Whether you are a Japanese or a foreigner, Okayama is undoubtedly not the prefecture that people would think of when it comes to limestone caves. This is great news for the limestone cave lovers who are reading this article because crowds of people won’t surround the fantastically lit-up caves even during the Golden Week!
There is a reason why people aren’t aware of the existence of limestone caves in Okayama prefecture. One of the reasons is because the caves are only scattered along the karst plateau – Atetsudai (阿哲台), which extends from Niimi City (新見市) to Maniwa City (真庭市) in the northern part of the prefecture.
As one of the largest karst plateaus, the rocks easily soluble in water, such as limestones in Atetsudai, have created a couple of amazing limestone caves over the centuries for us to explore (≧▽≦). Here are the two of the best limestone caves for you to add to your itinerary when you visit Okayama next time!
Makidō Cave (満奇洞)
One of the best things about the Makidō Cave is that it is quite flat inside the cave. So if you hate climbing up and down, come to Makidō Cave!
Just underneath the entrance of Makidō Cave, there is a free car park for those who plan to drive there. There is also a public toilet in the car park. We recommend you utilize it before you head into the cave.
When you are ready, it is time to head up. During the 10-minute walk from the car park to the cave, don’t forget to purchase your ticket from the vending machine!
- 1,000 yen for adults
- 800 yen for junior high school students
- 500 yen for elementary school students
- Free for otherwise
Remember to show your ticket to the staff in the small hut next to the entrance of the cave!
☛ Eating inside the cave is prohibited.
☛ To get the changes from the vending machine, please press the change (おつり) button.
You will also find the cave map on the right-hand side of the entrance. While it is all in Japanese, there are images on the map that helps paint a picture of what you should expect inside the cave.
Makidō Cave stretches as far as 450 meters from the entrance with a maximum width at any one point of 25 meters.
As soon as you get close to the cave entrance, you will be greeted with the cool air from the cave. The cave is a natural air conditioner that is perfect during the hot summer! In winter, it will be warmer inside the cave, so there is no wonder why bears love to hibernate in caves generally (´▽｀*).
Tip: Bringing a piece of thin long-sleeve clothing when you visit Makidō Cave in summer would be ideal as the temperature is around 15 degrees throughout the year. It might get a bit chilly once the cave cools you down from the heat outside.
The Resting Area at Makidō Cave’s Entrance
As you enter the cave, there is a resting area with tables and chairs. To keep the area dry, there is even a roof that protects you from the water dripping down from the limestones above!
Before you get too comfortable here, you better continue walking so that you can explore this amazing cave (=ﾟωﾟ)ﾉ.
Important: While watching your steps to avoid slipping on wet or smooth surfaces, please also pay close attention to your head. You might need to lower your body a few times so you don’t hit your head against something.
The Names of the Stalactite in Makidō Cave
The Japanese really have rich and creative imaginations as many of the stalactites in the cave have their own names! Sometimes even a section of the cave is named after something (=ﾟωﾟ)ﾉ.
Some are quite intuitive, such as the area in the photo. Because water dripping down accumulates into a tiny pond, the area was named “泉水”, which means spring water.
Others like the ones in the photo on the left, require some understanding of the Japanese culture and/or a lot of imagination.
The stone at the lower right is a bell that you might see in the temples. Above it, they named it a waterfall. On the left-hand side of the bell, it is named mirror stone – which we struggle to see why…
As there is currently no English translation of the names of the stalactites, you can refer to the below list when you visit the cave. Hopefully, this can give you a better idea of what the Japanese think what the stalactites look like!
- 仁王の脚 ⇔ the foot of the guardian gods of a temple gate
- 千枚田 ⇔ rice fields on a hill/slope
- 大黒柱 ⇔ central pillar
- 鬼の手水鉢 ⇔ demon’s washbasin
- 山田 ⇔ mountain and paddy fields
- ナイアガラの滝 ⇔ Niagara Falls
- 泉水 ⇔ spring water
- 象の足 ⇔ elephant’s leg
- 見返の石 ⇔ the stone that will make you look more than once because of its interesting appearance
- 釣鐘 ⇔ temple bell
- 華厳の滝 ⇔ Kagen Falls
- 鬼の金棒 ⇔ demon’s mace
- 鬼の居間 ⇔ demon’s living room
- ひだ天井 ⇔ ceiling that is creased
- 東吉原 & 西吉原 ⇔ the area where female sexual workers wait for their guests in ancient Japan
- 奥の院 ⇔ the room behind the main worship hall/inner shrine
- 五百羅漢 ⇔ Five Hundred Arhats
- 夢の宮殿 ⇔ the pavilion of dream
- 夢の掛橋 ⇔ the hanging bridge leading to a magical world
- 竜宮橋 ⇔ the bridge that leads to the dragon lord’s pavilion
- 乙姫と浦島 ⇔ Otohime to Urashima, refer to the Urashima Tarō Japanese folk tale HERE
- 乙姫の寝殿 ⇔ the pavilion where Otohime sleeps
- 白糸の滝 ⇔ Shiraito Falls
- ケルンの寺院 ⇔ Cologne Cathedral
- 亀石 ⇔ the stone that resembles a turtle
- 唐獅子 ⇔ lion
- 竹すだれ ⇔ bamboo blind
If you would like to have a peek at the cave, HERE is the link where you can explore the cave with your eyes without actually flying over to Japan.
