Yakushima is an island located south of Kyushu and is part of Kagoshima’s Prefecture territory. This island is one of the less built up places in Japan. Its unique tropical and rainy weather, along with its forests, mountains and waterfalls make Yakushima one of the natural wonders of Japan. Its natural beauty is such that many parts of the island have been declared as UNESCO’s World Heritage sites. Yakushima has also been an inspiration for artists such as Hayao Miyazaki, who, inspired by its landscapes was able to illustrate the forests of the animated movie “Princess Mononoke.” This is why Yakushima is a must see destination not only for adventure seekers and nature lovers, but for anyone planning a visit to Japan.
Yakushima’s weather cannot be compared to the weather in any other region in Japan. It is extremely rainy, which is why, among the locals, there is a phrase that says that in Yakushima “it rains for 35 days a month.” This may sound like a bit of an exaggeration, however, it is true that the weather can drastically change throughout the course of one day, including the temperature, which can also be very changeable. As a consequence, visitors can appreciate the flora of both, cold and tropical weathers. The fauna of Yakushima is also very peculiar as there are many endemic species such as Yakushima’s deer and monkeys.
Yakushima owes its name to the words “Yako sugi” which refer to the cedar trees that grow in the island. A Japanese cedar tree has an average life of 500 years, however, cedar trees that grow in Yakushima can live for much longer. Some of them have been reported to live 1,000 or even 2,000 years. This is due to the vast amount of rain that falls every year and the high humidity on the island. This causes the trees’ wood to have a larger amount of resin, making them more resistant to putrefaction. For the same reason, there are historical records from the Edo period, which document the cutting down of and usage of Yakushima’s wood. Nowadays woodcutting is forbidden, especially since the island has been declared a protected ecological reserve by Japanese and international authorities.
For many years, the only way to get to Yakushima was through Kagoshima. From this port town the ferries depart daily. Jetfoils services “Rocket” and “Toppy” are both managed by the same company (Tane-Yuku). This is the quickest way to reach the island by sea, taking around 2 hours for 7,700 yen per person or 13,000 yen for the round trip. Despite being the most expensive method of transportation to the islands, they have the advantage of being able to offer several daily trips, starting from 7 am and ending at 4 pm.
Another option is to take the “Yakushima Ferry 2” service, which costs 4,900 yen per person or 8,700 for the round trip. There are also package options for people who wish to take their car with them, as well as student discounts. The “Yakushima Ferry 2” leaves daily at 8:30 am and arrives at Miyanoura port in Yakushima around 12:30 pm. At 13:30 it leaves the island to go back to Yakushima. This is a large ship, with resting areas, a convenience store and restaurants. If you have time, without a doubt this is the best option to get to the island.
An even cheaper option is the “Yakushima Ferry Hibiscus.” The boarding ticket price is 3,200 Yen, however, the trip on the Hibiscus will take around 12 hours. Leaving Yakushima every day at 18:00 hrs, this ship arrives to its destination at 7 am the next morning. This is a good option for those with small budgets, but you will spend one night on the boat.
You can also reach Yakushima by plane, from Kagoshima, Fukuoka or Okinawa. From Kagoshima JAL has 5 daily flights, and from the other two cities there’s only one daily flight. The prices of the tickets vary from 20,000 up to 35,000 Yen. Despite being the quickest option to get to Yakushima, we do not recommend to take a flight to the island unless it’s absolutely necessary. Ferries are a comfortable and cheaper option, and can also add a little bit of adventure to your journey to Yakushima.
If you hold an international driving license we strongly recommend that you rent a car once you arrive at Yakushima. Around Miyanoura port there are many different options to choose from. The reason why we advise you to get a car is because the only public transportation on the island is a bus service that can be a little slow and not very reliable, or at least, not as good as in other places in Japan. This can take up a lot of time from your trip if you have to wait at a bus stop for one hour or maybe more. Nevertheless, in case you don’t have a license, this does not represent a major obstacle to visit the island. We only recommend you to visit the island with enough time in your travel schedule, assigning at least three days of your trip to be able to comfortably enjoy the many attractions of Yakushima. We also recommend that you bring a Japanese/English dictionary, as not many people speak fluent English in Yakushima, but you will always find someone that will be willing to help you in case you have any problems or doubts, despite the language barrier.
