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Yakushima Travel Guide

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    Join us as we tour the beautiful island of Yakushima and trek through the enchanted forest that inspired Studio Ghibli’s fantasy masterpiece, Princess Mononoke.

    second generation Japanese cedar tree - Yakushima Travel Guide |

    Our family previously visited Kyushu and had an amazing time visiting the hot spring city of Beppu and traversing across the island to Kumamoto and Fukuoka. We had always wanted to visit the other parts of Kyushu, especially Yakushima on the southern tip.

    The island of Yakushima is a world heritage site, known for its otherwordly forests, ancient trees, wondrous landscape, and endangered wildlife. It also abounds with mythical tales and fables that brings to life the Japanese’s belief in the spiritual world. The atmospheric and heavily mountainous setting is so hauntingly magical that it inspired the legendary animated feature film Princess Mononoke by Studio Ghibli.

    As a fan of Ghibli, we couldn’t be any more thrilled to make this trip a reality. To get to Yakushima, however, would take 10+ hours of train and boat rides from Tokyo. Spending that much time traveling just isn’t very appealing. After reviewing our transportation options, we decided to fly to Yakushima from Haneda Airport in Tokyo early in the morning.

    Don’t have time to read? Checkout our Yakushima adventure Instagram Story below.

    How to Get to Yakushima

    You can reach the island from Kagoshima on the Kyushu mainland either by plane or by boat. If you are visiting Japan from another country and arriving via Tokyo or Osaka airports, we recommend flying to minimize your travel time. There are no direct flights to Yakushima from Tokyo or Osaka. A layover and transfer to a small aircraft are required at Kagoshima.

    If you take Shinkansen (bullet train) from Tokyo, it’s 7 hrs to Kagoshima (5 hours from Osaka to Kagoshima). Flying takes about 2 hours to Kagoshima from Tokyo and a short 1 hr 15 min from Osaka.

    plane on tarmac at Haneda Airport - Yakushima Travel Guide |
    Haneda Airport

    Our flight took off from Tokyo Haneda Airport early at 6:25 am to Kagoshima. It worked out for us since we were jet-lagged so waking up early was not a problem. We stayed at the Royal Park Hotel connected to Haneda Airport and getting to our gate was fast.

    airport sign showing 6:25 am flight to Kagoshima - Yakushima Travel Guide |

    When we landed in Kagoshima, it had just rained and the weather was cloudy but we were prepared. Yakushima is known for getting the most amount of rain in Japan. The locals have a saying, “it rains 35 days a month”. Whenever you visit, be ready to bring rain jackets.

    Kagoshima airport with airplanes - Yakushima Travel Guide |
    Kagoshima Airport

    After a brief layover in Kagoshima, we entered the terminal walkway to our flight to Yakushima. The walkway led us to a bus ride and then to our very small propeller plane. It was the first time Nami and the kids have flown in one and they were amused.

    passengers boarding plane for Yakushima - Yakushima Travel Guide |
    Boarding the propeller plane
    interior of small plane heading to Yakushima - Yakushima Travel Guide |
    Inside the very small plane, the ladder actually folds up inside the plane
    plane sitting on tarmac in Yakushima - Yakushima Travel Guide |
    Arrived at Yakushima
    Yakushima aiport - Yakushima Travel Guide |
    Yakushima Airport

    Getting around Yakushima

    Since we were only in Yakushima for one night, we rented a car for getting around. Other ways to get around the island include public bus and taxi.

    Toyota Rental Car Yakushima - Yakushima Travel Guide |

    You can get more information at Yakushima Tourism Association. What we can share is that driving around Yakushima is very easy. There is one main road which circles around the island. The rental cars are quite small so don’t bring giant luggage with you. Our 4 carry-on suitcases could barely fit in the trunk.

    two lane road in Yakushima - Yakushima Travel Guide |
    2 lane road that goes around the island

    At Toyota Rental Car (read more on renting and driving a car in Japan), we were given a map showing us how much time it takes to drive around the island between various points of interest.

    tourist map of Yakushima - Yakushima Travel Guide |
    Tourist map of Yakushima

    Ready to discover Yakushima? Let’s go!

    Hirauchi Kaichu Natural Onsen 平内海中温泉

    From the Toyata Rental Car, we first headed west towards Ohko Waterfall which is about 1 hour away. About 40 min through, there’s a sign for Hirauchi Kaichu Natural Onsen (hot spring by the ocean). The hot spring has been there since 1599 and it is only exposed two hours before and after low tide. Otherwise, it’s covered by the ocean.

    Hirauchi Kaichu Natural Onsen hot spring in ocean - Yakushima Travel Guide |

    The hot spring is open to the public and there are a few rules to follow.

    1. Bathing suits are not allowed (and there is no dressing room)
    2. Please rinse yourself prior to entering the hot spring
    3. Place 200 yen in the money box for each person using the hot spring

    Ohko Waterfall 大川の滝

    Our next stop was Ohko-no-taki Waterfall (a top 100 waterfalls in Japan). The waterfall is 88 meters (289 feet) tall and one of the most famous sights on the island.

