In Japan, there’s a major holiday week called Obon (Golden Week) that falls smack-dab in the middle of August. Being the travel-crazy person I am, I wasn’t going to pass up a free week and stay put in Tokyo. I was originally torn between Okinawa and Yakushima, two islands famous in their own right, but in the end, my indecisive self had to make a decision before rising flight prices could. Also, I kept staring at photos of Yakushima’s forested landscapes and I knew I was a total goner. When you’re presented with photos
how can you say no?
Spoiler: You can’t.
Let’s talk about Yakushima, though. Yakushima is a small island off the coast of Kyushu. It is famous for its ancient cedar forests, banyan trees, monkeys, and oranges. It has become so famous for its forests in particular that Hayao Miyazaki visited the ancient trees of Shiratani Unsuikyo and got inspired to make a movie that we know and love called Princess Mononoke. In fact, it has become so famous that a section of Shiratani Unsuikyo is colloquially known as the Mononoke Forest, because tons of travellers to Yakushima not-so-coincidentally happen to be Studio Ghibli trash (hi, it me) who would love nothing more than to experience the otherworldliness of these landscapes (hi again).
So it should be of little surprise that my first full day was spent hiking in Shiratani Unsuikyo. I went on a tour with YES! Yakushima, and Steve did a fantastic job of guiding us away from the throngs of tourists.
The forest itself is — in a word — verdant. Moss is sprawled all over the trees, the rocks, everywhere. The trunks and branches have all but twisted with time, creating an organic web of curves across the ground. If you’re lucky enough, you can see the indigenous Yaku macaques among the green-brown-black color palette of the landscapes.
Before we hit Mononoke Forest, Steve had warned us that it might be easy to miss, because it’s a relatively small section of the park, and there are less-crowded variants of the forest nearby. He did have a point, though, as it’s pretty missable when your view is shrouded by lots of tourists trying to take photos.
It doesn’t make the view any less stunning, though.
- It rains a lot. Yakushima runs on a subtropical climate, which means that it can be completely sunny one minute and a torrential downpour the next, like some weather god is flicking a power switch for funsies. Even though the hiking itself isn’t very physically demanding, hiking gear is a must if you don’t want to turn the trails into a Slip ‘n Slide.
- Go to the bathroom before you head out to the trail, because peeing in the bushes is not a thing people do in Japan, ya barbarians.
- Mosquitoes aren’t a huge deal in this part of Yakushima, as they don’t tend to hang around the heavily waterfalled areas. You have no idea how relieved I was.