Yoshimi is a small town in the Saitama Prefecture. Coming from central Tokyo, it will take a little under two hours to get here. Although it is not you’re obvious destination if for your holiday trip around the Kanto area, Yoshimi actually holds a very interesting gem that would fancy history junkies. It is home to one of some very unique ancient sites found in Japan.
The Hundred Caves of Yoshimi or Yoshimi Hyakuana is an archaeological site first excavated in 1887 by Shogoro Tsuboi, one of the pioneers of Japanese archaeology and anthropology. It is a collection of 219 burial graves dug on the cliffs of Yoshimi hills.
The origin and purpose of these small chambers were previously unclear until recent research reveals that they are consistent with Kofun period tombs, which dates back to around 250 to 500 AD.
The Hundred Caves of Yoshimi is the largest of its kind in Japan and is considered a National Historic Monument. It is open to the public together with the museum where you can find the artifacts excavated from the site.
The opening of the tombs are mostly around one square meter on the average. It’s not much of a tight squeeze, but you need to duck to get your self in.
Although the size of the holes seems standard, the space inside isn’t. The bigger tombs can fit around 5 to 7 ducking people (alive). These are the ones that held two or more bodies. The smaller ones, which can be quite eerie for the claustrophobics, housed one body.
Aside from the tombs, another rare sight to see in the area is the presense of Hikarigoke or Shining Moss. It is a special type of moss that is native to Kanto Region. You’ll see them growing naturally on several caves of the Hyakuana.
WWII Underground Factory
During the World War II, the bottom section of the hill was dug to create bigger chambers and tunnels. Sadly, around ten percent of the caves were destroyed in the process. The site was transformed into an underground factory for manufacturing aircraft engines. However, the war ended before it even became operational.
This area is also open to visitors but only on very limited sections. The accessible part of the tunnel extends only for just a few hundred meters in total.
The air temperature within the cave is relatively cold compared outside. It can go below 20 degrees even at the peak of summer, which makes it a nice place to cool down.
A good side trip after visiting the Yoshimi Caves is the Iwamuro Kannon, which can be found just across the road. It is a Buddhist temple dedicated to Kannon, the goddess of mercy.
This temple is located at the back gate of the Matsuyama Castle ruins. The two-storey wooden hall gives a very unique appeal compared to most temples you’ll see in the city.
On the west side of the temple is a small cave with dozens of stone images of Kannon on display.
In summary, Yoshimi is one of the lesser-known good destinations around the Tokyo area. Exploring the town’s usual sightseeing spots is doable in one day. If you have a limited time, you can have Yoshimi in combination with Kawagoe in your Saitama itinerary.
How to Get to the Hundred Caves of Yoshimi
By public transport
The nearest train station is Higashi Matsuyama Station of the Tobu-Tojo Line. From central Tokyo, it takes a little more than 1.5 hours to get there.
- Option 1 : From Shibuya station, take the Yamanote Line going to Ikebukuro Station. Then transfer to Tobu-Tojo Line. (Total Fare : 820)
- Option 2 : From Shibuya station take the Fukutoshin Line going to Ikebukuro Station. Then transfer to Tobu-Tojo Line. (Total Fare : 850)
Since travel may take a while, it is best to catch an F Liner train. It is a special train that goes from Yokohama to Shinirinkoen using the tracks of Tokyu-Toyoko Line, Fukutoshin Line and Tobu-Tojo Line without any transfers. It stops on both Shibuya and Higashimatsuyama station.
From east exit of Higashimatsuyama Station, take the bus going to Konosu-Menkyo-Center and alight at Hyakuana-Iriguchi stop (Travel time : ~5 minutes)
- Adults – 300 Yen
- Kids – 200 Yen
- 9:30 am – 5:00 pm
- Town of Yoshimi Official website
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