Feb 09, 2023 I Brent Swancer

Some Very Bizarre and Creepy Haunted Places in Japan

Haunted places seem to exist all over the world, covering a wide range of locales. It seems interesting that so many stories should pervade the world into every corner, these stories seemingly a universal feature upon the landscape of the weird. One place that has its fair share of spooky haunted places is the nation of Japan, and here we will look at some of the strangest and creepiest of them all. 

One haunted place in Japan can be found in what was supposed to be a paradise. It was supposed to be a dream resort by the sea, a stunning seaside paradise on the Japanese island of Okinawa, that would draw in visitors from all over the world. The Nakagusuku Hotel also variously known as other names such as the Nakagusuku Shiroato Kogen, Hotel Leisure Land, Royal Hotel, or Takahara or Kogen Hotel, was the brainchild of a successful businessman and politician from the Okinawa capital of Naha by the name of Hajime Takara, and was envisioned as being a magnificent resort to take advantage of the influx of tourists during the 1975 Okinawa Ocean Exposition, which itself was to celebrate the return of the Ryukyu Island chain to Japan from the United States. In the early 1970s construction began on the sprawling hotel resort, which was to sit in the hills of Kitanakagusuku, Okinawa, with panoramic ocean views of both the Pacific Ocean and East China Sea and just a stone’s throw away from the picturesque and historic Nakagusuku Castle. No expense was to be spared in its elaborate construction, with the resort planned to feature a fully functioning zoo complete with giraffes and elephants, an amusement park, a waterpark, a night club, and all of the amenities one would expect from what was to be a playground for rich tourists. However, dark days were ahead for this island fantasy, and the resort was doomed to become known as one of the most cursed and haunted places in Japan.

The problems can perhaps be traced to back before construction even began, when concerned monks in the area came to Takara to plead with him to abandon plans to develop the site. They explained that the proposed hotel resort was to be built over land that held graves, sacred sites, and for good measure what they called a cave inhabited by restless spirits, and that the construction would desecrate this site and upset the spirits. The nearby castle was also the site of many battles and much bloodshed through its history, with many of the lords of the castle buried in tombs on the site. Although the governor of Okinawa had moved these graves in the mid-20th century, it was said that many of the bodies actually remained, and that to build on the site would be a sacrilege. All of this spooky talk of sacred sites and restless spirits was certainly interesting lore, but this was a wealthy businessman and so he wisely decided to listen to the superstitious monks and halt his plans. Just kidding, of course construction began right as scheduled, but it would not be long at all before it turned out that the monks might have been right all along.

The ruins of the Nakasuku Hotel

Almost immediately, construction was beset with problems. Bad weather and poor road conditions were bad enough, but then there were all of the accidents. Workers began experiencing all manner of freak accidents, mishaps, and malfunctions. Equipment would stop working, secured materials would break free to cause danger to those around it, vehicles would crash or stall, workers were injured in strange accidents, and there were countless other various freak occurrences that served to hamper the project and cause costs to balloon. Some workers also began to complain of seeing shadow figures lurking about the site, as if somberly watching them, and there were even sightings of an apparition that appeared as a 15th century lord.

As the accidents and mishaps continued, the project was increasingly seen as cursed and haunted, with some of the workers refusing to come in to work. This is where the story takes a bit of a swerve into possible urban legend, but it is said that one day the businessman in charge of it all decided enough was enough. Tired of workers not coming in because of stories of supernatural forces, Takara allegedly decided to spend the night in the unfinished structure to prove that there was nothing to worry about. According to this version of events, Takara spent the night as promised, but the next day he was found to have gone stark raving mad and was subsequently committed to an insane asylum.

