We visited Yamaguchi to see real locations of a picture book which I have loved to read to my kids over many years. Before heading to the locations, we dropped by Akiyoshido, one of the biggest Karst plateau and limestone caves in Japan.
The Akiyoshido Limestone Cave is perhaps the singular “must see” attraction in Yamaguchi Prefecture. While there is plenty more to see and do, this creates a unique viewing opportunity and adventurous experience.
Akiyoshido Limestone Cave
Akiyoshido Limestone Cave is the largest and longest limestone cave in Japan. I imagined Akiyoshido is an only limestone cave, but the most attractive point was the combination of Akiyoshidai Karst Plateau with green grass and white stones. Akiyoshidai is Japan’s largest karst plateau and is part of a national park that spreads over 4,502 ha.
Akiyoshido Limestone Cave is located 100m beneath the Akiyoshidai Karst Plateau. The widest area is more than 80m and the highest part is 35m. The whole length is 8.9km and the sightseeing course within the cave is about 1 km. As the temperature stays at a steady 17 degrees celsius throughout the four seasons, it is comfortable inside, as it is cool in the summer and warm in the winter. A round trip of only the limestone cave takes about one hour.
Cobalt Blue Water
Walking through the approach to the entrance of the cave, we felt cool fresh air from a small stream. After paying the entrance fee, we walked alongside a small stream and suddenly a huge hole appeared in front of us. Near the entrance of the cave, there is a 25m ceiling and 35m width of huge space. The light from outside creates blue light that reflects on the ceiling. The deep cobalt blue causes an atmosphere of illusion.
We took the Adventure Path for an additional 300 yen taking us up the cave. If you wear flat shoes, you should take this path to see a wider view of the cave from a higher perspective. The distance is short with ups and downs passing through slippery limestone stalactites.
The cave is easy to navigate with paved paths and leveled steps, but some parts of the route are so narrow as they explore the natural sections.
One of my favorite natural monuments in the cave was Golden Pillar, Kogane-bashira, is 15-meter-high and 4-meter-wide pillar. Over tens of thousands of years, lime from the groundwater adheres to the surface of the stone. The pillar is one of the largest limestone monuments and it is huge and magnificent.We also loved the “One Hundred Plates (Hyakumai-zara)” created by puddles of water over several hundreds of thousand years. Groundwater slowly built up there and created the plate shapes. The number of plate like puddles is over five hundred. One of the biggest plates is up to four meters at its largest point.We took 2 hours to see around due to it being high-season with lots of tourists passing on the narrow path.
Akiyoshidai Karst Plateau
Akiyoshidai Karst Plateau is located 200-400 meters above sea level with a 13 km driving course. We went up to Akiyoshidai Karst Plateau from Akiyoshido Limeline Cave taking the elevator located in the middle of the cave.We walked to an observation deck to see the view and took a rest at a cafe near the deck. There is a network of hiking trails that take from 40 mins to 1-2 hours to walk and we hiked for 2km to Mount Wakatake. Some courses are moderate for beginners and some courses are for advanced hikers. It was fun to look at the map and choose the path which we wanted to take. Cycling is also among the popular outdoor activities at Akiyoshidai Karst Plateau.Akiyoshidai tableland area was a bed for coral reefs. This turned into limestone over a period of 350 million years, which eventually formed the majestic karst plateau that we see today. Akiyoshidai Karst Plateau used to be covered with forest, but during the medieval period, people cut the trees and now it is covered with green grass. To maintain the green grass, mountain-burning takes place once a year. The scene of a fire spreading swiftly over the 1,138 hectare grassland must be astonishing.
You can see the original forest at Chojaga-mori Forest. There is an old well which indicates that people used to live here.We parked at Chouja Mori Parking Area and hiked 2.7km through Mount Kanmuri after visiting Akiyoshido. The limestone pinnacles are dotted. The panoramic view from the observatory was like seeing a flock of sheep on the green grass land. I detoured via the Jigokudani area where the old amy used to do its military training. The route is steeper and there are many ups and downs to walk, but it was good exercise.
Where to Stay
We wanted to enjoy Akiyoshido as long as possible, so we stayed at Keigetsu Hotel 15 mins away by car. Keigetsu Hotel is a very classical and high-end Japanese Ryokan style inn with only 9 rooms. The hot springs are excellent and the rooms with clean tatami-mats and soft comfortable futons were unforgettable.In all my life, I have never seen a better place for a traditional Japanese breakfast than at Keigetsu Hotel. Your first meal of a day is likely to include white rice, miso soup, pickles and the salad contains 20 different seasonal vegetables. Each ingredient of the salad was prepared separately to bring out its unique flavor and texture.
If you want to try a high-end hotel in Japan, I recommend reserving it in a rural area, avoiding Kyoto or Tokyo. In this way, you can enjoy your stay at a more affordable price as compared to any other big tourist destination.
Where is Yamaguchi Prefecture
Yamaguchi, which is situated on the westernmost end of the mainland of Japan, has prospered as a gateway to Eurasia as well as a strategic stop for land and sea transport in the area.
The prefecture is important for many events in Japan’s history that forms an integral part of its culture. As the location of a famous naval battle in the war between the Genji and the Heike clans in 1185, Dannoura in the Shimonoseki area (west) played a key role in the transition from aristocratic to warrior rule in Japan. The aristocratic army Heike and the samurai warrior army Genji fought the decisive Dannoura War. Having led Genji to victory, Minamoto Yoshitsune is still hailed as a great leader.
Yamaguchi Prefecture used to be ruled by the Choshu clan at the time of the Edo Period and this clan played an important and leading role to start the new Meiji Era. after one of the most turbulent periods in Japanese history. The area has natural beauty and historically interesting places, such as ancient samurai residences and clay walls. Hagi area (north) and Kintai-kyo Bridge (east) are popular to visit, but if you are a nature lover, Akiyoshido is the best place to go.
Historically, Yamaguchi Prefecture developed as an industrial hub with its copper and cement production. Akiyoshido is located in a mine area where copper was mined from the Nara period in the 8th century until the Meiji period in 1902. The copper was carried by horse to Seto Inland Sea and shipped to Nara Prefecture over twenty days for the construction of the Great Buddha of Todaiji Temple. Over 18 tons of copper was carried. The copper formed by the intrusion of magma into limestone about 100 million years ago. Yamaguchi produces cement from limestone and still major companies prosper from the cement plants.
How to get there
From Haneda Airpot in Tokyo to Yamaguchi Ube Airport, it takes approximately one and a half hours by air. From Yamaguchi Ube Airport, it takes 30 mins to Shin-Yamaguchi Station by bus. There is no direct bus to Akiyoshido from the airport, but the bus network is well established in the Yamaguchi area. So, if you visit only Akiyoshido, it would be easy to take buses.
Economically and politically, Yamaguchi is regarded as one of the principal cities in Japan. The traffic network is well developed and in good condition. If you visit several areas in Yamaguchi as recommended, a rent-a-car is the best way to get around. It takes about one hour from Yamaguchi Ube Airport to Akiyoshido by car.
Open hours: 8:30 am to 4:30 pm
Open days: No closing days
Ticket price: 1,200 yen