It’s been a pretty frantic last seven weeks with trips to Sri Lanka, Hong Kong and in the recent Obon holiday we went to Hiroshima to see my wife’s parents as we often tend to do in such holiday periods. Whilst the former did involve some cave temples in Dambulla, they were quite different to Akiyoshido Cave.
These limestone caves are actually located over the border from Hiroshima in neighbouring prefecture Yamaguchi. I suggested a few places of interest in surrounding prefectures at the dinner table the previous night and my father-in-law decided we’d go to the caves in Mine City which are roughly 150 kilometres away. It wasn’t to be a straightforward day return trip though as it soon escalated into a two day-one night trip taking in Nagato and Hagi too.
For a number of years now I’ve had a magazine clipping (maybe from Tokyo Weekender) about these caves and my parents-in-law did mention the idea of maybe going there one day but that was a few years ago! We arrived at around 9:30am and stumped up 1200 yen each for the entry before taking a pleasant walk amidst cool mist and some very nice scenery en-route to the entrance.
Akiyoshido is part of Akiyoshidai Quasi-National Park and is Japan’s longest cave that’s been designated as a Special Natural Monument. What was most noticeable to me was just how spacious it was which is something I wasn’t expecting. It is actually 100 metres wide and an approximately one-kilometre-long section of the cave is open to the public as a sightseeing course.
Unlike other caves, these ones really are quite easy to traverse. The highlight for me had to be an area called Hyakumaizara (above) which translates as 1000 plates (they look more like pools to me!) formed from flat limestone deposits. Many places throughout Japan (gardens etc) often claim to possess a mini-Fuji and these caves are no different. The limestone mound rises up like the sacred mountain. Look at the first photo below and tell me if you can see it!
In terms of the geological technicalities, there were lots of stalactites ((icicle-like hanging structures formed inside the cave) and less stalagmites. There are a couple of impressive limestone pillars towards the end of the ascending route. King pillar is the first picture below and after that is kogane bashira (golden pillar) which is 15 metres in height and one of the most symbolic features of Akiyoshido.
The sound system was overly loud and did ruin the ambience of the place a bit but my father-in-law was oblivious to that I think and kept hitting the English button at each stop for my benefit! However, I rarely listened to much more beyond a few sentences and walked away each time as it annoyingly continued to blast out to the next people passing by that point of interest!
It only took us about 30 minutes to navigate the route inside the cave with the exit being a long ramp through something called 300 million year time tunnel which is a very colourful corridor adorned with art detailing the history of the area from the big bang onwards.
Back outside in the warm sunshine, we had to take a taxi back to the entrance area where the car was parked. From there we drove a short distance to see Akiyoshidai Plateau which was quite stunning on first appearance and very reminiscent of the Scottish Highlands, Yorkshire Dales etc back in my native homeland Great Britain. Think of roads winding through lush green territory with mountains in the background and you’ve got the idea. There was a karst viewing platform and the ever-ubiquitous souvenir shop!
Click here to read ‘On The Fox Trail……At Motonosumi Inari Shrine (Yamaguchi)’