Moss, Mystic and Mononoke at Yakushima's Shiratani Unsuikyo Ravine

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The spectacular visuals in Hayao Miyazaki’s widely acclaimed Princess Mononoke have inspired many travellers to trek all the way to Yakushima Island and search for the mystical mossy forest depicted in the animation.

Situated in Kagoshima Prefecture off the southernmost tip of Kyushu, Yakushima is a mountainous island covered with primeval rainforest. About one­fifth of the island is designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its outstanding natural beauty. Its rich biodiversity contains some of Japan’s oldest cedar trees; the ancient “Yakusugi” trees are over 1000 years old.

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The island boasts numerous hiking routes with varying levels of difficulty. One of the most popular hiking spots is Shiratani Unsuikyo ravine. The “moss­covered forest” is considered the mecca of Yakushima.

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The shortest “Yayoisugi” hiking course takes about an hour; the “Bugyosugi” course ventures deeper into the forest. Hikers with more stamina can continue with the “Taikoiwa” course that leads to the Taikoiwa rock and be rewarded with a panoramic view.

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Most hikers embark on the longest course as it passes by the iconic “Mononoke” forest. “Mononoke” is a Japanese word that means spirit or monster. While there are probably no monsters in the forest, the moss­covered forest is so mesmerizing that hikers usually linger in the hope of finding tiny kodama that are believed to be forest spirits.

Even if you are not a fan of Princess Mononoke, hiking in Shiratani Unsuikyo ravine is an almost mystical experience. It is difficult to get to Yakushima but once you have been to the Shiratani Unsuikyo ravine, it is difficult to leave.

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Kagoshima–Yakushima:  35-­minute flight from Kagoshima Airport  2­3 hour high speed boat, 4­hour car ferry or overnight ferry from Kagoshima port

From Miyanoura Port:  30­minute car or 35­minute infrequent bus services.


This article was published in ANA Experience Japan website 2016-2018.