Yakushima is a small subtropical island located off the southern coast of Kyushu and part of Kagoshima Prefecture. It is extensively covered by a cedar forest containing some of Japan’s oldest living trees, many of which are more than 1000 years old and are known as yakusugi. The most ancient of these trees are said to be over 7000 years old. Historically, the island’s cedar forests were heavily logged, particularly during the Edo Period, when they were used in the production of cedar shingles for the country’s temples. Today the forests are a vast national park and the main reason for the tourists who come to visit.
The most famous attraction of the island is the Jomonsugi giant cedar, which is estimated to be up to 7200 years old and the oldest tree in Japan. At 25m high, it isn’t especially tall but has a huge trunk of around 5m in diameter.
The Shiratani Unsuikyo Ravine is an easily accessed part of the forests that was the inspiration for the forests seen in the Studio Ghibli animation Princess Mononoke.
Although there are also direct flights from both Osaka and Fukuoka, most visitors arrive via Kagoshima, from where there are both high speed boat transfers and ferries, as well as flights. High speed boats cover the journey in 2 to 3 hours, while flights take just over half an hour.
When on Yakushima, a rental car is generally the best way of getting around, although there is a decent bus service as well.