Justifiably designated as a Unesco World Heritage site (Japan’s first) in 1993, Yakushima is one of Japan’s most remarkable travel destinations. More than 75% of Yakushima is covered with thickly forested mountains, and while the high peaks are snowcapped in winter, the mangrove-dotted flat lands around the coastline remain subtropical. The island’s towering terrain also manages to catch every inbound rain cloud, which gives Yakushima one of the wettest climates in Japan.
Yakushima has long been viewed by the Japanese as a mystical island. The old kanji (Chinese characters) for Yakushima meant ‘Medicine Island’, and the island’s indigenous plants have been utilised by herbologists for centuries. In fact, gajutsu, a type of native ginger, is still harvested today for use in digestive medicines. However, it’s the island’s ancient yaku-sugi (;Cryptomeria japonica) cedar trees that inspire most travellers to journey to this primeval wonderland.
Immortalised by Miyazaki’s wildly popular anime Princess Mononoke, Yakushima’s old-growth forests are an incredible destination for mountains hikers and outdoor enthusiasts. But even if you’re not prepared to tackle some of the island’s most difficult treks, there are plenty of easy day hikes at the lower elevations as well as a number of rural onsen and subtropical beaches to explore.