Whether this place was ever haunted and cursed or not, the project was never seen to completion, as construction was halted in 1975 due to the bankruptcy of the contractor. No one ever did pick the project up again, and so the uncompleted hotel would sit there to be slowly reclaimed by the surrounding forest and become a popular abandoned spot for urban explorers, many of who would bring back all sorts of strange tales. Among the various reports of paranormal phenomena are glowing orbs, shadow figures, apparitions in 15th century Japanese garb, eyes glowing in the shadows of the ruins, sudden feelings of terror or panic, and even people claiming to have been assaulted by unseen hands. One urban explorer has written of his experiences at the ruins on the site mentalspark:

Inside one building you can see the zoo area where animals were supposed to go. Old artwork grabs at you. Nearby is a staircase leading to a lower level. A level unexplainable, hidden in darkness. Something lives under that staircase. Two separate incidents of viewing “yellow, intense eyes surrounded by darkness” have been reported during my time there. One man was assaulted by something under the stairs. It shook him to the core. He never went back. I never saw those eyes. But I do know others have seen it. Within is the remains is a well. Cold air and moisture cling to this area. One can feel the temperature drop within 50 feet of the well. I could feel something swirling around me once I entered the lower stairs area. Around the ruins, several homeless and insane men and women still live. One night while travelling down an alley I was assaulted by someone or something throwing heavy bricks. They landed near us scaring us off. We ran. Strange music and voices can be heard on the winds. Another time visiting the area between the castle and the hotel ruins, a strange reed flute could be heard lilting on the wind. One time the sound came close to us. It was just four of us. We wanted to look around at a new spot. We talked as friends and we heard the strange melody in the background. Once we stopped talking it stopped. A second time it happened. Then the music kept playing and playing. It chilled us to the core. We ran as fast as we could back to the car.

Today it is nothing but weed-choked, feral ruins, defiled with graffiti, crumbling, long forgotten by all but those who are curious about what is going on here. There have long been efforts to get the place demolished, and indeed the process has already begun, meaning this place will soon disappear into the ether of historical mysteries. What happened here and why are these forces gathered to this doomed project? Is there anything to this all, or is it nothing more than urban legend? The place and ruins are certainly real, but what of the spooky stories? We may never know, and it is all testament to how such eerie abandoned places have a way of bringing on the odd.

Ruins of the Nakasuku Hotel

Some of the most infamous haunted rural places in Japan are tunnels, already eerie enough places as it is without talk of specters and spooks. One such tunnel is located in Fukuoka, on the island of Kyushu. Here along a mountainous dark road called the Inukane Pass is the very creepy, almost legendary Chusetsu Tunnel, now abandoned and not in service, but brimming with activity of a ghostly kind nevertheless. The Chusetsu Tunnel is supposedly intensely haunted, with anyone brave enough to walk through it experiencing numerous paranormal phenomena such as disembodied footsteps, tapping, scratching, wailing, screaming, or a voice that calls out to say “Stop.” Sometimes the voices warn against going any further, or spew forth a string of unintelligible gibberish startling in its animosity. More ominous are reports of hands pushing, stroking, or poking at those who would walk through, and photos routinely turn up myriad orbs and other anomalous lights.

The most popular legend as to why the tunnel is so haunted revolves around the tale of a young woman who was brutally murdered here, but details of this killing are scarce. The haunting is so intense that it is said to be nearly impossible to make it from one end of the tunnel to the other, although as many Japanese YouTube videos assert it is definitely possible, if not a little creepy. The old Chusetsu Tunnel is a popular place to dare friends to go through, and it has become so well-known in Japan that is frequently makes appearances on paranormal TV programs. Another haunted tunnel in Fukuoka is called the Inunaki Toge Tunnel, which is purportedly prowled by the spirit of a man who died here in 1988 after a group of thugs tried to burn him alive. The victim is said to have escaped into the tunnel even as the flames consumed him, eventually dying right in the middle of the tunnel after committing suicide to end the excruciating pain of his ordeal. Ever since then, motorists have reported an apparition appearing besides their car, and unexplained brake failure is also frequently reported from here.

