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Like the rest of the team at InsideJapan, deciding on one place in Japan as my favourite is quite a challenge and regularly changes. Naturally I always think of my home in southern Kagoshima prefecture and so I’ve finally decided on the beautiful island of Yakushima – a two hour jet foil ride (or short flight) from Kagoshima city. I visited the island for a packed long weekend of hiking, swimming and meeting the island’s unique wildlife last summer.
The island and its forest is said to have inspired Hayao Miyazaki’s epic Princess Mononoke. Despite having a reputation for being one of the most rain-soaked places in Japan (they say it rains there 366 days a year), the beaches and swimming in summer are fantastic and I was disappointed not to have longer to spend there. With its steep terrain and unusual climate, Yakushima is one of Japan’s best natural wonders and is now on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
Yakushima has some of the best hiking opportunities in Japan – from the shorter strolls in the dense forests of Yakusugi land and the Shiratani Unsuikyo forest to the 12 hour round trip to Joumon Sugi, the most famous and largest of the ancient cedar trees which fill the forests, aged somewhere between 3,000 and 1000 years old. Miyanoura dake (1867m) can be climbed with an overnight stay in one of the mountain huts. After a hard days walking, nothing beats relaxing in one of the island’s onsen.
Walking in the forest and even just driving round the island, there are monkeys and deer everywhere. Sea turtles come also onto Yakushima’s beaches to lay their eggs during the early summer and guides will allow you to go and watch during the evenings.
If you make it down to Kyushu, don’t miss out on a trip to Yakushima!