Kristina Elyse Butke
Yakushima and Yanna
In my book Son of the Siren, there is a primordial forest filled with cedar trees, moss, and rugged stone, and the name of this forest is Yanna. This setting didn't pop into my head out of thin air. I specifically thought of the most magical forest I've ever been to, on the island of Yakushima in Japan.
In late November 2018, I took my first-ever solo trip since moving to Japan. I drove from Kumamoto prefecture all the way down to Kagoshima, then took my car with me on the ferry for a 4-hour sail to Yakushima.
Yakushima is famous for being the inspiration for the setting of Hayao Miyazaki's film Princess Mononoke. It is filled with lush greenery, misty air, and what I can only describe as a mysterious energy or vibe permeating the woods. It is considered a primeval forest, and it's a place where you can certainly feel a sense of its ancient nature as you pass through it.
I hiked alone, starting at sunrise or just after, in order to explore the forest in solitude. The entire island is a World Heritage Site and unfortunately is popular with tourists. The forest is in pristine condition, but if you want to avoid the lines of tourists tromping through the woods, I recommend going really, really early in the morning. I only encountered two people in Shiratani Unsuikyo on the way in, and was alone for most of my journey. On the way back towards the entrance (approaching noon) was where I ran into throngs of people making their way into the wood.
Yakushima is a wet place, filled with humidity and mist coating everything. According to Yes Yakushima, Yakushima receives the highest volume of rain in all of Japan, with rainfall of 3,000mm-10,000mm yearly depending on where on the island you are. I had done some research and learned that the least amount of chance for rain was in November, and luckily enough, I experienced no rain during the time I was there! But the forest is still quite dark and atmospheric as you travel through it, even on days that are sunny.
I took a lot of photographs, which is part of the reason my trip lasted six hours instead of the estimated four. I stopped every few feet just to snap photographs. The ground was also slick from all of the misty moisture in the air, so I did slip and fall a couple times!
In Son of the Siren, I wanted a beautiful, dark forest for my characters to pass through, for no other reason than to use Yakushima's woods as inspiration for it.
The forest of Yanna has two personalities in the book, based on the two locations I went to in Yakushima. The darker, more mysterious side of the forest is based on Shiratani Unsuikyo, and the lighter, more cedar-filled area (with plenty of evidence of old logging) is based off of Yakusugi Land. It was at Yakusugi Land that I ran into the famous monkeys of the island, the Yakushima macaque (an indigenous species). But alas, no monkeys in the novel.
None of my pictures can do the forest justice. It is one of the prettiest places on Earth, has a unique energy to it (what the Japanese sometimes refer to as "power spots"), and left me breathless. It was such an inspirational place to me, no wonder it found its way into my writing!
I'm sure every time a book of mine calls for a mysterious forest, I'll always use Yakushima as inspiration. I hope you enjoyed looking at my pictures and reading about how Yakushima became Yanna.