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If life’s got you feeling detached, visit Yakushima to touch the roots of the world.

Wild and mysterious, the secluded island of Yakushima is unlike anything else in Japan. It’s a nature lover’s paradise of untouched ancient cedar forests, protected by both the gods of folklore and a UNESCO World Heritage designation. This woodland kingdom served as the inspiration for the magical backgrounds of Studio Ghibli’s Princess Mononoke. Though you can’t bound through the trees on the back of your own wolf companion, hiking through Yakushima’s hushed, pristine, mist-shrouded forests casts just as powerful an enchantment.

The incredible Yakushima forest was the inspiration for Miyazaki's Princess Mononoke.

Miyazaki’s Princess Mononoke was inspired by the mysterious, magical forestscape of Yakushima.

The island is ringed by small villages and a single main road that connects them, but the mountainous, wooded interior remains undeveloped, providing a plethora of hiking adventures.

Many make the 10-hour round trip pilgrimage to visit the venerated Jomonsugi, a yakusugi (ancient Japanese cedar tree) estimated to be up to 7,200 years old—which would make it the oldest tree in Japan, and one of the oldest in the world.

Shiratani Unsuikyo is the lush and mystical setting that inspired the artists of Princess Mononoke. The island’s wet climate gives life to dramatic ravines, flowing rivers, and unbelievably green coats of moss.

Kodama (tree spirits) from Princess Mononoke left behind by hikers.

Photo by: Joyce Wan Spot the toy Kodama (tree spirits) from Princess Mononoke left behind by hikers.

There are various well-marked hiking trails, ranging from 1 to 5 hours in length, which pass a number of yakusugi trees.

Multi-day hikes will lead you to the summit of Mt. Miyanoura, the tallest peak in Kyushu. The mountains are considered sacred by locals, who still make spiritual journeys through their paths. A few mountain huts stationed along the trails provide nighttime shelter.

Yudomari Onsen, Yaksuhima Island, Kagoshima Prefecture, Japan.

Yudomari onsen is right in the ocean.

Though the otherworldly cedar forests are Yakushima’s claim to fame, don’t overlook the island’s other unique treasures. The bountiful rainfall creates impressive waterfalls, one of which can be approached by kayak. Go snorkeling off the unspoiled beaches, or watch sea turtles nest in the summer. The island is home to some simple, rustic onsen, including the sea baths of Hirauchi and Yudomari, which offer natural rock pools right on the edge of the ocean.

Things To Know

Getting Around

It’s possible to access all of Yakushima’s main sights by bus, though service is infrequent. Cars can be rented on the island, and are the most convenient way to travel.

Hiking Equipment

If you don’t have weather-appropriate hiking gear, various kinds of items are also available for rental.

How To Get There


Yakushima, Yakushima, Kumage District, Kagoshima Prefecture, Japan

By boat

There are a few different options for getting to Yakushima from Kagoshima, at the southern tip of mainland Kyushu. The fastest way is via jetfoil speed boat, which takes around 2 to 2 1/2 hours and costs ¥15,000 for a round trip (add ¥1,100 during high season).

A car ferry travels between the two ports once per day, leaving Kagoshima at 8:30, and returning from Yakushima at 13:30. The trip takes 4 hours, at 8,900 yen for a round trip.

The cheapest option is the Hibiscus ferry, which costs 7,200 yen for a round trip, but docks in Tanekashima overnight, where you aren’t allowed to leave the boat. It departs Kagoshima at 18:00, arriving at Yakushima the next day at 7:00.

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