Yakushima is a small island off the southern coast of Kyushu that is famous for its lush green forests, towering mountains, and balmy climate. Parts of the island are designated as a UNESCO world heritage area, and the mossy primeval forests are said to be the inspiration for Studio Ghibli’s animated movie Princess Mononoke.
Yakushima’s most famous residents are the ancient cedar trees known as yakusugi, some of which are estimated to be between 1000 and 7000 years old. Most of them are hidden deep within the mountains of Yakushima’s rugged and wet interior, and so only tend to be visited by dedicated hikers.
There are a few places, however, where it is possible to see some of these magnificent living fossils without too much exertion, and Yakusugi Land is one such spot. This nature park in the mountains to the south-east of Yakushima has a number of easy walking trails in the breathtakingly beautiful green forest that pass close to some impressively large and old yakusugi, making it one of the most accessible places for seeing these ancient cedars.
All of the trails are well marked and can be combined to form satisfying loop walks for all abilities. The shorter ones take only 30 minutes to complete while the longer walks last for 2 or 3 hours. There are wooden boardwalks along the easier trails, while more rugged paths for more experienced hikers cross over rocks and gnarly tree roots, leading deeper into the pristine forest sanctuary. There are pamphlets with maps at the entrance, so be sure to pick one up.
A couple of more serious hiking trails start at or near Yakusugi Land, but just 20 minutes further up the road (and at the final stop for buses) is Kigensugi, another of Yakushima’s ancient cedar trees, and possibly the only one on the entire island that is reachable by car, as it is conveniently situated right next to the road.
Yakusugi Land is easily accessible by car on the 592 road, which heads inland from just outside the small port town of Anbo. Allow 30 minutes to drive up the winding but fully paved mountain road. There are spectacular views along the way and you have a good chance of spotting deer or wild macaques near the roadside.
There are plenty of parking spaces at Yakusugi Land, and entry to the park is 500 yen (or 300 yen if you show the discount coupon from Shiratani Unsuikyo).
Buses also run between Anbo and Yakusugi Land, although there are only a few a day. Ask at the tourist information centre for the schedule. Take a bus bound for Kigensugi Cedar and get off at Yakusugi Land.