Wooded Wonderland: Yakushima

In Japan’s epic anime film Princess Mononoke, legendary director Hayao Miyazaki shrouds the real-life island of Yakushima with surrealism, its misty granite mountains the backdrop for a conservation message.

Yet this wraithlike landform, which rises from the turbulent Tanegashima Strait like a forgotten Shinto kingdom, scarcely needed the extra intrigue. Twenty years ago, the site became one of Japan’s first entries on the UNESCO World Heritage List.

A three-hour hydrofoil ride from Kyushu brings travelers to these fragrant forests, first settled during the Jomon period some 12,000 years ago. Later residents sold its virgin cedar to mainlanders building Kyoto’s temples and shrines.

Today the revival forest teems with raccoon-like tanuki, endemic horned sika deer and stocky macaques, colossal ferns, and up to 700 species of moss.

And though a recent uptick in visitors threatens this sensitive habitat, officials are taking steps toward eliminating carbon emissions by introducing new caps on vehicles, using renewable energy, and developing hydrogen cars for island use.

Such is the power of Princess Mononoke’s legacy: The preservation of even the most far-flung places is essential.

Tip: Soak in the Hirauchi Kaichu Onsen, a thermal bath carved into the seashore rocks accessible only at low tide.

This article, written by Adam H. Graham, appeared in the October 2013 issue of National Geographic Traveler magazine.


  1. Valerie Erickson
    United States
    January 3, 2015, 7:29 pm

    As far as the tourism of Yakushima and limiting people as mentioned above to save the beauty… I can say my daughter and I hiked a trail for 3 days and came across a total of 3 individuals and 2 large family groups of monkey’s. This was in June, my advise is to be prepared, a hike that was reported to take one day took us 3, but we loved every minute of it! It is what Princes Mononoke film was created after and as a Hayao Miyazaki Film lover my daughter had to visit, and it was even more impressive than anticipated, green everywhere, water to filter everyday, and huge tree’s at the top in a bit of a clearing, otherwise you are under a canopy the entire time. Though at the top of the mountain in a full down poor, we had missed the last bus of the day, some very nice Japanese tourists took pity on us and drove us down the hill and arranged for a youth hostel that only spoke Japanese to take us in above a Mos Burger joint. It was warm and clean and we had the place to ourselves, but ate what was in our pack due to no 7-11’s and no ATM’s “AND” it was the weekend so no banks were open, so our funds were depleted. Everywhere you go in Japan you can count on a 7-11 being close by…. but not here…. so bring cash!

  2. Owen Busse
    January 22, 2014, 1:12 pm

    That’s beautiful!

  3. Anthony
    January 22, 2014, 12:40 pm

    Been there and loved it, my son adored it, if your ever stationed in japan or visit, this place will top your vacation from kyushu island to yakushima

  4. Caroline
    January 22, 2014, 12:03 pm

    Loved princess mononoke

  5. Adam
    January 22, 2014, 11:41 am

    Simply beautiful. I have mixed feelings about places like this. On one hand, I want to go and experience the beauty of nature first-hand. On the other hand, I think that places like this need to be protected against too much tourism lest they lose the very thing that makes them so enchanting.

  6. daniel neilson
    glasgow scotland
    January 22, 2014, 10:08 am

    I really enjoyed it, very interesting