Table of Contents
History and Relevance
Plants and Animals
Getting Through the Language Barrier
What to Bring
Kinsakubaru is a primeval forest home to many plants and animals exclusive to Amami. In spring, the leaves carry a yellow tint, hence the name 金作原－which can roughly be translated to gold (Kin), -en (saku), wilderness (baru).
Visitors may go with a tour guide to the education and observation area of Kinsakubaru, stretching out across 124.52 hectares. This subtropical forest is located in Naze, Amami City, but will require a 30-40 minute car ride from downtown Naze due to its mountainous landscape.
History and Relevance
The geographical isolation of Amami Oshima has led to the continued existence of endemic plants and animals that cannot be found anywhere else in the world. Because of its unique wildlife, Amami Oshima was designated as a national park in 1974 and, more recently, in 2021, registered as a UNESCO Natural World Heritage Site along with Tokunoshima, Iriomote, and the northern area of Okinawa.
Amami Oshima’s sites, such as Santaro Road and Yakugachi Eco-road, are places where you can catch a glimpse of the native wildlife. However, Kinsakubaru is a popular spot not only to see rare habitats－but to be drawn into the atmosphere of an ancient forest.
Kinsakubaru’s noteworthy backdrop provides not only an educational area and a nature lover’s dream but an excellent location for photography and short videography. Walking along the path feels like a dinosaur or even Godzilla can pop out from behind the trees!
SpaceGodzilla among ‘hikagehego’ flying spider-monkey tree ferns
The movie, Godzilla vs. SpaceGodzilla (1994), was said to have been filmed in Kinsakubaru. However, according to an interview in the Kodansha Godzilla vs. SpaceGodzilla TV magazine, the movie’s filming location was moved to Okinoerabujima due to venomous habu snakes on Amami Oshima. Either way, the subtropical atmosphere pulls you into a movie set of your own adventures!
SpaceGodzilla with a fallen flower from an iju tree
Plants and Animals
Kinsakubaru has been preserved over the years and serves as a home for vulnerable and endangered species such as the Lidth’s jay and Amami tip-nosed frog. The subtropical forest is also known for its gigantic 'hikagehego,' or flying spider-monkey tree ferns, that can grow up to 15 meters tall. You can differentiate this iconic plant from other tree ferns by height and oval markings.
A dead flying spider-monkey tree fern that has decomposed into a curved shape
Depending on the time of year, visitors can see various plants at different stages of blooming. A tour guide will point out notable plants and give background information, such as why their name came to be, if it's edible, and what time of year it blooms. They may show pictures of rare plants not in season. Each tour is bound to be a unique experience, and the following pictures are some of the plants my tour group came across in June:
‘Kuwazuimo’ giant upright elephant ear
‘Ootaniwatari’ bird's-nest fern
‘Gyokushinka’ Terenna gracilipes (Hayata) Ohwi
‘Kagomeran’ Goodyera hachijoensis var. matsumuran
‘Konronka’ handkerchief flower
However, a forest isn’t just limited to its plants. During the walking tour, I felt surrounded by the presence of all kinds of flourishing life. I saw not one but TWO habu snakes. I heard the pecks of a woodpecker and the cries of a Lidth’s jay. I even had the luck of glimpsing the endemic bird flying from branch to branch, but, unfortunately, I could not get a good picture myself.
Lidth’s jay. Photo Credit: Amami Oshima Tourism & Products Federation
The frogs, however, were fantastic models.
The three main species of frogs on the Amami Islands one should keep an eye out for are the Amami tip-nosed frogs, Ishikawa's frogs, and Otton frogs. All three are listed on the IUCN Red List as Endangered. We were lucky enough to come across both a brown and a green Amami tip-nosed frog during the tour.
Amami tip-nosed frog (green)
Amami tip-nosed frog (brown)
One of the tour's last stops was at this old Quercus miyagii oak tree. It is estimated to be more than 150 years old! At the height of approximately 22 meters, it is a tall evergreen tree with extensive roots that create beautiful waves above the ground. This tree species is endemic to Japan and can be found on several of the Ryukyu Islands. Due to the properties of its hard and dense wood, Quercus miyagii wood was used as building materials for Ryukyuan architecture, such as the round pillars in front of Shuri Castle in Okinawa.
