For an outing with your family that is not too far from Yokota, head for Chichibu-Tama National Park and Nippara Caverns. It is a great place to take school-aged children. The caverns are well lit, but nothing like the commercialized ones in the United States. There are steep stairs to various sections, but they are well protected with handrails and wire netting. Wear shoes with tread, as the pathways are always wet. The temperature is a constant 52 degrees, but short sleeves are fine to wear. The Nippara Shonyu-Do is about 800 meters deep, with about 300 meters open to visitors. It consists of eight caves divided into two sections. The old caves, “Kyu-do,” were used as a training site for “yamabushi” or itinerant Buddhist monks at the Issekizan Shrine Temple for 1,200 years before the cavern was opened to sightseers. Visitors to the Kyu-do first purify themselves with water at the nearby waterfall and then offer coins to the guardian god enshrined in the cave. The new caves, “Shin-do,” were discovered in 1963 and have much finer stalactites and stalagmites than the “Kyu-Do.” Scientists estimate the caves were formed 5-7 million years ago. Entrance fees for the caves are ¥600 per adult; ¥400/middle school student; and ¥250/elementary school student and younger. It takes about an hour to drive there and another hour and a half to explore the caves. After you exit the cave, turn right past the parking lots and explore the area a bit. A gigantic wall of lime rocks, named “Bonteniwa” towers over the stream and along the road. There’s a waterfall about a three-minute walk up the road. There are some trout fishing pools where anglers can try their luck and roast their catch for lunch. A refreshment stand is available where a few things can be purchased, but a picnic lunch is preferable. Also see the Okutama entry for more things to do in this area.
DIRECTIONS :Exit the Passenger Terminal Gate and turn right onto Route 16. In 2.5 kilometers turn left onto Route 5. Follow Route 5 all the way to the end after 7.8 kilometers, where it dead-ends into Route 411. Turn right onto Route 411. In 20.5 Kilometers you’ll enter Okutama town and pass Okutama train station, go over a bridge. Just after the bridge turn right onto the street named Nippara Kaido . Follow this very narrow, winding road for about 10.5 km. Along the way, you go through a long tunnel as well as Nippara village, which literally hangs onto the mountainside. The road is paved to the end at the caverns, so when you see a parking lot, you have arrived. You will cross two or three bridges. After the last bridge, the road forks left and right; take the right fork to the caverns. (The left fork is a poorly maintained gravel road with no guardrails.) The road, while paved and well maintained, is extremely narrow with many switch-backs which are posted with convex mirrors to help you see around each bend. See map below. GPS coordinates: 35.85518,139.04089.
TRAIN DIRECTIONS: take a train bound for Okutama on the Ome Line at Fussa Station. There is a bus from the station to Nippara. Joyce McKim, Judy Erskine, Margaret Summers, directions updated by Jane Van Maldeghem 11/01
Comments and photo by Wes, December 2012 – The cavern is a vast area to explore, and not too busy in the winter months. The website states that there was a rock slide on the road near the cavern, but this will not impede your ability to easily get to the caverns by car. The rock slide apparently happened up the mountain road from the cavern entrance, but the barricade that blocks the road from both wheeled and foot traffic is after the entrance. You can park for free just 50 meters away from the entrance although I’m not sure if they charge for this service in the summer. There is a small restaurant just near the parking lot, but note that if you need restrooms you’ll need to head down towards the cavern entrance and you’ll see a short little trail that splits off to the right (look for the restroom sign and arrow). Also right off the parking lot you can travel up a stone staircase on the opposite side of the road that leads to pleasant little shrine area. We went on a nice sunny day in December and we only saw one or two other small groups the whole time we were in the area. Our family had a little make-shift picnic on the steps of the shrine. Once you pay for your ticket you are free to walk in and roam about. As mentioned in a previous review, the cave “path” is well lit and there is a map inside (all in Japanese) of the cave layout. However, this is much more spartan than caves you may have gone to in the States. There are no tour guides, no “displays”, and there are even a few unexplored places with no lights if you’re adventurous enough and willing to climb. When you get down into the bowels of the cave it opens up into a monstrous cavern with a ceiling that is over 10 meters high. There is also an offshoot from the main “path” were you can climb a dozen flights of stairs in what we were calling a “mountain” inside the cave. All in all this was a fun day trip, and both parents and kids (1.9 and 3.5 in our case) had a great time exploring and enjoying an outdoor lunch at the Shrine.
Comments by Linda Bell, July 2013 – I concur with a lot of the past details. We, however, went at the end of July and we found it to be quite cold in the cave so we would suggest taking warm clothes with you, especially during the summer months. It was quite busy when we went, but we were lucky enough to arrive early enough (a Sunday, 10:30am) to get one of the 20-30 parking spots. We’re unsure where people should park if the Cavern parking lot is full. When we drove home, it seemed that some cars had to park (or wait for parking) on the bridge 250 meters down the road (policed by the traffic wardens), on a white bridge or on the road to the left of this bridge.
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