I visited Yakushima a few years ago, and have always held the desire to return. Yakushima is, of course, the Japanese island that inspired Miyazaki to create the seminal Mononoke Hime - Princess Mononoke. A mossy, wild island filled with unique flora and fauna. What's not to love?
Most visitors ferry it over from Kagoshima, head to the trailhead, and hike to Jomonsugi, a very, very old tree in the center of the island. It is an intense day hike there and back, or a leisurely overnighter spent free camping in the woods.
The idea this time around was more of the same, with the added benefit of a rented car and an extra day on the island. Solid.
Time to see some of the amazing trees of Yakushima. These trees are some of the oldest living things on earth.
On the first evening, I drove with my friend to one of the ancient trees accessible without a hike. Kigensugi (紀元杉) is just up the road from Yakusugiland, a tree-themed park popular with tourists who aren't interested in long hikes. Upon arriving at the 3000 year old tree, my travelling partner let out an unexpected comment:
Well, the trees here aren't as impressive looking as, say, the giant redwoods of California or expansive banyan trees of Hawaii. Keep that in mind when dragging your friends here, they might not be impressed.
But while the trees themselves are what they are, the general beauty of the forest is nothing less than spectacular. No HDR needed on this shot of a mossy stream crossing.
Ah, who am I kidding. Eyeball explosion!
We decided to pass on the long hike to Jomonsugi (縄文杉), and instead opted for a loop around the Shirataniunsuikyo (白谷雲水峡) reserve. For the record, the hike up to Taikoiwa (対抗岩) rock, then back down to see Yayoisugi (弥生杉) was fantastic. Maybe 5 hours at a chill pace.
If you have a car, spend a minute and drive around to the various waterfalls on the south side of the island. All very different and all very scenic.
Okonotaki is considered one of the best in Japan.
Neighboring Tanegashima (種子島) is a flat island, home to Japan's space launch center, and probably not worth a visit. Completely randomly, my trip corresponded with the launch of the Hayabusa 2 spacecraft. Easily visible from the port town on Yakushima. Kind of super amazing to witness something like this.
Other spots on the island? There is a neat ocean-side onsen that is only accessible twice a day at low tide. I unintentionally held up a TV crew when I was soaking, as they didn't want my tattooed, naked body to be in their show. My bad!
If you hike, or drive, or do anything where there aren't buildings, you are bound to see a few yakushika (屋久鹿) and yakuzaru (屋久猿). Local deer and local monkeys that have, over the centuries, evolved into smaller, more docile versions of their mainland counterparts.
With no predators, these deer are easy picking for local hunters. If you stay at a local Japanese inn, expect to be served some tasty deer meat.
Even the local pizza shop has a mega-delicious stewed deer pizza. Seriously, this one was good.
The other local food is flying fish.
Quite nice when deep fried.
See you again!
If you are going, remember that the ferry is mad expensive, and a short flight from the Yakushima airport to Kagoshima is only about $10 more. There are also direct flights to the island from Fukuoka and Osaka.