Yakushima is known for hikes, hikes and more hikes, but the island has plenty more to offer, from nesting turtles to magical escapes.

Known for its ancient cedar trees, Yakushima is a bucket-list destination for hikers in Japan, but even if you’re not a dedicated trail-head there’s lots to see. A natural haven, it’s no surprise that the island has plenty of amazing wildlife to watch (and some to eat too) as well as the Miyazaki associations. For the best spots, you can hike or just visit the more accessible museums and parks—they showcase not only the trees but also the history behind them.

1. Get magical in Shiratani Unsuikyo

A short-ish hike with all the promise of stepping straight into the land of Princess Mononoke, the Shiratani Unsuikyo route is one of the nicest on the island. There are a few different routes to choose from, so if you’re short on time you needn’t worry, you can choose ones from between 1 to 5 hours. The ravine is a magical combination of moss-covered forest and ancient trees (including the 3,000-year-old yayoisugi), not to mention the rivers running through the heart of it all. If you take the full loop route you’ll see the well-known Kugurisugu tree straddling the path, but if you can’t make it that far don’t worry, there are plenty of similar trees along the way!

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Access: The trailhead can be accessed by bus from Miyanoura. It costs ¥550 and takes around half an hour. Be sure to check the final bus departure times (around 4 pm) so you don’t get stuck up there!

2. Relax in an oceanside onsen

Ocean View in Yakushima
Photo by Darrenlmh used under CC

It’s not a worthy Japanese hiking destination if there isn’t an onsen involved, and this little island is no different. Home to a range of hot springs, you can choose from fancy hotel options like the JR hotel in Onoaida or the Jomon no Yado Manten in Koseda. Alternatively, there are natural seaside onsen in Hirauchi and Yudomari, which get you about as close to nature as possible. Hirauchi Onsen is tide-dependent so you can only bathe for a couple of hours at low tide each day. It is also a mixed-bathing pool with no swimsuits allowed (but modesty towels can be used). Yudomari Onsen is available all day and has a bamboo divide. Both have small footbaths though if you prefer to keep your clothes on.

3. Learn lots at the Yakusugi Museum

Yakusugi Museum
Photo by frontriver used under CC

Dedicated to the trees and the island’s logging history, the Yakusugi Museum is a great place to get some background on what makes these trees so special. Housed in a rather unusual building just outside of Anbo, the museum has creative and impressive displays, with large tree segments and wooden floors made of fallen yakusugi. There is an English audio guide available and lots to learn, with hands-on displays of the huge saws required by loggers decades ago. If you’re hiking the Jōmonsugi path this would be a great place to visit the day before as you’ll be following the disused tracks and passing logging settlements on your hike. The Yakushima World Heritage Center is nearby and free to enter, explaining how the island received its UNESCO World Heritage status. The Yakusugi Museum is open from 9 am to 4.30 pm and costs ¥600 for adults.

Access: The museum is a short bus ride from Anbo village and is also the starting point for the special Arakawa Trailhead Bus which takes you to the start of the Jōmon Sugi hike. From Anbo buses cost

4. Hike to Jōmonsugi

Yakushima - Jomonsugi Tree
The tree you’ve all been waiting for | Photo by Lily Crossley-Baxter

Pretty much the main hike of the island, the Jōmon Sugi route takes you to the center of the island to see the oldest of trees. Believed to be up to 7,000 years old, Jōmon Sugi is an impressive sight, but it certainly takes some effort to reach. Combining the Anbu and Okawa trails, it’s around 8 to 10 hours of walking and scrambling. While the first section (the Anbo trail) follows disused railway tracks and is no more than a walk, the second section requires ladder-climbing, root-hopping and ungainly scrambling. Check out our full guide on what to expect when hiking to Jōmon Sugi and enjoy!

Access: The trailhead for this hike can only be accessed (for the majority of the season) by a special bus from the Yakusugi Museum. It runs from around 4 am in the direction of the trailhead and return journeys begin at 3 pm. These buses are timed to connect with buses from Anbo and Miyanoura.

