Hayao Miyazaki has made his retirement official, leaving long-time fans heart-broken. Though you might be tempted to buy a gallon of ice cream, lock yourself in your room, and binge while marathon-watching Studio Ghibli films, we have a slightly healthier way of dealing with the black, gaping hole in your heart. Why not take a trip to Yakushima’s Shiratani Unsui Ravine and the “Moss Covered Forest,” the inspiration for Princess Mononoke??
Japanese blog Another Tokyo recently sent a writer to Yakushima to check out the ravine that Miyazaki visited numerous times while in the process of making Princess Mononoke. If you’ve never heard of Yakushima before, it is an island about 60 kilometers (about 37.2 miles) south-southwest of Kagoshima Prefecture in Kyushu. With just over 20 percent of the island designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO and about 95.5 percent of the island under the protection of the forestry department, much has been done to preserve its natural beauty–though the massive influx of tourists due to its designation has made things a bit difficult. Nonetheless, as you will see in the photos below, Yakushima and the Shiratani Unsui Ravine are among the most beautiful places on earth. It’s easy to understand why Miyazaki was so inspired by the island!
After a four-hour ferry ride from Kagoshima, you arrive at Yakushima, where an entirely magical world awaits. The more jaded among you may scoff at the phrase “magical world,” but you’ll change your mind as we journey deeper into the thick of the island. To get to Shiratani Unsui Ravine from the ferry, you take a bus into the mountains which cover almost the entire island and then hike for about 90 minutes. Below is the entrance to the path to the anime-inspiring ravine!
▼ Every time we see this picture, we feel like reaching for our demon-killing sword.
The island gets rain about 15 days a month, while also having relatively warm temperatures throughout the year–which results in some of the most glorious mist you’ll find in Japan!
Though you might not believe it based on the picture below, the path to Shiratani Unsui Ravine is properly laid out with bridges, stairs, and wood to help you keep your footing. Also, we imagine, to keep people on the trail so as not to trample and destroy the natural landscape.
▼ It’s not an adventure without a suspension bridge!
As you travel further into the mountains and the sun starts to burn off some of the fog hanging in the air, you see around you a world that seems straight out of an RPG. Or maybe RPGs are all straight out of Yakushima? We probably shouldn’t think about this too hard…
▼ It really does look as if forest spirits could appear at any moment.
Massive trees, such as southern Japanese hemlocks, Japanese cedars, and Momi firs stand tall along the path. As you can see in the pictures, a thick layer of moss also covers almost every surface.
If you’re lucky, a Yakushima deer will appear! Yakushima deer are smaller than the deer one would find on the mainland of Japan. Their horns usually only grow out about 30 centimeters (11 inches) as opposed to the average Japanese deer whose horns reach 60 centimeters (23 inches) in length. As you might have guessed from the photo below, the deer tend to stay in the mountains, though they also appear around the park, probably to pose for photos. Everyone knows Yakushima deer are fame hungry!
▼ No! Come back! We only want to love you!
It’s actually possible to stay out in the mountains–if you want. The structure above even has a toilet, though we’re not sure if it’s a western-style toiler or a knee-destroying Japanese-style toilet. Just because Japanese-style toilets are better for your insides doesn’t mean they’re better for your old, creaking joints!
And a little bit further down the road you come to the kuguri cedar–kuguri is the noun form of the verb kuguru which means to go under something or to slip through a crack. You can probably imagine how this tree got its name.
▼ Never mind Princess Mononoke, did we just see a hobbit?
The sign next to the scraggly tree above says that they’re looking for nicknames for the tree. We’re thinking “Treebeard.”
As you travel along the trail, the moss grows thicker and more plentiful. It’s such a trademark of the island that you can even take a “moss-green trekking” tour (Japanese only)!
Once the mist finally clears off, the moss really comes alive, glowing in the sunlight. It may be a bit strange to think of moss as being “beautiful,” but it is the perfect word in this case.
As you can see in the photo above, the moss grows very thick, and forms a blanket over rocks and trees. Apparently, the moss is slightly warm to the touch and kind of fluffy, too. Hmm… maybe we should try actually making blankets out of it! Who wants to buy a specially branded RocketNews24 Yakushima Moss Blanket?
▼ The “Moss Covered Forest”
▼ Yes, this looks familiar because you saw it in Princess Mononoke.
The real thing is just slightly more gorgeous. Just slightly.
This is the “Moss Covered Forest” and the end of the trail, though as you could see in the stunning photos above, it’s hardly the only moss-covered point on the island. But it definitely does grow much thicker here, doesn’t it? And even just a simple photo like the one above reveals a breathtaking, otherworldly scene–a place of perfect serenity.
If you’re feeling motivated by these gorgeous photos–and we’d be surprised if you weren’t–then you might want to take a trip to Yakushima yourself. It’ll take a bit of doing on your part–the most direct route to Yakushima is through Kagoshima, which is already pretty far south for most people in Japan. That said, nothing worth doing is easy, right? For more information on visiting Yakushima, check out Yakumonkey.com.