Home to ancient trees and moss covered rocks, Yakushima is a lush green forest located off Kyushu island in western Japan. The forest became Japan’s first UNESCO World heritage site in 1991. However the site is best known as the inspiration for Hayao Miyazaki’s famous anime “Princess Mononoke.”
Many of the cedar trees are over one thousand years old. In fact, the word “yakusugi” was created by the Japanese to describe trees on the island which are over a thousand years old. The first part was named after the island itself and the second part “sufi” is the Japanese word for cedar. Unfortunately, these trees were extensively logged especially during the Edo period. Today the Island is preserved as a World Heritage Site.
Hayao Miyazaki and his Studio Ghibli team visited this forest many times while creating the anime “Princess Mononoke.” Due to the overwhelming popularity of the movie, Shiratani Ravine has adopted the name “Mononoke Hime no Mori” (もののけ姫の森) or “Princess Mononoke’s Forest.”
Tourists are free to hike around the mountains and even go to Mononoke Hima no Mori. The hike itself is accessible to hikers of all levels and the area is home to many of the island’s oldest trees.
Visitors are even welcome to walk an Edo period footpath as well as modern trails and even cross a suspension bridge. International guests will be happy to know that signs are displayed in English throughout the park.
Yakushima has truly unique geography as well. The mountainous island has Southern Japan’s highest peak at Mt. Miyanoura. The number of indigenous deer and monkeys also outnumber the human residents of the island. These creatures are a subspecies not found indigenously in any other part of the country.
The island can be accessed by airplane or by ferry from nearby Kagoshima. Visitors are advised to be prepared for rainfall as it rains, to some degree, almost everyday on the island.
Higher elevations on the mountainous island also experience snowfall during the winter months. In fact, the mountainous area of central Yakushima is the rainiest part of Japan with over ten times the national average falling each year. This rain is part of the reason the island is known for it’s misty mountains and mysterious atmosphere.
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