A Guide to Dark Tourism in Japan
Thinking about interesting things to see in Japan usually conjures images of anime, robots, neon lights, cute cafes, and well-stocked convenience stores. These are the things tourists are usually most intrigued by when they visit the land of the rising sun. Interestingly enough, some tourists aren’t satisfied with the cutest experiences that most people enjoy while visiting Japan. For those that are more interested in dark, terrifying locations that will stay in your mind long after you’ve returned to your home country, there are quite a few locations to choose from.
Dark tourism in Japan has quite the following, as there are hundreds of places to go to get creepy and spooky vibes. For those just getting into the game, we’ve written this article about 10 spots you can visit in Japan that are dark, scary, and anything but ordinary. If you’re looking to tour the darker side of the country, try out these locations first and see how you fare!
1. Hashima Island
Undersea coal mining used to be a big deal around the city of Nagasaki. With the introduction of petroleum and the dwindling deposits of coal, the thousands of people who had moved to Hashima Island decided it was time to leave. Miners and their families cleared off the island within three months of the mines being shut down, leaving behind the apartments, school, and hospital that had been built. Nearly 40 years later in 2009, the island was opened to the public as a popular tourist destination to view the decayed city in all its glory.
Sure, an abandoned island seems pretty cool, but why did it gain such popularity? The answer lies in the fact that there is a dark past associated with the island that draws in tourists like flies to honey. In the 1930s and 1940s, Japan forced thousands of unwilling Korean and Chinese people to work on the island in the mines. Those that were forced to work reported how inhumanely they were treated, which made tourists want to see the site for themselves.
If you are planning to visit Nagasaki, check out our Nagasaki Travel Guide.
Location: Hashima Island
2. Mt. Aso
Credits: Tanaka Juuyoh
If you’re lucky enough to visit on a day when poisonous gas levels aren’t too high, you might just be able to see the crater of the largest active volcano in Japan. Located right in the middle of Kyushu, this impressive wonder is a sight many would enjoy seeing at least once in their lives. With a convenient car park only a minute’s walk away from the mountain, shuttles, and walking trails, tourists have an easier time than ever getting to the location.
Along with viewing the sizeable active volcano, tourists can also use the nearby campsites and ride a horse or two if the season is right. There are even helicopter rides available — for a price — if you’re daring enough to view the volcano from above.
Don’t miss the chance to explore Kumamoto when visiting Mt. Aso.
Location: Mt. Aso
Credits: Liz Mc
Also referred to the Sea of Trees in Japan (or the Suicide Forest throughout the rest of the world), Aokigahara is one of the world’s most popular places to die. Made famous recently by a YouTuber who filmed a victim’s body while exploring inside, those that live near the forest are not happy with its increasing popularity. The rise in suicides carried out in the forest has been said to taint the trees with paranormal energy that permeates throughout the entire forest.
One thing’s for certain — you need a strong stomach and a good sense of direction if you want to visit this dark tourist attraction. Make sure that someone knows where you’re going, and that you’re fully prepared in case you see something you don’t want to while inside the large forest.
Are you willing to take the risk and visit Aokigahara? Find out the secrets of the Suicide Forest.
4. Fukushima Forbidden Zone — Tomioka
If you thought Hashima Island seemed like an interesting place to visit, you’ll likely also be interested in the small town of Tomioka in Fukushima. After a large earthquake and resulting tsunami caused the nuclear power plant to meltdown, almost all of the 15,830 residents living in Tomioka fled the town; few ever returned. The majority of the town may never be reoccupied, and most of the buildings are on a waitlist to be demolished.
If you’re brave enough to risk the lingering radiation, you’ll be treated to a truly disturbing sight. Only the elderly dare return to the town, as they claim that they will likely die of old age before the radiation does any damage to their bodies.
Location: Fukushima Forbidden Zone — Tomioka
5. Atomic Bomb Dome — Hiroshima
Said to be a symbol of what Hiroshima stands for and a prayer for world peace, the Atomic Bomb Dome in Hiroshima has survived both an atomic bomb and the test of time. The dome serves as a reminder of the tragic war that took the lives of so many Japanese citizens. The fact that it survived the first atomic bomb to ever be used in human history will forever awe those who witnessed the aftermath of the bomb and the war.
As part of the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, the Atomic Bomb Dome can be viewed exactly as it was after the fall of the atomic bomb onto Hiroshima, Japan. Though this location isn’t as dark or frightening to view as others on the list, the history behind the dome and the lives that were lost during the war makes it so.
Even though having a sad past, Hiroshima is full of amazing places to see.
Location: Atomic Bomb Dome