Trekking in Yakushima, the Mystical Forest Gem of Japan

Trekking in Yakushima, the Mystical Forest Gem of Japan

The mystical and haunting Yakushima forest in Japan has enough charm to inspire a movie of its own.

Ever heard of the animated film Princess Mononoke (もののけの姫), one of Studio Ghibli’s many masterpieces? Fans of Ghibli’s animated films would know that the setting of Princess Mononoke is beautifully haunting, and the plot exceptionally moving.


princess mononoke movieGIF credits:

Thing is, the real Yakushima which inspired the film is as surreal and as enchanting as it is portrayed in the film. In the forest path leading to Shiratani Unsuikyo Ravine (白谷雲水峡), I could literally feel the little spirits that live in trees (in Japan they are called the kodama 木霊) around me. Blessed with a humid subtropical climate (it rains 367 days a year there), Yakushima sees an abundance of greens thriving on the island all year round. Statistics also confirm that there are more deer than homosepians making this UNESCO heritage site their home!

The day after we arrived, we embarked on the longer of the two trails we signed up for into Arakawa Forest (荒川山) that leads us to Joumonsugi (縄文杉), which allegedly is the oldest tree in Japan. By “long” I mean 10 hours of trekking! Our day started at 4am, when the guide came to fetch us in his four-wheel drive to the bus stop at the base of the mountain where a coach to the start of the trail awaited us. At 7am, our adventure in the charming forest began.

start of trail

The trail started as we trekked along an old railroad track into the forest. As we gradually made our way into the depths of the forest, our heart began to swell in gratefulness to Mother Nature for endowing us with such impressive natural masterpieces.

Also read: Japan’s Hidden Gems: 12 Underrated Destinations You Need to Visit

trekking yakushima mystical forest japan


hiking at Yakushima


When we finally arrived at the end of the trail where the 2000-year old Joumonsugi (pictured above) stands proud and erect, unmoved by the transcendence of time. It was a little past noon. It was time to start devouring our bento meticulously prepared by the cook at the hostel, and a warm cup of miso soup complimentary of the guide, before the next 5-hour journey back.

The day ended with a hearty dinner at the hostel. The fish was fished by the hostel owner himself and all other ingredients were sourced from within Yakushima. Recharged for the next hike!

japanese meal

The next day, rain started pouring quite heavily in the morning, delaying our departure. Typhoon was also predicted (it hit us at Miyazaki later in the week-long Kyushu trip; we were stranded in a karaoke room the entire day) but we insisted that even if we had to miss the ravine, we had to trek to the moss forest at least. After all, it’s Princess Mononoke’s forest, the very reason for our trip to Yakushima! The guide relented and gave us the green light, and trust me, the dense moss forest was worth braving the wind, rain, cold and awkward clamber-over-slippery-boulders for.

Also read: 9 Places in Japan That are Totally Instagram-Worthy

Tip: If you only have one day to spend in Yakushima, opt for this trail (Unsuikyo) instead of the Joumonsugi one. This course also takes only 5 hours.

The morning air was so fresh and crisp, the thousand shades of green so pleasing to the eyes. All the life happening around me – immensely, overwhelmingly, inspiring. The rain did not daunt us one bit.

The moss forest looked exactly like how it is portrayed in the film Princess Mononoke. We were brought to the spot where Hayao Miyazaki sat inspired, sketching the first blueprint for the film. So much feels.

princess mononoke forest japan

Yakushima Forest

Yakushima Forest Japan

Some practical information

1. How to get there

Take the ferry from Kagoshima Port (minami futou 南埠頭). This is probably the most convenient way to enter Yakushima, unless you fly directly into the island from Kagoshima, Osaka or Fukuoka. A round-trip ferry ticket costs an eye-popping 16,700yen. Keeping in mind lodging and trekking expenses, it is very expensive to travel into and around Yakushima. Nevertheless the unforgettable trekking experience makes up for the exorbitant cost. They say, travel is the only thing you spend money on that makes you richer.

Also read: 13 Reasons Why Travellers Keep Going Back to Japan

2. Where to stay

We stayed in Minshuku Manten (民宿まんてん), a humble guesthouse within walking distance from Yakushima port (miyanoura 宮之浦), and would highly recommend you to stay there too! Of course, there is a whole range of other guesthouses and hotels to choose from, but Minshuku Mantan stands out because it offers the convenience of signing up for trekking packages when booking for rooms, which I believe most of us appreciate. This leads me to the next point…

3. Signing up for trek courses

So we signed up for trekking with Minshuku Manten when we made our room reservations. Both the guides we had for the two trails (Joumonsugi course and Unsuikyo course) were very friendly and professional. I don’t think there are any shady businesses going around in Yakushima, so feel assured to sign up for any courses you come about! It is definitely safer to follow a trained guide as certain parts of the trail are rather tricky and dangerous.


About Author

Lee Shu Shien

Shu Shien is a nature lover who would trek far and wide in search of the most breathtaking sunflower fields, river gorges, caves and beaches Mother Earth has to offer. With her trusty Minolta and preference for printout maps over Google Maps, she travels for chance encounters and to seek the Great Perhaps.


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