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Street View hikes Endor-like Yakushima Island in Japan

The island, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is home to towering cedars that are thousands of years old. Google has captured views of the forest in winter.

Tim Hornyak
Crave freelancer Tim Hornyak is the author of "Loving the Machine: The Art and Science of Japanese Robots." He has been writing about Japanese culture and technology for a decade. E-mail Tim.
Tim Hornyak
2 min read
On the trail: Wilson's Stump, an ancient cedar, has a heart-shaped skylight. Google Japan

When I hiked Yakushima Island a few years ago, it was the closest thing I'd seen to an alien planet from science fiction.

Famous for its staggering ancient cedar trees, the island off southern Japan has an interior that struck me as a mix of so many imaginary worlds I've seen on film: Endor, Dagobah, Pandora.

An hour into the hike, it began to rain. Biblically. It was coming down cats and dogs, or "earth and sand" as they say in Japanese, and it didn't let up for six hours.

Yakushima then seemed like Venus and its incessant, lethal rain like that in Ray Bradbury's "The Illustrated Man." My Nikon dSLR found itself swimming in an inch of water that got into my pack, and promptly died.

But I couldn't resist the island's enchanting scenery. It's said to have inspired Hayao Miyazaki's acclaimed anime film "Princess Mononoke."

Describing Yakushima in an article for Travel & Leisure Southeast Asia, I wrote: "The forest is a surreal universe of emerald moss, infinite rivulets and waterfalls, thick roots webbing over great glistening rocks, all shot through with torrents gushing from the mountain."

"And the sugi cedars. Found above 1,200 meters (3,937 feet), the giant cedars are like mighty rivers of wood shooting up from the ground. Or, from afar, they shine blood-red in the mist like frozen giants."

In February, Google Street View hikers climbed Yakushima's mountainous heart to the Jomon Sugi, a towering cedar tree believed to be anywhere from 2,000 to 7,000 years old. Only discovered in 1968, it's 83 feet tall and 53 feet around.

En route, the team captured 360-degree views of the ancient cedar forest, which draws thousands of trekkers as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Hiking mysterious Yakushima Island for Street View (pictures)

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The panoramic shots, which feature relatively rare imagery of the forest in snow, are expected to be available this summer. Check out pictures released so far in our photo gallery.

Google Japan is also planning to bring Street View to Mount Fuji, Japan's tallest peak at 12,389 feet and a national icon.

That's a much easier climb, but the view from the top is equally spectacular, especially in the evening (the lights of Tokyo can be seen 60 miles away) and at dawn when the sun rises from beneath the clouds.

All fun to see on Street View, but much more fun to see firsthand.