Photos by Shoji Kudaka

Photos by Shoji Kudaka ()

You don’t necessarily need a harness, a helmet, or a headlight to feel like Lara Croft or Indiana Jones.

At Cave Okinawa or Nuchishinuji-Gama, a 655-foot cave in Uruma city, you can dive deep and try spelunking without all the usual equipment. Plus, it’s only a 40-minute drive from Camp Foster.

Unlike touristy Okinawa World or Valley of Gangala, Cave Okinawa is located in the middle of a neighborhood. To get there, visitors need to traverse country roads near Bios on the Hill in the Ishikawa area, then take a short walk through an open field. The mouth of the cave looks more like a grotto in a natural environment than a tourist spot.

One step inside, and you’ll enter a different world, almost as if you’ve wandered into some movie set.

The interior of the cave, which is actually a natural tunnel is lit up here and there, drawing innumerable contrasts between light and darkness. As shapes and textures of rock surfaces are brought to light, they induce a sense of wonder.

Like other limestone caves on the island, some parts of the cave are open spaces while some are a narrow aisle. Navigate the uneven terrain via boardwalks and stairs, allowing you to enjoy the tour without any difficulties.

At several spots, stalactites in unique forms and colors are spotlighted under names such as “Kohaku (red and white) Rock,” “Kira-Kira (glittering) Rock” and “Gold Rock.”

It took me about 30-minutes to get from the opening to the exit of the cave. Once outside, you can follow a path that leads you back to the parking area in less than 5 minutes. With an ambient temperature between 68 and 73.4 °F, it is a soothing experience to walk through the cave while seeing water drops coming down from ceilings, and the sound of water flowing reverberating throughout.

According to Yuuya Ikehara, Cave Okinawa’s manager, many caves on the island are thought as historic sites, which means entry to such places are often restricted. Cave Okinawa was once a restricted historical site as it was formerly known as Nuchishinuji-Gama, meaning “life-saving cave” in Okinawan dialect. Cave Okinawa was believed to have been where a Nakijin Castle lord hid from the enemy in the time of the Three Kingdoms (1322 – 1429). During the Battle of Okinawa, 300 locals also lived in the cave for three months and survived the war.

Prior to renovations to make the cave fit for visitors last year, the cave was primarily open for educational school trips. However, when Ikehara took over after his father, he decided to open it to the public. And, despite little-to-no advertising, people began to visit Cave Okinawa and its illuminated interior.

“I think this is cool. This is really a little treasure,” said Robert Delis, a retiree, who visited the cave with his friend.

“A little treasure that a lot of people don’t know about,” Delis continued. “It’s worthwhile to see. It’s lit up inside. I thought you had to bring a flashlight.”

Delis said that he had been stationed in Okinawa when he was active duty but didn’t know about this place back then.

“My friend Arata-san told me about it. And he discovered it too the same way,” he said. “There’s a little sign and we had to go check it out.”

Though Okinawa may seem small, Cave Okinawa is an example of the little gems waiting all around the island for you to explore.

Cave Okinawa GPS coordinates: N 26.420416, E 127.809319 Admission fee: 500 yen (ages 15 and above), 300 yen (ages between 3 and 14), *Credit card payment not accepted. Hours: 9 a.m. – 5:30 p.m.(last admission at 5 p.m.), *opens everyday Website

Treat yourself at Forest Café Junon

It’s not just an adventure Cave Okinawa’s surrounding neighborhood has to offer. After you spend time exploring the cave, let your appetite take you for a short walk over to Junon, a café inside a cottage on a hill.

Enjoy lunch in lush green surroundings enjoying views of the area’s nature at this quaint café.

Junon offers hearty comfort foods perfect after spending time underground. Choose from hamburger steak, taco rice, a “fish dish” and more. There are also both Japanese and English menus available.

After my adventure at Cave Okinawa, I was hungry and decided to try the café’s meat plate (1,200 yen or about $8.81). This meal consisted of chicken sauté, with potato salad on the side, tomato and lettuce salad, tofu, fried papaya, and white rice. The presentation was neat, and the taste of the food was delightful. The chicken was tender and the tofu and papaya added a nice touch of local flavor.

Even better, Junon’s lunch menu includes soup, dessert and free refills on drinks. I took advantage of the generous offer and capped my meal with several cups of coffee.

Although I ended my meal on a caffeinated note, the atmosphere was relaxing in the café and made me feel at ease. That Junon’s food was delicious made the experience that much better.

Mori café Junon (Forest Café Junon)

GPS coordinates: N 26.420067, E 127.807762 Hours: 11:30 a.m. – 6 p.m., Lunch 11:30 a.m. – 2:30 p.m., *Closed on Mondays and Tuesdays

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