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Yakushima, Japan Adventure

12/28/2003

Yakushima, Japan, the Floating Alps. Home of the ancients, World Heritage island. Information about adventures there.

Adventure photos

Photos available from an Autumn Yakushima adventure: Yaku-sugi Trees; Mountain Views; Yakushima Forest; and Yakushima Waters.

Notes

  • Plan ahead: it's a hard-to-reach destination, with increasing popularity.
  • Prepare for rain. It is inevitable.

What is this place ?

One hour south of Kagoshima by jetfoil Is Yakushima, home to Kyushu's highest mountain, Mt. Miyanoura, and many other peaks. The Island, only 24 km in diameter, is known as the floating Alps. Yakushima became the first place in Japan to be designated a World Natural Heritage Site. The island's symbol is the "Jomon-Sugi" cedar tree, age estimated 3000 to 7000 years. Yakushima has been gaining popularity as an eco-tourist spot, where people can learn about the island's precious environment at cultural and environmental centers.

Open-air onsen, including the kai-chu onsen in the sea,
are among the tops anywhere. 

Adventures include kayaking, snorkeling, river wading (sawanobori), diving, swimming, hiking and climbing the 2000 meter peaks and steep cliffs, and hot springs. The northeast side of the island gets a lot of rain, as do the mountain peaks in the center of the island. By contrast, the southwest side stays quite a bit dryer and makes for some nice beach days.

World Heritage

Yakushima was inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1993.

PHYSICAL FEATURES Yakushima island is almost 2,000m high and is the highest mountain in southern Japan. Several peaks are over 1,800m with mountain ridges over1,000m surrounding these central high peaks. Topography from coastline to the mountainous summits is extremely steep.

CLIMATE Varies with altitude from sub-tropical, warm temperate to cool temperate, tending to sub-alpine. Mean annual temperature is 20 deg. C in coastal areas, decreasing to 15 deg. C inland. Air temperature can fall below zero in the mountain summit area and snowfall is common in winter. Annual precipitation is very high, varying with altitude and aspect, from 4000mm along the coast to 10,000mm inland. Humidity is also very high, averaging 73-75%, and in the rainy season, June, exceeding 80%.

VEGETATION Vegetation is significantly different from the mainland. Vertical vegetation distribution is distinct, with sub-tropical vegetation near the coastline, and warm temperate, temperate, cool temperate and sub-alpine species further inland as altitude increases. Cool temperate zone coniferous forest, characterised by Abies firma, Tsuga sieboldii and Cryptomeria japonica occurs, rather than the cool temperate beech forests typical of the mainland. Warm temperate broad leaved forest previously covered extensive areas of south Japan. This has largely been removed, due to high human population pressure, and the warm temperate forest trees in Yakushima are thus some of the few remaining in Japan.

Of great significance to the area is the presence of indigenous Japanese cedar Cryptomeria japonica, known colloquially as 'sugi'. Sugi can reach more than a thousand years old on stable sites under the climate of the island: specimens younger than 1,000 years are known as 'Kosugi'; older specimens, which may reach 3000 years, are known as 'Yakusugi', and are found between 600 and 1800m (Numata, 1986).

The flora is very diverse for such a small island, comprising more than 1900 species and subspecies. Of these, 94 are endemic, mostly concentrated in the central high mountains. More than 200 species are at the southern limit of their natural distribution and a number are at their northern limit. A distinctive characteristic of the vegetation is the exuberance of epiphytes, particularly at higher elevations.

FAUNA The fauna of the island is diverse, with sixteen mammal species. Four mammal sub-species, including Japanese macaque Macaca fuscata yakui and sika deer Cervus nippon yakushimae, are endemic to the island. Population size of both species is approximately 3,000. A further four sub-species are endemic to both Yaku Island and the neighbouring island of Tanegashima, including Apodemus speciosus dorsalis. Amongst the 150 bird species present, four, including Ryukyu robin Erithacus komadori komadori and Japanese wood pigeon Columba janthina janthina have been designated as Natural Monuments. There are also 15 species of reptile, eight species of amphibians and about 1,900 species of insects.

CULTURAL HERITAGE Traditionally, the island mountains have been considered to have a spiritual value and the 'Yakusugi' were revered as sacred trees. Individual trees are known by name.





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