While tourist attractions within a metro area are easily reached and convenient for travellers, if you don’t mind making an effort to travel out of the city centre, you are often rewarded with amazing locations and little-visited spots. This is how is in Kumamoto, where a mere stone-throw from the city is a top tourist attraction that sees far fewer visitors than its inner-city equivalents.
There are two main points of interest at the Reigando Cave (which translates to ‘Spirit Rock’ Cave). First, it is well known that the cave was the home of Miyamoto Musashi (1584 – 1645) a famous author and swordsman.
It’s not unusual for authors to get away from the hustle and bustle of villages and cities, and live the life of a hermit while working on a new book. Musashi took this one step further by hiding himself away in a cave which was barely more than a dent in the rock-face, measuring only twenty feet across. He entered the cave in 1643 to begin his work on The Book of Five Rings, a practical and philosophical account of war separated into five parts: Fire, Wind, Earth, Water and the Void. He finished the book in the spring of 1645, and died a few months later in that very cave, at about 60 years of age.
Musashi was raised as a Buddhist and had travelled much in his life. He was known for his excellent ability as a swordsman and was apparently undefeated in fighting 60 duels. His legend lives on to the present day, and the book he wrote in the Reigando Cave is still studied today.
The second point of interest at the Reigando Cave are the Go-hyaku Rakan: the Five Hundred followers of Buddha who have achieved enlightenment. These statues are scattered across the hillside from the entrance all the way up to the mouth of the cave, in various stages of crumbling disrepair. Their varying postures and facial expressions are reminiscent of China’s Terracotta Warriors (though in my opinion these charismatic little statues are far more interesting than that crowded, overly popular tourist trap in China).
Some are sitting in meditative contemplation with bulging eyelids serenely shut, others are grimacing or laughing at a joke nobody can understand. They say that somewhere amongst the moss-covered mounds you’ll find one that looks like you… but having closely scrutinized a large number of them, I remain unconvinced. All the same, the statues are a marvellous sight to see, especially if you happen to be there in the late afternoon, when the setting sun bathes patches of the hillside in brilliant light while others areas are plunged into the shadows, hiding the statues in the gloom. There is a magical, spiritual feel to the hillside which isn’t found elsewhere.
While the Reigando Cave is not actually that far from Kumamoto, it’s quite difficult to get there without a car. If you do have a car, you can drive there from central Kumamoto in under 30 minutes. However, if you need to take public transport, the journey is much more difficult. The Visit Kumamoto website describes the public transport journey as follows: you can take the Sanko Bus from the Kumamoto Kotsu Center to Kawachi, and get off at the Iwata Kannon Entrance. From there, it is a 20-minute walk to the caves. So as you can see, it’s clearly much more convenient to travel by car if you can!
However, it’s worth the effort of getting there. Entrance is only 200 Yen (100 Yen for children) and the visit is sure to be a magical experience. On TripAdvisor it ranks as the 8th most popular thing to do in Kumamoto, though if I would be writing a personal list, the Reigando Caves would certainly be in the top 5!