Saitama, often thought to be a very boring prefecture, actually contains an incredible out-of-the-way, well-worth-visiting historical site: The Yoshimi Hundred Caves (吉見百穴 Yoshimi Hyakuana).
Excavated in the 1880s, the tombs were originally thought to be the dwellings of pre-Japanese little people – maybe the Koro-pok-guru of Japanese folklore. But after this claim was refuted, it was discovered that the caves were in fact tombs from the Kofun period (around 250 to 538 AD).
And don’t let the name fool you – though they’re called the hundred caves, there are actually a total of 219 burial caves that have been found dotted all over this hill. Visitors are allowed to enter some of these caves to see how the people living in this area were buried.
You can also enter a rather large (and chilly) passage-way in the center of the hill that seems out-of-place compared to the tiny burial caves above. This is because many of the caves were destroyed during WWII to make way for an underground airplane engine factory – an activity that was not completed by the time the war ended in 1945.
Another interesting thing you can see inside some of the caves is hikarigoke (luminous moss) – a precious and rare Japanese plant that can only be seen in very dark conditions with extreme sensitivity to light. Hence, I was unable to take any photos of this natural phenomenon.
Near the site is also a museum which displays some of the artifacts found in the caves (such as pottery, etc). For a fun activity, children can also make their own pottery and good luck charms in a classroom attached to the museum.
The best time to visit these amazing tombs is definitely spring when cherry blossoms not only surround the caves, but also can be viewed from the top of the hill (along with a glimpse of Mt Fuji on particularly clear days).
But be careful! There are also snakes and deadly bees that can also be found around this time – making their ways over and through the caves.