Yakushima – Forest of the Sea

To the Japanese, Yakushima is a mystical  place, and it’s little wonder why: The  island holds some of the country’s oldest  living trees, a primeval forest tableau of  ancient Japanese cedars (Yakusugi), some  more than 3,000 years old. One famous  tree, Johmon Sugi, is said to be 7,000  years old, with a massive and muscular  trunk that measures 16m (52 ft.) around.  It’s not the only thing on Yakushima that’s  outsized. Giant loggerhead turtles emerge  from the sea to lay their eggs—in 2008  alone there were 5,700 reported turtle  landings on the beach at Nagata—3,000  of which lay eggs.

A subtropical island lying off the southern  coast  of  Kyushu         in  the  East  China Sea,  this  World  Heritage  Site  has  been called  the  “Forest  of  the  Sea.”  This  is  the place that inspired Hayao Miyazaki’s celebrated anime movie, Princess Mononoke; one area of the forest, Mononoke-hime no Mori,  is  even  named  for  Princess  Mononoke.

Three-quarters of the island is forested mountains,  and  the  rainy  climate  keeps things wet and wild; in fact, this is the wettest place in Japan. It’s water, water everywhere:  Moss  blankets  the  undergrowth, and  waterfalls  tumble  into  sun-dappled plunge pools. All this humidity, combined with  the  fertile  volcanic  soil,  makes  for  a bonanza of flora, with some 1,900 species and subspecies.

Mountaineering is a popular activity on Yakushima; the season begins in May. Hiking trails lead up to the summit of Mount Miyanouradake,   the   island’s   highest peak,  but  you  can  find  trails  all  over  the island.  Even  though  trails  are  clean  and well-marked,  it’s  recommended  that  you have one of the official Yakushima guides lead you on a hiking trek into the densely wooded mountains.

Most  visitors  use  a  rental  car  to  get around  the  island;  agencies  are  located near  the  ferry  docks  and  the  airport.  In high  season,  a  shuttle  bus  runs  from  the Yakushima Museum to the entrance to the Arakawa Trail, which leads to the Johmon Sugi tree—the only way to see the ancient cedar.