You don't have to be an experienced hiker to enjoy the forests of Yakushima. Both Shiratani Unsuikyo and Yakusugi Land offer a variety of hiking courses to suit all ages and abilities. Although both areas are well signposted, taking a YES Forest Tour will add to your experience immeasurably. On these two hikes the YES guide will give you a great insight into the ecology & history of the area. See the YES Tour pages for more information.
Shiratani Unsuikyo is famed for its moss-forest scenes and it also popular with fans of the Miyazaki Hayao animation 'Mononoke Hime'. Coming from the direction of Miyanoura then cross over the Miyanoura Bridge and then turn right at the traffic light. Follow the road up and into the mountains for about 30 minutes by car until you come to the parking area. There are a few buses each day or you could take a rather more expensive taxi ride.
Entrance to the Shiratani Unsuikyo hiking trail costs a 300 Yen admission charge and you'll receive a hiking trail map in return. There are a number of trails to follow ranging from a 1 hour walk past Yayoi Sugi (around 3000 years old) to a 5 – 6 hour walk through the mossy primeval forest landscape that helped inspire Miyazaki Hayao, taking you past an array of interesting Yaku sugi trees and ending at a large rocky outcrop called Taiko Iwa (Taiko Rock) from where – on a fine day – you will get a stunning panoramic view of the interior mountains (okudake). In early spring you will be able to see mountain cherry trees. The trail to Taiko Iwa is 'easy' for anyone of general fitness though the last 10 minutes of the hike is steep. On a very cloudy or rainy day then think twice about ascending up to Taiko Iwa as you may see nothing but cloud from the top!
The shorter trails can be crowded at times, but once you pass the bus tour groups then the longer trails offer the chance to have the forest to yourself. The best way to appreciate the forest is to take your time and soak up the atmosphere. It is possible to continue past Taiko Iwa and eventually join the Jomon sugi trail. If you intend to walk to Jomon sugi or Miyanoura Dake the next day then you could stay in the Shiratani Hut which is situated about an hour or so from the entrance. Unfortunately, the Shiratani Unsuikyo hut is probably the worst of all the huts as the toilet is inside the hut and during the summer months then you may wish there was some distance between the sleeping area and the toilet.
Even on these easy routes it is better to have good footwear ie. walking boots. Don't worry if you don't have space in your suitcase as you can rent boots and other hiking equipment on the island. A raincoat is also advisable. Shiratani Unsuikyo can be closed during a heavy rainfall as the rivers can become dangerous to cross. Check with your hotel or tourist information before setting off if you happen to be in Yakushima during a wet period.
You could do the Shiratani Unsuikyo hike on your own as it is certainly easy to navigate. However, you'd be missing the point of this forest if you walked around it without knowing what you were observing and what role things play in the ecological make up of the Shiratani forest. Consider a Shiratani Unsuikyo Tour to make the most out of your visit to the forest.
Yakusugi Land may sound like a theme park, but it's actually a wonderfully scenic area of forest that was logged in Edo times and now offers a variety of easily accessible hiking trails that take you past a number of fine Yaku sugi specimens. You'll find the turn off for Yakusugi Land just south of Anbo and from there it is a 30 minute drive by car, bus or taxi up an increasingly narrow and winding mountain road. There is a 300 yen entry fee and you'll receive a hiking trail leaflet. There are 4 circular trails to follow: ranging from 30 mins to 150 mins.
Yakusugi Land tends to be less crowded than Shiratani Unsuikyo and aside from the Yaku sugi there are also some impressive fir and Japanese hemlock trees to see as well as the ubiquitous moss. Boots are essential for the 80 min & 150 min course, but depending on the weather you can get away with lighter footwear on the 30 & 50 min routes. The river crossings at Yakusugi Land are bridged and therefore it closes less frequently than Shiratani Unsuikyo during a heavy rainfall. An interesting de-tour from the 150 min course takes you to the top of Tachu Dake (a 1497m summit with a huge 40m rock resting upon it – the rock can be seen from Anbo). A round trip including Tachudake should take 8 hours. Be aware that Tachu Dake is not 'easy' and only take this de-tour if you are in reasonably good health. There are some ropes to climb.
Similar to the Shiratani Unsuikyo hike then you could walk around Yakusugi Land on your own, but again your experience of the forest would be greatly increased if you have the knowledge of a local guide along side you. Consider a Yakusugi Land Tour to make the most out of your visit to the forest.