One of Japan’s Largest Limestone Caves
Ryusendo Cave is an impressive limestone cave located in Iwaizumi City in Iwate prefecture, in the north-east of Japan. This extensive natural monument, sheltering underground lakes and various species of bats, was designated National Treasure in 1934.
Located near the Pacific Coast, Ryusendo Cave belongs to the Sanriku Fukko National Park, a vast protected area extending over the three coastal prefectures of Tohoku. It is a beautiful representative of the geological and historical heritage of the area, where nature still rules.
The cave opened to the public in 1967, and the same year, speleologists discovered another neighboring cave. The caverns are now divided into two parts including 3,600 meters of explored galleries on an estimated total of 5,000 meters extending in the mountainside. At the moment, visitors can tread 700 meters of underground rock corridors.
Access to Ryusendo Cave is by a beautiful Japanese bridge ornamented by a dragon’s head on each side. The place was indeed named from the legendary animal, Ryusendo meaning "the cave from which the dragon roars". The cave is also a sacred site, with a little Shinto shrine at the entrance.
A fantastic atmosphere
Inside the cave is akin to a dreamlike world, with a mystical aura to it undoubtedly enhanced by the blue light-up. The cavern’s walls can be admired through either bird’s eye views or bottom views. Moreover, a few English-language panels are placed along the course to provide visitors with a minimum of explanations on the formation and the structure of Ryusendo Cave. One can’t help being mesmerized by this chiaroscuro scenery and the various highlights placed along the underground promenade.
The path crosses through three subterranean lakes of a rare clearness and underwater spotlights create fantastic illuminations of their depths that fascinate visitors safely watching from behind fences. A fourth, 120-meters-deep underground lake, is the deepest lake of Japan and one of the most transparent in the world, but it is not accessible to the public.
A tour with slight difficulties
In mid-course, adventurers are invited climb long stairways offering interesting new viewpoints above the passages previously visited. However, the tallest visitors may be careful not to hurt their head, and the quite steep stairways can be hard for children. Along the way, a stalagmite has been cutely dressed in red bib and beanie, the traditional attire of Jizo, in a tribute to the bodhisattva protector of children and travelers.
As for the wildlife, Ryusendo Cave shelters four different species of bats of a rather small size and totally harmless. They can be spotted here and there, sleeping downwards along the rock walls or just above our heads. They are part of the mysterious and quiet universe of this underground world. It would not be surprising to find the entrance to the Batcave!
Visitors exit the cave with the feeling of having explored a unique natural monument with a quality staging. At the surface, several restaurants, some of them being very affordable, welcome tourists. In one of them, at the first floor, two large dragon plushies offer a cute and humorous welcome.