Kumaso ana - Kumaso no Ana - Kumaso Grotto - Kumaso Cave

Useful Information

Location: 4381-1 Hayatocho Kareigawa, Kirishima, 〒899-5113 Kagoshima.
(31.813146, 130.754732)
Open: no restrictions.
Fee: free.
Classification: Speleologylava tube
Light: LightIncandescent Electric Light System
Guided tours: self guided, D=10 min.
Photography: allowed
Accessibility: no
Bibliography: William George Aston (1896): Nihongi: Chronicles of Japan from the earliest times to a.d. 697. London: Kegan Paul. wikisource
Address: Kumaso Cave, 4381-1 Hayato-cho Kareigawa, Kirishima, 〒899-5113 Kagoshima, Tel: +81-995-64-0895.
As far as we know this information was accurate when it was published (see years in brackets), but may have changed since then.
Please check rates and details directly with the companies in question if you need more recent info.


1990 cave decorated with modern-style murals by Kagoshima native Hagihara Sadayuki.


熊襲穴 (Kumaso Cave) was actually named after the legendary Kumaso, but the name is often translated as Bear Attack Cave. And while there were bears in the area only a century ago, the name is actually because of a legend. Yamato-dake no Mikoto dressed as a woman to kill Takeru Kawakami, who was the leader of the Kumaso tribe which lived in southern Kyushu in ancient times. Takeru Kawakami was the "bear" to kill. As a result he became the leader of the tribe himself and a new name, Yamato Takeru.

Southwestern Japan was inhabited by a fierce people called the Kumaso, led by Torishi-kaya, also called Takeru Kawakami, who lived in an extensive cave. This tribe was known to be violent or to behave like bears, hence the name. Takeru, is an honorary title meaning a "brave and valorous person”, so his name is also translated Brave of Kahakami. Southern Kyushu is not suitable for growing rice, the Kumaso sweated blood in their efforts to grow rice, half of which was required to be paid as tribute. This resulted in a rebellion.
Keikō Tennō sent his 16-year-old son 日本武尊 Yamato-dake no mikoto (82-113), called Ousu, to subdue them. Their leader Takeru Kawakami gave a great banquet. Knowing that Kawakami was too fierce to defeat in battle, Ousu attended the banquet, disguised as a woman. The drunken Kawakami was impressed with Ousu’s beauty, saying, “I have never seen such a beautiful woman before. I want to drink alone with you,” and he led her into a private cavern. As the guests dwindled, Ousu drew his sword and plunged it into Torishi-kaya's chest. Dying, Torishi-kaya asked for his name. He answered Yamato Oguna 日本童男 (Yamato Woguna, the "boy of Yamato"), also called 小碓, Ousu, which means “small millstone.” Kawakami said, “You are a better man than I. Your name, Ousu, is too small for you. Please accept my name and become ‘Yamato Takeru.’” As Ousu received this honorary name, Yamato Takeru, “brave leader of the Japanese people,” Kawakami’s younger brother entered the room. Ousu stabbed him too, but he cried out and thus alarmed the others. Now the 55 tribal leaders rushed in, drunken. Shocked to see a woman holding a bloody sword beside the dying Kawakami and his dead brother, they readied their swords to attack. Kawakami spoke, “Do not harm him. This is the emperor’s son. He has righteously come to kill me because of my refusal to pay tribute. I have bestowed upon him my name, and he has accepted it. See that he makes it safely back to his father. From this day, the Kumaso tribe is dissolved.” And after this Wagnerian dying time he finally died for good.

A lot of this legend is obviously wrong, though it is a fine story and would be a great movie. But much is probably just propaganda of the winner of this conflict. Kumaso stands for two different tribes, the Kuma and the So. In the southwest of Kyūshū was the tribe of the Kuma, whose name could probably still be included in the district of Kuma 球磨郡. In the southeast of Kyūshū was the area of the So, whose name may still be included in Soo district 曽於郡.

The legend was written down in the 日本書紀 (Nihon Shoki, The Chronicles of Japan), also called the 日本紀 (Nihongi, Japanese Chronicles). The second-oldest book of classical Japanese history was finished in 720 under the editorial supervision of Prince Toneri and with the assistance of Ō no Yasumaro. It was translated into english by William George Aston in 1896. Its importance is comparable to the Grimm Fairy Tales, a valuable source for historians, scholars, movies and tourism agencies. So here is the original text from wikisource:

