Yakushima National Park: The Complete Guide

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Yakushima National Park

Yakushima, Kumage District, Kagoshima, Japan

Found in Kagoshima Prefecture, off the southern coast of Kyushu (Japan’s southernmost island), Yakushima Island National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and home to incredible ancient woodland, including some of Japan’s oldest cedar trees. Surrounded by winding coastline and sandy beaches, the island is a lush, vibrant landscape, teeming with life. It offers numerous hiking trails, diving opportunities, as well as canoeing and kayaking on offer. Undoubtedly, the best way to see the island of Yakushima is by walking one of the many hiking trails available; along these, you can see some of Japan's most captivating and dazzling waterfalls, as well the rare flora and fauna that is native to the island of Yakushima.

While you can get around the island by bus, it’s generally more convenient to hire a car once you get there, though buses are available to take you to the attractions and trailheads if you would rather avoid driving.

Here you will learn everything you need to know about Yakushima National Park, including the best trails, unique things to do, and how to reach the island.

Things to Do

Though Yakushina National Park is best known for its hiking, there are numerous other things to fit in if you have the time. Taking a dip in one of the hot springs is a must after a day’s walking or why not relax on one of the island’s many beaches which also happen to offer some of the best diving in Japan. 

If you’re visiting in the summer, it’s also possible to witness turtles hatching as this is the nesting site for over half of Japan’s loggerhead turtles, safe viewings can be arranged at the Umigame Center. For more water-related activities, a visit to Okonotaki, one of Japan’s top 100 waterfalls, is a must as well as trying out kayaking. Finally, if you’d like to learn more about the island’s ancient cedar trees then pay a visit to Yakusugi Museum.

Best Hikes & Trails

  • Yakusugi Land Course: If you’re only visiting Yakushima for the day then this collection of short trails is the ideal choice for you. These four courses are the easiest hiking trails on the island, consistently flat, with pathways and bridges right along the course which take you around some of the oldest Cedar trees on the island. You can choose between a half an hour trail with the longest route taking just over two hours. 
  • Shiratani Unsui Gorge Course: Also possible to do in one day, this riverside trail, which can take anything between three to six hours, is better suited to those with some hiking experience or a good level of fitness. If you want to see the ancient forest, entirely covered with green moss, where the film Princess Mononoke was supposedly set, then this is the trail you’ll want to take. For an amazing view over the forest, make sure to take time and hike Taiko Iwa rock. 
  • Jomon Sugi Round Trip: The longest and most difficult trail, taking a minimum of nine hours, it’s recommended that you stay the night in the National Park if you would like to tackle Jomon Sugi. This trail is best for more experienced hikers who are comfortable with steep inclines and mountainous areas, it’s advised you bring hiking poles and good boots with you.  During your hike, you’ll be able to see the Jomon Sugi tree which is thought to be between 2,000 and 7,000 years old and one of the most impressive sights in the national park. You will also see Wilson Stump which is the remains of a cedar tree used to build Hojo-ji Temple in Kyoto which plays an important role in Japanese history.

Where to Camp

On Yakushima, you’re limited to designated campsites and campfires are prohibited. There are seven campsites dotted around the island, with varying levels of facilities, so make sure to choose a site suited to your needs. For example, some campsites have hot showers, kitchen facilities, and shops nearby whereas others are more rugged. Some wood cabins are available at the campsites, you can also bring tents or vans to sleep in.

Two of the biggest sites with the most facilities include Yakushima Seisyonen Ryokoson, which has a capacity for two hundred people, and Iyashi no taikengata which has a capacity for 60 people.

Where to Stay Nearby

The best bases to get around the island are Anbo or Miyanoura ports. Most hiking routes and activities are easily reached from the ports and they have the best public transport options. There are also more facilities available such as convenience stores, restaurants, and ATMs. The coastline is dotted with hotels, and traditional Japanese ryokan with onsen facilitates, so you won’t have trouble finding somewhere to stay.

Here are some recommendations:

  • Soyotei: A traditional Japanese inn that overlooks the ocean. Outdoor baths are available as well as fine dining that serves locally caught seafood.
  • Green Hotel Anbo: Close to the airport and Anbo port, this convenient inn offers ocean views and easy access to the major hiking routes. Both Japanese and Western-style rooms are available and breakfast and dinner are included.
  • Sankara Hotel & Spa: For a luxury retreat with mountains, forest, and ocean surrounding you, Sankara offers pure indulgence. They offer a full spa and pool, french dining, and uninterrupted views of the landscape.

How to Get There

There are multiple ways to reach Yakushima National Park and whether you’re arriving from Tokyo, Osaka, or another major city then your first destination will be Kagoshima. 

The quickest way from Tokyo is to fly from Haneda Airport to Kagoshima Airport (two hours) then change flights to Yakushima Airport (40 minutes). 

Your other option is to go to Kagoshima by bullet train or flight and then take a high-speed boat from Kagoshima Port to Miyanoura or Anbo Port on Yakushima island. This will take 2 to 3 hours. 

Tips for Your Visit

  • It’s recommended that you hire a car to travel around the island and there are several car rental companies available on the island. There are buses that make stops at all the major tourist sites and trailheads but they can stop operating as early as 4 p.m. so make sure you keep that in mind when planning.
  • Spend some time at the visitors center by Miyanoura port for advice, maps, and routes before you start hitting the trails. The center will help you plan your entire journey if you desire.
  • If you’re staying on Yakushima for a few days, it’s worth picking up an unlimited bus pass. You can buy these at the ports, tourist information center, and the Iwasaki hotel.
  • As Yakushima is one of the rainiest places in the world, it’s worth being prepared for all weather with light layers, a hand towel, and a foldup raincoat.
  • Make sure to bring some cash with you, there are a few ATMs (found around the ports) on the island if you run out.
  • From March to November, the trailhead that leads to Jomonsugi, thought to be the oldest tree in Japan, can only be accessed using a 30-minute shuttle bus that departs from Yakusugi Museum.
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Yakushima National Park: The Complete Guide