired, sore feet!
If you’re worried about getting lost, you can also book an English speaking guide to lead you along the trails, though there are enough signs in English that you won’t get lost very easily. Guides are also a great way, however, to learn a lot about the sights you encounter, and give you extra information about the trees, hiking trails, landscapes, history, and ecology that you wouldn’t have gotten otherwise!
If you think that there’s not very much to do while visiting Yakushima Island, then sadly you’re absolutely wrong! There’s a plethora of things to see and do while visiting Yakushima Island that make the trip worth planning out in the first place! After all, it’s not everyday that you get to see a giant 7200-year-old cedar tree! Along with interesting sights and sounds, it’s truly an experience to be able to set foot in the same place where one of Japan’s most famous creators gained the inspiration needed to make a stunning, spectacular work of art that has touched people of all ages around the world.
All in all, Yakushima Island is a hidden gem that should be on every savvy traveler’s list of must-see locations in Japan! When planning your next trip to the land of the rising sun, try to ensure that a day trip to Yakushima is on your itinerary to maximize your fun and traditional Japanese experience!
PS: If you are into island destination in Asia, don’t miss these blog posts: Southeast Asia Islands.