There are other supposedly haunted wilderness tunnels in Japan as well. In the area of Arashiyama, in Kyoto, is the Kiyotaki Tunnel. Originally part of the Atagoyama Railway, finished in 1928, it is a short, nearly 500 meter tunnel meant to connect Arashiyama to the neighboring town of Sagakiyotaki. The construction of the tunnel has a dark history, with many fatalities during its building due to poor safety regulations and harsh working conditions, and beyond this there were reportedly executions carried out here during World War II. Adding to this all is that the tunnel is said to be precisely 444 meters in length, an unlucky number in Japan as “4” is read as “shi,” which can also mean “death.”

It is perhaps because of this that the tunnel has gained a reputation as being one of the most haunted and cursed places in Japan, with various strange phenomena reported from here. Motorists have reported having ghostly apparitions appear in their car to ride along for a time before blinking out of existence. Other entities are seen wandering about in the tunnel itself, and are often blamed for accidents here, including a rather aggressive woman in white with a penchant for jumping onto the hoods of cars without warning or chasing vehicles. There are also voices heard here with no source, and the traffic light leading into the tunnel is said to suddenly and inexplicably change in order to cause accidents as well. One very strange phenomenon reported from the tunnel is that the length of the tunnel sometimes seems to change, getting shorter or conversely longer, like in a dream where you can’t seem to reach the end of a hallway no matter how fast you run. Topping it all off is that the area around the tunnel has become a popular suicide spot, further cementing it as a dark and sinister place. Indeed, these suicide victims are said to haunt the surrounding wilds of the tunnel, with forlorn screams commonly reported from the darkened trees at night or shadow figures falling from the top of the tunnel. Even for people who do not see or hear anything strange, cold spots, a feeling of thick dread, nausea, sudden headaches, and dizziness all seem to pop up here for no reason, and the tunnel has become well-entrenched in the lore of places of Japan you should stay away from, with many refusing to drive through it at all.

Equally as creepy as any tunnel is a surreal looking suspension bridge in the wooded hills just outside of Yamanashi. The dark history here involves 55 prostitutes being killed at the bridge long ago, and the name of the bridge Oiran Buchi, reflects this, with “oiran” being a name for a type of high-class prostitute. The locale, with its thick woods, rather precarious bridge, and steep cliffs, is already very scary, but the spirits of those prostitutes are said to roam this place, appearing on the bridge or howling or shrieking in the night, and joining them is the apparition of a beastly, faceless woman who is said to rather aggressively terrorize those who dare to come here in the evening hours. Is this place haunted, cursed, or both?

In a country known in the West for its Samurai, it may come as no surprise at all that there are samurai ghosts here as well. One of the more well-known of these mysterious samurai ghosts was in life Taira no Tomomori (1152-1185), who was a Taira Clan commander and high ranking warrior. During his prestigious tenure he was notably involved in the epic Genpei War, which saw the Taira and Minamoto clans wage bloody battle against each other for dominance. Tomomori was known as being a very ruthless warrior, as well as a resourceful one who often tried unorthodox ways to engage in warfare. One such example can be seen during his involvement in a great Naval battle at Mizushima, where the commander ordered ships to be tied together in order to provide a sort of artificial island on which to fight.

When the Taira Clan was eventually defeated, Tomomori refused to bow down to his new masters, and he and all of his warriors instead chose to commit ritual suicide by tying heavy anchors to their feet and hurling themselves over the side of a naval vessel to their deaths in the Shimonoseki Strait. Ever since that fateful day, the spirits of Tomomori and his fellow samurai warriors are said to haunt this patch of sea between the main islands of Kyushu and Honshu, often seen as underwater ghosts and even causing storms or freak accidents and tragedies in the area, and it is their spirits that said to give the area’s Heike crabs their mysterious samurai head markings. Tales of shadowy figures in full samurai regalia wandering aboard passing vessels or of anomalous lights under the waves are also not uncommon here.

