There are so many beautiful places to visit in Japan. Many international visitors flock to the big cities, but much of the nation’s beauty lies off the beaten path, exploring hidden gems. For your next visit, why not try exploring some caves and waterfalls in Japan?
One of the things I like about Japan is that not everything is always obvious or easy to find. For example, in big cities you will often find that the best restaurants and bars are situated down tiny side streets or in basements. In the countryside, the best cafes and nature spots are hidden away from the main roads. Usually you will only find out about them if a local happens to tell you. Although it can be a bit of a chore to find places, the reward is all the greater when you discover some hidden gem.
I recently discovered that there is a cave and waterfall around 20 minutes from my house in Ioki. The cave is near Aki City in Kochi prefecture. After experiencing a week of non stop rain I woke up one Sunday morning to discover that the skies had temporarily cleared. So I jumped at the opportunity to get out of the house in search for this mysterious cave I had heard about.
Getting started: visiting Ioki cave in Kochi
Thanks to trusty Google maps, I was able to find the cave easily. It was only around five minutes’ walk from the main road. Car parking was across the street at the small supermarket, and was signposted as Ioki cave car parking in both English and Japanese.
Upon approaching the entrance to the cave one thing became immediately clear. I had worn completely inappropriate footwear. I was wearing my hiking boots when in fact I should have worn wellies (or rain boots if you’re not from the UK!). The cave is only around 100 meters in length but the water level is around lower calf height. I might have just plowed on through in my hiking boots if it wasn’t for the massive ‘Beware of snakes’ sign that was plastered next the cave entrance. I started to get visions of snakes coiling themselves around my ankles. So I promptly returned to the car, and drove home to fetch my rain boots.
The adventure really begins!
An hour later I returned! Now with appropriate attire in tow, I trudged on through the shallow waters of the cave, curious to see what was on the other side. As I emerged from the cave, I found myself face to face with one of the snakes the poster had warned me of! It sat on a rock staring at me, head poised, refusing to budge. So I just stumbled past, hoping not to upset him.
Crossing the river
The short hike to the waterfall is signposted but requires several crossings of the river. As there had been a lot of rainfall, I found the current was quite strong. It required quite a lot of concentration and balance to navigate through the river without slipping on the stones. Luckily I managed to stay upright!
Up to the waterfall
After hiking upstream for a few minutes, I came to a path which lead up to the waterfall. It’s very peaceful and calming to watch. If you visit, you won’t see many people around, if any at all. Continue to follow this path, and the route will lead you out, back around to the entrance area. But I was feeling quite hot and tired, so I decided to go back the way I came instead.
Finally, as a reward for not falling on my arse, I decided to stop for lunch at the nearby Merry Garden Cafe. I had a delicious pasta lunch set for 800 yen!
Here’s a short video I made of my Japanese caving adventure!
If you are coming to Kochi and want to visit Ioki Caves, you can take the train from Kochi city to Ioki station. The train takes around one hour and the cave is a short walk from there. For further information visit the Aki city website (Japanese only).
Have you found any of Japan’s hidden gems? Let me know in the comments below!