Japan has no shortage of beautiful sceneries. You can find almost everything in the country, from gorgeous mountains, ancient forests, picturesque beaches, and even sand dunes. One of the most unique spots is located in Yamaguchi Prefecture, the southernmost part of Honshu. Akiyoshidai Quasi-National Park is home to a staggering number of karst formations that cover 130 square kilometers. However, that is not all the area offers as you can also find Akiyoshido here, which is easily one of the best caves in Japan. You can also find a science museum and observatory within the park, and a safari park is a short drive away.
When you arrive at the park, you will most likely reach the cave first. It is the largest limestone cave in Japan, and one of the longest in Asia. It extends for nine kilometers, one of which is open to the public. Even the entrance of the cave is amazing, and the walkway leads you to a small waterfall with clear, bright blue water. The river continues inside the cave, with one of the best views right past the entrance. Here you can see the rocks reflected perfectly on the water’s surface, and the area is wide and spacious.
One of the most fascinating features of the cave is a stunning rock formation made up of terraced pools of water that resemble a rice field. Of course, there are the usual stalactites and stalagmites, which do not disappoint. One of the best is the golden pillar, which stands at 15 meters tall and four meters wide. You can even find a formation that resembles Mt. Fuji.
Unlike many of Japan’s caves that tend to be narrow, Akiyoshido feels cavernous with lots of wide open spaces. The walkways may get narrow at times, but you will rarely have to watch your head. There are even benches in the wider areas where you can sit, relax, and admire the beauty of the cave.
For those who are feeling adventurous, you can try the “adventure course” for an extra 300 yen. Here you can climb up ladders, make your way through narrow passageways, and duck through tunnels before being treated to a bird’s-eye view of the cave.
Don’t miss out and visit Akiyoshidai as well! If you take the elevator exit out of the cave, you will reach the Akiyoshidai plateau after a short walk. The scenery here is otherworldly, and pictures cannot do it justice. There are karst rock formations as far as the eye can see, and it would be easy to mistake them for grazing livestock at first glance. But no, they’re just giant rocks scattered everywhere, and there really is something alien and magical about them.
There are walking paths through the plateau, and it is easy to lose an hour or so wandering. I kept telling myself that I would turn back at the next big rock, but the amazing scenery kept pulling me back in. While a plateau filled with rocks may not sound especially exciting on paper, it is mesmerizing (and bizarre) in person.
If you get tired of walking, there is also an observatory, and places to rest or buy drinks and snacks; soft serve ice cream is a popular choice. When you are ready to head back, you can reenter the cave with your ticket, and walk back to the car park/bus stop. I personally enjoyed walking back through the cave to see things that I missed (or to see the highlights again), but if you prefer not to, you can catch an infrequent bus from Hagi that will take you to the cave entrance. As you exit the cave, there are plenty of shops to browse, many of which sell pottery from the nearby town of Hagi.
Akiyoshido can be accessed by bus from Yamaguchi Station (60 minutes/1,200 yen) or Shin-Yamaguchi Station (45 minutes/1,170 yen). There are also two buses a day from Hagi that can drop you off at either Akiyoshidai or Akiyoshido. As buses are not frequent, a rental car is a good way to get there, and there is plenty of paid parking within a few minutes’ walk to the cave.
While Akiyoshidai is free, Akiyoshido costs 1,200 yen to enter, but foreign tourists can receive a discount if they show their passport. While Yamaguchi is certainly off the beaten path, Akiyoshidai is well worth the trip and it can easily be combined with other spots in Yamaguchi Prefecture. If you are visiting Hiroshima or Fukuoka, Shin-Yamaguchi is a short Shinkansen ride away.