Looking for a magic place?!?! Japan has a lot of beautiful landscapes, but Yakushima Island exceeded expectations. It’s like a dream, a fairytale…
By some mysterious reasons, there are places, located a thousand kilometers away at different latitudes, that look that are connected by a strange bound, sharing the almost the same scenery and offering similar experiences… like the Living Root bridges of Nongriat, in India and the Mossy Forest of Gunung Brinchang, in Malaysia.
Yakushima, an island located south from Kagoshima Prefecture don’t have more than 100 km perimeter if you go along the road that goes all around the island, and its basically mountains, covered by a dense green forest, where the populations only occupy some small places along the coast. All the interior of the island remains almost untouched.
Basically there only two roads that go inside the island: one to Shiratani Unsuikyo Ravine and the other one to Yakusugi Land, that also gives access to Arakawa trail, to reach the famous Jomon Sugi (the oldest tree in the island, and one of the oldest in the world) that is also the highest peak on Yakushima, at an elevation of 1,934 m.
This island is basically all covered with cedars trees and here you can find specimens with more than 1000 years, and the oldest are sign along the trails. One of the most famous, apart from Jomo Sugi, is the Kigensugi Cedar that has an estimated age of 3000 years, or the Buddha Cedar with 1800 years.
The Shiratani is famous for the moss covered forest, an area with more humidity (even more than the rest of Yakushima), but walking further you can reach a high point the Taikoiwa Rock from where you can have a wide view… and see finally the sunlight (in a clear day) as the forest here is so dense that is hard to see the sun!
The main village in Yakushima is Miyanoura and is where you’ll arrive if you choose to come by ferry (the Yakushima 2 or the Hibiscus). Here is also where you can find a bigger concentration of restaurants and supermarkets, as well the tourist information (there also one Tourist office at the exit of the airport as also close by Anbo harbor).
To visit Ohkono-taki waterfall, you only have one bus that goes there. Its departure from Miyanoura at 8:41, arrives at 10:22 and returns from the waterfall at 11:00. So this is the only schedule possible, otherwise, you need to walk from the previous stop Kuriobashi. It´s time enough to visit the waterfall.
On the way back I stop at Nakama beach and also check the Nakama Gajumaru Banyan, a group of ficus trees whose roots are connected, forming an arch. It’s nothing impressive especially after you walk along the Yakushima trails, and force you to break the bus trip from Ohkono-taki waterfall, forcing two hours waiting for the next bus.
Shiratani Unsuikyo Ravine trail
- One way: departure at 8:10 and arrives at Shiratani at 8:45… but you don’t need to start so early and there’s a more convenient bus at 10:45, that allow you to hick all the courses and finish on time of the last bus.
- Return: the bus’s last departure from Shiratani at 16:10 and take about 30, to arrive at Miyanoura.
- There are 3 trails in Shiratani. The longest takes you to the Taikoiwa Rock, passing by the moss covered forest and is the most interesting of all. The other long trail, takes you to the Sanbon-yarisugi cedar, passing by several of very old cedar trees. The short course it’s very easy as most of it is steps and paved trail to reach the Yayoisugi Cedar.
- This is a good option if you arrive at Yakushima early in the morning in the Hibiscus ferry, as it gives time to reach the guesthouse, get information in the tourist office (open at 9am) as well the bus pass and still have time to go to the supermarket (also open at 9am, and it’s close from the tourist information building) to buy some food for the hick.
- Fee for Shiratani Unsuikyo Ravine: 500 ¥
Yakusugi Land trail plus the visit to Kigensugi Cedar, 6 km further
In fact, Yakusugi means trees with more than 1000 years old and in this area there a big concentration of these old cedar trees.
Inside Yakusugi Land you have five different trails, a couple of them with about 1km, that are paved and easy to walk; the longest one as 4.4km, basically going up and down the hills using the tree roots as steps. The longest trail includes almost all the length of the shorter ones. It’s an easy walk that took me 4 hours with several stops for photos and to enjoy the views.
But after doing the long trail I realize that I wouldn’t have time to reach Kigensugi Cedar on time to catch the last bus to return. So hitchhiking and was lucky with one of the few cars that do that road.
If you are in Miyanoura, these are the possible bus schedules to visit Yakusugi:
- One way: departure at 8:41, and change at Gochome at 9:20 to another bus that reachs at Yakusugi at 10:07.
- Return: departure at 15:15, arrive at Gochome at 15:58, and then you need to wait until 16:32 for the bus to Miyanoura.
- This schedule allows you to walk along all the trails without a rush. You can also start later (12:51) or leave from Yakusugi earlier (11:05).
- Fee for Yakusugi Land: 500 ¥
But the most famous trail is Jomo Sugi, an 11.5 km trail that reaches the 1300m, starting in Arakawa. It takes all day, and in the wintertime the days are short… so I didn’t’ even try… maybe next time. You need to departure from Miyanoura (this bus starts at Sea Side Hotel, stop number 19) around 4:45 to catch the fist bus to Shinenkan, and there change bus at 6:00 to Arakawa Tozanguichi that takes just 35 minutes. To return you must be at the bus stop at Arakawa at 15:30… maybe too short to hike 11 km!??!?
