All About Japan

3 Earthy Things to Do in Kumamoto

| Cave , Kumamoto

While Kumamoto's hot springs and castle tend to get the most attention, there are plenty of other things to do in the prefecture—particularly if you're looking to get a little earthy! Here are three great options in the area if you're looking to reconnect with creatures past and present, as well as the earth below.

3. Aso Sarumawashi Theater (Monkey Theater)

Aso Sarumawashi Theater has been delighting audiences with its monkey shows since 1989. Sarumawashi, which means "monkey showman" or "performing monkey," has existed in Japan since it was brought over from China during the Nara Period (710-794). The monkeys at the Sarumawashi Theater are talented acrobats and entertainers, and will perform feats that even the most skilled human performers would be hard-pressed to accomplish. Be prepared to laugh and enjoy yourself for a full 40 minutes of the most extraordinary showmanship you could hope to see!

2. Mifune Dinosaur Museum

The Mifune Dinosaur Museum is one of the most amazing dinosaur museums you could hope to see. The displays are not only informative, but fun. It's a place to visit for everyone, from the casual observer seeking an entertaining diversion to the hardcore paleontologist pursuing serious research. Among the many exhibits there's an animated, life-sized (and very realistic) mechanical raptor that actually moves and screeches. If you have kids, this museum is a great place to take them.

1. Kyusendo Cave

Only discovered in 1973, Kyusendo Cave is 4.8 kilometers (3 miles) long. It's the longest limestone cave in Kyushu, but only about 1 kilometer (0.6 miles) is open to the public. There are two tours you can take: the iippan (general) course, or the tanken (adventure) course. Since we were feeling adventurous, and had already taken the general tour on our last visit, tanken was our choice!

First, we had to don hard hats and rain boots. Gloves were not advised, as they would make it harder to grasp handrails without slipping. But I found that the farmer's gloves I had with me kept my hands warmer, and that their rubber-dotted surface actually improved my grasp of the handrails.

Once we were geared up, we set out on a long, twisting, meandering, up-and-down journey deep into the earth. The hard hat was invaluable. As much as I tried to avoid bumping my head on the hard rock ceiling of the cave, inevitably I would do just that.

As one might expect, there are stalactites and stalagmites in this cave, and they are spectacular. There's also a stream that flows through the cave and empties into the Kuma River, and at some points it's nearly a small river itself. There are even a few waterfalls. So if spelunking is your thing, then check out Kyusendo Cave!