    Ohko Waterfall - Yakushima Travel Guide |
    Ohko Waterfall

    It was a splendid waterfall that split into two and the water sprayed everywhere at the bottom of the fall by the observation area (visitors will get wet).

    family standing in front of Ohko Waterfall - Yakushima Travel Guide |

    Besides Ohko Waterfall, another popular waterfall for visitors is Senpirono Falls. It is about halfway between Anbo and Ohko Waterfall.

    monkey next to the road - Yakushima Travel Guide |

    A wild monkey bid us goodbye when we were getting ready to head back!

    Yakudon Noodle House 屋久どん

    Two of the main commercial areas on the island are Anbo on the east coast and Miyanoura in the north. These are also the two ports where you can take a ferry to the mainland and other islands. On our way to Shiratani Unsui Gorge in the north, we stopped by Yakudon Restaurant in Anbo for lunch.

    the front of Yakudon Noodle House - Yakushima Travel Guide |
    Yakudon Noodle House

    The restaurant is very spacious with lots of wood decorations.

    girl standing in front of a large cedar tree cross-section - Yakushima Travel Guide |
    Cross-section of a cedar tree

    wood carvings of tiger and buddha - Yakushima Travel Guide |

    The food on the menu ranged from 650 yen to 1,050 yen for various types of udon and quick diner dishes.

    bottles of Yakushima shochu - Yakushima Travel Guide |
    Yakushima is known for shochu
    tempura udon at Yakudon Noodle House - Yakushima Travel Guide |
    Tempura udon

    The food was delightful and the restaurant is right next to the ocean so customers can enjoy the relaxing views while eating.

    view of the ocean from Yakudon Noodle House - Yakushima Travel Guide |

    After lunch, we headed to Shiratani Unsui Gorge.

    Yakushima Nature Parks

    Yakushima is most well known for its rainforest and yakusugi cedar trees that are over 1,000 years old (yaku sugi). It also has a unique ecosystem and 20% of the island is recognized as UNESCO World Heritage Site. There are long hiking trails in the forests and two of the best-known nature parks on the island are Shiratani Unsuikyo and Yakusugi Land.

    view of Yakushima and coastline from top of the hill - Yakushima Travel Guide |

    We did not have enough time to visit both nature parks so we chose Shiratani Unsui Gorge to see the cedar trees. If you have time, definitely stop by both. It’s difficult to find the trail maps online, but you can view them in full size by clicking on the maps below.

    Trail Map of Shiratani Unsui Gorge - Yakushima Travel Guide |
    Click to enlarge map
    Trail Map of Yakusugi Land - Yakushima Travel Guide |
    Click to enlarge map

    Shiratani Unsui Gorge 白谷雲水峡

    Shiratani Unsui Gorge is about 20 min by car from Miyanoura. When we arrived at the park administrative building, it had been drizzling and was continuing to rain for a while. In May of 2019 (1 month prior to our visit), it rained so much that hundreds of visitors had to be rescued from landslides and floods.

    signs at entrance to Shiratani Unsui Gorge - Yakushima Travel Guide |
    Entrance to Shiratani Unsui Gorge

    We asked the staff about the hiking routes and he recommended us to stop our hike at Nidaiosugi Cedar (#7 on the map) and then turn back. It would be difficult for us to continue on the trail because the water in the river was above our children’s waist and the danger was too high. We were disappointed as we had hoped to see the famed moss-covered forest and other famed cedar trees.

    For reference, hiking to point 16 Taikoiwa Rock and back is about a 4-hour hike.

    Mini water-powered generator in a room at Shiratani Unsui Gorge - Yakushima Travel Guide |
    Mini water-powered generator

    lady and son on a bridge at Shiratani Unsui Gorge - Yakushima Travel Guide |

    trail signs at Shiratani Unsui Gorge - Yakushima Travel Guide |
    There are signs all over directing the visitors along the hiking trail
    3 people on trail at Shiratani Unsui Gorge - Yakushima Travel Guide |
    The trail was well maintained but wet and slippery
    visitors climbing boulder at Shiratani Unsui Gorge - Yakushima Travel Guide |
    Parts of the trail involves climbing on large boulders
    narrow trail made up of uneven rock at Shiratani Unsui Gorge - Yakushima Travel Guide |
    Some parts of the trail are rocky

    river and small pond at Shiratani Unsui Gorge - Yakushima Travel Guide |

    a large second generation cedar tree Shiratani Unsui Gorge - Yakushima Travel Guide |
    Second-generation yakusugi cedar tree

    boy and girl on suspension bridge at Shiratani Unsui Gorge - Yakushima Travel Guide |

    large second generation yakusugi cedar tree - Shiratani Unsui Gorge - Yakushima Travel Guide |
    Second generation large cedar tree, height of 32 m (100 feet)

    Our family had fun hiking the trail and taking in the peaceful green scenery, and we were glad to see some of the famed cedar trees.

