Yakushima is more accessible than you think, so don't rule it out of your itinerary
Yakushima Island, located in Kagoshima Prefecture, is a small island off the southern tip of Japan. Yakushima is probably best known for its moss-covered forest which inspired Hayao Miyazaki's animated film, Princess Mononoke; many people even refer to this forest as the "Mononoke Forest."
Although this forest is famous among Studio Ghibli fans, many tourists who travel to Japan miss the opportunity to hike this majestic island due to accessibility issues. The most common tourist route in Japan (Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto, Nara) isn't what you'd call close to Yakushima.
Don't let the location of the island deter you though, because in this article I'm going to tell you that Yakushima is accessible and that there are multiple different ways of getting there. So no more excuses!
How to Get to Yakushima Island
There are many different ways to get to Yakushima Island including plane, ferry, and hydrofoil boat.
The fastest way to get to Yakushima (especially if you're flying out of central Japan) is by airplane. You can fly from Osaka to Yakushima in just under 2 hours. This flight is going to cost you a decent amount of money, as flights to the island are limited, but if you don't have the Japan Rail Pass then this is going to be the most cost-effective method. If you do have the JR Pass, then I recommend using one of the following routes to Yakushima.
If you have the Japan Rail pass, then the most cost-effective way to get to Yakushima is by the sea. You first need to take the shinkansen to Shin-Osaka station (remember that you are not allowed to take the Nozomi or Mizuho lines with the JR Pass) then transfer to the shinkansen headed for Kagoshima-Chuo Station. This journey will take you most of the day so you will most likely need to stay in Kagoshima for one night in order to catch the ferry the next morning from Kagoshima New Port.
The ferry ride to Yakushima is about 8,900 yen for a round trip (or about $82 USD at the time of this posting) and is about a four-hour journey to Miyanoura Port. The ferry only makes one trip per day and leaves at 8:30am, so make sure you're on time!
The ferry might seem like the best option at first glance, but there is a downside. The return ferry trip from Yakushima is at 1:30pm and it arrives in Kagoshima at about 5:40pm. This means that you will need to check out of your accommodation in the morning and kill time (with all your luggage) until the ferry comes. Then you'll most likely need to spend another night in Kagoshima before setting off the next morning. Although the ferry is the most cost-effective method of getting to Yakushima, it might make you lose a precious day of your trip. This is why I would suggest the next option instead.
The hydrofoil (Toppy or Rocket, as the boats are named) can be reserved at Kagoshima Port. I suggest purchasing your ticket the day you arrive in Kagoshima rather than the morning of departure to secure your seat and time of departure. Also, if you're traveling during peak season, you can buy your tickets online ahead of time.
In my opinion, the hydrofoil is the best way to get to Yakushima if you have a little bit of yen to spare. The hydrofoil costs about 16,200 yen round trip (or about $150 USD at the time of this posting) but takes half the amount of time to reach Yakushima. The other bonus is that there are a variety of departure times to choose from and you can choose which port on Yakushima you'd like to arrive in.
The main benefit of taking the hydrofoil is that you can catch a return boat early in the morning and be back in Kagoshima before lunch time. This means that you also have most of the day to catch the shinkansen at Kagoshima station and head to your next destination right away!
NOTE: Make sure you pay attention to which port is closest to your accommodation in Yakushima, Anbo or Miyanoura. If you accidentally arrive at the wrong port, you will most likely need to take an expensive taxi to get to the correct part of the island, as there is limited public transportation on Yakushima.
Long Story Short
My recommendation for tourists coming to Japan who have purchased the JR Pass is to:
1. Take shinkansens down to Kagoshima-Chuo Station
2. Purchase your ticket for the hydrofoil for the next morning
3. Stay one night in an accommodation near Kagoshima Port
4. Take the hydrofoil out of Kagoshima Port in the morning
5. Enjoy Yakushima!
6. Take the hydrofoil out of Yakushima in the morning
7. Take the shinkansen from Kagoshima-Chuo Station to your next destination
I know it can be intimidating to stray off the beaten path, but that's often where you find the best adventures! Also, I am going to publish a guide on how to get around Yakushima once you've arrived and a one-day hiking guide for those on a time constraint, so look for that in the near future!
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If any of this information helped you, or if you have advice of your own, feel free to give this post a like, comment, or share!
See you soon!