Valley of Gangala – Nanjo, Japan - Atlas Obscura

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Valley of Gangala

Nanjo, Japan

Once a huge limestone cave that collapsed thousands of years ago, this scenic ravine is also an important archaeological site. 


In the city of Nanjō, Okinawa, the massive Gyokusendō cave system stretches on for over three miles. Hundreds of thousands of years ago, part of it collapsed and gave way to a subtropical jungle, becoming a natural wonder unlike any other.

Once you step inside the Valley of Gangala, it’s not hard to see that it was once a limestone cave. Stalagmites hang from high cliffs above in broad daylight, and yet, at your feet spreads an ancient jungle of banyan trees, giant taro leaves, shell ginger, and glorybower flowers. One of the most popular sights in the valley is a banyan tree nicknamed Ufushu Gajumaru, which is about 150 years old and rises nearly 65 feet tall, hanging from the cliffs above.

The Valley of Gangala is not only an awe-inspiringly scenic ravine, but also a cluster of archaeological sites and a number of smaller caves that have survived. One of those, known as the Sakitari Cave, serves as the guided tour’s starting point with a simple café where visitors can sit, grab a drink, and kill time until the tour begins. In two of its corners, signs mark the spots where archaeological digs were conducted and crab claws, the oldest stone tools in Okinawa, and even the oldest fish hook in the world were found.

Along the tour route, visitors see three more caves. The first two, Ikiga (“man”) and Inagu (“woman”) Caves, were once revered as sacred places where locals would pray for safe childbirth and prosperity. While the Inagu Cave is an inaccessible shaft, you can enter the Ikiga Cave to see a phallic stalagmite that was once worshipped.

The tour terminates in the Bugei Cave, a prehistoric settlement site dating back thousands of years, where archaeological researches continue. Here, a skeleton was found in a sarcophagus buried only six inches below the ground, an unusually shallow level.

With a number of important archaeological sites and incredible nature, the Valley of Gangala is a unique, off-the-beaten-path location on Okinawa’s main island, a must-see for those wanting to delve deeper into its history and culture.

Know Before You Go

The Valley of Gangala can only be visited on a guided tour, 2,500 yen per person, reservation required. 

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June 17, 2024

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