Because of its environmental and cultural significance, Kinsakubaru is protected by rules such as how many vehicles can visit at a time. The main rule for travelers to remember is that one must go with a certified tour guide. This rule not only protects the forest–it protects the visitors. The mountain roads are narrow and could be hard to navigate for those unfamiliar with them. Furthermore, there is no phone signal, so any issues like car problems would require significant waiting for help. Therefore, following the rules and making a reservation with a tour guide is extremely important.
While severe weather could lead to the cancellation of the tour, generally, the tour will continue come rain or shine. Rain can be a deal breaker for many activities, but due to the cover from trees, it’s fine to explore the forest in the rain. Furthermore, on rainy days you can see sword-tail newts! The trees also help during the summer heat, so while the humidity will be high, at least the shade and breeze can cool you down.
During the tour, keep an eye out for habu snakes! Since the guides regularly enter Kinsakubaru, there will usually be a marker pointing out where any ‘princess habu’ or hime habu snakes are. Hime habu usually stay in one place and wait for their prey, so it is easy to pinpoint their location. Other types of habu, however, move around to find their prey: on the one hand, making it easier to see them, but on the other, making it harder to mark their location. The tour guides are all very experienced, so if you have any concerns be sure to ask them ahead of time and enjoy the tour without worries.
Getting Through the Language Barrier
If you just want to see, take pictures, and simply take in the beauty of Kinsakubaru as a non-Japanese speaker, a translator is not necessarily a requirement, but it is recommended. Those wanting to understand the importance and stories of the plants should especially bring a translator. A few plants and trees will have a sign listing the Japanese and scientific names, but most will just be introduced by the guide using the Japanese name.
In addition, many plants and animals do not yet have established English names, so be prepared to make memos of the Japanese or scientific names even if you have a translator. Furthermore, don’t be shy and feel free to ask questions if you’re stumped about something!
What To Bring
It is recommended to bring a hat, long sleeves and pants, tennis shoes/hiking boots, insect repellant, and water. However, excluding the travel time, it’s around an hour’s hike, so I wouldn’t recommend bringing too much water to carry.
If you’re there for photos, don’t forget to bring a camera and memo pad (or a cell phone) to write notes about which species you come across. You can always consult your tour guide if you have questions about what you should or shouldn’t bring.
It is also important to note that you cannot take anything from the forest back with you. There are a lot of protected species in Kinsakubaru, and on Amami Oshima overall, and taking any of those plants or animals is a crime.
The main worry I had before going on the tour was the lack of restrooms since it is about a two-and-a-half-hour experience, including travel time. There is a restroom at the meet-up location most tour guides use, but there is nothing after that point. My worries turned out to just be worries, and, thankfully, I didn’t find myself needing to sprint to the restroom as soon as we returned. So, just remember to go beforehand!
Because it is a forest, there will be bugs (hence the recommendation for long sleeves). While slightly startled at first, I enjoyed seeing all the harvestmen in the forest. I’d find them running across the path or crawling on leaves. Since they are somewhat hard to see at first, when I spotted one, I would feel that childish joy of “Oh! I found another one!” So, while not a rare and endangered species, I also found joy in seeing them.
'Zatomushi' harvestman on the leaf of a fern
Overall, I learned a lot about the different plants and animals of Amami Oshima and managed to see many for myself. The experience of trekking through the forest felt exciting, and being surrounded by familiar and rare life made it an adventure. I certainly felt a little silly taking out the SpaceGodzilla toy for photos, but it definitely fit right into the atmosphere of the primeval forest (with some imagination). I could easily see myself planning a second trip during another season, so I could see other plants blooming. Whether one is there for the wildlife or atmosphere, please be respectful as you explore and have a wonderful time!
List of certified guides for the Amami Islands (English and Japanese):
*Please note that a section listing English guide interpreters is included; however, this is not an all-inclusive list.
List of certified guides who conduct tours of Kinsakubaru (Japanese):