Yakushima is a beautiful island part of Kagoshima prefecture in the southern Kyushu region. About 90% of the island is covered by mountainous areas and forests, and visitors can have a memorable experience in the abundant nature. About 20% of the island is designated as UNESCO World Heritage Site, one of the 23 UNESCO sites in Japan, and parts of Yakushima appear in some scenes in the famous Ghibli animation film “Princess Mononoke”.
One of the best things to do on Yakushima is hiking. Several hiking trails are made for visitors so they can go to famous sightseeing and photogenic spots. In this article, we will introduce the three best Yakushima hiking trails for the first-timers!
1. Yakusugi Land Course
Yakusugi Land Course is the easiest hiking trail and also suitable for beginners and children. The trail consists of four courses of different length and sightseeing spots. The shortest one takes only 30 minutes to complete and offers a satisfying experiences in beautiful nature. There are several pathways and bridges which offers a safe hiking experience for visitors.
“Sennen Sugi” is a huge cedar tree which can be found along the trail. It is relatively young, but you can feel the strength and vitality from it. The scenic tree creates a sacred atmosphere in harmony with the peaceful surroundings.
“Kuguri Sugi” is another sightseeing spot along the Yakusugi Land Course. The tree consists of what were once in fact two different trees, but they grew towards each other and eventually merged into one single tree. It currently has two trunks and visitors can walk through it!
There are other famous trees such as “Tenchu Sugi” claimed as one of the tallest cedar trees in Yakushima. You can choose different courses ranging between 30, 50, 80, and 150-minute-long depending on the length. Although the trails are easy to explore and relatively flat, make sure to wear suitable shoes such as comfortable sneakers or even better mountain shoes.
2. Shiratani Unsui Gorge Course
Shiratani Unsui Gorge Course is recommendable for those who have some hiking experience or are confident about their physical strength. The gorge offers has three different courses, and the length of each trail varies, you can hike there from three hours up to over six hours. It is said that a famous Ghibli animation Princess Mononoke is set there, and visitors are often impressed by the sacred atmosphere and the general beauty of the mysterious forest.
The forest is entirely covered with green moss which is one of the representative plants for Japanese traditional gardens. The peaceful scenery fascinates visitors with a crystal-clear river running through “Shiratani Unsui Gorge”. Some unique leaves with human-like faces on it, can be found on the trail. They are made and placed by professional local guides to entertain tourists. Don’t you think they look like the adorable Kodama in the movie of Princess Mononoke?
“Taiko Iwa” is a giant rock which offers a stunning view of the forest. Visitors can climb up on the rock to enjoy the entire view of the island! It is a perfect place to take a short break and relax, you can enjoy all year round with different view created by seasonal plants. After the long hike, the panoramic view is all worth it, it is one of the best views on Yakushima.
Thanks to the well-preserved environment, Yakushima is a home to various kinds of animals creating an ideal ecosystem. You will get a chance to run into wildlife on your way exploring the deep forest such as deer and monkeys. Please keep an appropriate distance and avoid feeding and petting them.
3. Jomon Sugi Round Trip
Jomon Sugi Round Trip is the hardest and most difficult hiking trail in Yakushima. It takes about 9 hours for a round trip, and you need to walk over 22 kilometers. The trail includes steep trails and mountainous areas. As the course has a difference in elevation of 700 meters, it is for advanced people with enough hiking experiences. Better hiking gear and equipment is required to support a safe hiking as well.
“Jomon Sugi” is one of the highlights among the all tourist attractions in Yakushima and you may have seen pictures of it in travel books before. It is estimated to be over 2,000 to 7,000 years old, and known as one of the oldest and largest trees in Japan! It has been visited by a number of tourists as an iconic attraction every year. The extraordinary size and powerful appearance will give you an unforgettable moment! It is undoubtedly included in a part of UNESCO World Heritage Site.
“Wilson Stump” is another symbolic spot along the trail. It is a remaining of a huge cedar tree which was cut and used to build Hojo-ji Temple in Kyoto by Toyotomi Hideyoshi who unified the whole country in the 16th century. Visitors are allowed to enter inside the stump to observe a unique shape of a natural whole that looks like a heart!
Tours in Yakushima
For a safe and enjoyable hike, we highly recommend you to join a guided tour. English guided tours are available for each hiking course.
- Yakusugi Cedar Forest Walking Tour on Yakushima Island
- Shiratani-Unsuikyo Trekking Tour
- Full Day Jomon Sugi Trekking Tour in Yakushima island
How to get to Yakushima
Yakushima is located just of the coast of Kagoshima and you have two options of getting to the island; by ferry and by plane. Most travellers will pass through Kagoshima, as the only way to bypass Kagoshima is taking a direct flight from either Osaka or Fukuoka. There are different types of ferry services that depart from Kagoshima; a high speed ferry that will bring you to the island in 75 minutes or the car ferry that will take about 3-4 hrs.
We recommend you either bring your own car or rent a car on the island to get around conveniently. There is public transportation available on the island, but a car will give you much more freedom and flexibility. There are several car rental companies located on the island.
Where to stay in Yakushima
- Sankara Hotel & Spa Yakushima – Luxurious hotel with a spa, exceptional hospitality and delicious French dishes served at the restaurant.
- Guest House Views – Lovely private cottage built with eco friendly materials, the owners who run this guest house moved to Yakushima from Tokyo in 2013.
- Wa no Cottage Sen-no-ie – Japanese style cottage with very unique traditional Goemon-buro bathtub which looks like a big cauldron heated from the bottom.
Despite of its’ remote location, Yakushima is definitely worth a visit to experience the rich and beautiful nature. The green island always welcomes visitors with the calm atmosphere and untouched nature. It will be a refreshing break while you immerse yourself into a sacred environment and enjoy the beautiful nature the island offers. Even if you are not an experienced hiker there are trails for you to enjoy too.
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