Yakushima, Japan

3rd  May 2016

This marked the halfway point of my 4 weeks in Japan and the part I was looking forward to the most. This small island lies off the tip of southern Japan and boasts of over 42 peaks and vast cedar forests that were used as the inspiration for the Studio Ghibli animation: Princess Mononoke.


Getting to the island itself didn’t quite go as planned – it was Golden week and the Hydrofoil was booked solid, so the overnight ferry was the only option. It was a pretty cool experience in the end, I went for a wander on deck with my camera, got chatting to a cyclist who was making their way round Japan and discovered that I don’t get sea sick if I’m lying down. The cargo ferry does some pretty big dips and rises and we had good weather that evening too, so I’m not sure the same experience would be so good on a stormy day! The ferry itself stops overnight at a port on Tanegashima Island so its easy enough to sleep and there are blankets and foam pillows in the communal area that can be used.


4th May

The ferry arrived at 7am, so after a good stretch and a few snacks bought the day before in Kagoshima, the Minshuku was found and then a trip to the Tourist place. I picked up a few books about the island and its wildlife and decided, rather rashly it turns out, to hire a bike and go up the coast for a while. The weather was hot and sunny and it was so beautiful and quiet. Blue ocean and green forest and butterflies and rather a lot of hills. The bike was not really that suitable for my height so I did a lot of walking too.

Fuin No Taki Waterfall

The furthest I went was a waterfall a little further along from Isso Beach where I stopped at a small cafe for an iced coffee. The interior of the cafe was very unique, with LPs and a turntable and jazz playing. It felt like a cafe you might find in a Murakami novel. It was while I was relaxing here that I saw there was a waterfall a little way away. I couldn’t resist as I’m rather fond of them, so i made my way over and found this:

It took a little bit of climbing to get, but here are some more pictures here:


The water in the stream was unbelievably clear – no dirt or mud or scum of any kind.



Isso Beach


I then headed back to Isso beach, the waves were pretty fierce so not really good for swimming that day though a good place to watch turtles come ashore at night later in the year. I was rather taken with the small red torii gate on the Cape Yahazu peninsula at the mouth of a cave. This shrine is called the Yahazudake shrine and legend has it that a cat lost in that cave turned up at a Tanegashima shrine later.


The water here was super clear too and is a popular spot for divers. It was fiercely windy though, so maybe that’s why I didn’t realise how badly I had burned along the back of my top until I got back to the Minshuku. It was right where my backpack had been rubbing and was to bother me for at least a week or more afterwards. Lesson learned!

5th May 2016

Shiratani Unsuikyo Trail

I picked the Shiratani Unsuikyo trail as I felt it was something I could manage even with my current level of fitness (we’re talking desk job level here) and gave me the chance to see the primal forest and the old Edo trails that were used when the Island was being logged extensively. The bus left at 8am, but there was no chance of missing that thanks to the 7am alarm from the Pachinko Parlour next door. Edelweiss.

The bus journey up to the start of the trail was winding and took us deep into the mountains. It was wonderful to watch the sea fall away and the mountains rise and trees upon trees everywhere.  At the start of the trail there is a booth to pay a 300yen maintenance fee and the adventure began.


As you can see from the above guide map, the trail i was choosing to take is marked in yellow and there are two other trails in red and green that run parallel or off each other. Each has its own time to cover it, and the one to the Jomonsugi, the 7000 year old tree is the longest. Most will start in the early hours of the morning to do this trail and it can be accessed from another side of the mountain too.

After climbing over boulders and past lakes, I came to the major junction where the trail heads up to the right or across the bridge. I decided to go counter clockwise to get into the forest as quickly as possible as not too many others were peeling off that way. The trail wasn’t packed, but there were enough others about that you didn’t feel alone in the wilderness.

It wasn’t long before I spotted some of the wildlife of the forest, a troupe of Yaku monkeys making their way across the mountain, a few carrying babies. This species differs from the mainland by the colour of their fur and are unique to the island. I could have stood and watched them for ages and was careful not to get too close as they could have been defensive of their young.


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The main attraction is of course the trees and the streams that cross the trails. Some you have to be careful of after major rainfall, something Yakushima is known for, but they were easy to cross as the weather had been so good already a few days. In fact is didn’t rain until it was departure day and it was as heavy as anything you get in Wellington. Glorious!!

Even when you are alone on the trail, you don’t it. Everything is growing all around you and every now and then you hear frogs and running water and sometimes even the small click click of the Kodama, very faint, perhaps imagined, but intriguing. There was also the other hikers who leapt past me like springboks, and I dawdled a lot with my camera. I met a couple who gave me a sugar biscuit as it was ‘Children’s day’ and in the end, the trail took me five hours instead of the guide length of three.

Next time I do this trail, I’ll probably go clockwise over the bridge as the descent on that side was very steep and tricky and if I hadn’t been wearing correct hiking shoes I would have turned my ankles. Also, as there are other hikers heading up that last section of the trail to the Shiritani cabin section, you have to stand to one side a lot.

Yakushima is definitely a place I want to go back and visit and next time for longer. Every time I look at the map and brochure guides I picked up, I see something else I want to go and see, so I have a feeling I will be going for at least 2 weeks next time. I would hire a car too and maybe even do some scuba diving. I’d love to see the turtles laying eggs on the beach at night, or hatching and explore some of the other small towns that dot the island. Hopefully I will be able to do the Jomon Sugi then as well.

Journey back down the mountain

The full set of Photos can be found HERE on Flickr

Yakushima: A Yakumonkey Guide – By Clive Witham