Go Underground to Escape the Summer Heat in Japan’s Astonishing Limestone Stalactite Caves

The Shimmering Underground Lake and Bat Sanctuary of Ryusendo Cave (Iwate Prefecture, Tohoku)

Shimmering Underground Lake
Shimmering Underground Lake

Ryusendo Cave and the five species of bat that call it home have been designated a national natural monument. As you explore the cave, stalactites illuminated by 5-colored LED lights and a stunning, 98-meter (147-foot) deep underground lake called “Dragon Blue” (perhaps “Avatar blue” is a more fitting description) are just two of the astounding subterranean sights. After you emerge from this hidden world, take in the area’s lush natural scenery with a walk along the Shizu River.

Total course length: Over 3.6km (2.2 miles), with 700m (2,296 ft) open to the public

Temperature: Approximately 10°C (50°F) on average

An Incredible World Spreads Out Before You in Akiyoshido Cave (Mine, Yamaguchi Prefecture)

Get a true feeling of caving in Akiyoshido Cave
Get a true feeling of “caving” in Akiyoshido Cave

Despite being below the earth’s surface, once you set foot in Akiyoshido Cave you’re overcome with a sense of openness in an expansive subterranean landscape. Find the large sign at the beginning of the cave exploration route, drop 300 yen into the box and grab a flashlight. You’ll be immersed in an incredible world in only 10-15 minutes. Get a true feeling of “caving” as you climb ladders fastened to the cave walls and squeeze through narrow crevasses. No reservations necessary means it’s easy to have an unforgettable mini adventure today.

Total course length: Over 10km (6.2 miles), with 1km (0.6 miles) open to the public

Temperature: Approximately 17°C (62°F) on average

Akiyoshido Cave

An Extraordinary Expedition Awaits in Ryugado Cave (Kochi Prefecture, Shikoku)

There are variety of courses in Ryugado Cave
There are variety of courses in Ryugado Cave

A great reason to make the journey to Ryugado Cave is the variety of courses it offers: a standard sightseeing course, explorer’s course, and the remarkable “total darkness experience tour”. If you choose the latter, you’ll be given a “chochin” – a traditional Japanese lantern – as your only illumination in the cave passages. Excluding August, this course is run on the second Sunday of each month from 10 to 11 a.m. (last entrance at 10:40 a.m.).

Adding to Ryugado’s mystique, ancient earthenware and animal fossils have also been discovered, leading to the cave being designated a national natural monument and historical site.

The Ryugado Cave Museum and Rare Birds Centre will satisfy your curiosity about the human and natural history of this awesome cave.

Temperature: Approximately 15°C (59°F) on average

A Maze-like Cave with an Otherworldly Underground Lake and Infinite Stalactites! Gyokusendo Cave (Okinawa, Kyushu Prefecture)

A Maze-like Gyokusendo Cave
A Maze-like Gyokusendo Cave

Okinawa conjures images of pristine ocean waters, but there’s also an amazingly labyrinthine world below – in Gyokusendo cave. Gyokusendo cave is part of the larger Okinawa World Culture Kingdom Gyokusendo sightseeing park. There are over a million stalactites, not that anybody’s had time to take an exact count! Gyokusendo is also the resting place for fossils of the extinct Ryukyuan deer, dating back 15,000 years. Elsewhere in the park, you can take in an “Eisa” folk dance performance and buy traditional textiles and paper in the “Crafts Village”. Bring the kids!

Total course length: Over 5km (3.1 miles), with 890m (2919 ft) open to the public

Temperature: Approximately 21°C (69°F) on average