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Silver Week Trip to 秋芳洞

2009 September 23

On Tuesday, I woke up early and was picked up by ET, a translator from the Board of Education who’s been helping out the ALTs and our supervisor. She proposed this trip to me two weeks ago, and though the train tickets were a little expensive, I was excited to get the chance to travel with her. We took the Super Express Oki train out of Hamada Station headed for Yamaguchi, the capital city of Yamaguchi prefecture at the end of Japan’s main island, Honshu.

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Yamaguchi is a much larger city than I expected. I’ll have to go back and check it out sometime; on this particular day, we were pressed for time, as the bus to Akiyoshi was due within twenty minutes of our arrival. We had just enough time to help a fellow bus passenger from Germany figure out his travel plans; lucky for him ET was around!

The town of Akiyoshi is full of very unique geological phenomena. The area used to be oceanbed until ancient tectonic activity pushed it up into mountains (山口県 Yamaguchi-ken is “the mouth 口 of the mountains 山”). The mountain tops became fields of karst rock, while underground water ate away the limestone and formed Japan’s largest cave structure.

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This is the entrance to Akiyoshidou, the cave. It was opened to the public in 1926 and named by a most honorable visitor, the Crown Prince who went on to become Emperor Showa.

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The limestone of the cave forms many interesting structures – usually stalactites and dripping piles that look like various goddesses or animals. But in a couple spots throughout the cave, these stacked pool structures have formed. In this particular area, they’re called the Hundred Plates (even though there are actually about 500 of them); further into the cave, an area with wider pools resembles the terraced rice fields common in the mountains of this region of Japan. Inside the pools live tiny shrimp, translucent or white and blind due to the irrelevance of eyesight. This cave was entirely dark until 1926, when the first halogen lamp was brought in.

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This structure is called the underground Mt. Fuji. It does look an awful lot like 富士山, don’t you think?

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The cave is really wide and tall, but the walkways are fairly narrow – just wide enough for two opposing streams of traffic and maybe a couple photographers pressed against the railing. I was impressed (and terrified) by all the Japanese girls teetering around in heels. They were all clinging to their boyfriends – I guess even on a date to a cave, you have to dress up.

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This was my favorite named structure of the cave. It’s called クラゲの滝のぼり, Jellyfish Climbing the Waterfall, which is a pretty accurate description of what it looks like. There are a lot more photos of the cave in my Flickr, but a lot of them are blurry due to low light or fuzzy due to the proximity of a bright guide sign.

Once we finished walking the length of the cave, we took an elevator up to the surface to see the karst fields.
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The really picturesque ones are unfortunately far up the road, and ET was rather disappointed. Instead we walked up to the Akiyoshidai Natural History Museum, where we learned all about the various stages Akiyoshi has gone through and saw rock samples, fossils, and preserved organisms from the cave.
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Akiyoshidai has a very foreign feel to it for Japan – I told ET the pictures of the hills covered with karst made it look more like New Zealand dotted with sheep! It was also strange to see such huge fossils, as it’s hard to imagine these creatures living in most of Japan today.

The only way to get back to the bus stop is to go through the cave, so we paid a minimal reentry fee and headed back down. On the way out, we took the time to browse the shops lining the street, which were full of stonework and local pottery called Aki-yaki. The colors of Aki-yaki are very subtle, so some people find it boring, but it was an interesting comparison with Kutani-yaki from my time in Kanazawa.

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ET almost missed this, but I spotted another excellent manhole cover for my collection. This is apparently the official town design, since it says “Akiyoshi-machi”; it looks like both the entrance to the caves and the fields of karst above are depicted.

Most of the day (about six hours) was spent on trains and buses, and both ET and I were tired from all the traveling, but we went out to dinner together back in Hamada. We’ve been to Osaka Ohsho before, but I’d never ordered チャーハン (“châhan”, Chinese-style fried rice), and when it arrived with a little bowl of egg drop soup that tasted just like Richmond’s Peking restaurant, I was really happy. 🙂

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Sparks permalink
    2009 September 24 7:33 pm

    I love jellyfish…. so that picture makes me happy as well.

  2. Mom permalink
    2009 September 27 10:45 am

    Grandma and Mom enjoyed reading of your travels. We are fans of the manhole covers and want to see more.

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