- What's the weather like?
- What can I do if a hike gets cancelled?
- When is a good time to visit Yakushima?
Hiking clothing, equipment, and preparations
- What are the mountain huts like?
- Is my rain gear adequate?
- Do I really need hiking boots?
- How can I rent hiking gear?
- What could go wrong on a hike?
- What trails are accessible by bus?
- How can we get to Yakushima?
- Where can we stay?
- How can we rent a car?
- How do we ride the bus?
- What animals can I expect to see?
- What dangerous plants and animals do I need to watch out for when hiking?
- How should we act around wild animals?
- Should we bring our children hiking?
- Can we find vegetarian/vegan/gluten-free food?
- Is there a hospital or clinic?
- Is there an ATM?
Seasons and weather
- What's the weather like?SEASONS and also rain gear.
- What can we do if a hike gets canceled because of bad weather?Visit the Yakusugi Nature Museum near Anbo, or the Environmetal and Cultural Center in Miyanoura. Make your own Yakusugi chopsticks. Take a bus tour of the island, or drive around to visit waterfalls, which are especially magnificent after heavy rain. Warm up at an onsen or a cafe. If you really want to go hiking, visit Yakusugiland, which is accessible in all but the worst weather.
- When is a good time to visit Yakushima?Let's start with when not to visit Yakushima. In general, avoid June and the Japanese holidays of Obon (in August) and Golden Week (in May). The rainy season is usually at its rainiest in June, which means there are less tourists than other summer months, but a good chance that many of the trails will be flooded. During big holidays, the most popular trails tend to be flooded with people. If you have to come during a Japanese holiday, I suggest exploring less famous trails, such as Kusukawa (right next to Shiratani-Unsuikyo Park), or Ryuujin Sugi (on the same mountain as Jomon Sugi, but approached from the opposite face). You could also opt for a two-day hike, but arrive early at the mountain shelter or carry a tent in case it's full.
Besides the above dates, any time is fine. Many forest flowers bloom in spring, and the the rhododendrons bloom in late spring and early summer. Water activities such as snorkeling and kayaking are also popular in warmer months. Fall foliage is notoriously hard to catch, but the yellow Kalopanax and red maples are gorgeous. Winter offers slightly drier weather, and the coastal towns are warm throughout the year, but the Yakushima infrastructure is not prepared to handle the snow and ice. The road to the Arakawa Trail Head (trail to Jomon Sugi) may be closed due to ice, and the trail to Mt. Miyanoura may be burried in snow to the point that it is impossible to follow. However, other areas are usually excessable, and the snow-covered moss is lovely.
See the section on SEASONS.
Hiking clothing, equipment, and preparations
- What are the mountain huts like?There are six mountain huts, which I prefer to call shelters. They have concrete walls, a roof, a raised deck to sleep on, windows, and an out-house, but other than that they are pretty spartan. No electricity, and no attendant. Water comes from a nearby creek. Takatsuka is the newest but Shin-Takatsuka may be a better bet in case of crowding; Ishizuka and Shika-no-Sawa tend to be rather lonely (except in peak season and when the rhododendrons are blooming). Shiratani Hut is the only one with toilet paper (Throw it in the hole in the wall.) and it sometimes smells as such. You may use gas stoves outside the huts, but open fires are prohibited. It's a good idea to arrive early and/or bring a tent during the tourist season.
- I'm used to rain. Do I still need rain gear?Weather varies around the island, so do not trust the weather forcast. Anticipate rain.
You may not see any rain while you're here, but at any time of year, hikes may be canceled due to heavy rains. Think 30+ centimeters in a day, easily (a foot or more for customary folks). In Yakusugiland, it's possible to have the average annual rainfall of London in one day, or the average annual rainfall of Seattle in two days. If you're from Meghalaya, well, you're probably used to it.
Rain gear is important to have for both comfort and safety. If you should have to stop hiking, even to take a break, the rain can absorb a lot of heat and make you cold if you don't have a basic shelter or rain gear. Even with rain gear, waterproof backpack, and waterproof shoes, every inch of you and everything you carry that isn't in a ziplock bag may come back soaked. If you're hiking in cool weather or doing a two-day hike, seal your extra cothing and/or sleeping bag in plastic/vinyl bags. Jean pants and cotton T-shirts are discouraged beacause they become heavy and can also cause painful chafing.
