Translated by Takuya Erik Watanabe
The Setting of "Princess Mononoke": Shiratani Unsuikyō, Yakushima
It is said that the mossy rich forest in the Studio Ghibli film "Princess Mononoke" was inspired by the World Heritage Site, Shiratani Unsuikyō of Yakushima, Kagoshima prefecture. Today we will be introducing spots from Shiratani Unsuikyō that influenced
Written by Maki
It is said that the mossy rich forest in the Studio Ghibli film "Princess Mononoke" was inspired by the World Heritage site, Shiratani Unsuikyō (白谷雲水峡) of Yakushima in Kagoshima prefecture.
Today we will be introducing spots that influenced the film while we stroll through Shiratani Unsuikyō.
Hiking Beginners Welcome - Shiratani Unsuikyō
Shiratani Unsuikyō is located in the northern part of Yakushima, and was designated as a forest for recreational use by the Forestry Agency in 1979. The gorge which the Miyanoura River runs through is a forest covered in moss.
As it's only a 30-minute drive from Miyanoura Port, the front door to Yakushima, and an easy hike even for beginners, Shiratani Unsuikyō has become a highly popular tourist spot in Yakushima, along with the Jōmon Sugi (a cedar tree more than 2000 years old).
A Hiking Course Full of Nature
As we start our hike, we first walk along the well-maintained walkway.
Some rugged granite rocks and the Ikoi-no-Ōiwa (憩いの大岩) appear. The granite rocks (*1) of Yakushima are close-grained, so you shouldn't have to worry about slipping while you walk on them.
*1. Granite: Rocks that are white or gray and have black dots. They are formed by the crystallization of magma when it cools deep underground.
The waterfall called the Hiryū Otoshi Falls comes into view. This waterfall was formed by the erosion of granite by the Miyanoura River.
After crossing the suspension bridge, the walkway ends. We will now head into the forest along the mountain trail called the Kusugawa Hodō (楠川歩道).
The Unique Yakusugi
In Yakushima, cedar trees over 1000 years old are called "Yakusugi" (屋久杉).
A cedar tree with 7 huge branches, called the Nanahonsugi (七本杉), towers over the trail in Shiratani Unsuikyō. The 7th branch is said to be hard to find even for an experienced tour guide. We encourage you to try to find it for yourself.
The Kugurisugi (くぐり杉) has an arch-shaped trunk. It is said that there used to be a tree lying where the hole is, but it has decayed away and made room for a hole big enough for people to pass through.
A stump that was cut down about 300 years ago is called Shika no Yado, which means "The Deers' Lodging" in Japanese. The inside of the stump has become hollow, and they say that deer come here occasionally to get out of the rain.
The Moss Covered Forest, Setting of "Princess Mononoke"
Going further along the trail, suddenly before you are rocks and trees that are covered in moss, and we find ourselves entering a world of green.
Extending in front of our eyes is the mystical green forest that the characters of "Princess Mononoke" wandered into.
The Okkotonushi (乙事主), the boar god from the movie is said to be modeled after this old tree stump. It looks like its nose is on the right, and the bump is an eye.
It's very quiet, and everywhere you look is covered in moss. The atmosphere is such you would think that the Shishigami (the god with a deer-like appearance) or kodama spirits actually just might appear.
The Adorable Forest Plants
There are many trees other than the Japanese cedar in the forest. There's a large fir tree, the type of tree better known as the Christmas tree, and you'll be amazed by its vitality.
The Kakuremino (Dendropanx trifidus) grows 3 different types of leaves from 1 tree. It's also called the Rock Paper Scissors tree because they are shaped like each hand shape: rock, paper, and scissors.
The Himeshara (Stewartia monadelpha) is called the princess of the forest because of its vivid orange bark. This Himeshara's bump looks like a person's face.
This bark from a Himeshara also looks like a human face, and it's as if a kodama spirit has appeared.
In Order to Enjoy Shiratani Unsuikyō
The hiking route to the moss covered forest of Shiratani Unsuikyō is approximately 4 kilometers long, which is about a 3-hour hike round trip. Starting at an elevation of 600 meters, there isn't much difference in elevation to the mossy forest, which is at about 900 meters, thus making it an enjoyable hike for beginners too. But, you'll be walking through some dense forest and on mountain trails, so be sure to put on your climbing shoes and sportswear. Don't forget to bring drinking water and some extra food with you, too.
Were you able to feel the world of "Princess Mononoke"? Looking at photos is no match to really standing in the moss forest yourself. You can feel the air of the movie, just as it's shown in the film. Even if you're not a fan of the movie, we assure you'll be moved at the mystical sight. How about visiting Shiratani Unsuikyō for your next vacation?
Address: Kagoshima, Kumage District, Yakushima-chō, Miyanoura-dake, Ishizuka Kokuyūrin
Hours: 8:30 - 16:30
Closed: During times of bad weather, such as typhoons
Credit Cards: No
Menu Available in Other Languages: No
Nearest Station: Shiratani Unsuikyō bus stop (白谷雲水峡) of Matsubanda Kōtsū (まつばんだ交通), Tanegashima -Yakushima Kōtsū (種子島・屋久島交通)
Access: 35 minutes from Miyanoura Port (宮之浦港) by bus. 5 buses a day.
Price Range: 300 yen (pay in cash on entrance as cooperative fund for the promotion of forest environment development)
Phone Number: +81-99-742-3508 (Yakushima Forest of Recreation Conservation Council)
Official Website: Shiratani Unsuikyō Japanese Chinese Korean