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Yakushima Japan – Shiratani Unsuikyo

The second day walk we managed to squeeze in between typhoons on Yakushima was the spectacular ravine called Shiratani Unsuikyo. “Shiratani (白谷)” translates as “White-Valley” and this name is a reference to the whitish granite boulders strewn throughout the valley. “Unsuikyo (雲水峡)” translates as cloud & water gorge – and that part is fairly self explanatory upon visiting the area as you walk through the mist by numerous cascades, creeks and one mighty river. The area is said to have been the inspiration behind the animated movie “Princess Mononoke” from the very well known director Miyazaki Hayao.

Shiratani Unsuikyo, Yakushima Japan

Princess Mononoke’s Forest – Shiratani Unsuikyo, Yakushima

Accessing Shiratani Unsuikyo

The area is reached from the main Port Town of Miyanoura after a 20~30 minute drive or bus ride. It is said on Yakushima that it rains approximately 35 days a month, so there is never any real danger that the creeks wont have a nice cascading flow on them, and in fact after sustained rainfall the path can become impassable in places where the track crosses creeks (such as below). However, due to the extreme nature of the rains, and the steepness of the gorge, the water passes through the ravine very fast once the rain ends. You may only have to wait an hour or two if you find yourself cut off. Track conditions can be checked before setting out.

Shiratani Unsuikyo on Yakushima Island, Japan

Shiratani Unsuikyo on Yakushima Island, Japan

The walk passes through some simply magical forest, and in a lot of ways it reminded me of walks I’ve done in the Weld Valley, Styx Valley and Tarkine in Tasmania. If those areas are ever reserved and made into National Parks they could be seriously major attractions if proper walking trails are developed, with National Park Visitor Centres and Interpretation Centres and so on.

Shiratani Unsuikyo, Yakushima Japan

Ferns & Greenery – Shiratani Unsuikyo, Yakushima Japan

Shiratani Unsuikyo, Yakushima Japan

Forest Scene – Shiratani Unsuikyo, Yakushima Japan

The walk passes through forest like this and it is very, very easy (and immensly enjoyable) to lose yourself for an entire day in here. There is a fairly large hut in the Ravine, and past this hut is where you start climbing. The end goal is called “Taikoiwa” – a rocky lookout over the mountainous interior of the island, and we managed a quick bit of lunch before fairly heavy rain sent us packing. Mt Miyanoura, the tallest mountain in Kyuushuu at 1936 metres is hidden in the clouds in the pic below, and eluded us on this trip (due to the Typhoon forecasts). I guess that means I will be paying Yakushima another visit one day…

Taikoiwa in Shiratani Unsuikyo, Yakushima

Taikoiwa in Shiratani Unsuikyo, Yakushima

The walk back took us past some wonderfully twisted and gnarly looking Yakusugi and some stunningly beautiful forest. All up we spent just over 8 hours on the trail, including LOTS of photo taking time!

"Yakuisugi" - Shiratani Unsuikyo, Yakushima

One of the Ancient Yakusugi (cedars) on Yakushima – this one is the “three legged cedar” – Sanbonashisugi (三本足杉)

Ancient Forest on Yakushima, Japan

Ancient Forest in Shiratani Unsuikyo, Yakushima

Yakushima’s World Heritage forests – A lesson for Tasmania?

The entire region really is a joy to visit and photograph. In fact I came away feeling like I’d been in a kind of “fun-park” for photographers! Green moss with tiny raindrops, twisted and gnarled tree trunks and crystal clear rivers cascading over mossy green boulders every which way I looked – exhausting work for a photographer! But completley exhilirating. I really felt like Tasmania could learn a lot from the way the forests of Yakushima are promoted for tourism. It is such a shame that our world class forests are the source of such bitter fighting, when they should be a proud drawcard for visitors from all over the world.

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About Luke

Luke O'Brien runs a stall at Hobart's popular Salamanca Market every Saturday where his prints and cards are available for purchase. Follow Luke's photographic adventures on Twitter at @lukeobrienphoto, at his Facebook page or by subscribing to his email newsletter.