田谷の洞窟

Taya Caves


Useful Information

Location: Josen-ji temple, Between Yokohama and Kamakura, Kanagawa prefecture.
(35.367940, 139.522129)
Open: All year daily 9-16:30, last entry 16.
[2021]
Fee:
Classification: SubterraneaCave Church
Light: LightIncandescent Electric Light System candles provided
Dimension: L=570 m, W=1 m, H=2 m.
Guided tours: self guided, L=250 m.
Photography: forbidden
Accessibility: no
Bibliography: Luigi Germinario, Chiaki T. Oguchi, Yasuhiko Tamura, Sohyun Ahn, Momoko Ogawa (2020): Taya Caves, a Buddhist marvel hidden in underground Japan: stone properties, deterioration, and environmental setting Heritage Science volume 8, Article number: 87 (2020) pdf
Address: Taya Caves, 1501 Tayacho, Sakae Ward, Yokohama, Kanagawa 244-0844, Tel: +81-45-851-2392.
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.

History

13th cty begin of excavation by Buddhist monks.
19th cty most of the passages created.

Description

The 田谷の洞窟 (Taya Caves) are a series of artificial passages dug into a hill in the middle of Kanagawa city, in the greater Tokyo area. The tunnels are part of the Josen-ji temple and used for meditation and prayer. Visitors are provided with a candle, at the entrance they can get a wooden holder for the candle, and inside the doorway is a candle where they can light it. There are several long and straight tunnels, which are only about one meter wide, and there are some small chambers. The walls and ceiling are covered by sculptures, reliefs, and paintings, depicting deities and masters of Buddhism, but also real and fantastic animals, vegetal motifs, mandalas, zodiac signs, family crests. The deepest chamber is called the spring room, and has the sculpture of a turtle.

According to legend the Hojo family excavated the caves in the mid-twelfth century for safekeeping of their possessions. Some members of the Shingon-sect had the caves expanded so that they could practice their esoteric and mystical rituals.

While the history is not fully clear, it is known that the tunnels were used and extended by Shingon Buddhist monks between the 13th and 19th century. Using caves for meditation is a typical Buddhist behaviour and originates from India. For the Japanese locals which were believing in Shintō, a nature religion which is Japan's indigenous religion, the Buddhists were a strange sect. They used the tunnels as a site for spiritual training, and that's its use until today. As a result visitors are expected to visit for praying here and not for touristic reasons.

The caves were dug into a clay-rich fossiliferous siltstone, which extremely soft and porous and unfortunately highly susceptible to water-driven weathering. And water is abundant, flowing, dripping, and stagnant. Minerals in the rocks, mostly pyrite, but also limestone, are oxidzed and dissolved, chlorides, phosphates, sulfates, and carbonates are redeposited and cause destruction. The crusts of gypsum and calcite, but also the corrosion of the rock, are damaging the sculptures.