As part of my winter vacation 2012 I travelled from Miyazaki by bus to Kagoshima where I stayed the night. From Kagoshima I took a ferry in the morning to Yakushima.
I always wanted to visit Yakushima, but it is quite far out unless you live in Kagoshima Prefecture.
Basically there are only 2 ways to access Yakushima.
One is by ferry / Jetfoil ferry, the other one is by airplane. Yakushima has a small airport. The only direct flights depart from Itami (Osaka) and Kagoshima.
As it’s so far out, I suggest staying there for at LEAST 2 days. I stayed 3 days and you’ll see in the following post(s) how much I managed to see during that time.
I’m not going to write in great detail about how you can access the little island. There’s a really great pamphlet in English provided by the Japan National Tourism Organization. You can view it here.
The pamphlet is quite nice, but for even more information I recommend this website: “Yakumonkey’s Yakushima – A Visitor’s Guide”
As he lived on Yakushima for a long time, he’s a much better source than I am! He also published a book that you can order and take as a guidebook with you: Yakushima: A Yakumonkey Guide
Yakushima is probably most famous for its “untouched” nature and its ancient cedar trees. Yakushima has been an inspiration for many artists.
To name only one example: Hayao Miyazaki’s movie “Princess Mononoke” (you can see the forest that inspired him in this post).
Ferry from Kagoshima to Yakushima
Sitting in the ferry terminal, waiting and staring at Sakurajima.
Luckily nothing happened at that time. Sakurajima is quite an active volcano and loves to spit ashes on people.
Short side story (has nothing to do with the actual trip, so you might as well skip it):
Actually I arrived at the ferry terminal quite early. While I was sitting and waiting (being the only foreigner around) I was suddenly approached by a foreign guy. He was very friendly and ask me where I was going. It turned out that he actually lived on Tanegashima which is another small island close to Yakushima. He just came back from a short vacation in Kyoto.
For me it would be horrible to live so far away from everything! For a travel geek like me, it would be impossible.
He told me about the life on such a small island. Obviously there are almost no foreigners around, and not really anything else either.
I think he was happy to meet somebody he could speak English with. I guess for people who want to study Japanese the hard way, getting one of the 2-3 English teacher jobs on Yakushima or Tanegashima would be perfect!
I wonder how he’s doing and if he’s still living there. I was asked for my Facebook, but at that time I didn’t have one.
Good thing that I have one now, huh?
Finally it was departure time. The seats were quite comfortable and the Jetfoil ferry wasn’t shaking too much. As I get motion sick extremely easily, I decided to take the more expensive Jetfoil version instead of the normal ferry.
I didn’t regret it. It also saves time!
When the Jetfoil finally arrived in Yakushima, the weather was quite horrible.
There is an old saying that it’s raining 35(!) days a month on Yakushima.
In fact, it’s raining 50% of all days.
Minshuku, rental car and lunch
The owner of the minshuku I booked picked me up from the harbor, brought me to the minshuku, gave me some “insider” travel tips, some maps and then drove me to the rental car service where he had reserved a car for me.
As the weather just got worse and worse , I decided to take it easy and eat lunch. There was no way I could walk around outside in that weather.
Close to Miyanoura Port (where I got off) is a “tourist facility“. It has a small tourist information “center”, lots of souvenirs and in the 2nd floor there’s a restaurant. That’s a good place to start and if it’s just for the tourist information. You can get maps and also rent hiking or rain gear!
I was REALLY glad to have the rental car. That way, I thought, I could explore the island driving around a little (without getting off the car) at least.
Yakushima is the GREATEST inaka I’ve ever seen! There’s almost nothing at all. There’s like one supermarket, a pseudo-convenience store and a few banks and post offices. That’s it.
So, make sure you know where you can get your food!
As for driving, it’s a paradise. It was my first time ever driving in Japan, so I was a little worried.
As the island is circular-shaped with pretty high mountains in the middle, the only way you can go is just around the island along the coast.
The speed limit is also quite slow, especially because once you enter the mountainous area monkeys and deer might jump out all of a sudden (and they did!).
If you can obtain a legal driver’s license for Japan somehow, get a rental car by all means! All the more when you come outside the main season (Golden Week, summer).
