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Yakushima Island UNESCO-MAB Biosphere Reserve

Yakushima Island, Japan

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Yakushima (屋久島?), is one of the Ōsumi Islands belonging to Kagoshima Prefecture, Japan. The island, 504.88 km² in area, has a population of 13,178. Access to the island is by hydrofoil ferry (7 or 8 times a day from Kagoshima), slow car ferry (once or twice a day from Kagoshima), or by air to Yakushima Airport (5 times daily from Kagoshima airport, once daily from Fukuoka and once daily from Osaka). Administratively, the whole island is the town of Yakushima. The town also serves neighbouring Kuchinoerabujima. The majority of the island is within the borders of the Kirishima-Yaku National Park.

The island has been a test site for Honda's hydrogen fuel cell vehicle research. Yakushima's electricity is more than 50% hydroelectric, and surplus power has been used to produce hydrogen gas in a small experiment by Kagoshima University. There are no hydrogen cars stationed on the island but a few electric cars are run by the municipality.

In 1980 an area of 18,958 ha was designated a UNESCO Man and the Biosphere Reserve. In 1993, 10 hectares of wetland at Nagata-hama was designated a Ramsar Site. It is the largest nesting ground for the endangered loggerhead sea turtle in the North Pacific. Yakushima's unique remnant of a warm-temperate ancient forest has been a natural World Heritage Site since 1993. In the Wilderness core area (12.19 square kilometres (3,010 acres)) of the World Heritage Site, no records of past tree cutting can be traced. The island is visited by 300,000 tourists every year.

Yakushima is located approximately 61.3 kilometres (33.1 nmi) south of the southern tip of Osumi Peninsula in southern Kyushu, or 135 kilometres (73 nmi) south of Kagoshima. The Vincennes Strait (Yakushima Kaikyō) separates it from the neighbouring island of Tanegashima, which is home to the Japanese Space Centre. Periodic rocket launches from Tanegashima can clearly be seen from Yakushima.

The bedrock of the island is granite, and as such it hosts no active volcanoes. It has an area of approximately 504.5 square kilometres (194.8 sq mi). The island is roughly circular in shape, with a circumference of 89 kilometres (55 mi) and a diameter of 28 kilometres (17 mi). The highest elevations on the island are Miyanouradake (宮之浦岳?), with a height of 1,935 metres (6,348 ft), and Nagatadake (永田岳?), with a height of 1,886 metres (6,188 ft) above sea level; however, Yakushima has another 30 peaks of over 1,000 metres (3,300 ft) in height. There are numerous hot springs on the island.

Yakushima has been settled since at least the Jomon period. It is first mentioned in written documents of the Chinese Sui Dynasty of the 6th century, and in the Japanese Shoku Nihongi in an entry dated 702. It formed part of ancient Tane Province. It was often mentioned in the diaries of travelers between Tang Dynasty China and Nara period Japan. During the Edo period, Yakushima was ruled by the Shimazu clan of Satsuma Domain and was considered part of Ōsumi Province. Following the Meiji restoration, the island has been administered as part of Kagoshima Prefecture.

The population of Yakushima reached a peak in 1960 with 24,010 inhabitants. It thereafter declined until about 1995, but has subsequently stabilised at just over 13,000 inhabitants.

Traditionally, the economic mainstays of the population were forestry and the export of wood products (principally cedar roof shingles), and commercial fishing. Cultivation of oranges and tea, the distilling of shōchū, and tourism are now the main sources of income.

The only large animals indigenous to the island are red-bottomed macaques (Yakushima macaque) and a variety of sika deer (yakushika). The tanuki is also a common animal, but is not native to the island. Japanese weasels (Mustela itatsi) may also be seen from time to time. The island is a spawning ground for migratory loggerhead turtles, and dolphins are to be found offshore. The coastal areas have coral reefs in places, although to a much lesser extent than what are found in the islands of Okinawa.

Yakushima is famous for its lush vegetation. Most of the island has at one time or another been logged (dating back at least to the early Edo period), but has been extensively replanted and reseeded since logging ended in the late 1960s, at which time a conservation regime was established. In addition to this secondary forest, however, there are some remaining areas of primary forest, composed mainly of a variety of Cryptomeria japonica, or Japanese cedar, known as yakusugi (屋久杉?), the best known of which is named the Jomon Sugi (縄文杉?), as its age is estimated to date to at least the Jomon period of Japanese history, 2300 years ago. In addition, the island lists over 50 varieties of endemic flower, notably rhododendrons, and hundreds of rare endemic Bryophyta, as well as a number of endemic trees.

Yakushima has a humid subtropical climate (Köppen climate classification Cfa) with hot, humid summers and mild winters. Precipitation is extremely heavy, with at least 250 millimetres (9.8 in) in each month and as much as 773 millimetres (30.4 in) in June. Yakushima is Japan's wettest place, and precipitation in Yakushima is one of the world's highest at 4,000 to 10,000 mm. It is said by the locals to rain "35 days a month". There are drier periods in autumn and winter, while the heaviest downpours occur in spring and summer, often accompanied by landslides. It is the southernmost place in Japan where there is snow in the mountains, often for months, while the ocean temperature is never below 19°C.

The island is downwind of heavily polluted areas in the People's Republic of China. Yaushima white pine in the forest on the island may have been affected by combustion products from coal burning and automobile exhaust.

The forests of Yakushima inspired the forest setting in Hayao Miyazaki's film Princess Mononoke.

The island was also seen in the 1996 movie Rebirth of Mothra.

Jin Kazama was born and raised in Yakushima and returned there after the events of Tekken 4.

It features in the game Persona 3 as a holiday destination during the summer vacation.

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Official Record

  • WDPA ID3034
  • NameYakushima Island
  • Original NameYakushima Island
  • Country / TerritoryJPN
  • Sub locationJP-46

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    Not Reported

  • IUCN CategoryNot ApplicableWhat is this?
  • English DesignationUNESCO-MAB Biosphere Reserve
  • Designation TypeInternational
  • StatusDesignated
  • Status Year1980
  • Reported Area km2189.58
  • Marinefalse
  • Governance TypeNot Reported
  • International CriteriaNot Reported

    Data difference


    Not Reported


    Not Applicable

  • Management AuthorityNot Reported
  • Management Plan URLNot Reported




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