Another of the most famous of the ghostly samurai of Japan was a fierce warrior by the name of Masakado, who was also born into the clan of Taira and was a relative of Tomomori. Masakado was notorious for being rebellious, headstrong, and abrasive to those around him. His troubles began with family disputes, when Masakado’s uncles tried to steal portions of his land upon the death of his father. Since inheritance laws were not firmly established at the time, it mostly turned into a free for all, with the uncles gathering a force of warriors to ambush and kill Masakado. Unfortunately for them, Masakado proved to be truly a formidable force to be reckoned with in battle, single handedly defeating the ambush to send them scurrying back to where they’d come. Masakado’s revenge was furious and merciless as he descended upon his relative’s lands to burn and demolish everything in his path, as well as brutally killing thousands, many by his own sword.

The bloody dispute was brought to the attention of the emperor, but Masakado was able to avoid persecution by invoking laws at the time which he argued he had not broken. When the court found that he had remained within the law and had offered good reasons for his decidedly harsh and terrifying actions, he was subsequently pardoned and given amnesty by the emperor Suzaku. This would not be the end of Masakado’s familial conflicts. Other relatives, including his own father-in-law and cousin, attacked him and were once again driven back by his battle prowess. Howling for revenge, Masakado raised a fighting force to invade their lands in Hitachi province. In the end, Masakado eventually forcefully acquired eight different provinces, all the while arguing that his military actions were all within his legal rights that he had been granted.

Although the nobles of the time condemned his actions, there was not much they could realistically do. Further complicating matters was the fact that the peasants of his conquered lands adored Masakado. Whereas they had been previously treated with disdain and abuse by their oppressive rulers, the peasants were treated justly under the reign of Masakado, which caused them to see him as somewhat of a savior. He had also gained legendary status as a fierce and skilled warrior who could not be defeated in combat, which caused all those who would oppose him to fear and avoid conflict with Masakado. The government, which was at the time based in Kyoto, grew increasingly concerned by this powerful, headstrong loose cannon with his new kingdom and masses of loyal peasant followers. It was widely believed that Masakado meant to expand his domain or even proclaim himself the new emperor of Japan. They were right to be worried, because soon the new unruly ruler was soon doing exactly that; making bold claims to being the new emperor of all of Japan and promising to bring it all under his wing.

The emperor in Kyoto did not take kindly to the rumors he was hearing of an uprising to the north. Masakado was deemed a rebel and a traitor, and a hefty bounty was placed on his head. A formidable force, including some of Masakado’s own relatives and one of his closest allies, Fujiwara no Hidesato, mobilized to march forth to the Kanto region and bring back the head of the rogue samurai. In 940 AD, they caught up to the rebels in the province of Shimosa and mercilessly mounted a night raid. Masakado’s well trained army fought valiantly but in the end they were outnumbered almost 10 to 1, and fell before the onslaught. Masakado himself was killed by an arrow through the head, after which his head was removed and sent to Kyoto where it was to be displayed as a warning to anyone who would similarly oppose the emperor.

When the head was moved it was noticed to have not decomposed as it should have, even after months of being on display, and that the eyes almost seemed to be alert, and it was even said to change facial expressions day to day. Even more bizarrely, not long after its interment there the head was said to call out into the night, moaning, groaning, and asking for its body back. It was also at times allegedly seen to be taking flight to terrorize the area. One evening, it is reported to have begun glowing with an eerie light before floating up into the air, after which the head went shooting into the night like a rocket. The flying, screeching head eventually fell to earth in a fishing village called Shibazaki, where it supposedly landed in an area that to this day is known as Masakado no Kubizuka, or ‘The Hill of Masakado’s Head.’ The head was found by wary locals who cleaned it off and buried it, with a shrine subsequently built over the burial site. This shrine was to become ground zero for various ghostly phenomena, such as mysterious lights, anomalous noises, and a full-bodied apparition of a samurai wandering about to frighten locals.

