GENERAL INFORMATION, CLIMATOLOGY AND WHEN TO GO
Yakushima is a non-active volcano whose almost perfect cone measures approximately 50 km in diameter. It reaches a maximum altitude of 1935 meters, there being multiple peaks greater than 1800 meters, which conditions an important drop.
The island has a subtropical climate; there are two seasons, a season of little rain (I would not dare say dry), and another of plenty. In the less rainy season, which coincides with winter in the northern hemisphere, the maximum temperature is around 13ºC and the minimum is 7ºC; in wet season, which coincides with summer, the maximum is 30ºC and the minimum remains around 24ºC.
Locals say that in Yakushima it rains 35 days a month; although it is an exaggeration, the daily probability of precipitation in winter exceeds 20% and in summer 60%. This has an explanation, the tremendous humidity of the environment; south of Yakushima we’ll find the East China Sea, which is home to the tropical islands of Japan: the Amami and Okinawa. The island is a very high volcano, so the masses of warm air from the south and the lesser warm from the north cause an intense humidity throughout the year; the clouds collide with its abrupt orography, this being the secret of the existence of its rain forest, something very similar to what happens in La Gomera in Spain, another volcanic island of similar size, shape and forest.
The combination of these masses of air makes that Yakushima is always somehow windy, constantly throughout the year but slight, between 15 and 25 km / h. Paradoxically, the temperature of the sea water does not drop below 18ºC even in winter.
All this is applicable to the base of the island, where the towns are located. In the high zones, the temperature decreases drastically the more we rise; I can attest to that, because if the nights I spent at sea level the temperature was about 12ºC, the night I spent in the mountain refuge near the top was -1ºC.
And then there is the issue of massification. The worst time to go is probably during the Golden Week, the first week of May, which is the country’s main vacation week, and also coincides with favorable weather conditions.
WHERE TO EAT, SLEEP AND EQUIP FOR ACTIVITIES
Apart from the mountain shelters, all the accommodation and restaurants on the island are on the coast, Miyanoura and Anbo being its two main nuclei:
- Both are close to the access roads to the trails where the cedars abound. I stayed at the Yakushima Youth Hostel, next to the Miyanoura port; I have good memories although it was a bit expensive, like all the accommodation on the island.
- In these two towns there are stores specialized in sporting goods, and all types of material are rented or sold. Personally I had almost everything, but I was surprised by the intense cold I was told it was at the summit, so I bought some cheap wool gloves and rented a fine sleeping bag, which I put over my own that was also for the summer.
- In Miyanura there are two specialized in hiking and biking near the port: Nakagawa Sports, where I rented, and Yakushima Kanko Center. There are other two stores specialized in diving.
- In Anbo there is one right in the center, on the main road.
- There is another one in Hirauchi: Yakushima South Village.
The south coast that includes the villages of Onoaida, Koshima, Hirauchi and Yudomari (which are contiguous, for practical purposes are a single town) is also very developed, given that it is where the hot springs are concentrated, and therefore the onsens and spas, is where anyone who can afford it wants to end their hiking day. There are three public open-aired ones, which are usually very crowded:
- Kaichu. From 4 to 6 pools of different sizes and temperatures that are normally below sea level, so they can only be used at low tide. Mixed. Suggested donation of 100 ¥.
- Yodomaru, smaller. There are some bamboo screens to separate the area of men and women. Suggested donation 100 ¥.
- Kusukawa, 300 ¥.
In the western zone, the towns of Kurio and especially Nagata are known for:
- Its beaches, to where during the months of May to August marine turtles come to spawn. Umigame-kan is an organization for the preservation of these reptiles; they offer information and during the summer months they organize tours to see the turtles at night (8,000 ¥) on Nagata Inakahama beach, which is at the moment they approach the beach. To avoid disturbing the turtles or stepping on eggs or offspring, it is mandatory to hire the tour; there are two other operators on the island, Native Vision in Miyanoura and Yakushima Guide System in Anbo.
- The small town of Kurio is also close to Okonotaki Waterfall, 88 meters long, considered one of the best in Japan.
The gastronomic specialty of the island, as in many of Kyushu, is the flying fish; they are frequently seen from the shore or from ferries. It’s a curiosity, but I would not say it’s the best fish I’ve ever tasted, I’d say it tastes like whiting.
- In Yakushima there are no banks and there are few ATMs; they are only found in post offices, so you should bring enough cash. In Miyanoura there are two, next to the airport one, in Anbo one and in Onoaida one.
- The island is off the radar of foreign tourists, we would just be 50 gaijin a day. That means that almost nobody speaks English.
- The weather can be disappointing, we must be mentalized that here it rains very often. Enjoying such a lovely forest in the rain can also be charming. It is advisable to go well prepared for hiking. In mountain shelters, temperatures are much colder at night than one might imagine. The day before I went up, the water in the bottles of people who were sleeping at the summit got frozen, and it was mid-April.
- It is discouraged to feed the local fauna, especially the monkeys, who can get too familiar.