The Ryūgū Bridge (竜宮橋)
The best part of the Makidō Cave is the two red bridges. This is definitely not something you will typically find in a limestone cave elsewhere in the world!
Together with the LED lighting, the red bridges blend perfectly into the surroundings. If you want to gain a lot of “likes” from your friends or followers via your Facebook or Instagram posts, make sure you capture the perfect photo with the bridges before you travel further into the cave (=ﾟωﾟ)ﾉ.
The whole journey into this fantastic cave shouldn’t take you longer than 60 minutes unless you are the type who tends to spend a lot of time taking photos!
Makidō Cave’s Opening Hours and Access Information
- Makidō Cave is open from 8:30 am to 5 pm daily
- The last admission is at 4:30 pm.
- From JR Niimi Station (新見駅) or JR Ikura Station (井倉駅), take bus services operating by Bihoku Bus bound for Makidō Cave (満奇洞).
- As there aren’t many bus services running during the day, please refer to the timetable HERE to plan ahead.
- Please click on the “備北バス時刻表” on the menu on the left-hand side. They currently don’t have an English timetable, so please use the Japanese characters to read it.
- The weekday timetable for Makidō Cave is the 4th timetable, with the 5th timetable heading back to JR Niimi Station.
- For the timetable for Sundays, please refer to the 1st and the 2nd timetable under “日曜運行” on the same page.
- For the timetable for Saturdays and public holidays, please refer to the 1st and the 2nd timetable under “土曜日。祝日運行” on the same page.
Tip: Makidō Cave can be crowded on weekends and public holidays, especially between 11 am and 3 pm.
Ikuradō Cave (井倉洞)
Compared to the Makidō Cave, the Ikuradō Cave can be easily accessed from JR Ikura Station (井倉駅). But it also means it is more popular and therefore more packed with people, especially in summer and autumn.
That being said, even during the peak seasons, you will not likely be blocked from moving forward by other people in front of you.
The Steam Locomotive in Between the Ikuradō Cave Free Car Park and Ikuradō Cave
Whether coming by train or driving, you should pass through the cave’s free car park and the public toilet.
Again, we highly recommend you go to the toilet before you head to the cave, as the cave’s depth is as deep as 1,200 meters (there is also a toilet close to the cave’s entrance)!
From the car park to the cave, it is only a 5-minute walk. Whether you are a big fan of the Japanese train or not, we are sure that this steam locomotive will catch your attention. It looks just as cool as the Hogwarts Express in Harry Potter!
Walking along the Takahashi River (高梁川), you will soon reach the cave’s monument (refer to the photo above).
Important: If you are driving, please park at the car park shown on the map as there is also another car park (non-free parking) nearby.
Ikuradō Cave’s Entrance
You might be wondering where the cave is when you stand in front of Ikuradō Cave’s monument. All you can see is the river, a cliff of a height of 240 meters across the river, and a waterfall.
But, if you pay close attention to the light green bridge to the right of the photo, you can see a bridge connecting you to the cave entrance. Yes, the entrance is located on the wall of that magnificent cliff! It really makes you wonder how they discovered this cave in the first place back in 1958 (´▽｀*).
Fun facts: The waterfall – Ikura Falls (井倉の滝), is actually a result of an effort to make the cave a sightseeing spot. They have to create a way out for the excess water flowing into the cave for us to trek inside it!
The bridge that leads to the cave’s entrance extends out from a building on your right. It is also where you can purchase your entrance ticket.
- 1,000 yen for adults
- 800 yen for junior high school students
- 500 yen for elementary school students
- Free otherwise
Before or after you visit the Ikuradō Cave, you can also stroll around the souvenir shops or enjoy some light meals at the cafe or restaurants around the building.