Shiratani and many less-famous trails flood rapidly. If you cannot safely cross a river, just wait for it to subside or turn back if possible.
- All the Japanese tourists have snazzy-looking hiking gear and heavy-duty rain-wear. Why?The only thing more miserable than being wet and cold in the mountains is taking wet and miserable tourists on a hike through the mountains. If your rain gear is not breathable, you can expect to become saturated with sweat. If your rain gear is from the 100-yen store, you can expect it to tear. Also, rental gear is usually supplied in very good condition.
- Do I really need hiking boots?Hiking boots are a really good idea. You'll probably be walking on a lot of slippery, moss-covered roots, so you'll appreciate shoes with better traction than most sneakers. Good chance you'll go through some muddy puddles, too. If you hike on a really rainy day, they may be soaked through even if they're waterproof.
- How do I rent gear?You can rent rain gear, shoes, a backpack and more at rental shops (or some accomodations) in Anbo and Miyanoura. Stop by the rental-shop the day before your hike, and then return the items the next evening (or sometimes the following morning depending). A set of rain gear usually runs about 1000 yen for one day or 1500 yen for two days.
- Yakushima is a small, subtropical island, what could go wrong?The terrain is steep and the weather is variable and often severe. Rivers can flood quickly due to steep granite slopes and heavy rains upstream that you may not be aware of. Swaths of fog can reduce visability to a few meters. If you use caution, stay on the trails, and prepare for delays (by starting early and taking precautions in case you have to wait for a river to recede), however, you should be fine.
- What trails are accessible by bus?The following inland trail heads are accessible by bus:
- Shiratani-Unsuikyo Park,
- the Arakawa Trail Head (railway tracks that head towards Jomon Sugi), and
- the Onoaida Trail Head (in the town of Onoaida),
- the Kusukawa Trail Head (in the town of Kusukawa), and
- the Yodogawa Trail Head (where the shortest trail to Mt. Miyanoura starts).
All of the above trail heads are part of a connected network.
- How can we get to Yakushima?There are a few websites with information on transportation between Kagoshima and Yakushima. From Kagoshima, the cheapest transportation is an overnight ferry (Ferry Hibiscus). There is also a jetfoil service (called Toppi) and flights operated by JAL that run several times daily. JAL also offers direct (but expensive) flights from Osaka, as well as flights between Tokyo (Haneda) and Kagoshima. Peach offers discount flights between Kagoshima and Osaka. If you are flying, book early for cheaper prices.
See my blog post on this. Please keep in mind that weather may cause delays, so I advise that you give yourself a buffer if you'll be traveling internationally after leaving Yakushima.
- Where can I stay on Yakushima?No matter your tastes -- campsites, hostels, minshuku, ryokans, cottages, and resort hotels -- Yakushima has something for you and your budget. If you speak Japanese, call the Tourist Information Booth; they are amazingly helpful. If you're planning to book a hike, ask your guide. More and more websites are starting to introduce accommodations. . .
- How can we rent a car?If you plan to rent a car, bring an international licence, passport, and your driver's licence with you. Some countries do not need an international licence, and it very easy to get anyways, BUT you can only get it in the country where your driver's licence was issued.
Many car rental places offer half-day rentals as well as free pick-up and drop-off for places on the EAST side of Yakushima. However, if you plan to drive from your accommodation to the port and catch the first boat back before the gas stations open, you will not be able to use the car the night before unless you tell the car rental to charge you for a full tank of gas.
Please be careful! Drive on the left! The roads to Shiratani Unsuikyo Park, Yakusugiland, Yodogo Trail Head, and the West Forest Road (Seibu Rindo) are windy, mountain roads with ongoing contruction and chance of rockslides, and animals. They narrow to one lane at many points, so you may have to reverse around corners when you meet oncoming traffic. You can not drive to the Arakawa Trail Head (for Jomon Sugi) from March through November because traffic is restricted to buses and taxies.
During holidays, rental cars may be booked out. Unfortunately, it is still difficult to book in advance without speaking Japanese. Some accomodations such as Manmaru and Mori no Kokage Cottage help guests with car rental.
