Yakushima (Part 1) – Kagoshima, Japan

It’s was a good thing my little rental scooter maxed out at 50km/hr, or I’d be burning rubber along Yakushima’s beautiful coastline with the adrenalin and excitement I was feeling. A world heritage destination, Yakushima is famous for it’s beautiful forests filled with moss and some ancient giant cedar trees that were spared from being cut down during the height of logging on the island. The oldest cedar tree Jomon-sugi is reputed to be almost 8,000 years old. Yakushima’s beauty inspired the animation Princess Mononoke, and after spending a week both in misty mysterious forest and sunny coastline, this is one of my most favourite trips in Japan.

Ready? Let’s go! Looking down at one of the many beautiful canyons and rivers in Yakushima.

Like any destination really worth visiting promising rugged outdoor beauty, it’s not the easiest or cheapest place to get to. The options are by air or sea, and since I’m on a budget I chose the cheaper option of going by sea from Kagoshima city. From Kagoshima, there are 3 options to get to Yakushima by sea. The quickest is by hydrofoil boat which takes 2 hours and costs ¥‎15,000 return ($194 CAD). The middle option is the Yaku 2 ferry which takes 4 hours, has one sailing at 8.30am and costs return ¥‎8,900 return ($115 CAD). The cheapest is an overnight ferry that stops at some islands along the way to Yakushima for ¥‎7,200 return ($93 CAD)

A faster but more expensive option by boat, is to take the Hydrofoil boat which has more sailing times.
The Yaku 2 Ferry which is cheaper and located in the same terminal area as the Hydrofoil boats.
The inside of Yaku Ferry felt a little tired and has seen better days, but it was still clean and comfortable. A good nap and you’re there.
Hilary and pocket ninja pose for a photo in front of Sakurajima volcano as the ferry passes by.
Sun, sky and calm waters. The ferry trip to Yakushima was very pleasant.

Initially I was hesitant to make the trip out to Yakushima by ferry because I easily feel nauseas on boats, and a four hour ride on a swaying ferry you can’t escape in bad weather would be my nightmare. But I was greeted with blue skies and calm waters for an easy comfortable ferry ride.

Getting off at Miyanoura port I could see clouds begin to roll in with slight threat of rain. There’s a tourist information centre in front of the ferry terminal where you can get free wifi, pick up brochures in English and the timetable for the bus that goes around the island. Usually I rely on tourist centres to help me make bookings for accommodation, but for some reason there’s was a sign up here saying they can’t help call to make reservations. I feel that tourist centres are there to help tourists? Especially non-Japanese speaking tourists trying to find their way. Perhaps they can reconsider in the future.

The outdoor gear rental shop at Miyanoura. I brought most of my own gear so I’m not sure about the selection inside, but I’ve heard they carry everything you’ll need if you decide to hike on the island.

Yakushima is not big, it’s about 140km around the island starting from Miyanoura so I rented a 50cc scooter from a Suzuki rental outlet and rode around the island over two days at a leisurely pace. The rental fee was ¥‎4,350 ($56 CAD) for 24 hours and if you’re comfortable riding a scooter I highly recommend it as a way to travel around the island. 50cc would not be enough to carry a passenger though, if there’s 2 you’ll be better off renting at least 125cc. The roads are smooth, and you only follow one main road to go all around so it’s impossible to get lost.

My initial plan was to stay overnight at a campground near Miyanoura, but with the lack of signage in English I wasn’t able to find it and I didn’t make any bookings in advance… an opportunity for another adventure in finding a place to stay for the night!

Note: There are several car / scooter / bicycle rental options available on the island. You can find more information and their locations at the Miyanoura information centre. There is limited signage in English, campsites and accommodation can be tricky to find. Also, for small campsites most require a reservation in advance so the host knows you’re coming.

Riding along the coast looking for a campsite for the night. The weather also cleared up!

