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Yakushima

An island defined by gigantic mountains and an ancient cedar forest, accessible in just a few hours from Kagoshima City.

The ancient forest of this enchanting island inspired the wild world of the Studio Ghibli anime film Princess Mononoke. The film is about the titular character resisting the deforestation by a mining town, and the centuries-old cedar trees of the real-world inspiration have faced similar trials throughout the years.

Nowadays, though, the island is thriving once again, so much so that the interior is listed at a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It lies to the south of Kagoshima City, and takes several hours to reach by boat. Although it’s a little out of the way, that’s the island's main draw — it feels like a different world, frozen in time.

The cedar forest has some of the oldest trees in the country, with hundreds aged a thousand years or more — locally called “yakusugi.” The oldest of them all has its own name — Jomonsugi — and it’s thought to potentially be over 7000 years old (but nobody would dare cut it down and count the rings, of course).

Walking around the island’s hiking trails is the best way to see this sight and more, with plenty of routes from short hour-long jaunts to longer treks to fill an afternoon. If you’re looking for a more substantial challenge, head to the top of Mt. Miyanoura, the tallest mountain in the Kyushu region at 1936m. It’ll take a few days, and you better be sure to bring a raincoat; Yakushima has some of the heaviest rainfall in the country. On the plus side, this means there are some lovely waterfalls to view on your way!

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