- How can we ride the bus?There are two bus companies, but buses are few and far between. Each company offers regular buses and also bus tours (in Japanese) that make a full loop of the island. You can download bus schedules and maps here:
One- and three-day bus passes are very popular for buses run by the Yaku-Tane Kotsu company. If you are not using a pass, take a numbered ticket when you get on (unless you board at stop "0"). When you get off, match your ticket to the number on the board (NOT your bus stop number), and pay the displayed price. Buses can usually make change for 1000 yen, but NOT for higher denominations. (If all you have is 2000, 5000, or 10000 yen bills, please go to a store or information booth or something ahead of time and get change!)
I highly suggest you stop at an information booth (Anbo, Miyanoura, airport). You can buy bus passes there, and they can help you plan the most efficient schedule.
To go to the Arakawa Trail Head (for Jomon Sugi) from March through November, there are buses that run early mornings on the east side of the island to the Yakusugi Museum. There, you will have to change to the "Arakawa Tozan" shuttle bus, which requires a seperate ticket. You are encouraged to buy these tickets in advance at an information booth (Anbo, Miyanoura, airport). If you buy tickets and don't use them, you can return them at the information booth.
- What animals can I see?
- What dangerous plants and animals do I need to watch out for when hiking?Let's see, there's the mamushi pit-viper snake which usually sticks to darkness, but may come out on cloudy days. Large millipedes called mukade can be found at lower elevations. They can sting just by dragging their pincers. The giant suzume wasps are most active in late summer and early fall if the weather has been dry. They will often fly by to check you out, but do not tend to attack unless their nest is disturbed. There are claims of poison ivy, but I have never encountered it. There are also plenty of other poisonous plants and animals, but most of them won't hurt you unless you eat them!
- How should I act around a wild animal?Monkeys and deer have no natural predators in Yakushima, so they are not necessarily afraid of other animals (including humans) passing by. In fact, I feel it is best to announce your presence, by talking with a soft voice. Walking straight towards an animal may frighten it. Try to avoid sudden movements and try not to make eye-contact with monkeys. If you do not startle them or menace them, they will most likely ignore you. Anxious monkeys will usually show you a wide, toothless grin before (feining) attack.
Please do not feed wild animals or leave food (including food-like items like trash, cigarettes, or frangrant items) where wild animals can access them.
DO NOT APPROACH SEA TURTLES without instruction. A startled mother may return to the ocean without laying eggs. Hatchlings will blindly follow any light they see and can easily become disoriented by man-made lights.
- Is hiking in Yakushima appropriate for chidren?I think hiking on rough terrain can be a great opportunity for even young children to develop coordination and balance. And these days we all could do with more exposure to the world outdoors! Some things to keep in mind:
- I find that as people age, they enjoy a steadier pace. Younger hikers may have bursts of energy but need many short breaks for energy-rich (i.e. sugary) snacks to sustain them. Can you match your child's pace? Will your child need a short nap in the afternoon?Can they match your pace? Please consider this when considering a long hike.
- Can your child use a stinky squat-style toilet or a disposable toilet pack? Can your child go for several hours without using a toilet?
- This applies more to older children, but will your child be content staying on the trail with the group? Can your child speak in a reasonable voice? Is your child reasonably tolerant of insects? (I've had teenagers who scream at the top of their lungs at the sight of a fly. This is not really acceptable behavior.)
- Can we find vegetarian/vegan/gluten-free food?Honestly, yes, but not easily. Please understand that vegetarianism, veganism, and gluten-free/peanut-free/and other dietary restrictions are not as widely practiced here as in many western countries, and "customizing" meals is very unusual in Japan. While many restaurants can remove beef from a meal, they may have more trouble removing beef-stock. Check with your accommodation to see if they can offer meals to meet your needs or if there is a supermarket nearby.
- Is there a hospital or clinic?Yes. There is a large hospital with emergency services (Tokushukai Byouin, 徳洲会病院) in Miyanoura and many smaller clinics around the island.
- Is there an ATM?Most post office branches have ATM machines that are open during DAYTIME HOURS ONLY. There are also a few banks, but I've had the most luck with international debit cards at the post office.
Most businesses in Yakushima do not accept credit cards.