Autumn, 8th month. The Kumaso again rebelled, and made unceasing inroads on the frontier districts.
Winter, 10th month, 13th day. Yamato-dake no Mikoto was sent to attack the Kumaso. He was at this time sixteen years of age. Thereupon Yamato-dake no Mikoto said:—"I desire to take with me some good archers. Where are there any good archers?" Some one told him, saying:—"In the province of Mino there is a good archer named Oto-hiko-gimi." Thereupon Yamato-dake no Mikoto sent Miyado-hiko, a man of Katsuraki, and summoned to him Oto-hiko-gimi. Therefore Oto-hiko-gimi came and brought with him Ishiura no Yokotachi, Tako no Inaki,[60] and Chichika no Inaki of the province of Ohari, and followed Yamato-dake no Mikoto on his expedition.
12th month. Having arrived at the Land of Kumaso, he inquired into the state of things, and the character of the country in respect of facilities of access. Now the Kumaso had a leader named Torishi-kaya, also called the Brave of Kahakami, who assembled all his relations in order to give them a banquet. Hereupon Yamato-dake no Mikoto let down his hair, and disguising himself as a young girl, secretly waited until the banquet should be given by the Brave of Kahakami. Then with a sword girded on him underneath his inner garment, he entered the banqueting muro of the Brave of Kahakami and remained among the women. The Brave of Kahakami, enchanted with the beauty of the young girl, forthwith took her by the hand, and made her sit beside him. He also offered her the cup, and made her drink, and thus amused himself with her. By and by the night grew late, and the company fewer. Also the Brave of Kahakami became intoxicated. Hereupon Yamato-dake no Mikoto drew the sword which he had in his inner garments, and stabbed the Brave of Kahakami in the breast, but did not kill him outright. The Brave of Kahakami, bowing down his head to the ground, said:—"Wait a little. I have something to say." Then Yamato-dake no Mikoto stayed his sword and waited. The Brave of Kahakami addressed him, saying:—"Who is thine Augustness?" He answered and said:—"I am the child of the Emperor Oho-tarashi-hiko, and my name is Yamato Woguna." The Brave of Kahakami again spake to him, saying:—"I am the strongest man in all this land, and therefore none of the men of this time can excel me in might, and none refuses to be my follower. I have met with many valiant men, but none as yet could match the Prince. Therefore this despicable robber, from his filthy mouth, offers thine Augustness a title. Wilt thou accept it?" He said:—"I will accept it." So he spake to him, saying:—"Henceforward in speaking of the Imperial Prince, let him be styled the Imperial Prince Yamato-dake."[61] When he had done speaking Yamato-dake pierced his breast through and killed him. Therefore up to the present day he is styled Yamato-dake no Mikoto. This was the origin of it. Afterwards he despatched Oto-hiko and the others, who slew all that band, leaving not a chewer,[62] and when this was done, he returned by sea to Yamato. Arriving at Kibi, he crossed the Ana Sea. In this place there was a malignant Deity, whom he forthwith slew. Again, turning northwards, he arrived at Naniha,[63] where he killed the malignant Deity of the Kashiha ferry.
28th year, Spring, 2nd month, 1st day. Yamato-dake no Mikoto reported to the Emperor how he had subdued the Kumaso, saying:—"Thy servant, trusting in the Emperor's Divine Spirit,[64] by force of arms, at one blow, suddenly slew the Kumaso chieftain and reduced that whole country to peace. In this way the Western Land is now quiet, and the people are undisturbed. Only the God of the Ferry of Ana in Kibi and the God of the Ferry of Kashiha at Naniha, both, with mischievous intent, sent forth a poisonous vapour, by which travellers were plagued. Both of them formed centres of calamity. Therefore I killed all those evil Deities, and have thrown open the roads by land and water alike." The Emperor upon this commended the good service done by Yamato-dake no Mikoto, and bestowed extraordinary affection on him.
William George Aston (1896): Nihongi: Chronicles of Japan from the earliest times to a.d. 697. London: Kegan Paul, pp 201-202. wikisource

After all these stories, the cave is a little disappointing. It is a vertical cliff face of volcanic rock with a wide but low portal at the foot. There are two chambers, the 10 m by 22 m or 100 tatami mats entrance chamber is still accessible, the second chamber is not accessible anymore, due to a cave in. The single chamber was rather huge, with an area of 1653 m², in old texts given as 1000 tatami mats. To commemorate this legend the artist Sadayuki Hagihara created a 22 m long mural in the cave which resembles Aboriginal rock paintings. This is obviously the main reason to visit the cave.

Park at the highway 222 at the village Hayato, opposite the river Amori. There is a small parking lot with 10 spaces and explanatory signs. A long stone staircase leads straight up the hill to the cave entrance, its only 100 m long but an ascent of about 80 m. The entrance is a bit hidden, but it is signposted. The cave has electric light, which is self-service, when you enter turn it on at the switch box and turn it off when leaving. This system sometimes fails, when you are inside and a new arrival tries to turn the light on while actually turning it off. So we suggest bringing your own lamp, just to be safe. It's not really a problem as the cave is quite small and there is always a little light from the entrance. The trails are wide, well maintained and comfortable until you cross the last wooden Torii gate right in formt of cave. Inside there is only trampled ground.