Japan - About the Country

Japan is a collection of islands, spreading in a wide bow in front of the eastern or Pacific coast of China, on the western side of the Pacific Ocean. More than 3,000 islands form this country, the largest ones are Hokkaido,Honshu, Shikoku, and Kyushu. It is today one of the world's leading industrialized countries, with the world's second-largest economy behind the U.S.A. Despite the generally overpopulated impression foreign visitors get, it is only the 18th most densely populated country in the world. About 73% of the country is mountainous, and unsuitable for agricultural, industrial, or residential use. This resulted in an extremely high population density in the habitable zones, mainly the coastal areas.

Japan is divided into 47 prefectures, which are commonly grouped into regions. Honshu, by far the largest and most populated island, is typically divided into five regions. The other major islands constitute one region each. We have listed only prefectures with caves, which are about a half.

In Japan approximately 3,000 caves are known. The longest cave is ShowcaveAkka-do in the RegionIwate Prefecture, which is partly open to the public. Its known length is at the moment more than 23 km [2022]. Japan's second-longest cave is the Oyama Suikyodo cave with a total length of 10 km. It is located on Okinoerabu Island, north of Okinawa.

The deepest cave of Japan is ShowcaveByakuren-do in the RegionIwate Prefecture, with a depth of 500 m.

Japan has more than 70 public caves, not all of them are developed show caves. Unfortunately there is no source for a complete list of show caves, at least not in English, so our list is not very complete. It is based on a list published by the Speleological Society of Japan, but it includes a lot of wild or semi-wild caves. Quite funny is that they numbered the list from north to south and closed caves created missing numbers while newly opened caves needed new numbers which did not follow the original ordering. And it contained really wild caves which were never tourist cave and far too dangerous, obviously erroneously. There is now a 日本観光鍾乳洞協会 (Japan Tourist Cave Association), but despite the name it is only a marketing association for nine of the show caves.

Two main types of caves can be found on Japan, karst caves and lava tubes. Caves are called do in Japanese, typically the suffix -do is appended to the cave name, e.g. Abukumado is Abukuma Cave. Karst caves are generally called shonyudo, which means dripstone cave or karst cave. Lava tubes on the other side get the suffix -ana. Nonetheless, old cave names do not follow our modern conventions, and so there are exceptions.

The cavers in Japan are organized in clubs, which are organized in the 日本洞窟協会 (Speleological Society of Japan). As there are not many karst areas there are only 14 caving clubs. But they had three national organizations, Speleological Society of Japan, which was the academic branhc, the Japan Caving Association and The Association of Japanese Cavers. All three merged in 1996, definitely a good decision.