Japan’s Beautiful Yakushima Island: The first time I visited the Japanese island of Yakushima, I had idea I was going to visit the Princess Mononoke forest. I didn’t even know what or who “Princess Mononoke“ was, given that I was – and am – oblivious to all that is animated.
By the time I returned to Isle at the end of 2019, I was good aware that the majestic Yakushima cedar has a significance far beyond the extraordinary ecology it represents for the naked eye. Above all, I made a point to search for the room real landscapes that directly inspired the film; in 2014, I simply came across it.
Below I will describe in detail the things to do in Yakushima, as well as how to reach the Isle and how to get around once there). Above all, I will also provide some very important advice on how to find YakushimaThe most famous landscape – assuming you are so inclined.
How to get to and around Yakushima Island
Getting from Kagoshima to Yakushima (assuming this is where you come from – it probably will be) is relatively simple. If you do not book one of the two daily flights between the airports, you will need to book one of the super-fast “jetfoil” ferry services which depart from Kagoshima at least every two hours. (TIP: If you’re exploring Kagoshima and planning to visit Sakurajima, you can check the schedules and buy your tickets, both ferry terminals are only a few minutes from each other on foot.)
Most of these ferries arrive at Miyanoura, the main ferry terminal along the north side of Isle. Whether you arrive here or in Anbo, which is in the center-east side near airport, you can get a car to get around easily. Although the buses circle the Isle (and travel to inland destinations) on a semi-frequent basis, it is much more convenient to have your own set of wheels. I didn’t do it in 2014 and I did it in 2019 – it was night and day!
What to do on Yakushima Island (including Princess Mononoke Forest)
Trek through the Shiratani Unsui Gorge
Here’s a tip for you: if you’re ready to see the Princess mononoke stream paying the modest fee to enter the Shiratani Unsui Gorge, look at the map. The reason being that I didn’t do it, and I ended up going the “wrong” way (the hiking trail is more or less a circle). It was good, because there is never a bad excuse for Robert Schrader to hike for two hours, but I can see that it’s frustrating if you have a mind to a RE track: the sets of the film.
Visit some of the most beautiful waterfalls in Japan
Once you have finished exploring the Yakushima forest (another place to do this is at Yakusugi Land, which requires much less hiking as Shiratani Unsui), you can dig into other inner wonders. Namely, a trio of waterfalls on the IsleSouth and west of ribs, respectively. Although I personally prefer the landscape of Okho Cascade (that of Where is), Torokino and Senpirono Falls (which are in the same area along the south side, more or less) are not to be sneezed.
Drive along the wild west coast of Yakushima
the Yakushima the weather was not cooperating during my trip from 2014 to Islewhich is one of the countless reasons I am I’m so glad I came back in 2019. The threat of bad weather, for sure, is a main reason why it makes more sense to rent a car rather than depend on public transport. A secondary reason is that without a car, most IsleDestinations are prohibited. This includes a completely wild section of the Ring road (nicknamed the western forest Road), along YakushimaFrom the southwest side.
(Attempt to) bathe in a natural onsen
Although I have been (very) long way, my hike through the princess Mononoke the forest was not painful, at least not compared to my ordinary fitness regime. That being said, I always wanted soak in one onsen (which is not my habit either M.O.– let me explain). In the southwest Yakushima, you ‘he find Hirauchi Kaichu, a “natural” onsen where you can literally swim in the sea. If you go to the right it is time; I came several hours before low tide, which occurs after dark in November. Oh!
Eat flying fish (and maybe deer)
I admit that I don’t know much about the spirit of the Mononoke forest, nor the mythology / fan fiction of the film. What I learned quickly when I returned to Yakushima in a much better financial position than my first trip is that the cuisine on the island is incredible. That you appreciate your tobio (flying fish) tempura-style like I did, or try another local delicacy (the island deer which, a little strangely, is available in sashimi), treat yourself and immerse yourself in the local gastronomy.
Where to stay on Yakushima Island
Part of the reason I like to get to Miyanoura as opposed to Anbo is that most of the hotels in Yakushima are grouped around its north side. Keep it simple place like Minshuku Iwakawa like I am inclined to do, or pay a little more luxurious digs such as Yakushima Seaside Hotel, convenience is paramount. (NOTE: I wish I could recommend Chinryu-An Guest House, the magnificent place I stayed on my first trip. Unfortunately, it has been closed since!)
Of course, while Miyanoura is more practical both for Princess mononoke forest and the majority of boats destination Kagoshima, stay elsewhere on the Isle is not necessarily a bad idea. If a panoramic view is more important to you than a specific view location, The Yakushima Cottage Morino Fairy combines a sea breeze with a magical atmosphere. The Sankara Hotel & Spa, meanwhile, is relatively remote, but offers a breathtaking luxury experience.
Other activities in Kyushu
Either after exploring the Mononoke Forest or before arriving at Yakushima Island (probably the latter), you will almost certainly spend time in Kyushu. If it is not currently in your plans, I highly recommend it. Whether you tear up Hakata ramen stalls in Fukuoka, appreciate the beauty of the dark history of Nagasaki, admire the Kumamoto Castle damaged by the earthquake (but still magnificent) or visit secondary places like Aso, Beppu and Miyazaki, Kyushu is a not so hidden gem.
I hope you will read my detailed Kyushu travel guide, which I massively updated (and improved) after my return to the island in late 2019. It is the ideal companion for any trip to Kyushu, from stays of two weeks in all nooks and crannies like the trip I undertook, to faster investigations on the island. You can even choose your adventures, combining different cities for more eclectic getaways.
The Bottom Line
I’ll be honest: the Princess Mononoke the forest has never been at the top of my bucket list in Japan, certainly not the first time I visited Yakushima Island. Although I still don’t care much about cartoons (sorry, not sorry), it’s hard for me to deny that the ancient cedars of the Shiratani Unsui Gorge are among the most beautiful landscapes I have encountered in Japan. Yakushima Island in general is an incredible place to visit, regardless of your own feelings about the anime.