A walk along the river's edge (Photo: Jessee Lyman)

Iwate's Ryusendo Cave

One of Tohoku's hidden treasures

A walk along the river's edge (Photo: Jessee Lyman)
Jessee Lyman   - 4 min read

When you get to the little isolated town of Iwaizumi, you will never believe that it contains one of Japan’s Three Great Limestone caves, Ryusendo. The town itself is nestled in the hills in the beautiful green county side of Iwate, surrounded by crystal clear rivers, and rich in traditional Japanese culture kept alive by the local population. Tiny shops and homey restaurants housed in authentic wooden buildings line the main street, filled with charming hand-made goods and fresh produce. Visitors can even check out the local community center, where every weekend volunteers display their crafts by making things like straw sandals, yarn from a spindle, and Japanese pottery.

Despite the small town surrounding it, Ryusendo Cave is anything but small. At 3,100 meters long (5,000 including unexplored areas), the basic tour alone is thirty minutes, and takes you not only the length of the cave, but also up several flights of stairs right into the middle of the stalactites. With water boasted as the clearest in Japan, you can easily see deep into the underground lakes, the deepest of which is 98 meters! The walking path shows off all of the points of the cave as well, including narrative signs along the way (in both English and Japanese). With the cave’s clear water underneath you, it’s not only a relaxing experience for your ears, but the rest of your body as well. The temperature is cool inside the cave, making it a perfect stop for hot summer days.

Beginning with the melody of the underground water running into the local river of Iwaizumi, right as you enter it leaves an amazing impression. Next, the rock formations and surrounding nature comes into focus before the beautiful still water of the lakes takes your breath away. Lights have been installed under the surface to provide the best view possible, and they certainly do their job. The turnaround point provides visitors with a great illustration on how excavation was performed initially, and the improvements that came with it over the years. Then it’s up, up, up!

Of course for those who would rather avoid the stairs, you can retrace your steps, but I would definitely recommend following through if you can. Other than the close up view of the various rock formations and maybe coming into contact with a bat or two, the platforms provide an amazing view of the lower path and underground lakes.

Once you’ve made it back and out of the cave, it’s time to hit up the souvenir shop. In addition to cute keychains with Ryu-chan (Ryusendo’s mascot), or fluffy bats, there is also a wide range of satisfying products made with the clear water straight from the cave itself. Coffee, tea, alcohol, even apple juice! And if that’s not enough, you can get water straight from a natural fountain made just for that purpose.

If you still have time to spare, take a short walk along the river’s edge. Although the water is the same, the view is quite different. Rich foliage decorates the easy path, and a picture perfect view of the classic buildings surrounding Ryusendo with a waterfall in the foreground.

There’s also the New Cave, which was discovered in 1967. The entrance is right across the street, and although it’s not as big as Ryusendo, displays and additional commentary has been added to make it similar to a museum, although still in its natural environment. Information about the ancient civilizations and surrounding wildlife can be found, as well as labeled examples of rock formations.

Although it may take some time to get to Iwaizumi and Rysendo Cave, it’s certainly worth it for a daytrip or even overnight stay. You’ll discover natural beauty and rich culture that only northern Japan has to offer.

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Jessee Lyman

Jessee Lyman @jessee.lyman

I'm currently an English teacher living in Yokohama, and I've been in Japan for going on three years. I lived in Iwate before my move and was able to experience a very different side of Japan that most tourists are unable to see. Now I'm exploring my way through the nooks and crannies of the indu...