Photo: Burcu Basar

Yakushima: Exploring Japan’s World Heritage destination from a different perspective

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By Burcu Basar

Yakushima, located 135 kilometers off the coast of Kagoshima in southern Kyushu, is home to just 13,000 residents yet draws around 300,000 visitors every year.

The island, a UNESCO World Natural Heritage Site, is known for its misty, shrouded forest and is home to ancient cedar trees like Jomon Sugi—the largest and oldest tree in Japan, estimated to be between 2,000 and 7,000 years old. The island’s moss forests and the gnarled, winding roots of its ancient trees partly inspired the beloved Hayao Miyazaki film, "Princess Mononoke." Yakushima incites mystery and adventure for the solo traveler and a sense of disconnection—a feeling that the island’s residents happily embrace.

35 days of rain

Photo: Burcu Basar

I awoke aboard the Hibiscus, a ferry and cargo ship that departs from Taniyama Port daily near Kagoshima for the 12-hour trip to Yakushima. A beautiful rainbow contrasted the rough looking waves.

But across the sea was Yakushima, blanketed in clouds, and my home for the next two months. The region has the highest annual rainfall in Japan, aptly recognized in several sites around the island, such as Shiratani unsuikyo or “the white valley of the clouds.” Due to its constant downpours, the locals say it rains for “35 days in a month” in Yakushima.

I spent weeks exploring the island, such as the Arakawa trail and lesser-known paths like Ja no Guchi Waterfall. I was even nearly blown away by one of the strongest typhoons of the decade. My true goal, however, was to visit Yakushima’s small seaside communities along the coastline.

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Lucky you, having had so much time to spend and explore by walking. I have been there around 12 years ago. The beauty of this place is simply jaw dropping and leaves you in awe. I found it super easy to venture around by rental car. Toyota Rent A Car staff awaits you right at the ferry pier ( I went by express ferry) oneway and on the way back to Kagoshima by flight. Your list of accomodation options did not mention Jomon no Yado Manten, an onsen ryokan with rotenburo right next to the ferry pier yet in a quiet neighbourhood. I loved it there, a bit upmarket yet cosy, great staff, yumm food. It is impossible to get lost by rental car, as all road signs and signs leading to attractions are super easy to navigate. I hope to be back soon and then take longer hikes with overnight in mountain huts. Would strongly recommend to get a local hiking guide though!! There are quite a few local small tour operatots offering such arrangements. Oh yeah... mind the drainage canals along the roads leading deeper into the hinterland when going by car. They are not covered and a tire could easily get stuck. Just drive slow and you will be good.

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