In addition to these hauntings, Masakado’s spirit was blamed for all matter of tragedy and maladies that plagued the area at the time, with natural disasters, disease, and accidents happening with intense frequency. The resting place of Masakado was eventually moved to Kanto to appease the angry spirit, but disaster would follow not far behind with the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923, which caused widespread devastation. The Ministry of Finance building, which had been erected near Masakado’s resting area, was razed to the ground, and the ministry went about searching the mound where the samurai’s head was said to be buried but nothing was found. The hill where the head had been interred was leveled and a temporary Finance Ministry building was built on the site. It was to prove to be an unfortunate decision. In the coming days many employees, as many as 14, met untimely demises under suspicious circumstances, including the Finance Minister himself at the time, Seiji Hayami. Other employees of the new building fell mysteriously ill or had freak accidents at their workplace over the years, with the most common type of injury oddly happening to the feet and the legs of the unfortunate victims. The building quickly accrued a reputation as being cursed by the spiteful spirit of Taira no Masakado. The ministry ended up removing the cursed building from the premises, and from 1928 began holding annual purification rituals in an attempt to somehow calm down the furious ghost of the ghostly samurai.

When World War II began, the government became too tied up in other matters to be concerned about putting long dead spirits of samurai at ease. However, Masakado’s distaste at being ignored apparently reared up when in 1940, precisely 1,000 years after the samurai’s death, a freak lightning bolt struck the new Ministry of Finance building that had been erected nearby and led to a fire that engulfed and destroyed the building as well as several other government structures. Subsequently, a stone monument was once again put up among great fanfare in honor of the fallen samurai Masakado, and the ministry changed the location of its offices. This new monument stands in Tokyo’s Otemachi district to this day. Masakado’s angry spirit nevertheless continued to loom over the area well after World War II, with even the occupying U.S. forces experiencing all manner of paranormal phenomena at the site.

The land was turned over to the Japanese government in 1961, and this seemed to put the samurai spirit at rest until the area underwent development in the late 60s, which perhaps by this time unsurprisingly led to the specter of freak accidents and illnesses befalling workers, as well as various reports of a mysterious shadowy figure appearing in photographs taken near the site. Locals began twice monthly purification rituals in order to restrain the restless spirit. In 1984, Taira no Masakado’s spirit was officially reinstated to deity status. To this day, the sinister curse of Taira no Masakado is well known and feared by locals. The area where the grave and monument are held have come a long way since their humble beginnings. Otemachi, where the shrine housing the samurai’s spirit currently lies, has transformed into a bustling financial district of high rise buildings and soaring skyscrapers. Among some of the most prime real estate in Tokyo, and just a stone’s throw from the Imperial Palace, the unassuming Kanda-Myojin shrine and plot of land where Masakado’s head is said to be buried has remained untouched, and is maintained by an organization of businesses and volunteers who seek to preserve it, continuing to hold frequent purification rituals to calm Masakado’s spirit, and a festival is held every May in the samurai’s honor.

If samurai ghosts aren't creepy and scaery enough, how about a haunted schoolhouse? Up in the cold, northern reaches of Japan is the nation’s second largest island, Hokkaido. Known for its spectacular natural vistas and picturesque scenery, it is perhaps not a place one would at first associate in any way with haunted locales and ghouls and ghosts. Yet here in the rural town of Bibai, nestled among the beautiful vistas and right up against the Lake Miyajima wetland lies the creepy and enigmatic ruins of a former schoolhouse that has accrued a sinister reputation as one of the most haunted, weirdest places in Japan.

The building itself was apparently built back in 1906, and was designed in a distinctive round shape from which it earns its simple nickname “The Round Schoolhouse.” From the 1940s up until the 1970s it was used as an elementary school, after which it was closed for unknown reasons and simply left there where it stood to fall into ruin. Rather creepily, the structure seems to have been left as is, with tables and desks still set up collecting dust in the crumbling structure, all lined up as if expecting students that will never come. This would have once been a place of children playing and laughing, yet now the surrounding grounds have become a thick tangle of overgrown brush that hungrily surround the building, the playground buried in forest growth to poke forth like the skeleton of some half-buried prehistoric beast, and any road that led there was long ago devoured by the forest, making the only way to reach it on foot from the nearest road.

