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Whispers of Yakushima

By Hendrik Morkel

Posted: January 5, 2024


Nature's Silent Guides

Junichi had always been drawn to the serene allure of nature. Born and raised in a bustling city close to Tokyo, he yearned for a life closer to nature, where the mountains met the sea, and the whispers of the forest were heard more clearly than the honking of car horns.

Being drawn to nature first led Junichi, as a young man, to Ontario, Canada, where he underwent a park ranger education at a community college. Armed with knowledge and a passion for the outdoors, he returned to Japan, but this time, he knew exactly where he wanted to go: in a magazine, he saw a photograph of a mossy forest on an island far away from Tokyo.

Junichi in the magical forests of Yakushima.

So twenty-six years ago, he made the life-altering decision to move to Yakushima, nestled a short ferry ride off Japan’s Kyushu island. Yakushima, with its 132-kilometer circumference, is a world apart from the urban sprawl Junichi had known. Its 12,000 inhabitants, a small population for an island of its size, seemed to blend harmoniously with nature. The main town boasts a modest population of 3,000 residents, and Junichi found it easy to integrate into the close-knit community. The islanders were open and welcoming, appreciating his willingness to immerse himself in their way of life. Having children helped even more; they became the bridge that connected him to the island's heart.

On the island of Yakushima, the ocean always graces one side, while the towering mountains dominate the other. It is a land of contrasts and breathtaking beauty. The island relies on 99% hydropower, a testament to the commitment to sustainable living. And what is more, one can drink directly from the streams that flow from the lush forests, a privilege not often found in today's world. The inhabitants of Yakushima are very proud of the pristine nature that surrounds them. They know that their actions directly impact the island's delicate ecosystem, and they cherish their responsibility as stewards of this natural paradise.

On Yakushima, you always have the sea on one side and the mountains on the other.

Junichi loves sharing the island's unique quirks with his guests. He, for example, made us smile with stories of the Yakushima macaque, which are sometimes known to ride the backs of the Yaku deer through the forest. Another unforgettable experience on the island is the onsen along the shore. Hirauchi Kaichu Onsen is such a hot spring, which we passed on the way back from our stream climbing adventure. The timing was perfect, with the tide low, allowing us to soak in the hot springs while gazing at the serene ocean. It was a moment of tranquility, a connection between the island's natural wonders and the soothing warmth of the hot springs.

Our big hiking day began before the sun had even risen, as our group set off at 5 a.m., driving into the heart of the mountains. By 6:30 a.m., we had reached our destination, watching the sunrise from the bus —a breathtaking moment of natural beauty that set the tone for the day. 

Dawn in Yakushima has a mystical quality to it. As the first rays of the sun filter through the ancient cedar trees, the air is heavy with the scent of damp earth and moss. Fruit bats return to their hideouts, while the Yaku deer and Yakushima macaque are waking up and start looking for food.

Junichi stood at the start of the Mt. Kuromi trail, his eyes fixed on the towering cedar trees. He had been guiding visitors through these woods hundreds of times, and yet, each day felt like a new adventure. As we ventured deeper into the forest, we encountered several 1,500-year-old cedar trees, a living witness to the island's ancient history. He spoke softly, his words carrying a sense of reverence for the land he calls home. "This forest," he began, "is older than any of us can imagine. Some of these cedar trees have been standing here for over two thousand years. They are the elders of Yakushima, and we must treat them with the utmost respect."

Lacking natural enemies, the Yaku deer allow visitors to get almost eye to eye with them.

As the trail led us further, we crossed marshes and beautiful streams, every now and then getting glimpses of the mountain tops around us. Then, at the Mt. Kuromi summit, we were greeted with breathtaking views despite the clouds and mist that engulfed us at times. It was a scenic spot, perfect for a well-deserved lunch. Even the local monkeys made an appearance, adding a touch of the island's wildlife to our experience!

The descent followed the same path, a well-maintained trail that showcased the island's natural beauty. Wooden stairs, duckboards, and natural trails made for a varied and enjoyable hike, and despite the popularity of the trails, we only encountered a handful of people the whole day. 

Junichi's life on Yakushima is a testament to the profound bond between a person and their environment. He has found his home among the ancient cedars, pristine streams, and welcoming community of the island. His journey is a reminder of the transformative power of nature and the stories it has to tell to those who listen. Over the course of our journey, our group not only learned about the island's natural wonders but also about the importance of sustainable tourism. Junichi explained how Yakushima is trying to become a model for responsible exploration, with strict regulations in place to protect the environment. "We want to share the beauty of this place," he said, "but we also want to ensure that it remains unspoiled for future generations.

In the magical Cedar forests of Yakushima, beautiful trails meander through the trees. Lucky hikers can even encounter macaque monkeys in the trees!

As we departed, we carried with us the echoes of Junichi's stories, the memories of our encounters with nature, and a newfound commitment to preserving the wonders of Yakushima. And in the quieter moments of our lives, we still can hear the whispers of the forest, a reminder of the timeless beauty of this magical island and the people who walk its trails.


Yakushima, with its evergreen trees, does not experience the traditional four seasons. Yet, the best time to visit is undoubtedly spring, when the island bursts into an array of vibrant greens. If you want to explore Yakushima with Junichi, you can contact him at

Find Your Japan Adventure

Hendrik Morkel is a freelance photographer, videographer, and journalist based in Finland. He is the author of the largest outdoor Scandinavian blog, Hiking in Finland. Contributing writers to this destination series were hosted on adventures throughout Japan as part of the Adventure Travel World Summit 2023 in Hokkaido, Japan.