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Cave Okinawa – A Natural Wonder in Uruma City

Cave Okinawa is an easily accessible subterranean wonder right in the middle of the Uruma City.

Nestled amid the green fields and rolling hills of Uruma City is a little-known natural treasure called Cave Okinawa. Known as ‘Nuchishinuji-gama’ in the Okinawan language, the cave is a place of great import in Okinawan history, both ancient and recent. It’s also a geological wonder. Well lit and featuring a scrupulously maintained boardwalk, the cave is extremely safe, easily accessible and suitable for families with young children and older people. It costs ¥500 for adults to enter. Children are less depending on their age.

Natural History of Cave Okinawa

About 200 meters long, the cave was formed by the dissolution of limestone resulting from the incursion of rainwater over many millions of years. As the water filters through the layers of soil, it becomes mildly acidified. As it drips through the rock below, it slowly dissolves the limestone along the hairline fractures that exist with in what was, eons ago, the base of a coral reef. Over time, the fissures became larger and the cave gradually formed.

Stalactites hang from the roof of Cave Okinawa.

The numerous stalactites adorning the roof of the cave formed slowly over tens or even hundreds of of thousands of years. As water drips from the ceiling of the caverns, it carries minerals with it and as the water dries, the minerals are deposited on the surface of the cave. It can take 10 years for just one millimeter of stalactite to form. Judging by the size of some of the larger stalactites in the cave, they have been forming for tens of thousands of years. In reality, the cave is much older. The stalactites we see in the cave are only the most recent of the deposits.

Political History of Cave Okinawa

As most people know, caves like Nuchishiniji-gama were life-saving places of refuge for Okinawan families during the Battle of Okinawa. More than 300 people lived in this cave during the American invasion and, fortunately, unlike some of the tragic stories involving other caves on the island they all survived. Inside the mouth of the cave can be found the characteristic black color that is consistent with caves in which ordinance was discharged, so there is evidence to suggest that a happy outcome was far from guaranteed.

Scatches mark where loose rock was manually removed.

During a much earlier era, the cave also provided a place of refuge to the deposed ruler of Hokuzan (the northern region of Okinawa), who fled Nakijin Castle during an uprising. Hananchi was celebrated as a powerful and successful ruler of Nakijin, but, as so often happens to political leaders, his ambition grew in accordance with his wealth and affluence. As he began to plot an invasion of the more powerful Chuzan region, he approached the chieftains of the surrounding regions for their support. Whatever they might have told him, they decided it was better to betray their ruler and ally with Sho Shinsho of Chuzan, who invaded in a preemptive attack after being informed of Hananchi’s hostile intentions. Sho Shinsho and the chieftains won, Hananchi lost, and the former ruler of the once-mighty Nakijin castle escaped to Nuchishinuji-gama, never to rule again.

Wildlife in Cave Okinawa

Perhaps the most common animal visitors will see in the cave are bats. Seeing bats is nothing new for people who’ve been in Okinawa for more than a couple of days and have had a chance to witness the gigantic ‘flying fox’ bats that circle overhead at night just about everywhere on the island (there are flocks of them at Mihama American Village). None the less, the much smaller fruit-eating greater horseshoe bats that navigate the dark recesses of the subterranean caverns are one of the more interesting examples of wildlife that can be found in the cave. Little leopard geckos are rumored to inhabit the caverns, but I have yet to see one myself.

A watercourse runs the full length of the cave.

Look carefully into the water course that runs the length of the cave and you might spot one of the rather reclusive Japanese mitten crabs that call the cave their home, or, very occasionally, witness tiny tadpoles frolicking among the rocks. Plant enthusiasts will no doubt enjoy looking at the little weeds that have sprung up around the lights that brighten the cave. Sprouting from tiny seeds carried by the breeze that blows constantly throughout the cave, these little weeds persist in the most inhospitable of environs. Obviously, they wouldn’t grow there at all were it not for the electric lights installed throughout the caverns, so I think they are kind of a special addition.

Plants grow in the artifical light.
With no lights, the walls would be bare.
Banana spiders spin webs overhead outside the cave.

Outside the cave you’ll see lots of fukugi trees and elephant ears, some of which you might find fruiting. Also, keep an eye open for spiders: big ones, and lots of them. Look up just above head level to find massive spider webs above the walking path, many with very large spiders at the center. More webs can be found in the trees and along the rock walls at each side of the road. These are called ‘banana spiders’ owing to their size and shape, but are also known as ‘golden orb weavers.’ They mostly eat insects, but their webs are so strong that they have been known to unintentionally trap bats and other creatures. You can learn more about the golden orb weaver and other spiders in Okinawa at Shawn Miller’s website Okinawa Nature Photography (and his photos are better). He’s got a page on bats too.

Geological Attractions in Cave Okinawa

Cave Okinawa is full of natural wonders, the most spectacular of which is the Kohaku Rock, located a large cavern right in the middle of the cave. This is actually two rocks facing each other, one red and the other white (hence the kanji 紅白). I call the white rock the ‘pasta rock’ for reasons that will be obvious to those who see it in real life (pictures don’t quite do it justice). There is also the Kira-Kira rock and Gold Rock, which is thought to bring good fortune to those who touch it. At the exit of the cave is an opening that appears to be shaped like a heart when viewed from the right direction.

Things To Do Near Cave Okinawa

When you exit the cave, you’ll walk up a steep hill to find a road. Across this road is the workshop of an Okinawan pottery artist who displays his wares on a little table. His work is for sale and if you like supporting local artists, consider purchasing some of his hand-crafted products.

Follow the road back toward the parking lot of the cave where you bought tickets and you’ll see a little cafe called Junon (not to be confused with ‘Ju-on’ the famous Japanese horror movie). It’s a nice little cafe which serves ice cream made by Snow Lagoon, a small Okinawan company with a very underrated product. If it’s a nice day, you can enjoy the veiw of the nearby valley from a hammock on the porch. It’s not open on Sundays, so if you’re going on a weekend and you want to try the cafe, Saturday is the day (check Google Maps to be sure of opening hours). But don’t forget to leave yourself time to watch one of the Okinawan bullfights at Ishikawa Multipurpose Dome nearby (don’t worry, the bulls don’t get hurt and they’re very well treated by their human families).

Cave Okinawa is a fantastic little excursion that won’t disappoint. If you’re in a rush, you can walk the cave in about five minutes from end to end, but don’t go when you’re in a rush. Go when you’ve got lots of time to stand still and take in the wonders. Don’t just look at the beautiful rocks illuminated by multi-colored lights. Listen carefully to the sound of the trickling water and feel the cool underground breeze on your skin. You could spend as long as you like in the cave and not feel even slightly bored.

Read the Japanese version of this article here. 

Cave Okinawa

479-1 Ishikawa Kadekaru, Uruma, Okinawa 904-1114
Cave Okinawa Website

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