There is about 8 onsen (natural hot springs) in Yakushima, most of them are in the sea… as it was November, thes options didn’t show up much pleasant, despite the winter in Yakuhima being more gentle that in other parts of Japan.
But couldn’t resist to visiting twice the Onoaida onsen, located on the south coast of Yakushima, being the most famous of all the onsen between the local population. The poll isn’t that big, but the water is so warm that no one can stay there for more than a couple of minutes. You can see the bubbles from the sulfur hot spring coming from the bottom of the poll between the basalt pebbles.
Here people use more the water from the hot spring to wash rather than using the shower, pouring buckets of water over the body from the pool.
Onoaida onsen is located a bit away from the main road, close by the forest, but doesn’t have any exterior pool. The building, all made in wood with a high ceiling, where the floor and wall are covers by the black volcanic rock, offers a cozy ambiance, where you can try to interact with the local population, and relax from a hiking day!!
I also try the Kusugawa onsen but doesn’t recommend, is it’s more like a public bath with warm tap water, in a dodgy building.
After a hike, there’s nothing better than a very hot bath, and the onsen provides that treat!!!! You end up almost melting on the way back to your guesthouse.
Fee: 200¥ but you need to bring a towel and soap.
How to move around Yakushima by bus:
In fact, the main issue that I face in Yakushima was transportation. Some buses go around the island, from Nagata to Ohkono-taki waterfall, but they are not very frequent with sometimes gaps of 2 hours and finish very early.
So this can really be an obstacle to explore the island, making short hikes of 4 hours, like Yakusugi Land and Shiratani-trail, take you all day, as you probably need to wait more than one hour for the bus back. So basically you need one day for each of the trails… and depending on your location, and one extra day more to the visit the Ohkono-taki waterfall.
Here is some info about buses in Yakushima:
- Kotsu Bus
Pass: the bus is the only way to move around Yakushima, but this service é
scarce, with several places having only two buses a day. Apart from that, the
bus is expensive, as a trip around the island (from Okonotaki waterfall to
Miyanoura) costs 1900 ¥. So it’s better to get the bus Kotsu Pass, that allows
an unlimited number of trip, with several options:
- 1 day: 2000 ¥
- 3 day: 3000 ¥
- 4 day: 4000 ¥
- You can get the Kotsu Bus Pass at the Information office of Miyanoura, Ambo Port and the Airport; at Miyanoura, the Yakushima Visitor Center (a kind of souvenir shop located on the left side of the main road, about 100m further from the Information Center, but this shop opens earlier, at 8 am) and also at the Youth Hostel.
- It’s easy to navigate by bus as all the stops have a number that is also in the bus schedule.
More information about the bus schedule at:
Where to sleep in Yakushima:
I choose to stay at Miyanoura. It’s not a charming place but it very close to the harbor, which reveals convenient when arriving and departures as you don’t need to de dependent on the buses. Miyanoura, wherever you stay, it’s a walking distance from the harbor.
I stayed at Sudomari Minshuku Friend, It’s a local guesthouse, with traditional Japanese shared rooms, some with beds others with tatamis. A quiet place where I felt at home. Laundry is for free and you can use the kitchen. The manager is very friendly but doesn’t speak much English, so you can’t count much on him to get help with how to move around. It’s continentally located just in front of one Kotsu bus stops and it’s about 1.2km from the Hibiscus Ferry port. 3300 ¥ a night.
Where to eat in Yakushima:
As an Island, Yakushima speciality is the fish, and there are several restaurants in Miyanoura, but some of them only open for lunch.
The supermarket (there are two) are a good option if you need to buy food for the hiking. Some places offer bento box but the price is a bit high.
At the Community Plaza, a small shop located a few meters further from Sudomari Minshuku Friend Guest House, they serve also food for a very cheap price. The usual dish is curry (meat) but if you are in the mood for a snack you can try the sweet potato set, that also include a tea and a delicious sweet, also made form sweet potato… only 100 ¥ (it closes around 4pm).
Things to know when you arrive at Yakushima:
- The tourist information in Miyanoura, that you gonna find on the right side of the road when you leave from the harbor, has the door closed with a sign “closed today”; go around the building (along the left side), as the main door is the opposite side; the Information office is open from 9 am until 5 pm, everyday. Here you can get the maps of the trails, the bus schedule as also the Kotsu Bus Pass.
- There are two big supermarkets at Miyanoura, and they are open from 9 am until 10 pm; there you can find ready-made meals for taking away.
- Money: It’s better to get cash before the trip, as in Yakushima the only ATMs are in the post office spread along the island, but they charge 220 ¥ commission for each withdraws.