New cave experience in western Japan offers the chance to experience real adventure and discovery

KOCHI – Ryugado Cave, a nationally designated natural monument in Kochi Prefecture, Kami Town, opened a new tourist route on April 29 as part of its 90th anniversary celebrations. Before its general opening, the Mainichi Shimbun tried the new path and discovered an extraordinary opportunity for adventure in western Japan with natural sites beyond this journalist’s imagination.

A section of the new Ryugado Cave route that one must cross to cross is seen, in Kami Town, Kochi Prefecture, April 15, 2021 (Mainichi / Shiori Kitamura)

A rock surface inside the new Ryugado Cave course is illuminated in this image taken in Kami Town, Kochi Prefecture on April 15, 2021 (Mainichi / Shiori Kitamura)

Water is seen flowing heavily along the path in the new Ryugado Cave route, Kami Town, Kochi Prefecture, April 15, 2021. Due to variations in ground level, visitors should proceed with caution. (Mainichi / Shiori Kitamura)

“It’s really completely dark inside so we’ll only have the lights to rely on,” said my guide on the new West Main Cave Course and Water Cave Course, who is also the general manager of operator Ryugado. Ryugado Mirai Cave. As he reminded me to be careful, I took steps in the darkness in front of me.

What surprised me at first was the amount of water that poured over the rock faces on either side of me. I had imagined it would be nothing more than a steady drop from above, but the water was flowing with great force. There were even times when the water got past my knees. According to my guide, on rainy days it gets even higher so it looks like visitors better bring a change of underwear.

Halfway, the path forks. A sign read “West Main Cave Course” and “Central Cave Course”. These are the names given to the trails by the locals. While the entire new course has been named the “West Main Cave Course” visitors can take advantage of both routes. The former apparently has a stronger water flow, while the latter gives a better idea of ​​variations in the shape of the cave itself.

I did my best to follow my guide as he rushed forward. But there were many places where the space was so tight that only one person could pass at a time. There were times when I turned around, leaned over and climbed some rocks. It wasn’t just that there were severe ups and downs, but rough waters everywhere held back my progress. It was several times harder than I expected. Although my legs were submerged and cool in the water below, I could gradually feel the sweat emerging.

At first all I could do was keep walking, shaken by the flow of water, but little by little I found the time to look at the scenes around me. When I looked closely, I noticed that the shape and material of the rocks were different depending on the location; some had many small grains with sharp edges that I imagined it would be painful to touch without gloves on, while others had completely smooth surfaces.

I also learned that in the places where the water collected there were many holes. My guide told me that they are called potholes, which are apparently made of small stones and other objects when the water carries them along the rocks.

It is generally known that solution or karst caves are created by the erosion of rain and groundwater on the limestone, but being so close to the rising water by the way, I got a real idea of how natural formations are produced over a long period of time. .

Finally, we saw light at the end of the tunnel, and left the dark. My adventure, which seemed to have lasted for centuries, had only lasted 30 minutes. Apparently there are bats and Japanese freshwater crabs living in the cave, but unfortunately I didn’t see any when I was there. If you have the right timing, you might be able to meet them.

“I would like people to enjoy a slightly different flavor of Ryugado Cave,” my guide told me. The new course goes beyond the style of a field trip or a passive viewing experience and can be enjoyed with the excitement of a true adventure. For children bursting with curiosity and adults who want a taste of the extraordinary, this would undoubtedly be an enjoyable experience.

A guided tour costs 2,400 yen (about $ 22) for adults. Water boots and helmets are provided free of charge, but you will need to bring a change of clothes and a towel. Changing rooms and foot baths are free. Usually the course lasts half an hour and individual groups are limited to five people. Reservations must be made at least one day in advance.

(Japanese original by Shiori Kitamura, Kochi Office)

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