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The Truth About Yakushima

I’m not sure why I decided to visit Yakushima on my very first trip to Japan more than a decade ago. I’m not an anime fan, so the reason most people go—the island’s scenery having been the inspiration for “Princess Mononoke”—wasn’t valid.

Justified or not, the trip started a love affair between me and Yakushima, especially its towering, ancient cedar trees. My affection for the island has only deepened every time I’ve returned.

Unsurprisingly, my answer to the question “is Yakushima Island worth visiting?” is a resounding yes. But the devil is in the details.

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How to Get to Yakushima Island

The island’s remoteness is part of what makes Yakushima worth visiting, but it’s also why so many people forego a trip. There are two basic ways to get here. The easiest (but also the most expensive) is to fly. If you’re coming from Tokyo, you’ll need to connect in Kagoshima. There are limited direct flights from Fukuoka and Osaka-Itami as well, but these are better for people who are already living and traveling in these cities.

The slower way is to travel to Kagoshima (probably via the Kyushu Shinkansen) and take a boat from there. If you’ve been successful at online sports betting (or if money is otherwise no object), the super-fast jetfoil ferries that depart several times per day from Kagoshima Port are the most efficient option. However, there are also slower and less cheaper ferries available if you want to save some yen.

My Favorite Things to Do in Yakushima Island

Hike amid ancient cedars


Yakushima is home to one of the oldest trees in Japan—the Jomon Sugi cedar—but this takes hours of strenuous hiking to reach. The good news is that there are two other places you can see sugi here. The first (and “easiest”) is Yakusugi Land, which is basically a botanical garden. The second is Shiratani Unsuikyo, a gorge whose scenery inspired the movie “Princess Mononoke.”

Drive all the way around the island


Unless you really like trees, you might not feel that Yakushima is worth visiting simply by seeing its most famous residents up-close. The good news is that there are plenty of amazing sights to see as you circumnavigate the island, whether using your own car or by bus. I especially love the wilder west coast, where wild monkeys frequently commandeer the road because of how few people are there, and the crystalline rivers flowing down from the mountains.

Visit an amazing waterfall


Generally speaking, I feel like most Japanese waterfalls are underwhelming—is this an unpopular opinion? However, Yakushima largely bucks this trend, whether we’re speaking about Okho Waterfall on the aforementioned west coast, or ones like Janokuchi Falls and Senpiro Falls along the island’s slightly more populated southern coast.

Discover local cuisine


Like the island more broadly, its cuisine isn’t what you would call famous around Japan—you can’t really argue that tobiuo (flying fish) is why Yakushima is worth visiting. On the other hand, I do love the experience of eating on the island, if only because that all but a few restaurants are so down-home and authentic. This can be a challenge if you don’t speak Japanese, but to paraphrase Taylor Swift, the (cultural) high is worth the pain.

Savor the silent moments


Yakushima is an amazing place to go, but it’s also a unique experience. Its inaccessibility has meant that it’s been one of the few places not affected by Japan’s never-ending tourism boom. That may change one day (though, as of now, its airport continues to receive only a few flights a day, and none from Tokyo), but for now I implore you to take the sage advice of another iconic pop song and enjoy the silence.

How Long Do You Need in Yakushima?

Yakushima isn’t a huge island, but its attractions also don’t lend themselves to fast sightseeing. Even the “easy” Yakusugi Land is basically an all-day activity when you take into account how long it takes to get there and back (especially if you don’t have a car). And that’s just one of the many things to do in Yakushima. When you combine this with the expense and difficulty of reaching the island. it’s difficult to justify most very brief stays.

On the other hand, it’s not like you need to stay a week (although you could). In general, I’d say you should stay a minimum of two full days in Yakushima; 3-5 is optimal, assuming you can swing it. Obviously, when you ask “is Yakushima worth visiting?”, the journey of exploring the island is central to the answer. But it’s simply not a touch-and-go destination, no matter how fast a traveler you are. (And I get it—I’m not much for “slow travel” either!)


Other FAQ About Visiting Yakushima

Why is Yakushima so special?

Yakushima is special because it’s home to massive, ancient cedar trees, including the Jomon Sugi tree, which may be up to 8,000 years old. If you’re an anime fan, you’ll want to visit because Yakushima was the inspiration for the movie “Princess Mononoke.”

Where to sleep in Yakushima?

If you’re coming to Yakushima without a car, you’ll want to stay somewhere around Miyanoura Port, where ferries arrive and where most public transport on the island originates. If you have a car, meanwhile, you can more freely choose from the unique guest houses and other accommodations around the island.

What is the best time of year to go to Yakushima?

I personally love coming to Yakushima during the “shoulder” months of May and November, which are after the cherry blossoms and before the autumn colors (respectively)—and the crowds that accompany both. Some travelers enjoy visiting Yakushima during the summer because it is ostensibly cooler than mainland Kyushu, but to me it’s still sweltering. 

The Bottom Line

Is Yakushima Island worth visiting? Absolutely, at least assuming that you have enough time in your itinerary, and also that you’re prepared to undertake the cumbersome journey of getting there. If both of these things are true, then prepare to be amazed. If not by the scenery straight out of “Princess Mononoke” (same; I’m not a big anime fan), then simply because of the scale and majesty of the ancient cedars that call the island home. Want personalized help planning your next trip to Japan? Whether or not you visit Yakushima, I hope you’ll consider hiring me to create a custom Japan itinerary. 


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