Akiyoshido's iconic main entrance (Photo: Fabien Recoquille)

Explore Rarely Seen Caves at Akiyoshido

New routes at Japan’s largest limestone cave to be made public for the first time

Akiyoshido's iconic main entrance (Photo: Fabien Recoquille)
Tom Roseveare   - 9 min read

Mine City, in Yamaguchi Prefecture, is gearing up to launch new caving experiences at its famed Akiyoshido cave system — the largest limestone cave network in Japan.

The cave and nearby Akiyoshidai plateau—collectively forming a Quasi-National Park and Geopark—together represent some of the brightest jewels in Yamaguchi’s tourism crown, providing an other-worldly landscape that is unique to Yamaguchi and has long captivated visitors to this part of western Japan.

Akiyoshidai’s karst landscape: 300+ million years of evolution

Akiyoshidai’s unique geology and karst landscape can be traced back to over 300 million years when this region was submerged underneath the ocean and home to a vast coral reef. The effects of erosion from rainfall and magmatic shifts over time helped give rise to both karst pinnacles above ground and, along with above-ground hollows (called ‘Doline’) formed by erosion, the development of limestone caves further below.

A British explorer roaming the Akiyoshidai plateau
A British explorer roaming the Akiyoshidai plateau (Photo: Fabien Recoquille)

These underground caves at Akiyoshido—Japan’s largest and longest limestone cave network—are now a designated Special Natural Monument whose iconic entrance lies in a cedar grove on the southern side of Akiyoshidai. Inside, visitors can typically follow a leisurely 1-km sightseeing course that is paved and well-lit. Along the way, you can enjoy the cave’s many unique and mysterious formations, like giant stalagmites and a large rice terrace-like rimstone area inside the main cavern.

East Asia’s largest stalactite cave
East Asia’s largest stalactite cave (Photo: Fabien Recoquille)

A naturally constant 17°C inside the cave keeps conditions relatively mild during the summer and relatively warm during the winter season.

New Caving Routes at Akiyoshido

Mine Tourism Association is hoping to appeal to adventure travellers and entice those looking for a more authentic, rare experience by taking them—literally—off the beaten path.

Spectacular spelunking
Spectacular spelunking (Photo: Fabien Recoquille)

From summer 2024, they’ll start to accept bookings for group tours of vast new caving routes that have never been opened to the public before (and are said to be the largest of their kind to be made accessible like this).

One of the deepest caverns and an underground lake
One of the deepest caverns and an underground lake (Photo: Fabien Recoquille)

Under the supervision of an expert guide, groups of up to 6 people will be able to traverse the underground rocky caverns and streams along one of several courses expected to last 2–4 hours.

Taking a closer look
Taking a closer look (Photo: Fabien Recoquille)

Expect to find new underground lakes that shine cobalt blue when illuminated, or a chance to witness a wind tunnel (kaze-ana) that connects the surface down through to the main ​​Shumisen cavern.

Photo: Fabien Recoquille

Compared to nature above ground, caving gives us—alongside a dose of adrenaline—a unique chance to connect closer to Mother Earth and offers a symbolic, visible link to the Earth’s past.

Stalactites from above, stalagmites from below
Stalactites from above, stalagmites from below (Photo: Fabien Recoquille)

It is moving to think millions of years of geological evolution can be witnessed up close right before our very eyes, in an environment with zero natural light and unique fauna that feels more out of sci-fi than anything else (the lack of smartphone signal too—yes, consider this a great digital detox even if for just a few hours).

Photo: Fabien Recoquille

Overall, a chance to explore these new corners of Akiyoshido should appeal to many kinds of visitors and some of the routes are expected to be beginner-friendly too.

Make Mine City Yours: New Geo Tours to Connect with Nature

The caving experiences will tie into local tours that better reflect what Mine City has to offer. Above ground, an introduction to the wider Akiyoshidai region will be provided by trained, local Geo-guides from the Mine Akiyoshidai Geopark Centre at Karstar. They will walk you along accessible parts of the plateau while explaining about the region’s history as well as local conservation efforts to protect animals and plants, like the annual controlled yama-yaki burning that helps protect the grassland from overgrowth.

Being taught the basics by a Geo-guide
Being taught the basics by a Geo-guide (Photo: Fabien Recoquille)

Historically, the plateau’s grass was vital for the livelihood of local people, from providing feed for farm animals, to acting as a fertiliser for growing vegetables. The yama-yaki ritual, therefore, helped stop trees form and is a tradition that continues to this day. This link to the area’s food culture can also be experienced by tour participants, with dishes including local specialities to be made available, like Mito burdock root, Akiyoshidai Plateau Beef and Shuho pear.

Inside the Mine Akiyoshidai Geopark Centre at Karstar
Inside the Mine Akiyoshidai Geopark Centre at Karstar (Photo: Fabien Recoquille)

Caving aside, these tours are likely to offer a deeper experience of getting to know and understand this part of Yamaguchi on a whole new level.

Around Mine and Yamaguchi

Besides Akiyoshidai Plateau, Mine City has a few more sightseeing spots worthy of note, like the cobalt blue waters at Beppu Benten Pond, trout fishing at the Fish Farm and family-friendly Akiyoshidai Safari Land. Several camping facilities within the Akiyoshidai Plateau area can also provide a unique way to spend more time in the area and a chance to witness the region’s starry skies.

Further afield, Mine is perfectly placed to continue your Yamaguchi adventure by visiting neighbouring regions like Hagi (50 min by car, famous for pottery), Nagato (50 min by car, famous for the red torii gate tunnel at Motonosumi Shrine) and Tsunoshima Island (50 min by car, known for its turquoise waters and sandy beaches).

You’re also not too far from the prefecture’s other big attractions: 30 min by car from Yamaguchi City (named by The New York Times as a 2024 Travel Destination, known for Yuda Onsen and Rurikoji temple*) as well as 90 min by car from Iwakuni’s magnificent Kintaikyo Bridge.

*The temple’s pagoda is under renovation until 2025 but will remain partially visible behind clear acrylic panels being installed on its eastern side.

Getting there

The Akiyoshidai Plateau is located in Mine City towards the west of Yamaguchi Prefecture. It is reachable via bus or car, from nearby cities like Yamaguchi City and Hagi City.

From Yamaguchi, JR Bus (departing Yamaguchi Station) and Bocho Bus (departing Shin-Yamaguchi Station) run several buses per day — note that JR buses are covered on the JR Pass and a variety of regional passes too.

From Hagi, Bocho Bus run several buses per day between Higashi-Hagi Station, Akiyoshidai and Akiyoshido.

From Yamaguchi Ube Airport (domestic airport served by JAL, ANA and Starflyer), it’s a 50-minute drive north. Free parking is available at the Akiyoshidou cave and plateau area.

More info

Find out more about Akiyoshido Cave.

Tom Roseveare

Tom Roseveare @tom.roseveare

Creative Director at Japan Travel, based in Tokyo. Feel free to reach out about living, working or travelling in Japan – just book a time.