Japan has some really impressive limestone caves.
The largest one is called “Akiyoshido” (Akiyoshi Cave) and can be found in Yamaguchi Prefecture. But it’s not the cave alone that’s breathtaking. Read on to find out why you shouldn’t miss this sightseeing spot in Japan!~
Akiyoshido (Akiyoshi Cave) in Yamaguchi
Akiyoshido (秋芳洞) is Japan’s most spacious limestone cave. It’s located in Mine City, Yamaguchi Prefecture (map) of the Chugoku region. Together with Akiyoshidai (Akiyoshi Plateau) it forms the Akiyoshidai Quasi-National Park (秋吉台国定公園).
Entrance of the cave at the cave’s lowest point.
Access to Akiyoshido
To get to the Quasi-National Park you can take a bus either from Yamaguchi Station or Shin-Yamaguchi Station. The latter is where the Shinkansen stops.
Get off at the “Akiyoshido Bus Center” (秋芳洞バスセンター). From there it’s a 10 mins walk to the entrance of the cave. Here’s the bus timetable from Shin-Yamaguchi Station (新山口駅) to Akiyoshido (秋芳洞). You have to scroll down a bit.
Beneath the Akiyoshi Plateau you’ll find many “limestone caverns”, but the biggest one is the Akiyoshi Cave. It’s known as the largest cave in the Orient.
The cave is about 9 km long, only 1 km is accessible to the public.
It’s not only said to be the largest, but also the most beautiful cave in the Orient.
Throughout the year it keeps a constant temperature of about 17°C, so dress accordingly.
The cave received its name from Emperor Hirohito who visited in 1926.
In 1952 it became a designated Special Natural Monument.
There are several spectacular sights you can enjoy like this “Cave Mt. Fuji”.
They gave the formations fitting names. As you can see, there’s also an English translation.
But even without any name, these are extremely impressive!
Terraces of limestone pools filled with water that look like many tiny rice paddies.
The cave is also home to 6 different types of cave bats.
Unfortunately I didn’t see any. I was luckier in smaller caves in Japan, but you’re also more likely to run into creepy things such as geji-geji in smaller caves. No, thanks!
At most points the cave is well-lit, but you still should bring a tripod!
After the roughly 1 km walk through the cave (which will take you about 30 mins), you can use either an elevator to get up to the plateau or the “Kurotani exit”.
The tunnel leading out has various, huge illustrations of Ghibli-like landscape pictures of the plateau that awaits you above the cave. So, take your time and have a closer look at them.
Akiyoshidai (Akiyoshi Plateau)
Welcome, up there! Let’s breathe some fresh air!
Like I promised it’s not the cave alone, there’s something even more impressive above the cave known as the “Akiyoshi Plateau” (秋吉台).
It’s a plateau with the highest concentration of karst formations in Japan, stretching on an area of 130 km², including over 400(!) limestone caves. Akiyoshido which I just introduced is by far the biggest of them.
About 300 million years ago the plateau used to be a coral reef.
There are several walking trails that let you explore the area.
But if you have a car, you can also just pass by the main road and get a good view onto the karst formations.
The landscape changes drastically with every season.
I went in February and as you can see it was somewhat yellow- / brown-ish.
In winter it sometimes snows, so the landscape is white.
In spring and summer a fresh green will welcome you.
And in autumn it’s almost reddish.
You can see a few different pictures of each season here.
Lovely manhole cover featuring Akiyoshidai’s pretty landscape.
There are many other sights in Yamaguchi prefecture worth checking out, so you might want to spend more than just a day trip there.
If you’re in a hurry, you could just stop by in Yamaguchi on your way from Fukuoka to Hiroshima or Osaka (or vice versa) as there’s a Shinkansen stop (“Shin-Yamaguchi”) along the way.
Please note that Akiyoshi Plateau is open 24/7 and free of charge. The following is only valid for Akiyoshi Cave: