Explore Yakushima Island's Fascinating Nature Spots

Learn about what makes Yakushima unique when you visit this island rich with plant and animal life. Find out how to get there and what spots are a must-see.
Explore Yakushima Island's Fascinating Nature Spots

Welcome to Yakushima, an island situated at the southwestern end of the Japanese archipelago in Kagoshima prefecture. It is famous for its unspoiled forests and high rainfall.

A rain-shrouded island that dazzles with the beauty of giant cedars

Tucked away in the southwestern end of the Japanese archipelago sits Yakushima, an isolated island with a mountain range spanning over 1,000 meters. Nicknamed “the island of water,” Yakushima receives the highest volume of rain in Japan. The island also has a climate that varies with the change in elevation, and when you visit, you can see the diverse Japanese flora and fauna distributed according to its altitude.

Aside from the various plants that grow around the island, Yakushima is also home to giant cedars called "Yakusugi", which are more than a thousand years old. Because of these trees and the unique distribution of vertical plants, Yakushima became Japan’s first World Natural Heritage site in 1993, together with the Shirakami-Sanchi site.

The importance of water in Yakushima

Water of Yakushima plays a key role in maintaining the unique biodiversity and scenery of the island. In the Yakushima Charter, established in 1993, the first item is to keep the water clean.

To help preserve its water and stunning nature scenes, Yakushima encourages visitors to observe the set rules and regulations. Visitors must only use the toilets provided. When camping or hiking, make sure not to litter or wash your dishes in rivers and streams, as this will affect the cleanness of the water and its surroundings. Keep to the established routes when you hike, taking care not to stray away from marked trails. Be sure not to step on moss growing on rocks and fallen tree trunks, as it is not easy to undo damage to flora and fauna. If you want to go for a swim, stick to the designated swimming beaches.

Hiking in Yakushima

Hiking is one of the best outdoor activities in Yakushima, and there are various trails where you can encounter the island's unique natural environment. The routes allow you to experience the island in a way that preserves and respects the wildlife and scenery.

One of the best trails is the route to Jomunsugi Cedar - a 20-kilometer trail. It takes approximately ten to eleven hours to complete and is a popular hiking trail for campers and outdoor enthusiasts. At the end of the long walk is the Jomonsugi cedar, said to be between 2,000 to 7,200 years old. Its 16.4-meter circumference makes it impressive in its thickness.

Forests and other majestic sceneries

There are other ways to enjoy the island’s natural beauty. You can walk through the Shiratani Unsuikyo Forest , one of the more accessible nature parks in Yakushima. In the park, you will find several ancient cedar trees, such as the Kuguri Sugi, the Nidailo Sugi, and the Yayoi Sugi. You’ll find several well-maintained hiking trails that take anywhere between one to five hours to walk. Scattered around the forest are hundreds of varieties of beautiful moss.

If you want to see Yakushima from a different perspective, try climbing up the Taikoiwa Rock, a large granite boulder in Shiratani Unsuikyo Ravine. Located at a 1,050-meter height, Taikoiwa sits at the end of a steep hiking trail that takes about half a day to climb. At the top, you’ll get a spectacular view below, especially when the weather is clear and fine.  Beneath your feet is a forest of yakusugi cedars covered in deep green moss.

What you shouldn’t miss in Yakushima

Are you planning a trip to Yakushima, Japan? Here are some spots you shouldn't miss:

Wilson’s Stump - giving visitors a lovely view of the skies

Wilson’s Stump (ウィルソン株)-giving visitors a lovely view of the skies

Named after renowned British botanist Ernest Henry Wilson, Wilson’s Stump used to stand straight and tall before it was cut for timber in 1586. Despite its shortened size, the stump is enormous and has a circumference of 13.8 meters. It is estimated to be about 2,000 years old.

Natural spring water rises from the ground, and if you look up at the sky from a certain angle, the upper edges form the shape of a heart.

Mt. Mocchomu - majestic views of the sea and beyond

Mt. Mocchomu-dake (モッチョム岳)-majestic views of the sea and beyond

Mt. Mocchomu rears up over the southeast of the island. The view of the sea from the summit is not one easily found in the mountains of Honshu. The hike to the top is steep, long and far from easy, but one that showcases the Vertical Distribution of vegetation that characterize Yakushima’s World Natural Heritage. Once you reach the top, you will experience unrivaled, incredible views - making the climb worth it.

Ohko-no-taki Waterfall - giant falls with sweet water

Ohko-no-taki Waterfall (大川の滝)-giant falls with sweet water

The 88m Ohko-no-taki Waterfall is ranked among the top 100 waterfalls in Japan and is one of the largest on the island for water volume and size. Visitors can walk right up to the base of the fall, and bathe in the mist spray. After the rain, the waterfall will increase to 20m in width, creating an even more powerful and breathtaking spectacle.

Hirauchi Kaichu Onsen, undersea hot spring

Hirauchi Hot Onsen Spring (平内海中温泉)-tide pools by the sea
© K.P.V.B

Yakushima is the rare site of a natural ocean hot spring called Hirauchi Kaichu Onsen. It can only be accessed twice a day before and after low tide, for about two hours each time. For some, this might be an intimidating experience as it’s a mixed-gender spot that must be entered naked (swimming costumes/clothing are banned) but it’s incredibly relaxing to sit on the beach, immersed in hot water, watching the waves roll in.

Yakusugi Land - famed for old cedar trees

Yakusugi Land (屋久杉ランド)-famed for old cedar trees

At Yakusugi Land, there are five trails requiring different amounts of time and effort that showcase a variety of Yakushima cedar trees, from giants to those with unique features. The remarkable shape of the tree in this picture, the Kugurisugi Cedar, is said to have been created from fusing with a smaller fallen tree above it. The trail leads under its roots.

Sea turtles - nesting sites for these endangered species

Sea turtles-nesting sites for these endangered species

Yakushima is an important nesting site for both the endangered loggerhead and green turtles. Nesting on Yakushima lasts from late April to early August, with most sea turtles landing on the beach at night to lay their eggs. 

During this period, you can visit the beaches at night on a sea turtle-watching eco-tour. It is said that the eggs laid on the beach are heated in the warm sand and hatch in about 60 days. The hatchlings then travel around the Pacific Ocean on the currents, taking several years to several decades to grow and return to Yakushima.

How to get to Yakushima

Yakushima Airport can be reached directly from Fukuoka Airport in northern Kyushu (55 minutes), or Kagoshima Airport in southern Kyushu (40 minutes). If you fly from Tokyo, changing at Kagoshima is the easiest way to access. You can also take ferries and/or high-speed ship from Kagoshima port.

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Getting There