If you are vegetarian, you can utilize our Essential Japanese Travel Phrases for Vegetarian article to ensure the meal that you are going to order doesn’t contain any meat or seafood (=ﾟωﾟ)ﾉ.
It goes without saying, you will get magnificent views from that bridge so you will definitely be spending a couple of minutes on photography (^_-)-☆.
Important Things to Know about the Ikuradō Cave
- To explore the cave, you will be climbing up and down the stairs with the veridical difference of one point as high as 90 meters. So be prepared!
- Although the cave goes as far as 1,200 meters from the entrance, a shortcut allows you to drop out at around 400 meters into the cave if it is too tiring for you. Please look for the sign that says “近道”.
- To complete the 1,200 meters course, it will take around 40 – 60 minutes.
- Please note that the pathway is one-way only
- Albeit in rare cases, when the electricity in the cave is disrupted due to reasons such as lightning, the emergency power generator will be switched on automatically. So if this ever happens to you in the cave, please stay low and wait patiently. The light will be back on very soon.
- You can rent out a helmet with a 500 yen deposit that will be returned to you from where the ticket vending machine is
The Names of the Stalactite in Ikuradō Cave
Similar to Makidō Cave, the stalactites and some parts of the Ikuradō Cave were given names in accordance with the Japanese’s rich imagination. As there is currently no English translation of the names of the stalactites, you can refer to the below list when you visit the cave. Hopefully, that can give you a better idea of what the Japanese think the stalactites look like!\
- 月ロケット ⇔ the rocket launched for the moon
- 化粧まわし ⇔ an ornamental apron
- ありさの滝 ⇔ Arisa’s Fall (it is a feminine kind of waterfall that has water gently falling down as it rains)
- 登亀 ⇔ a turtle climbing up
- こうもり岩 ⇔ bats rock
- くらげ岩 ⇔ jellyfish rock
- 銀すだれ ⇔ a silver screen made with reeds
- 金すだれ ⇔ a golden screen made with reeds
- 黄金殿堂 ⇔ golden pavilion (please look up, the ceiling of the pavilion is as tall as 30 meters)
- 地軸の滝 ⇔ Earth Axis Falls (you can hardly find another waterfall that has an enormous amount of dropping as deep as 50 meters! This is why it is called the Earth Axis Falls)
- 水晶殿 ⇔ crystal pavilion
- 鬼の手袋 ⇔ demon’s gloves
- 瀬戸の海 ⇔ Seto’s Sea
- スフィンクス ⇔ Sphinx
- 黒い会議 ⇔ Black meeting (the black is probably to describe the 3 human-like stones that are up to no good)
- 三段峡 ⇔ three-layered gorge
- 武人の館 ⇔ samurai’s house
- 竹林 ⇔ bamboo forest
- 虹の谷 ⇔ rainbow valley (rainbow due to the colorful lighting)
- とうせんぼう ⇔ bars that block your way
- 白銀の扉 ⇔ silver door
- だるま大師 ⇔ master Daruma
- ささやきの間 ⇔ whispering room
- しゅろの柱 ⇔ palm’s stem
- 月の廻廊 ⇔ moonlight corridor
- 千人坊主 ⇔ a thousand monks
- 見返りの池 ⇔ the pond that you will look back on (because of its interesting appearance)
- 無人の広野 ⇔ The cactus in the desert
- 音の滝 ⇔ Oto-no Taki Falls (there is a waterfall behind the stalactite. Whilst you can’t see it, you can still enjoy the soothing sound)
You might find stalactite forming on some parts of the stairs!
There is a small shrine near the cave’s exit where you can pray for a good relationship if anyone is interested (^_-)-☆.
The exit of the cave for the 1,200 meters course or the shortened course are close to each other and therefore the shrine.
Autumn Foliage Season At Ikura Gorge
The color of the foliage usually starts to change in late October and peaks from mid to late November on average.
Ikuradō Cave’s Access Information and Opening Hours
- Please get off at JR Ikura Station (井倉駅). It is a 10 to 15-minute walk from the station
- You can also visit Makidō Cave before or after exploring Ikuradō Cave. The bus services that terminate at Makidō Cave will stop at JR Ikura Station (井倉駅), allowing you to access Makidō Cave easily
- The cave is open from 8:30 am to 5 pm
- The last admission is at 4:30 pm
The Other Amazing Landscapes in Niimi City
Niimi city has a lot more natural wonders that are definitely worthwhile to explore such as this gigantic gate created by the great power of nature!
To find out more astounding attractions close to the limestone caves, please refer to our article on Niimi City (=ﾟωﾟ)ﾉ.