Yakushima – an island of mystery and natural beauty by Lyndall Green

Yakushima – an island of mystery and natural beauty by Lyndall Green

We went to Yakushima after reading about their ancient cedar forests and status as a World Natural Heritage Island. The island is not well known by international tourists but is popular with the Japanese, especially nature lovers. It’s subtropical and lies about 60kms south of Kyushu with a population of 13,585. It is said to have the wettest climate of all of Japan but we had 3 nights there and it only rained on the day we left. The Island is 505 square kilometres with a circumference of 135 kilometres. It takes about 3 hours to drive around but a whole day can be spent visiting the various sites from the road.

We stayed within walking distance of the village of Onoaida, about 40 minutes drive south of the airport. From here it was obvious the forests and mountains take up over 90% of the island.

To reach Yakushima we took the daily 90 minute flight from Osaka Itami operated by Japan Air Commuter. There are also several daily ferry services from Kagoshima and flights from Kagoshima and Fukuoka. We had our first Japanese car hire experience from Yakushima airport and as the speed limit over the island is only 50km per hour it made for easy driving. At this stage we realised that not a lot of English was spoken on the island. Most of the instructions at the car rental office were by cards written in English. It worked well.

The rugged coastline of Yakushima, from Onoaida

We spent our first day negotiating the narrow roads up to Yakusugi Land. Although the name sounds like a theme park, it is pure nature. Walking trails and suspension bridges made it easy to view the trees and rivers running through.

Pristine rivers, Yakusugi Land

On the way back, we visited the Yakusugi Museum containing various displays about Yakushima cedars. A branch from the oldest cedar tree on the island, the Jomon Cedar, which is somewhere between 2,600 and 7,200 years old, is on display there.

We took a drive around the island and visited this old Garden - the Shitoko Gajumaru Banyan Garden tucked away beside a beach.

It was filled with massive Banyan trees

The next day we drove around the island and into the small Port of Isso where mackerels are caught for drying.

It is estimated there are 7,000 deer on the island. You will see many on the roadside.

Monkeys are also plentiful on the roadside which has a speed limit of 50km per hour.

We drove down a narrow track to see Yakushima lighthouse

The Okonotaki waterfall, deemed one of the best 100 waterfalls in Japan

We stayed at the Yakushima JR Hotel on Yakushima which was really my inspiration for going there after accidentally seeing this hotel online.

It was an excellent 3 star – not luxurious but a lovely location on the end of a peninsula and it offered a degree of hospitality far beyond what we’ve experienced anywhere (even in 5 stars), in Japan. In a way, this played a huge part of our enjoyment of our visit. Our room overlooked the sea and a lighthouse and we could hear the waves breaking on the rocks at night. Also, each night we’d return to the hotel to discover what they’d dreamed up in their set menu dinner for us. It was the highlight of our visit. My husband and I both agreed, we’d return to Yakushima just so we can stay at this hotel again.

This is the dinner menu on our last night. Much of the cuisine on Yakushima is centred around various fish dishes - flying fish and mackerel (although this particular menu made a nice change from the previous two nights). Orange and passionfruit juices are also produced and can be bought at various cafes and shops

Our appetiser tray on the second night. On the bottom left is chicken Tataki - small pieces of raw chicken seared on the outside but left raw in the centre. This is a delicacy in Japan

*Yakushima Island Practical Guide

All images by Lyndall Green. All rights reserved.

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