I can’t really do justice to just how beautiful it was to ride around the coast of Yakushima. So I’ll just let the photos do the talking! Every few minutes I just had to stop and pull over to take photos; on the right were forest and rivers with crystal clear water that then flowed down to the sea on the left.

Just one of the many beautiful rivers flowing from the centre of the island.
And flowing down into the sea.
I especially loved riding across the bridges with the rivers flowing underneath, and the sun begins to set.
If you look closely you can see the Seibu forest road that runs along the coast.

I decided to go to Kurio to try my luck at the Youth Travel Village that was listed on the tourist map as a campsite. There was a sign in English that I could easily see from the main road but once I turned in I couldn’t find an obvious sign to the village and spent a little time wandering. Luckily I came across two older gentlemen who helped me find the owner and also kept repeating that I came all the way from Canada to stay, thanks for making me feel special! For ¥‎660 ($9 CAD) I got a 5 star view of the sunset disappearing behind the horizon with the sea tinted gold.

I got the whole campsite to myself. Not a bad way to spend the night!
Packing up the next morning in the fresh sea breeze.

The next morning I continued onwards towards Nagata. The road from Miyanoura to Kurio was wide with two lanes for traffic both ways. From Kurio to Nagata the road narrows to mostly a single road that climbs upwards with fun twists and turns. I saw more wildlife on this part of the island with monkeys laying around the road and deers skittishly crossing, so I wouldn’t recommend driving on this section at night.

Home is where you take it, though this guys home I would probably trust more in worse weather.
Sigh… life is tough.
Oooh yeah that’s the spot, lemme roll over a little.
Hmph, why does he get two groomers and I only get you.
Single road to Nagata with a monkey business warning sign.
Yakushima is also famous for its many dramatic waterfalls. Here is Oko-no-taki waterfall, listed as one of the top 100 waterfalls in Japan.

Passing the town of Nagata the road widens again and passing by Isso beach it was very tempting to stop and go for a swim in it’s inviting blue waters. But I needed to return my scooter by noon and get started on the next part of my Yakushima adventure which was hiking inland and staying the next few nights in the mountain huts, so I’ll just have to come back next time for a dip!

Beautiful hues of blues near Isso beach. Looks very inviting to swim in.
The road becomes double lane again after passing Nagata.

Returning the scooter was really easy, and they didn’t even check if the gas tank was full and just took my word for it. You have to love island life trust and honesty! Spending two days leisurely cruising around the island was really fun, and I wish I had more time to go around the opposite way from Miyanoura just because. In the areas from Miyanoura to Anbo I did see many nice cafe signs offering free wifi too, and Yakushima is known for its citrus products so you could easily spend time cruising around going cafe hopping and trying the local treats.

This Part 1 post covers my motorized adventure around the island and the sights. Part 2 will detail my 4 days hiking in the mountains and forest of Yakushima which continued to inspire me with its beauty but also kick my behind in terms of difficulty. More fun times ahead! With a chance of rain.

Going back to the starting point, Miyanoura. Really lucked out with the weather again on the second day!

Top Tips:

  • There is limited English signage available and since it’s the island life people running accommodation may not be around for walk ins. If you don’t like uncertainty, best to book accommodation in advance so that the host is aware of your arrival and you know where to go.
  • There are car / scooter / bicycle rental options on the island, it’s worth renting to be able to ride around the island to see all the views.
  • The website YES! Yakushima has lots of information and maps, and also can help with bookings! I haven’t used their booking service so I can’t comment, but if you’re looking for assistance they seem like a good bet.
  • For the ferry options to Yakushima from Kagoshima, YES! Yakushima has very accurate and up to date information here. Note the cheapest option by overnight Hibiscus ferry may not be worth the roughly $20 CAD in savings compared to the Yaku 2 ferry when you consider the transit time, and the Hibiscus ferry terminal is not as easily accessible as the Yaku 2 and Hydrofoil terminal. I’m not even sure where the Hibiscus terminal is.
Go and rent that scooter! So much fun and exploration awaits.

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