Hiking in the lush forests of Yakushima, Japan
One of the highlights of our recent Japan trip was without a doubt our stay at Yakushima. The island south of Kyushu is well-known for its nature trails and is an amazing destination to unwind and breathe in some fresh mountain air.
How to get there and around
We take a ferry from Kagoshima, the southernmost city of Japan’s Kyushu island. We took a ferry that takes about four hours and arrives at Yakushima’s Miyanoura port around noon. You can take a speedier boat, but that’s more expensive. Yakushima has a small domestic airport as well. We did not rent a car, so have to get around the island by bus. This is doable, but takes some preparation. I recommend you to go to the tourist office upon arrival for information about bus times and getting to the places of interest, and most importantly, to get a multiple day bus pass. We didn’t get one immediately: it could have saved us a lot of money if we had. Also , it can be a bit of a hassle to make sure you always have plenty of small denomination notes or coins. Taxis are expensive. So get that bus pass!
Our accommodation is in the southeast of the island, a bit south of the nearest town Anbo. We stay in Mori-no Fairy cottages, a lovely place with sweet hosts who took the time to give us information and who made us feel very comfortable during our stay. There are not that many facilities around though, so for brunch, we took a bento box with us to enjoy during the hike. For dinner we either went to Anbo, or we made a simple meal in the cottage’s little kitchen.
We start our adventure on Yakushima at Yakusugi Land. This area of the island is known for its cedar trees of up to 7,000 years old. The oldest tree here is Jomonsugi. We like hiking, but we are not so fanatic that we get up at 4 AM, which is what many people do. I imagine it will be magnificent though!
You can choose three hiking levels: easy, medium and hard. All trails have been laid out partially by man. The easy path is covered in wooden boards, the medium one offers some support through – for instance – a succession of cleverly placed rocks, and the hard one has the least human intervention, with only colored ribbons indicating the direction of the trail. They say it rains 35 days a month on Yakushima. We appear to be very lucky that it’s not raining during our stay. For the medium and hard trails, you have to cross some creeks along the way. After a rainy spell the water level will be higher, which means you may get wet feet. We enjoy a beautiful day in the forest and can’t wait to explore more of the island.
Hot coffee from a vending machine
While we are waiting for the bus, a fellow traveler explains us how to get a hot can of coffee from a vending machine. There is usually one row with red buttons and two or more with black buttons. The red buttons indicate hot drinks. You can have black coffee or coffee with milk and/or sugar. Most text on the cans is in Japanese, but you can probably figure it out by the color of the can itself. This is genius! I saw Joanna Lumley do it in her Japan tv series, but didn’t know how it worked, and now I do and want to tell the world about it. Japanese people are so clever.
The next day we head out to Shiratani. We are feeling more self-assured and choose the ‘hard’ hike. We don’t have proper hiking gear, only sneakers, but since it is still dry we feel fairly confident that we can take the risk. This hike takes us about five hours and we actually combine the ‘hard’ and ‘medium’ one. The trail takes us through an even more beautiful part of the forest. We see babbling brooks, plenty of moss-covered rocks and trees, we cross a few bridges and clamber over a ton of roots, before reaching the highest point at 1200 meters, where we are rewarded with a stunning view over the mountains. The trail is indeed quite hard for us hiking rookies. Especially the way down, having to be even more careful where to place our feet, is a challenge. With a couple of slips and slides we make it down safely. It is definitely worth it!
Being on an island, we wanted to try the fresh fish, so back in Anbo we go for a sumptuous sushi and sashimi meal at Yashima. We also try flying fish here, a local delicacy. The beer alongside is tastes even better than usual after our hike!
Our stay on Yakushima is an absolute highlight of the trip and I highly recommend going there if you have a chance.