Pristine wilderness is not something one necessarily associates with Japan. But from the deep blue, subtropical seas 37 miles (60km) off the coast of Kyushu rises a small, mountainous and astonishingly lush island all but forgotten by the wider world, yet whose interior harbours a landscape both ancient and unique – one of the country’s true natural wonders. Not a single tree has been felled on Yakushima for over half a century. As a consequence, its rain-soaked, mist-shrouded core is cloaked with mystical forests of moss-covered Japanese cedar, some specimens over a thousand years old. One – the venerable ‘Jomon Sugi’ – is believed to have been a sapling while Plato was still alive, over 2,300 years ago!
Long, multistage hikes into the forests, gorges and granite crags of Yakushima’s centre are the main incentive to travel to the island. A network of paved trails and huts makes trekking a joy, though walkers need to come well equipped for inclement weather. This is officially the wettest place in Japan, with some parts receiving eight and ten metres of rainfall annually.