Yakushima is around 25 kilometers in diameter and has more than 39 mountains with peaks higher than 1,000 meters.
At the center of the island is Mount Miyanoura (1,936 m), the highest mountain in Kyushu. You can hike among laurel forests on the lower foothills, which give way to mixed coniferous and deciduous woodlands on the upper slopes. Woodland gives way to shrub and dwarf bamboo on the rocky granite outcrops and weathered ridges nearer the summit. Enjoy the colorful blooms of evergreen Japanese pieris (Pieris japonica) and Yakushima rhododendron along these trails in spring. You may see the bluish-purple flowers of the endemic perennial herb Yakushima rindo (Gentiana yakushimensis) among the rocks in August and September.
You can get information about hiking trails at the Yakushima World Heritage Conservation Center.
Take any of paths at Shiratani Unsuikyo Ravine to experience the otherworldliness of the island's ancient woodlands. Hike around moss-covered boulders and through dense foliage.
Near here are towering Japanese cedar trees, known as yakusugi, some of which are more than 1,000 years old. These include the giant Jomonsugi, a cedar estimated to be over 7,000 years old.
The foothills to the south and west of Mount Miyanoura are also home to thick cedar forests as well as tropical Chinese banyan (Ficus microcarpa) trees. Near the coast is 88-meter high Oko-no-Taki Falls, one of Japan's most powerful and awe-inspiring waterfalls. The island is also home to subspecies of Japanese macaque and Japanese deer.
If you join the observation program, you may see loggerhead turtles heaving themselves up the sand to lay their eggs between May and July at Nagatahama Beach, which is on the northwestern end of the island. Visit the Yakushima Umigame Kan for more about the turtles and conservation initiatives in the region.
The volcanic activity of Mount Furudake and other volcanoes shaped the island of Kuchinoerabujima. You can hike to the still-active crater as long as there are no advisory warnings about local volcanic activity. See the sulfurous gases rising from vents and fissures, known as fumaroles. The mountain slopes turn pink with the blooms of a type of azalea named marubasatsuki from June to July.
Centuries of volcanic activity and erosion have also shaped the distinctive coastline of Kuchinoerabujima. Follow the coastal paths along sea cliffs and past caves hollowed out of the rock by rough seas and high winds. Some parts of the shore have become separated from the main island, forming isolated outcrops. Walk the coast trails in the north to see rocky features such as the iconic Nemachi-no-Tategami (Standing God of Nemachi).
Kuchinoerabujima has several rustic hot springs, including Yumugi Onsen, Nemachi Onsen, Nishinoyu Onsen and Honmura Onsen. Take advantage of the warm volcanic spring waters at these spas, especially after a good hike.
Just south of here is the Megasaki Tide Pool. These large shallow pools, created by the volcanic rock formations, are inhabited by coral colonies and a host of marine life.
Kuchinoerabujima is also home to the endangered Erabu flying fox. These large nocturnal fruit bats are only found here and on the Tokara Islands, which are further south in the East China Sea. You may be able to see them shortly after sunset in forest areas of the island where there is abundant fruit and leaves for them to eat.
Nemachi-no-Tategami (Standing God of Nemachi)
The people of Yakushima Island have an intimate relationship with nature and their surroundings. Their small communities, known as sato, are steeped in centuries of tradition. Visit one of the villages to witness rituals known as takemairi, in which they worship the gods of the mountains and the forests. Locals pray for bountiful harvests and prosperity.
In Nagata Village near Nagatahama Beach, local residents perform a traditional dance called Kamejo Odori (the Turtle Woman Dance) in honor of the sea turtles that lay their eggs there. It’s worth a trip to see the event, which is also believed to bring safety and good fortune to the village.
Visit the Yakusugi Museum and the Yakushima Environmental and Cultural Village Center to gain more insight into the local customs and culture of these traditional ways of life that have remained unchanged for hundreds of years.