Deep inside the Nippara Limestone Caves.
Deep inside the Nippara Limestone Caves.
Image Credit: Jeremy Piper

An Adventure Lover's Guide to Spelunking in Tokyo's Hidden Caves

Okutama offers visitors a chance to explore the depths of Japan in a way you never thought possible

Tokyo is an amazing place. The experiences that you can have there are as varied as they are wonderful. Some of them are pretty deep and meaningful.

For those who like to step outside (nay, underside) the city for a little adventure, one of the best experiences you can have can be found in Okutama. Best of all, it’s a truly natural experience that comes in the form of 250-million-year-old limestone stone caves.

The Ootake Limestone Caves

If you’ve got spelunking on the brain while you’re in Tokyo, you’re in luck. Okutama opens your world up to two different cave experiences.

The first of which are the Ootake Limestone Caves. These caves were first discovered in 1961 and opened to the public in 1962. They offer a great chance to explore the great outdoors, and the great beyond that lies beneath.

For anyone who has ever wanted to really experience caving, this is the perfect place to start. The cave gives visitors a chance to step out of their comfort zone and explore an easily accessible adventure. You are handed a helmet on arrival and, as you get deeper inside the 300-meter cave, you will soon find yourself climbing up and crouching down to squeeze through the openings.

When combined with a hike to the summit of Mt. Odake, and the nearby Mt. Mitake, the Ootake Limestone Caves make for a nice all-round - above and below ground - weekend experience. The best part is that these caves have a campground located on-site, so you can take your time while exploring both above and below ground without having to rush back to your hotel in the center of Tokyo. It’s a great family outing for all.

To get to the Mt. Odake Caves take the train to the JR Musashi Itsukaichi station and then the Kamiyozawa bus to the Ootake Shonyudo Iriguchi bus stop.

Nippara Limestone Caves

Your second choice for exploring the depths of Japan are the Nippara Limestone Caves. These caves are an amazing experience of natural geological formations. You’ll get to see stalactites and stalagmites, as well as a fascinating glimpse into some of the underground shrines and holy places of Japan.

Like the Ootake Limestone Caves, the Nippara Limestone Caves are located near Okutama, in the Tama region of Tokyo. They are accessible by taking the train to Okutama station and then the bus to Shonyudo bus stop, which is a five-minute walk away from the cave entrance.

The first thing you’ll notice when you’re inside the cave area is the temperature, where it remains a constant 11 degrees Celsius all year.

The next thing you’ll notice is the surreal beauty of the rock formations that both hang down from the ceiling and reach towards the sky from the ground. These formations—stalactites hang down, while stalagmites reach up—are delicate, natural limestone creations that develop as water drips down from the ceiling of the cave. You have to be careful not to touch these formations as they are very fragile and take hundreds of years to form. To add to the experience, the caves have been lit up by LED lights that showcase the spectacular patterns in the rocks.

You’ll also notice a peaceful feeling in these caves. This feeling of calm has drawn people to the area for centuries. The Nippara Limestone caves were a holy place for Buddhist Monks of the Shugendo sect and, as a result, shrines, statues and other holy practices that date back to at least 774 A.D. can be found inside. Be sure to check out the Suikinkutsu site, where a pot buried in the ground catches droplets of water and resonates with a soft hum. It’s a transcendent experience.

When you’re done at the Nippara Limestone Caves, but sure to explore the Tama River a little bit. You can go swimming, rent fishing rods, cook what you catch, or just hang out by the water.

These caves are not something you’d typically expect from a city known for electronics, but that’s the beautiful thing about Tokyo and the Tama region.

You never know what you’re going to discover until you get out there and explore.

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