One thing that is the same in American and Japanese culture is the lack of the ability to accurately to predict the weather. The forecast was for sunny/partly cloudy skies, but instead I got rain. Since my plans to go hiking were rained on, I decided to go on an indoor adventure in the Taya caves of Ofuna.
The Taya caves isn't a popular sightseeing spot, and I only found it after spending some time scouring the internet for something to do on a rainy day. It was about a 10 minute bus ride from Ofuna station. The word for caves in Japanese is "doukutsu" 洞窟 It was started when Kamakura was the center of Japan, and was continued for about 500 years until 1720.
I followed the signs off the main road to a temple in front of a mountain. At the entrance I paid for admission, then picked up a candle to light my way. The entrance to the cave was quite small, and I had to bend down a little to enter. When I entered, I noticed it was eerily quite. No one was inside except me! I was worried that I might fall down a hole and huge Japanese spiders would eat me alive! I like sightseeing spots like this though, that are off the beaten path, where little is done to preserve it or make it more appealing to tourists. It seems more natural this way, and I can really feel a connection to the past through its natural authenticity.
The caves were a network of narrow tunnels of about 1.5 km. It was made for the purpose of being a Zen dojo. There was one long corridor with a long stone platform, which was used for Zen meditation. I saw many statues of Buddhas, and ancient carvings on the walls of dragons and other animals of the Chinese zodiac, Sanskrit characters, and of Kannon, the goddess of mercy and compassion.
Even though there were small lights inside the tunnels, I still had to use my candle to examine the carvings more carefully. The cold stone walls were wet with mildew, and the sound of water could be heard coming from somewhere even farther inside. Finally, at the deepest point, I found a chamber with a small spring of water creating what is called the "noiseless river".
I could imagine how this could be a great place for meditation. From inside the chambers, the world outside disappears. No sunlight, no wind, no signs of daily life. Only the flickering light of a candle and one's own mind are all that can be seen or heard. Once deep in meditation, the candle would also disappear, taking with it the sound of the flowing water leaving only the mind.
Deep inside the tunnels, I still couldn't believe that I was doing this all alone. I felt like I was in an Indiana Jones movie, and if I could find a secret lever, a hidden door might open and reveal a room full of golden Buddhas.....or snakes.
Taya caves (Taya no doukutsu)
HOW TO GET THERE: Take the number 72 bus from the number 4 bus stop in front of the East entrance of Ofuna station. When you board the bus, you will have to tell the bus driver where you are going so that he can adjust your fare. Just say "Doukutsu mae", which is the name of the bus stop.
HOURS: 0900-1600 open everyday