SASAGURI, Fukuoka Prefecture--A forest and pond here are more popular than ever after word spread that the picturesque scenery looks as if it is straight out of the Studio Ghibli anime classic "Princess Mononoke."
Thick tree trunks emerging from the pond and the shadow of the trees on the water surface create a mysterious atmosphere in a forest known as Kyudai no Mori.
People take a stroll or chill out on a 2-kilometer narrow path around the pond.
It was initially used as an experimental forest of Kyushu University’s faculty of agriculture and made available for the public in 2010 as part of efforts to contribute to local communities.
The Kamataike pond, which is used as an agricultural reservoir, and the surrounding forest are jointly managed by the university and the Sasaguri town government.
Tsutomu Enoki, an associate professor of agriculture at the university, who manages the experimental forest, said the visitor numbers started to rise in spring this year. While less than 30,000 people previously visited the forest annually, 6,000 people in April and more than 12,000 people in May visited.
The surge likely resulted because word spread about the forest on social networking websites. Still Enoki said it is surprising that "so many people" visit Kyudai no Mori, which covers an area of 17 hectares.
Many comments about the forest have been posted on Instagram. While one of those posts says, "the landscape is picturesque," another states, "the forest is mysterious and I am surprised that such a site is in Fukuoka Prefecture."
Maya Yokoyama, 42, who runs an aesthetic clinic in Shime, also in the prefecture, said she visited Kyudai no Mori after learning about it through a social networking service.
"I walked a long distance before reaching the forest, so I felt as if I were in a different world," Yokoyama said.
The mysterious atmosphere in the forest is created by bald cypress trees, an alien species native to wetlands and elsewhere around the Mississippi River in North America. They were planted about 40 years ago by the late Taisuke Kato, a gardening professor at Kyushu University.
While the tree species was then widely used for gardening mainly on dry land, the bald cypress in Kyudai no Mori grew substantially as they were planted in a wetland--the most favorable environment for the tree.
Their roots can be seen above the water as they stick out from the surface to take in air. The part of the large trunk near the roots has a circumference of as much as three meters.
The bald cypress trees are also beautifully arranged: six were planted to form a hexagon with the remaining one in the middle. Why Kato arranged them in such a way is unknown.
"I can say one thing about the trees: if they had been arranged to form a tetragon or a line, it (the forest) would not have become so popular," said Enoki. "They can be seen in the same way from any angle, likely making the landscape more mysterious."
Kyudai no Mori is 2 km from JR Kadomatsu Station. It is open from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. between April and September and from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. between October and March.