After driving through the rainstorm for some time, it suddenly stopped raining. The clouds opened up and blue sky came out. All within a few seconds.
When the weather is THAT crazy, it’s no wonder that we get to see a rainbow! It was so beautiful!
As the rain had stopped, I thought I might as well have a look at my map and go to the closet thing I can find on it. There were a few waterfalls not too far from where I was at that time and so I headed for the one that was the closest.
The Senpiro Fall (千尋の滝) viewed from the observation deck. (Note: This is #6 in the pamphlet I posted at the top of this entry!)
There’s a small parking lot only a minute away from the deck. On my way I met a French guy selling small souvenirs. This must be like the loneliest place on earth. What the hell was he doing there?
Funny enough, whenever I meet other foreigners who obviously have been in Japan for a long time already we never speak English, it’s always Japanese! It makes sense, most of the time I meet people whose native language isn’t English. And I’m not a native speaker of English either. PLUS we’re in Japan, so there you go!
I wonder if he was able to sell anything at all up there … ^-^;; … Maybe he just enjoys sitting there all by himself and so that it doesn’t look too weird, he places all those souvenirs in front of him?! Ahaha~ …
There’s another small observation deck next to the parking lot which lets you see the other side, facing the ocean. Very beautiful.
Almost unbelievable that the weather was so horrible just a while ago.
Sometimes I just stopped the car to take some photos.
That was my tiny little rental car. My current car looks almost the same!
Although it was winter in Yakushima the colors of nature were rich and it felt more like spring.
It was my first experience traveling while driving myself. I had a few times where I wanted to just stop and take photos, but it was impossible. At those times I regretted having a rental car.
That’s the big advantage when you travel by train, bus or bicycle. It’s so much easier to quickly take a photo of a beautiful scenery.
Despite the horrible weather Yakushima made sure I understood its beauty!
It’s truly an awesome island, no matter what!
While it’s a tourist mecca during summer, there aren’t many people in Yakushima in winter.
Yakushima Fruit Garden
The next stop on my route around the island was the “Yakushima Fruit Garden” (#8 in the pamphlet).
It’s run by only 2 elderly people, possibly a married couple. The old man took me for a short tour through the garden and explained everything in detail.
Despite his age he was quite fast, but maybe it just seemed like that because I stopped every few seconds to take photos! ^-^;
The garden features about 1,600 types of tropical fruits and plants. As it was winter there weren’t as many.
Some of them I wouldn’t have recognized at all without the old man mentioning what it actually is!
After the tour you’ll get a plate with fresh seasonal fruit (this is included in the entrance fee). As it was winter, there wasn’t that much, but it was delicious. I think it was also my first time trying dragon fruit!
They also sell fruit juice and jam, maybe a nice souvenir?
This is the Kurio Hama Beach. In summer you can see many sea turtles there!
The Great River Fall
It was about to get dark, but it wasn’t pouring, so I decided to check out another waterfall. This was my last destination of the day.
Remember that it gets dark quite early in winter (4:30 p.m.) and plan accordingly.
The Great River Fall (大川の滝, #5 in the pamphlet) is the highest waterfall in southern Kyushu and the way that the water falls down is very beautiful!
No wonder that it was chosen as one of the 100 most beautiful waterfalls in Japan!
I’m glad I got to see some of the great waterfalls of Yakushima!
Heading back to the Minshuku
It was slowly getting dark and I had to start my long journey back to the minshuku. At that time I was on the other side of the island, so no matter if I turned left or right it would have taken equally long to get back.
Of course I didn’t choose the way that I came from, but went for the other direction so that by the end of the day I would have surrounded the island once. It roughly takes 3 h to surround the island once (of course without any stops).
For that I had to drive through very narrow roads in a forest where you couldn’t go faster than 10km/h as deer were regularly standing on the street, staring at you. I thought they’d run away immediately. They did once I got my camera out to take a photo …
Monkeys were also supposed to be jumping around, but I didn’t see a single one!
The monkeys and deer that are indigenous to Yakushima are called “yakusaru” (from “Yakushima” + “saru (monkey)”) and “yakushika” (shika = deer).