Created completely by nature, this is a hidden gem you won’t want to miss during your Japan travels.

In Japan, the word “Tanegashima” usually conjures up two things: matchlock guns and rockets. The reason for this is because “tanegashima” is the Japanese word for matchlock guns, but it’s also the name of an island way down south that belongs to Kagoshima Prefecture, and it’s home to the Tanegashima Space Center (TNSC), Japan’s largest rocket-launch site.

Though many Japanese may have never visited the island of Tanegashima, intrepid explorers will know there’s much more to see and do here than spot rockets. Our reporter Yuka Koizumi is one such intrepid explorer, and after recently visiting the area she wanted to share one of its most magical sites — a sea cave created by sea erosion, which can only be visited for a limited two-hour time period every day. 

To truly appreciate the spectacle, let’s first take a moment to remind ourselves what sea erosion actually is. According to Yuka’s research, the term is a general one used to describe erosion by the ocean — particularly when land and rocks facing the sea are eroded by strong waves. This occurs gradually, so it takes many years to carve out a cavern in a solid rock formation like the one Yuka is taking us to today.

▼ The cave is called Chikura no Iwaya, and it’s Tanegashima’s largest sea-eroded cave, located at Hamada Beach, about 30 minutes by car from the airport.

On the east coast of Tanegashima, where Hamada Beach is located, there are many sea-eroded rocks created by the raging waves of the Pacific Ocean. Chikura no Iwaya (“Chikura Cavern”) is the most impressive example of sea erosion, however, as the cave is said to be large enough to seat 1,000 people — “Chikura” literally means “1,000 seated” — but it’s not all that easy to visit.

The cave only appears for two hours when the tide is low, and this is the only time when it can be accessed by visitors. Given the island’s changeable weather, however, it can be very difficult to predict the safe two-hour low-tide period.

▼ Those who do plan things right will be able to walk along the sandy beach, and after about a 10-minute walk, you’ll come to a large rocky outcrop.

Yuka was here at around midday and there was nobody else around, making the scene even more magical. However, because there was nobody around, she couldn’t tell exactly how to get into the cavern.

▼ Could it be through here?

Yuka had expected the cave entrance to be enormous, but this was a much smaller gap, making her wonder if this was the right way in.

Standing at the entrance to give us a sense of how narrow the gap was — Yuka is 158 centimetres (five foot two inches) tall, for reference — she slowly made her way through the space, touching the eroded walls that are usually submerged by the ocean.

It was chilly here, with a cool breeze pushing through the tunnel, and Yuka felt as if the temperature had dropped about two degrees. As she progressed through the rock, all outside noise was soon cut off and the only sound that could be heard was waves hitting the rocks, which added to the sense of mystery.

The rock above her head gradually tapered towards the ground as she got closer to the end of the passage, and she moved forward half bent over until…

▼…she arrived at the back of the cave!

It took her about a minute to make her way through the narrow tunnel to the cave, making her feel as if she’d discovered a secret base. With a view of the offshore islands and the clear blue waves rolling in, it was as if she was on her own sandy beach, and she took her time to enjoy the scene and soak it all in.

The only downside she discovered was it was difficult to take a good photo of herself, because the strong sunlight entering the cavern meant she was backlit, making her look like a mere shadow in paradise.

No matter where she stood, she still looked like a shadow, but after researching it online afterwards, she discovered this is actually one of the charms of this spot, with people taking romantic silhouette shots here to share online.

So if you’d like to explore off the beaten path, and take a photo that’ll give everyone a sense of wanderlust, be sure to add this special cave to your itinerary. It’s just one of many wonderful things to do down south, in a region that’s also home to Yakushima, a UNESCO World Heritage site that inspired the Studio Ghibli film Princess Mononoke, and Laputa Island, which served as the real-world inspiration for Ghibli’s Castle in the Sky!

Site Information

Hamada Beach (Chikura no Iwaya) / 浜田海水浴場(千座の岩屋)
Address: Kagoshima-ken, Kumage-gun, Minamitane-cho, Hirayama Hamada 741

Related: Kagoshima Prefecture tourism website, Tanegashima tourism information website
Photos © SoraNews24

● Want to hear about SoraNews24’s latest articles as soon as they’re published? Follow us on Facebook and Twitter!
[ Read in Japanese ]