I'm often asked what the best season is to visit Yakushima. That's a hard question to answer, so here goes:
There's no right/wrong answer here, every season has it's pluses and minuses and unpredictable weather!
In general, there's no way to avoid the RAIN, and the moss is most beautiful after a good rain. Some years are generally wetter than others, and if you come during the rainy season, you'll most likely get rain!
Although summer is obviously most ideal for water sports, if you wear a wet-suit, water sports can be enjoyed throughout most of the year.
For plants, check out What's in Bloom Now.
- WINTER: Late November to March Take a hibiscus flower and put it on a snowman's head.
- It hardly ever snows in the coastal towns, but it often snows in the interior. Forest hikes can be beautiful with moss peaking out of the snow, icicle-lined streams, and trees covered in frozen mist. Trails are very empty and quiet, and you can see the footprints of animals in the snow. Also, there are no leeches even on the rugged trails of outer mountains in the winter!
Oh, and it's tangerine/orange season from late December through March! So delicious!
- Although it doesn't tend to accumulate enough to go snow-showing and I've never hard of an avalanche disaster here, there are definitely other dangers. White-out conditions in the central mountains due to snow, wind, or fog can make it impossible to see your own footprints and find the trail. Stair cases and bridges become slick with ice. Even small things like opening the door at a hut may become difficult. Tree limbs may also fall across the trail under the weight of snow. If the temperature is just above freezing, hypothermia is a huge danger if you're hiking through rain or on trails submerged in icey water.
Also, the city closes the roads when they have ice on them. It seems like a few days every year the road to the Yodogo Trail Head (for Miyanoura Dake) especially, and also the roads to Yakusugiland and the Arakawa Trail Head (for Jomon Sugi) are closed due to ice. Be aware that even if there is no ice in the morning when you depart on a hike, ice could form in the evening before you return.
I do not have training for snow hikes, so I do not take clients above the tree line in heavy-snow conditions. Many accomodations and stores also close from November through February.
Many facilities such as small guest houses and seasonal restaurants are closed. The number of boats running between Yakushima and Kagoshima decreases, and there are limited buses to/from the Arakawa Trail Head (Jomon Sugi).
- HIKING PREP:
- As always, don't wear cotton. Down also insulates poorly when wet. Proper rain gear is a must. Dress in warm layers and bring extra clothes inside a plastic bag. Crampons can be a nightmare when there's not enough snow to fully burry tree roots, so consider light spikes and micro spikes, too, for forest hiking. (I carry micro-spikes for my clients.) Poles are useful for testing the snow before you step. If you are the first hiker on a snow-covered staircase and there are others behind you, it would be kind to brush the snow aside rather than pack it down into slippery ice as you walk.
- SPRING: Late March through mid-May Tourist season officially starts in Yakushima in March. Spring storms harold colorful young shoots and leaves.
- Many people prefer the colors of spring to the colors of fall. (Remember, much of Yakushima is dominated by evergreen deciduous trees that do not change colors in the fall.) Starting with little copsis flowers and big fuscia camelias in February and culminating in cherry trees in April and rhododendrons in May, spring is a beautiful time of year. April is often less crowded because it is the beginning of the fiscal year in Japan.
- You know the saying about spring showers, and they can be quite strong, blowing in cold snaps out of the blue. The rainy season also gets underway in mid-late May, but it is often rainy from the end of April. Avoid the Japanese holidays of Golden Week if you can (and if you can't, try the less popular trails).
- HIKING PREP:
- As always, don't wear cotton, but bring good rain gear (top and bottom, breathable, waterPROOF) and dress in layers. Bring an extra jacket or sweater inside a plastic bag.
- RAINY SEASON: Late May to early July, maybe longer Flowers, birth, and rain!
- One of Yakushima's most spectacular sights, the blanket of rhododendrons blooming in the central mountains, is only visible in late May to early June in the central mountains. Sea turtles egg-laying season is at it's peak. Deer and monkeys start to give birth. If you like rain and mist and luscious moss, this is your season!
- Expect to be soaked through to the bone if you go hiking in the rain. Leeches are pretty active on less-used trails. Trails and mountain roads may be closed do to threat of rock-slides or flooding. Your electronic equipment may malfunction due to the humidity. Foggy lenses, too.
- HIKING PREP:
- Definitely don't wear cotton. Even with rain gear, you'll likely get soaked, but then you can use your rain gear to retain warmth. Be ready to turn back or wait to cross a river if it's flooded. Pack an extra pair of shoes in your suitcase and carry a ziploc bag for your electronics when you hike.
- SUMMER:Mid-July through September Right after rainy season, there's usually a relief from the rain, but be ready for storms!
- Sea turtles lay eggs at night through mid-summer, and then the eggs begin to hatch. Enjoy water sports like swimming, snorkeling, diving, kayak/SUP/canoeing, and river-climbing! Even though the interior may be rainy, the coasts are often sunny!
- Typhoon season starts in July and lasts through fall. Even without typhoons, blue skies can turn to afternoon showers and squalls are frequent at any time. You'll be soaking with sweat if not with rain when you hike! Some years are just plain rainy. Try to avoid the Japanese holidays of the Obon season.
- HIKING PREP:
- As always, no cotton. If your rain gear isn't breathable it's pretty useless while you're hiking.
- FALL: October through November Autumn foliage and drier weather are enticing, but often elucive.
- Cooler, dryer weather is usually good for hiking. The fall leaves may not be as bountiful as in mainland Japan, but they are beautiful against a mossy green backdrop.
- Try to avoid the Japanese holidays of Silver Week. Typhoons are possible and some years see swaths of fog. Temperatures begin to get colder and days are shorter.
- HIKING PREP:
- Be ready for cooler weather. Don't let darkness catch you cold and wet and without a light.
WINTER: Snow in the mountains. Roads may be icey.
SPRING: Colorful new foliage. Spring storms and the beginning of rainy season.
RAINY SEASON: Flowers and sea turtles. Roads and trails may close if there is too much rain.
SUMMER: Water sports as well as hiking. Sea turtles. Typhoon season.
FALL: Cooler, sometimes more stable weather, and a little colorful foliage, but still typhoon season.