About five minutes by car from Wakayama’s famous Shirahama Beach are the Sandanbeki cliffs, a two kilometer stretch of coastline that towers 50 meters above the sea, which is also one of Wakayama’s geological wonders. Hidden at the bottom of one of these three cliffs is Sandanbeki Doukutsu, a cave where Kumano pirates of the Heian Era (794-1185) once hid their boats.
Visitors can take an elevator for the 24-second ride that travels 36 meters down through the cliff to underground caves, allowing people to experience the dynamic presence of the stormy seas right before eyes. Upon exiting the elevator, visitors enter a large cavern containing a replica of one of the small pirate ships. Off to the sides are a labyrinth of passageways filled with interesting things to see. The 200-meter pathway is dimly-lit, wet, and gloomy. There are patterned formations that were created when sea water eroded the rock face, and a blowhole that shoots water into the air whenever the tide rolls in. Visitors can also view the cave’s entry point and view the area in which the ships would have docked.
In a larger section of the cave, decorated with over 100 hanging lanterns, sits a carving of Benzaiten, one of Japan’s seven lucky gods. She is the goddess of everything that flows, and is almost always found near water. Nearby is the re-creation of a guard house, complete with rusty armor and weaponry. Interestingly enough, depending on the time period and the situation, the pirates sometimes fought battles as members of a feudal lord’s navy.
Address: 649-2211 Wakayama, Nishimuro District, Shirahama, 2927-52
Opening Hours: 08:00 – 17:00 (Last Entry 16:50)
Holidays: Closed during bad weather
Adult: 1300 yen
Child/ Elementary School Students: 650 yen
Below Elementary school: Free
Adults (20 or more) 1,000 yen
Adults (100 or more) 900 yen
Child (20 or more) 500 yen
Child (100 or more) 450 yen
Junior high and high school students (20 or more) 900 yen
Junior high and high school students (100 or more) 800 yen
Elementary school students (20 or more) 450 yen
Elementary school students (100 or more) 400 yen
Extra Photo service: 1300 yen
Ease of Access
From JR Shirahama Station, ride the Meiko Bus to “Sandanbeki”.
History of Sandanbeki Cave
One of Wakayama’s geological wonders, the Sandanbeki rock formation, known as the Sandanbeki Cliffs hide one of Wakayama’s most interesting secret temples in a cave full of history and pirates!
Back during the Heian Era (794-1185), the city of Shirahama, where the Sandanbeki Cliffs are located, was one of Wakayama’s most important fishing ports and quickly became a very prosperous city. Quickly, Shirahama’s wealth and booming fishing business became the center of attention of a Japanese pirate named Tagamaru, who terrified the surrounding population and made the area quite dangerous for business of all sort. In order to avoid being captured by the powerful Kumano Navy tasked to stop him, Tagamaru had the nifty idea to use the Sandanbeki Cliffs small cave network, know today as the Sandanbeki Dokutsu Cave, to hide both his men and also his many treasures.