Monday, September 11, 2006

Ryusendo Caves

On September 9, Chris dragged my sorry, been-sick-for-a-month ass off the sofa and out of the house to Ryusendo Caves. My oldest brother in law, Timmie (sounds like Teme, which can be loosely translated from the Japanese as "asshole"--which Timmie is certainly not) is a geology major, and Chris and I were sure he would have enjoyed the trip as much as we did.

We think Ryusendo means Dragon Water(s), since the characters in the name are Ryu (Dragon) and the same "sen" seen in Onsen. There was also a dragon-motif theme going, so it's a safe guess.

Ryusendo Cave is one of the three largest stalactite caves in Japan and has been chosen as a national monument. The length of the cave is currently noted as 2,500 meters, but exploration is ongoing and it has been estimated that the size may be 5000 meters - or more. The outside temp where we entered was about 23 degrees Celsius. The cave itself was a constant (and chilly) 15. (that's about 79 and 39 degrees Farenheit, respectively)

There's a huge spring that has created several deep pools inside the cave. The pools really don't have imaginative names, just numbers. Although the Japanese do refer to one large pool as the Emerald lake. Hate to tell you Asians this, but Emeralds are GREEN not BLUE, so as such, you folks should have named the it "SAPPHIRE LAKE"**.

Anyway, the waters are unpolluted and startingly clear--in the deepest parts, you can see nearly 121 feet down due to the extreme clarity of the water. They had lights suspended in the water, giving off a distant, eerie, and tiny blue glow.

I was quite suprised that the Japanese visitors seemed to just fly through the cave, not really taking time to look ckosely at much of anything. Chris and I took twice as long as they did, due in part to wanting to get our 10 dollar admission-fee worth.

Speaking of flying through the cave, there were also bats. One bat, the Japanese Big-Eared Bat, is a National Treasure. Despite being such an invaluable cultural assest, Chris was not impressed and ducked when one did a fly-by. Bats don't bother me, but I mistook a droplet of cave condensation for Bat Guano, which does bother me, particulary when deposited on my head.

There was also another smaller cave we went through. This secondary cave was discovered in 1967 and has a lot more formations than the big Ryusendo cave. Pictures were not allowed. Interestingly enough, this cave has educational (if cheezy) displays scattered throughout, making it the first museum in the world to be housed in a natural cave.

Pictures on flickr.

**The Japanese word ao (青 n., 青い aoi adj.) can refer to either blue or green depending on the situation. Modern Japanese also has a word for green (緑 midori), although this was not always so. Ancient Japanese did not have this distinction: the word midori only came into use in the Heian period, and at that time (and for a long time thereafter) midori was still considered a shade of ao. Educational materials distinguishing green and blue only came into use after World War II, during the Occupation: thus, even though most Japanese consider them to be green, the word ao is still used to describe certain vegetables, apples and vegetation. Ao is also the name for the color of a traffic light, "green" in English. However, most other objects—a green car, a green sweater, and so forth—will generally be called midori. Japanese people also sometimes use the English word "green" for colors. The language also has several other words meaning specific shades of green and blue.

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