    Seaside Hotel Yakushima

    We had been up since 4 am and a quick afternoon snooze was very much needed. Our hotel was the Seaside Hotel Yakushima near Miyanoura Port. It is one of the larger hotels on the island and many rooms have great views of the ocean. The hotel is dated but clean, and the staff was very friendly.

    exterior of Seaside Hotel Yakushima - Yakushima Travel Guide |
    Seaside Hotel Yakushima
    lobby of Seaside Hotel Yakushima - Yakushima Travel Guide |
    Hotel lobby and hiking gear rental booth
    guest room with futon beds Seaside Hotel Yakushima - Yakushima Travel Guide |
    Hotel staff arranged futon for our nap
    view of the ocean from the guest room Seaside Hotel Yakushima - Yakushima Travel Guide |
    The room had a great view of the ocean
    the dining room at Seaside Hotel Yakushima - Yakushima Travel Guide |
    Dining room

    Dinner was served in the dining room at the hotel, but the food was not particularly delicious. For better dinner options, you could certainly explore a local restaurant.

    dinner appetizers at Seaside Hotel Yakushima - Yakushima Travel Guide |
    Assorted appetizer
    Bouillabaisse for dinner at Seaside Hotel Yakushima - Yakushima Travel Guide |

    Our hotel stay also included breakfast and it was buffet style consisting of mostly seafood and Japanese breakfast items.

    grilled fish at breakfast buffet at Seaside Hotel Yakushima - Yakushima Travel Guide |

    sashimi at breakfast buffet at Seaside Hotel Yakushima - Yakushima Travel Guide |

    Inakahama Beach

    The next morning after breakfast, we drove 25 min to the west to Inakahama Beach. Yakushima is the largest spawning ground for loggerhead sea turtle in Japan and Inakahama Beach is one of the main beaches where they lay their eggs.

    view of Yakushima coastline with mountain and ocean - Yakushima Travel Guide |
    View from a vista point looking west

    sign for Inakahama Beach - Yakushima Travel Guide |

    We had actually signed up for the Yakushima Sea Turtle Hall spawning observation tour for the night before (female turtles mostly nest at night). However, the weather condition was bad and the tour was canceled.

    Yakushima Sea Turtle Hall near Inakahama Beach - Yakushima Travel Guide |
    Yakushima Sea Turtle Hall

    At the beach, we can see the nesting area cordoned off with a rope and we did not try to get close. No need to crack any sea turtle eggs by accidents!

    Roped off area where sea turtles laid their eggs at Inakahama Beach - Yakushima Travel Guide |
    The roped-off area where sea turtles nest their eggs
    boy and girl at Inakahama Beach - Yakushima Travel Guide |
    No turtles? Still a fun day at the beach!

    turtles with a heart written in the sand at Inakahama Beach - Yakushima Travel Guide |

    Shitoko Gajumaru Banyan Park

    After the brief stop at the beach, we stopped by Shidoko Gajumaru Banyan Park on the way back to the port in Miyanoura. The nature park has many banyan and tropical trees. Some of the banyan trees are over 500 years old.

    entrance to Shitoko Gajumaru Banyan Park - Yakushima Travel Guide |
    Shitoko Gajumaru Banyan Park

    There’s a self-guided path through the park that visitors can walkthrough.

    walking path and banyan trees at Shitoko Gajumaru Banyan Park - Yakushima Travel Guide |

    two children in front of a tall banyan tree at Shitoko Gajumaru Banyan Park - Yakushima Travel Guide |

    Plan on spending 45 min – 1 hour in the Shitoko Gajumaru Banyan Park if you visit.

    Yakushima Toppy/Rocket Terminal

    On our return route, we boarded the hydrofoil at the Rocket Terminal for Kagoshima.

    frame picture of hydrofoil rocket 1 - Yakushima Travel Guide |
    Rocket 1
    High speed boat and Rocket Terminal at Miyanoura - Yakushima Travel Guide |
    Rocket terminal
    Hydrofoil boat docked at rocket terminal - Yakushima Travel Guide |
    Hydrofoil docked for passengers

    The kids were excited about another interesting ride. Even the water was really choppy, the boat ride was super smooth and we did not feel any rocking motion.

    interior seating of Rocket/Toppy high speed boat - Yakushima Travel Guide |
    Inside of the Rocket/Toppy
    view of Miyanoura from the boat leaving Yakushima - Yakushima Travel Guide |
    view of Miyanoura from the boat leaving Yakushima

    Our trip to Yakushima was short, but it was nonetheless a memorable journey. The natural beauty and majestic forests truly lived up to the enchanting world of Princess Mononoke. We wished we had one more day to discover the island and hiked more of its trails and soaked up its tranquility.

    Before our return to Tokyo, we took the opportunity to visit Kagoshima to taste its regional food and visited the famed garden – Sengan-en. As a gateway to southern Japan, Kagoshima is quite a destination in itself which I will be sharing more of next. Stay tuned!

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  • Gyoza served on a plate.
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