Off the coast of Kagoshima Prefecture (about 4 hours away via ferry ride) lies a very beautiful island known as Yakushima. It's quite popular among both Japanese and foreign tourists for its beautiful forests and beaches. There are an endless number of hiking and trekking routes, and it's also a great location for snorkeling and scuba diving. It's a perfect destination for those who want to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city, and experience what small Japanese islands are like.
I was lucky enough to go on a 2 night, 3 day trip to Yakushima towards the end of July. The most memorable part of my trip was probably hiking at Shiratani Unsuikyo, one of the most famous (and gorgeous) hiking routes in all of Yakushima.
I think most people are attracted to this site mainly because it's said that Miyazaki used the very forest as inspiration for Princess Mononoke!
The entrance to the hike is quite easy to get to… if you have a car. Most people traveling in groups of more than two usually rent a car, as there's very little public transportation available on the island. My fellow friends and I, however, didn't have the means to do so– so the six of us took the bus from our hostel. The bus system is quite tricky on the island, so it would be best to pick up a map from any of the various tourist desks on the island. If you are taking a ferry from Kagoshima, you can pick up a map at the tourist desk at the port when you dock, and even buy a 2 or 3 day unlimited bus ticket for about 3,000 yen. Most routes are about 500+ and even 1,000+ yen per ride, so having a bus pass will save you a lot of money in the long run!
Once you get to the starting point of the hike, there's about 3 routes you can take.
If the sun is out and the weather is good, I recommend taking the longest route– the Taiko-Iwa route. There's a large boulder towards the end of the hike on this route that gives you a gorgeous view of the whole surrounding forests.
The Taiko-Iwa route is only about 4 hours roundtrip, which is really a breeze through the woods (quite literally) since you're surrounded by beautiful nature like this the whole time!
We had to take Yakkul, Ashitaka's loyal deer from Princess Mononoke, to his homeland. Wonder if there were any kodama around too…
The other routes guide you into a part of the forest with very old cedar trees, such as this one– the Yayoisugi cedar tree. It's estimated to be about 3,000 years old!
I HIGHLY recommend everyone in southern part of Kyushu to travel to Yakushima. It's a beautiful place where things are slower, calmer, and just peaceful. It was nice to get away from the fast-paced lifestyle of Tokyo. This hike is definitely one of the most beautiful ones I've done in Japan. Plus, you get to experience first-hand a location that inspired one of Miyazaki's most notable works!
Shiratani Unsuikyo is located about 30 minutes from Miyanoura Port by car.
There are a few buses that run from Miyanoura Port (about 35 minutes for 530 yen). They increase the number of buses during peak tourism seasons, so check the bus time well in advance, preferably the night before, to plan out when you should leave for the hike, how long you should allocate for the actual hike, and which bus to take to go back.
You can also take a taxi from various points on the island, though it will cost you a lot more. According to this Japanese website, it's about 3,000 to 3,500 yen to take the taxi to the entrance of the hike from Miyanoura Port.