The haunted schoolhouse

Dark rumors and stories sprang up almost immediately after the closing of the school, beginning with locals claiming that the woods in the vicinity were haunted by bobbing, mysterious lights and half-glimpsed shadowy figures, and the night often pierced by disembodied screams as well as other less discernible anomalous noises. Additionally, there were rumors of several children who had gone out to play in these woods to never come back. It was not long before these phenomena and rumors were linked to the abandoned former school house, and things would get spookier still.

Through the late 70s and 80s the Round Schoolhouse became a popular place to go to try and see ghosts, and by all accounts it was absolutely infested with them. Frightened trespassers to the site would come back with terrifying tales of encountering all manner of supernatural phenomena on the school grounds or within its dilapidated building, and it has steadily become increasingly well-known on into later years as an absolute hotspot for the paranormal. Paranormal investigators who have been there consistently put this location in top ten lists of Japan’s most haunted places, and there have been Japanese spirit mediums who have been so overwhelmed with negative spiritual energy here that they refuse to come back. Japanese videos on YouTube of macabre adventure seekers in the ruins have also become quite popular, whether they show anything paranormal or not, and the legend of the haunted Round Schoolhouse of Bibai has surged.

Even above and beyond talk of hauntings, more sinister rumors tell of people going off to explore the ruins only to disappear without a trace, and stories abound of abandoned cars found on the nearby road, their occupants said to have gone off towards the schoolhouse to never return. Perhaps worse yet are those said to have come back completely stark raving insane, driven over the brink of madness by whatever it was they had seen in that forsaken place. Stories of the missing or of people going mad at the Round Schoolhouse are very persistent on Japanese paranormal sites, with comments of witnesses common.

While much of the information on the Round Schoolhouse is rather ambiguous and murky as to its veracity, there have been a few accounts that I have tracked down that seem particularly interesting. By far one of the oddest reports I have seen was of a group of three curiosity seekers who one day in 1998 went off to the ruins to poke around, and seem to have gotten way more than they bargained for somewhere in the bowels of that old, darkened building. It started innocently enough, when the group of friends decided to make a trip out to the place after hearing some of the many scary stories about the place. They parked their car along the lonely road and began their trek through out the forest and its tangle of trees towards the main building.

Once there, the main witness claims that they were almost immediately overcome by a clinging, unsettling cold, and that they sensed that they were being watched from the shadows by an unseen force that seemed to creep along following them. This was followed by a series of escalating paranormal experiences, such as items being knocked over, doors slammed shut, and most frightening of all the startled shout of one of the friends when he was apparently aggressively shoved by some invisible entity. The longer they stayed, the more the intensity of these phenomena increased, until they got to the point where they had seen enough and made their way back outside. As they did, a black form allegedly congealed out of the shadows and followed them. The witness would say (translated by me):

That shadow stalked us all the way out of the building and into the woods. We couldn’t see it much as it was hiding, but we knew it was there. We could catch glimpses of it, and it made us pick up our pace. As we got closer to the car it became more visible, tangible, and more threatening. We finally got into the car and that was when something very black, large, and heavy slammed into us. It was as if a black bear had hit the car, but then it was gone without a trace, and we were alone in the forest again.

An even weirder account seems to suggest that there is some sort of vortex or inter-dimensional doorway within the Round Schoolhouse. This apparently happened as recently as 2000, and again involves a couple of amateur paranormal investigators, drawn to this location by all of the mysterious tales and creepy stories. Perhaps it was their mistake to come here in the evening hours, but whatever the reason they certainly came across something rather outlandish in that building. Even as they made their way through the forest towards the schoolhouse they purportedly heard strange sounds coming from the trees, such as what sounded like someone banging on a tree with a stick, the sounds of someone snapping twigs, and what one of the witnesses swore was the sound of giggling. Things didn’t get any more normal when they reached their destination, and disembodied footsteps seemed to echo out all around them, but it was when they reached one particular room where things would take off into the truly bizarre. Here they came across a faintly glowing opening in the wall, which supposedly shimmered and rippled. The witness would say of what happened next (again my own translation):

