This is where you’ll find Japan’s largest cave, a BBQ by the sea, and a rural hotel where Russian President Putin slept in a room behind bulletproof glass.

We’re continuing our journey around beautiful Yamaguchi Prefecture today, as part of a trip arranged by the Tokyo Convention & Visitors Bureau to introduce off-the-beaten path destinations to international visitors.

And after exploring Yamaguchi City, and the historic regions of Hagi, Yanai, and Iwakuni, we’re now heading to the coast and underground to see the best of what Nagato and Mine have to offer. As always, these sites come highly recommended by local representatives, so let’s get right to it with a look at what we saw on day three of our four-day journey!

Be floored by the power of Mother Nature at Akiyoshidai and Akiyoshido

Akiyoshidai Plateau, located in Akiyoshidai Quasi-National Park, is famous for having the highest concentration of karst formations in all of Japan. These soluble rocks, made up mostly of limestone pinnacles, have been draining down into the earth for centuries, creating enormous sinkholes, and beneath it, the country’s largest and longest limestone cave.

Stretching out over 10 kilometres (6.2 miles) and with a ceiling that reaches 80 metres (262.5 feet) in height, Akiyoshido Cave is one of Japan’s most spectacular subterranean wonders. The natural formations inside the cave are truly stunning, and have been given descriptive names like “Straw-Wrapped Persimmon“, “Big Mushroom“, “Mt Fuji“, and “The Thousand Rice Fields“. Pre-recorded multi-language explanations are available at the touch of a button, to help provide more background information about each site for visitors.

▼ “The One Hundred Dishes” is said to look like a collection of dinner plates.

The cave can be accessed by elevator or a walking path that runs through the main entrance, and inside it stays at a constant temperature of 17 degrees Celsius (62 degrees Fahrenheit) throughout the year.

BBQ by the sea at Senzakitchen

Recently opened in October 2017, Senzakitchen is a fantastic place to try some of the best food in Nagato, with a number of eateries serving up local specialties and a huge store selling all types of fresh produce.

Customers who make a purchase at the store can also use the onsite BBQ area to cook up their meal, with cooking utensils, cutlery, plates, cups, water and condiments all provided. It’s a fun way to have a tasty meal, particularly with the gorgeous seaside view.

Motonosumi Inari Shrine

Established in 1955, when it was built to honour a white fox spirit, Motonosumi Inari Shrine recently saw a spike in international tourists after it appeared on CNN’s list of “Japan’s 34 Most Beautiful Places” in 2017.

The mesmerising trail of torii gates that spreads out towards the sea creates a stunning vista, and one solitary gate is especially notable for its unique offertory box, which sits near the top of the 5-metre (16-foot) tall structure.

People gather beneath the gate to throw coins into the box above them, laughing as they attempt the difficult task, creating a fun and lively atmosphere.

Stay where Putin and Abe stayed at Otani Sanso

Otani Sanso is one of Japan’s most luxurious hotels, and despite being located in a small city of roughly 35,000 residents, the hotel has accommodated a range of high-profile guests over the years. Celebrities, members of the Imperial family, and Prime Minister Abe (whose hometown is in Yamaguchi Prefecture) and Russian President Putin stayed here when they conducted summit talks at the hotel in 2016.

▼ You know you’re at a fancy hotel when there’s a gold-flecked elevator in a pond in the lobby.

▼ The rooms are spacious and luxurious as well.

Otani Sanso Hotel has a long and esteemed history, stretching back to when it was first built in 1881 on the site of a hot spring discovered by a Buddhist monk over 600 years ago. When Putin stayed here, he and Abe took some time out to relax and enjoy the hot springs together, and guests can do the same thing the two leaders did, with communal hot springs inside the building, and some rooms decked out with amazing private outdoor rotenburo.

The omotenashi hospitality throughout the hotel is outstanding, and when it comes time to have dinner, ladies in kimono are ready to welcome you with a formal bow and guide you to your private dining room.

As the elegant kimono-clad women serve you dish after beautiful dish throughout the multi-course kaiseki meal, they also read the room to tailor the serving staff, small-talk, and timing of meals to suit your group perfectly.

Dinner at Otani Sanso is an unforgettable experience, with sublime dishes on the most beautiful plates, all delicately prepared with the highest attention to seasonal details.

▼ Fried fugu blowfish is one of Yamaguchi Prefecture’s delicious specialties.

And when it comes time to have breakfast, guests have a huge variety of delicious hot and cold options at the self-serve buffet area. Everything here is top-quality, and presented with careful attention to detail.

Nagato and Mine are two off-the-beaten track destinations filled with lots of special surprises that make for a truly memorable journey. Stay tuned for our final day in Yamaguchi coming tomorrow!

Akiyoshidai, Akiyoshido / 秋吉台, 秋芳洞
Address: Yamaguchi-ken, Mine-shi, Shuhocho Akiyoshi 3506-2
Hours: 8:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m. (March-November); 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. (December-February)

Senzakitchen / センザキッチン
Address: Yamaguchi-ken, Nagato-shi, Senzaki 4297-1
Hours: 9:00 a.m.-6:00 p.m.

Motonosumi Inari Shrine / 元乃隅稲成神社
Address: Yamaguchi-ken, Nagato-shi, Yuyatsuo 498
Hours: Sunrise to sunset (Nighttime entry not permitted)

Otani Sanso / 大谷山荘
Address: Yamaguchi-ken, Nagato-shi, Fukawayumoto 2208

Photos ©Oona McGee/SoraNews24

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