5. Admire waterfalls

Okonotaki | Photo by iStock.com/HIROSHI_H

An island renowned for its rain (locals will tell you it rains 35 days a month), it’s lucky there are some pretty waterfalls as a silver lining. The most well known is Okonotaki (pictured above) which is 88 m tall and one of Japan’s top 100 waterfalls. With a short walk required from the car park, it’s near Nagata and there are a few buses that visit each day. Senpiro and Janokuchi falls are both located near Onoaida, but Senpiro is best reached by car while Janokuchi requires a few hours of mild hiking to reach. Swimming is not encouraged in the waterfalls, either because it’s risky or because the water is used in nearby villages, so maybe don’t have a dip to cool off.

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6. Go turtle spotting in summer

A nesting site for over 50% of Japan’s visiting loggerhead turtles, Yakushima’s beaches are a great place to spot these incredible creatures. Returning after 35 years to where they hatched themselves, the female turtles arrive between May and August. During that time access to the beaches is restricted. You cannot enter at night and are requested not to walk above the high-tide line at all as this is where most nests are. For those keen to see the turtles and learn more about them, you can arrange viewings through the Umigame Center in Nagata.

If you don’t happen to be there during the summer months, the center is still a great place to learn more about the turtles and what makes Yakushima such a great environment for them. It’s open from Monday to Wednesday, 9 am until 5 pm, with entrance costing ¥300 for adults.

Access: The Umigame-kan is located next to Inakahama, the best beach for turtle-spotting. Catch a bus from Miyanoura to Nagata and alight at the Nakano-bashi stop—the museum is just a couple of minutes’ walk from there.

7. Feast on flying fish and local delicacies

Yakushima Flying Fish
Photo by Hajime Nakano used under CC

There’s nowhere better for fresh fish than Japan, and if you’re on an island then you’ll be enjoying some of the best in the land. Yakushima has a certain speciality though, and that’s the simple but delicious flying fish aka tobio. Served as sashimi, grilled or tempura-d into a semi-flying state, it’s a staple on most menus. Other delicacies include ponkan and tankan oranges, broken-neck mackerel (believed to keep it fresher when caught), sweet potatoes (no neck-breaking involved) and a locally brewed shochu (you can visit the brewery in Anbo for a free tour). The island is also known for salt, turmeric and tea, which all offer great options for small souvenirs to take home.

Transport in Yakushima

As well as your walking boots, you’ll need something with wheels to get you around the island (unless you reeeaaaalllly love walking that is). Renting or bringing a car makes things much easier as the public transport is limited—but it is definitely possible to explore the island using the two bus companies if you can’t get behind the wheel yourself. For how to get to Yakushima in the first place, read about your options here.

Bus options

All buses are run by two companies: Yakushima Kotsu and Matsubanda Kotsu. The first has more routes and more frequent services, while the second is a little more limited. The timetable for Yakushima Kotsu can be viewed here as a PDF. It’s pretty dense, but you’ll find all the times match up well (not always the case in Kyushu). For Matsubanda, they have made their timetable available in a spreadsheet, available here (who even knows why), but there are PDFs available elsewhere online (although not always up to date).

Yakushima’s all-you-can-ride bus pass

Yakushima Kotsu offers a pass for unlimited travel on almost all of their buses with options for one day (¥2,000), two and three days (¥3,000), or four days (¥4,000). This isn’t that cheap and we suggest you work out your routes a little in advance to see if it is actually cheaper for you, especially since it is not valid on the Arakawa Trailhead Bus or the sightseeing tour bus. Passes cannot be bought on board you must purchase it from offices either at ports, the tourist inoformation center, various hotels and hostels or the airport. There is no similar pass for Matsubanda nor is this pass accepted on their busses.

Car rental

If you’re looking for more freedom and have an international or Japanese driver’s license, then a car is a great option. There are a selection of rental companies on the island but they have pretty fixed prices, so don’t expect anything too competitive. We have a guide for everything you need to know about car rental in Japan. There are a selecion of national companies including Orix, Nippon and and Europcar as well as a couple of local options including Destino and Matsubanda. Try using this comparison site for options but remember the smaller local options like Vanlife aren’t listed.

Camper van rental

If you would rather combine your accommodation and transport costs then consider a camper van. Van Life offer compact, simple campers which mean you can sleep out (sort of) in nature. Plus there’s good English support and an easy booking process.

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