We stared at this glowing patch upon the wall for several moments, and that was when something seemed to come out of it. It looked like a hunched over figure but it was impossible to see the face. Then there were others, coming out two at a time, until they were looming all around us in that dank confined space. My friend and I looked at each other and ran. He says he looked back and the glowing was gone, but those shapes. They were everywhere.

Unsettling to say the least, and it is not apparent what happened after that but they apparently made it out in one piece. One has to wonder just what these people saw. Was this some sort of portal? Was it all an illusion? Who knows? Finally come to not some rural, forgotten place, but a haunted high-rise building right in the middle of Tokyo. There are few cities on the planet where there are skyscrapers that are more ubiquitous, more advanced, and more awe inspiring than Tokyo, Japan. This is a place full of bright lights, neon, giant TV screens, and vast skylines of towering buildings. The crowded streets of Tokyo’s many districts, which churn with tireless activity and bustling people, are lined with soaring monoliths of steel and concrete that loom over their domain like colossal giants. Among these many skyscrapers is one of the most famous in the country, and certainly the most haunted; the majestic, yet cursed, Sunshine 60.

Located in the Ikebukuro area of Tokyo, Sunshine 60 lies within a sprawling complex of upscale shopping buildings collectively known as Sunshine City. At 60 stories high and looming 239.7 m (786 ft.) over the streets, Sunshine 60 was the tallest building in Asia when it was completed in 1978 and retained that crown until the construction of the 63 Building in Seoul in 1985 usurped its throne. It was also the tallest building in all of Tokyo right up until 1991, with the completion of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building. Sunshine 60 was one of the first to embrace the “city-in-a-city concept,” mixing shopping areas, entertainment, restaurants, hotels, office buildings, convention centers, banks, post offices and even a full blown aquarium, theme park and planetarium all into one massive building. This innovative design philosophy was groundbreaking at the time of its construction, and it has had a tremendous influence on the architecture of Tokyo ever since, with many other such buildings and vast complexes around the city emulating it.

The Sunshine 60 Building

Although in modern times Sunshine 60 is an impressive, thrumming center of shopping and entertainment, it also has a dark past. The site where this urban entertainment complex now sits was once the location of the notorious Sugamo Prison. Originally built in 1895, by the 1930s Sugamo Prison was mostly used for the incarceration of political prisoners, including dissenters, anarchists, communists, and spies. It was during this time that the suspected Soviet spy, Richard Sorge, was put to death by hanging here. After World War II, during which the prison avoided destruction during the bombing of Tokyo, it was taken over by Allied occupation forces and used to house prisoners of war. Eventually, seven war criminals were executed at the prison by hanging, including Hideki Tojo, who had been the Prime Minister of Japan during the war. During its time under control of Allied occupation forces from December 1945 through May 1952, Sugamo Prison housed around 2,000 inmates. After the occupation, the prison passed to the Japanese government and most of the prisoners were steadily released or paroled until the eventual shutting down of the facility in 1962. In 1971, the prison buildings were demolished to make way for the construction of the Sunshine City complex, including the ambitious Sunshine 60 skyscraper.

The somewhat ominous reputation and history of the site made a lot of people in the area nervous at the time, and in fact the very name “Sunshine” was chosen to somewhat lighten things up and take the edge off, yet there were sinister events that would convince many that the site was cursed. Construction of Sunshine 60 was beset by many setbacks and freak accidents, with an unusual number of construction workers dying under sometimes strange circumstances, such as faulty safety equipment that had showed no signs of having any problems or falls that could have easily be prevented. Spooky rumors started to orbit the whole project, with many claiming that the restless spirits of the Sugamo Prison’s condemned were plaguing the construction site. Nevertheless, the project went ahead as planned and Sunshine 60 was officially opened to the public in 1978.

