Yakushima will break you, it will spit on your plans and make you rethink every little thing you prepared. Many places in Japan are actually pretty easy to get around, you can hike most of them for a challenge but there’s usually some kind of easy mode as well. You can get driven halfway up Mt. Fuji and start from there, you can just take a cable car up Mt. Misen in Miyajima leaving only a paved path to the top, you have an entire system of busses to take you up Nikko. In most cases, hikers do the hiking and the rest of us enjoy the easy way out so we can take pictures and get back to our precious cafes. There’s no such thing on Yakushima; a tiny little island that is almost insurmountable due to just being covered in mountains.
Yakushima was popularized by Princess Mononoke, once possibly the most famous anime until Spirited Away became everyone’s favorite. Having been through quite a bit of Yakushima now, I can say that the film does capture Yakushima’s atmosphere in a way anything short of physically going can’t. It’s even the reason that got me there in the first place, though it’s obviously something that can be enjoyed by those who’ve never seen the film or plan on seeing it.
I’m not a hiker, for hikers there seems to be a good amount of information out there already. I’ve done all I had in Japan up until this point in just sneakers, even my first trip to Yakushima. But this is a serious hiking place; if you’re not planning on hiking or surfing, don’t even think about it. You can still see the little bit I saw last time, but catch a bad day and you won’t even be able to make that. For those who do decide to hike, I did it with another non-hiker like myself and pretty damn quick at that, so it’s not impossible.
First thing to realize is that Yakushima is a really rainy and rocky place, so hiking boots and rain covers are necessary. Thankfully either can be rented by stores right near the main ferry terminal for a pretty good price (¥1100 for two nights for the boots). A rain repellent coat is also worth looking into, even using the fisherman style P coat could not save me from the worst. When it pours, there will be almost no reason to hit either of the two big spots but the weather changes so frequently, especially in the mountains, so you may get caught in really bad rain anyway and have no way to return besides trudging back.
My first visit was a one day trip, which was really ill-advised. This time was a two-night stay, which I would say is the minimum for going to Yakushima. I’d recommend a couple of days, as many as you could handle on a small island with no convenience stores, if you’re dead set on seeing something specific. Jomon Sugi is impossible to do on a day trip or even 1 night stay, and a two day trip may leave you defeated if you don’t luck out as much as I had with that trail.