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Soaring, spectacular sugi (Japanese cedars) and mountains cloaked in lush primeval forest - it is little wonder how Yakushima Island earned its UNESCO-protected status. Lying 38 miles south of Kyushu, this small, circular island is famous for its great wealth of cedar species, with the older cedars - dubbed yakusugi - dated to several thousands of years. Aside from incredibly scenic ancient rainforest and steep, 6,000-foot-plus slopes, Yakushima is an important site for loggerhead turtles, who lay their eggs on the island's beaches between May and August every year.
Visitors to Yakushima come to experience the island's moss-covered forests, and if not to hike its challenging mountain terrain then to simply appreciate the majesty of its yakusugi. The landscapes here are truly enchanting; it was in fact Yakushima that inspired Hayao Miyazaki's iconic animation Princess Mononoke. Turtle viewing is another draw, with several options for seeing these incredible creatures without encroaching on their territory. As with many other Japanese destinations, Yakushima also offers a natural onsen experience, with some springs located by the sea.
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See the oldest of Yakushima’s ancient cedars, the immense jomon sugi – revered in Japan. Estimated to be between 2,170 and 7,200 years old, this sacred tree is somewhat of a Shinto icon, and a popular pilgrimage site for many Japanese.
Venture into the profoundly picturesque forests of the island on one of its many hiking trails. Opt for a challenging, mountainous route or take a more leisurely path through the mystical, mossy Shiratani Unsuikyo ravine. Most trails will lead past at least one yakusugi tree.
Yakushima Environmental and Cultural Center
For a deeper understanding of the island’s fascinating ecology, visit the Yakushima Environmental and Cultural Center, where exhibits provide information on its nature and culture. A Japanese-language film will be translated by the guide.
Learn the ancient craft of chopstick making at the oldest yakusugi crafting business on the island – the family-run Kashima-Kougei. Applying three generations’ of experience in furniture crafting, the family instruct visitors on how to fashion a set of chopsticks or a key ring utilizing the wood of Japanese cedars.
Shakunage No Mori Park
Stroll the rhododendron-dotted gardens of Shakunage No Mori Park, a scenic area beset by mountain and river views. The park is most beautiful from late March to early June, when the indigenous Yakushima alpine rose – and a host of other flower species – come into bloom.
Local Gallery or Workshop
Immerse yourself in local indigenous arts and crafts with a visit to one of the island’s numerous workshops, or by viewing an exhibition at a gallery. There’s also the option of watching skilled craftspeople at work. While it’s prohibited to log yakusugi trees, local artisans use fallen trees and stumps to ply their trade – the price of the item is a good indicator of the age of the wood.
Japan: the land of exquisite coastlines, dramatic volcanoes, and vibrant cities. In this two-week action-packed itinerary, you’ll visit some of the best sites this incredible nation has to offer, all while enjoying comfort and style at some of the country’s most luxurious hotels.
Experience a side of Japan that very few visitors get to see on this exciting two-week adventure through Kyushu and Shikoku. Enjoy breathtaking hikes in some truly beautiful places, marvel at spectacular scenery and soak up the local culture in these two unique, remote areas of Japan.
Sankara Hotel & Spa
Yakushima Island, on the southernmost tip of Japan’s toes, is a designated UNESCO world heritage site. Nestled between its mountains and cedar forests, still within close proximity of the ocean, is the Sankara Hotel & Spa. The ideal secluded retreat for nature lovers, the hotel is surrounded by stunning, rugged scenery and hiking trails which lead intrepid explorers to ravines and waterfalls and through forests filled with exotic flora and fauna. Guests seeking a more relaxing experience will be delighted with the cozy on-site library, a perfect spot to curl up with a good book. What’s more, the resort boasts the first Asia Herb Association spa in Japan, where a range of Thai herbal treatments are available. The auberge-style hotel pays homage to French style and elegance, with delicious French cuisine cooked in an open kitchen and served in Okas Restaurant. Meanwhile, the 29 suites and villas are warm and sumptuous, clad with deep cedar wood, yet maintaining a sense of space and light with their high ceilings.