Unless you travel by plane, it is very likely that you will reach Yakushima at the Miyanoura port, around which you can find the most important urban settling on the island. Miyanoura is a small village, and you can walk around it in less than half an hour. Nevertheless, it still offers some very good options for travelers to rest and regain their energy before starting their adventure walking through the island’s forests. Around the many options you will find the Stax Café, located less than a 15 minute walk from the port. This little restaurant, which by night transforms into a bar, offers breakfast and lunch sets for very affordable prices and with a great taste. It is an excellent place to spend the morning before taking the ferry back to Kagoshima or to rest before or after walking in the Shiratani forest.
This place has a vintage atmosphere that brings back the 1950’s and 1960’s. Our favorite dish was the Taco Rice and the special Stax Ice Coffee, both are amazingly delicious. The best thing about Stax Café is not only the big portions and great value, but also that it is the only place that has an English menu, and his owner, a fan of Rock and Roll, speaks fluent English, avoiding any communication problems. Without a doubt, the Stax Café is a place that travelers shouldn’t miss.
Pole Pole Guest House.
In case you don’t have a license and don’t have time to spare in Yakushima, we strongly recommend that you stay in one of the many hostels and hotels that you can find around Miyanoura Port. However, for those who are seeking an adventure, we suggest you to spend one night at Pole Pole Guest House.
Located 20 minutes walking distance from Yakushima’s airport, Pole Pole Guest House is a little hostel that has everything you need to spend a comfortable night, from a cozy bed to hot running showers. You can also use the totally equipped kitchen in Pole Pole, however, if you are thinking of cooking your own dinner, we advise you to get what you need before arrival, because it is a very long walk from the guest house to the closest supermarket.
The best thing about Pole Pole Guest House is the hosts, a very kind and young Japanese couple that will do everything possible to assist you in your trip. Although they don’t speak fluent English, they try to communicate with all their guests and help them in any way they can, including giving lifts in their car to guests, asking only for you to help pay for the gas. Without a doubt, the best part of our stay at Pole Pole was to have a nice chat with our hosts, who were kind enough to go to the Port to say goodbye minutes before the ferry left to go back to Kagoshima.
The price to stay in the 4 bed dormitory is 3,000 yen per night or 3,500 yen for a private room. It may sound a little expensive, but it’s the average price on the island, and although it is a little far away from the main attractions of the island, the kindness of the hosts, the comfort of the place and the friendly atmosphere in general of Pole Pole was totally worth it. To get to Pole Pole Guest house you must take the bus that heads to the airport and get off at Okawa stop. You’ll find Pole Pole just 5 minutes away from Okawa station. If you rented a car, you only have to drive by the only highway that you can spot towards the airport. Once you pass it, carefully look on the left side and you’ll find a small sign that reads “Pole Pole.”
Pole Pole Guest House
Yakushima-cho, Kozeda 397-58, Kumage-gun, Kagoshima Prefecture
Without a doubt, Shiratani forest is the biggest attraction in Yakushima. This humid and beautiful forest is totally and completely green, due to the moss that grows in this region. Walking through this forest offers travelers the chance to connect with nature, get some exercise and appreciate landscapes that you won’t find anywhere else.
To get to Shiratani you must take a bus from Miyanoura, which will take around 40 minutes for 530 yen. You must keep in mind that the last bus towards Miyanoura departs at 16:30 hrs. We strongly recommend you to visit this natural reserve the morning after your arrival to Yakushima, in order to have enough time to enjoy the famous natural sights of the forest.
There are many routes to hike around Shiratani, the shortest, recommended for inexperienced hikers, will take you to the famous Yayoi Sugi, an enormous tree that is more than 3,000 years old. The longer route will take 3 or 4 hours, and will take you to the famous “Princess Mononoke Forest,” the place that was frequently visited by the artist Oga Kazuo in order to design the landscapes of Ghibli’s animated movie “Princess Mononke,” directed by the world famous Hayao Miyazaki.
Something that is very important for us to mention is that the roads are in perfect condition. Many of them were built in the Edo period and they are still in great condition. Hikers and adventurers that want to visit Shiratani will have no problem making their way through the forest as roads are perfectly safe. In your path you will cross rivers, waterfalls, hanging bridges and many beautiful landscapes. If you are lucky enough you might even meet a Yakushima deer or monkey. We advise you to get there as early as possible, to avoid huge crowds in the narrow areas of the road.
You can pay a 300 Yen fee to support the maintenance of the roads. In case you don’t have any hiking equipment, you can rent it at the entrance of the reserve at very affordable prices. We also recommend you to take clothes for cold weather. This is a trip for people of all ages to enjoy and it makes for a great family trip, but can also be enjoyed by those travelling alone. Shiratani Unsuikyo is the biggest attraction on the island, be sure not to miss it!