It did not take long for the dark past of the site to seep into the façade of a bright and cheery entertainment center that the government wanted to portray to the public. Almost immediately people were reporting seeing mysterious apparitions within the soaring mega complex, which continues to this day. In particular, maintenance workers who were tasked with cleaning the warrens of corridors and malls after the throngs of people had left reported seeing dark shadows moving about, as well as hearing strange laughter, groans, screams, whispers, and chanting when no one else was there. A commonly reported occurrence was the sound of something scraping over the floor, loud banging on the walls, or the violent rattling of the grates that closed the shops off at night. It was not only the night workers who experienced these phenomena in the lonely quiet after dark. Customers reported seeing fleetingly glimpsed apparitions or disembodied faces lurking within secluded places such as dressing rooms or bathrooms, but also sometimes even in brightly lit shops in broad daylight with other people around. There were numerous instances of people complaining of sudden, inexplicable gusts of frigid cold, or of suddenly tripping and falling when nothing was in their way. Stories of shoppers being tapped, pushed, or hearing whispers right in their ear when no one was there were also common. Poltergeist activity was also not unheard of, with items sometimes hurled off of shelves or store clerks opening up in the morning to find their stock rearranged or even strewn about the floor. The cheery sounding Sunshine 60 quickly gained notoriety as being the world’s first haunted skyscraper and indeed one of the most haunted places in Japan, and all of these occurrences reportedly continue to this day.

The haunted Tokyo skyscraper

These alleged ghosts are not even necessarily ones that can be readily linked to the former prison which used to stand on the site and its war criminal inmates. One entity spotted on numerous occasions on the 60th floor observation deck is said to be a young, pale, and forlorn looking woman who appears to be doomed to eternally jump to her death. Here on this dizzyingly high platform far above the city streets, the woman is said to silently make her way to the railing and hurl herself over the edge, often in full view of multiple witnesses. Startled visitors, thinking someone has just committed suicide, will sometimes rush the edge expecting to see the lady falling to her doom only to find that no one is there. This mysterious apparition is said to completely ignore visitors as if she is not even aware that they are there. Another regular is the specter of an old lady with black sockets instead of eyes who is said to roam aimlessly about the office floors mumbling “where is it?” over and over again. She will apparently vanish immediately if spoken to.

The operators and tenants of Sunshine 60 are quick to dismiss such stories. It is perhaps understandable that they wish to snuff out the memory of the former prison and any talk of ghosts which could tarnish their businesses. However, the stories continue and show no signs of letting up. The skyscraper has been the focus of various Japanese TV programs on the supernatural, and is a favorite of psychics, who say that they can sense a profound spiritual presence there, as well as an unbearable sense of hopeless despair. Anyone wishing to visit this famous haunted skyscraper for themselves can do so by going to the Ikebukuro train station in Tokyo, from which Sunshine 60 is just a short walk. The haunted observation platform on the 60th floor is completely open air and offers spectacular views that allow visitors to see for up to 100Km on clear days. It can be accessed by way of an elevator that travels at a speed of 600 meters per minute (36 km/h, 22 mph), one of the fastest in the world. I have personally ridden this elevator and I can tell you it is a rather unsettling and slightly alarming experience, with visions of shooting up straight through the roof to careen through the air likely to dance through many people’s heads, I would imagine.

Here we have looked at but a few of some of the more spectacularly haunted places in the island nation of Japan. What is going on in such accounts? Is it all superstition and overactive imaginations or something else? There is no way to know, but it shows that such stories stretch to every edge of the globe, and will probably remain for some time to come. 

Brent Swancer

Brent Swancer is an author and crypto expert living in Japan. Biology, nature, and cryptozoology still remain Brent Swancer’s first intellectual loves. He's written articles for MU and Daily Grail and has been a guest on Coast to Coast AM and Binnal of America.

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