I had been dying to see Akiyoshido cave since I learned of its existence. Which was, to say, the day before we left on our road trip, and two days before we went to the cave, when the science teacher who sits next to me at school heard of my plan to visit Yamaguchi and implored me to see Akiyoshido. Well, regardless of how long or short I had been properly aware of Akiyoshido, I was almost bursting with excitement when we set out that morning.
Akiyoshido, or “Akiyoshi Cave,” is the largest known stalactite cave in Japan. It is paired with Akiyoshidai, “Akiyoshi plateau,” the expanse of land above the cave that exhibits the most amazing expanse of karst topography I’ve ever seen in real life. Karst topography occurs when water carves away at the highly soluble bedrock underneath – such as the limestone that the caves are mainly composed of. It’s similar to the process that carves out the caves themselves, but occurs above ground.
This isn’t the first cave I’ve been to, but I think it may be the widest – 100 meters across at its widest point – and the busiest. It took about an hour to explore, round trip, including stops for photos, and traffic inside due to all the other tourists. It was really cool, but very tourist-ified, as are most things in Japan, so that unfortunately detracted from the natural experience a bit. I have been on several caving expeditions in the past, the most exciting of which was a cave in the Philippines. This cave was very un-touristy, and to enter the cave at all, we had to find a person in the village who was certified to lead people through it. We crawled, climbed, jumped and swam our way through that cave, and at one point when we had to jump across a water-filled crevasse we were warned, “don’t fall down here, nobody knows how deep it is.” It took about three hours to make our way through to the other side. It’s impossible not to hold extremely high expectations for caves after an experience like that, so while Akiyoshido cave was awesome, it fell a little short of the epic subterranean adventure I had anticipated. But it was still highly worth the trip, and the view of the karst landscape above was incomparable.
Tips for travelers: If you are, or are planning to be in Yamaguchi, I highly recommend a trip to Akiyoshido. Yamaguchi is a huge prefecture, so from Iwakuni it took us about two hours to drive to. If you are driving there, you can basically take the Mine exit from the expressway and follow the signs. If you are going by train, there are buses to the cave entrance that leave from Yamaguchi and Shin-Yamaguchi stations. There are three entrances to the cave, but I would recommend the “Akiyoshido Visitor Center” front entrance; there is a small tourist district you walk through to get to the entrance, with lots of cool shops and local pottery for sale. For more information see their English website.
After spending the afternoon in Akiyoshido and Akiyoshidai, we headed back to Iwakuni for our friend’s birthday party. We got to meet the people he’s traveling with, which included several very awesome Koreans, who cooked us very awesome Korean BBQ’d meat, and we even got to taste a homemade apple pie! A good pie is hard to come by in Japan, so it was quite the treat! It was almost worth the entire road trip just for that. Almost.
I said the pie was *almost* worth the trip because of this – accident traffic outside Kobe on the way home the next day. As a whole, our Golden Week road trip was definitely worth it though, even if it was only a couple days and not a proper week. After realizing for ourselves how convenient it is to drive places in Japan, we are definitely going to be going on more road trips in the future.