Japan Atlas: Nature 
Yaku Island

Location: Yaku Island, Kagoshima Prefecture 

 Area: 501 sq km   (193 sq mi) 



Giant Ancient Trees: Cypresses that Have Stood for Millennia  

Yakushima is a roundish island of 501 square kilometers (193 square miles) that rises out of the ocean south of Kagoshima, the southern tip of Kyushu. In the middle of the island, the peak of Mt. Miyianoura rises to 1,935 meters (6,360 feet), higher than any mountain in Kyushu itself. The mountainous island boasts more than 30 peaks of over 1,000 meters (3,281 feet). Subtropical to subarctic vegetation ranges vertically from the shores to the mountain tops, and the heavy rainfall of 4,000 mm to 10,000 mm (157 to 394 inches) a year that the island receives has led to distinctive types of vegetation. In particular, covering over one fifth of the island, a tract of 107 square kilometers (41 square miles) from the western shore to the mountain tops was listed as a World Natural Heritage Site in December 1993.  

The subtropical zone extending from the shore to a height of 200 meters (1,944 feet),  consists of trees, especially of ficus varieties such as Gajumaru or Ako. In the warm temperate zone ranging from 200 to 800 meters (656 to 2,625 feet) species such as Tabu, chinquapin, and evergreen oak are predominant. Above this band, extending to 1,600 meters (5,249 feet) is coniferous forest which is home to the famous Yakusugi and some of the world's other oldest trees. The Yakusugi is a type of cedar and the most ancient examples on the island are thought to be 3,000 to 3,500 years old. One tree, known as the Jomon Sugi, has a girth of 16.4 meters, which by some estimations would make it 7,200 years old: the Jomon period extended from 12,000 B.C. to around the third century B.C. This type of ancient forest of giant trees is precious both for its ecology and its morphology. It also provides a place of survival for birds that are in danger of extinction, such the Ryukyu robin and the Izu thrush (endangered species).  

Photo: A huge and long-lived cedar tree in Yaku Island.(Kagoshima Prefecture Tourist Federation)  

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