Common wisdom about Japan says it’s a tiny island with a serious premium on space, leading to real estate prices in the cities higher even than the most exclusive blocks of Manhattan. The thought that there might be whole abandoned towns on this island seems a paradox- how could a country with so little space abandon anything?
Well, they do.
Most ghost towns in Japan are built around mines, like abandoned gold rush towns in the American West. When the mine seams gave out the jobs went away and the people left. Soon, the place was abandoned.
Here are 5 of Japan’s best.
Ashiodozan Mining Town in the mountains of Tochigi Prefecture is infamous in Japanese history as a site of extreme environmental damage- so much so the town was mostly abandoned 40 years ago, the mines and factory shut down, and new standards in environmental care called for at the highest national levels.
Degawa Power station.
It had been a copper mining and processing town for over 400 years, at its peak supplying over a third of Japan’s entire copper supply, in the process though poisoning the nearby mountains with sulfurous acid gas from the plant’s smelters.
Now it’s a creaking conglomeration of fading facilities- a power station, the factory, numerous barricaded mines, a train station, a temple, a school, and a small town of tumble-down wooden apartments, haunted only by a few aged holdovers with nowhere else to go.
Abandoned shrine to the gods of copper.
More about Ashiodozan Ghost Town here.
Mining of gold and copper at the legendary Osarizawa mine began around 1300 years ago, with the last of the smelting facilities closing down in 1978. Now the site is owned by Mitsubishi, who run guided tours around the highlights and a museum for 1,000 yen.
Copper leaching vats turned blue with residual chemicals.
One legend of Osarizawa mine involves a gorgon-headed lion with the wings of a phoenix, the legs of a cow and the head of a snake. Its roar and monstrous appetite for children terrified the nearby villagers, who urged the village’s wisest old man to go battle it on the mountain top. The old man had long grey hair, and went to battle the beast in a series of 6 dreams. In the final one he managed to slit open the beast’s belly, from which poured gold, copper and lead.
Mayan temple much?
A tree branch poisons in the vat.
More about Osarizawa Ghost Town here.
Matsuo mine in the north of Japan opened in 1914 and closed in 1969. In its heyday it was the biggest mine for sulfur in the Eastern world. It had a workforce of 4,000 and a wider population of 15,000, all of whom were accommodated in a make-shift city in the mountains of Hachimantai park. The city was known as the “paradise above the clouds” for its comparatively luxurious apartment blocks and near-constant ebb and flow of mist. That same mist nearly prevented us from finding the place at all.
Apartment buildings emerge from the thick mist.
The complex of 11 apartment buildings was built over a few years from 1951. Each block stood four stories tall in reinforced concrete. The first floor was designed for young childless couples, with one 6-mat room and kitchen per flat, while upper floors were for couples with children, with one 8-mat room, one 6-mat room, and a kitchen. Compared to Japanese standards of the time they were very well-appointed apartments, with a central heating system, a flush lavatory and a garbage chute.
Ghosts at the windows?
A regular apartment interior.
More about Matsuo Ghost Town here
The ghost Nichitsu Mining Town sits cramped into a narrow valley at the head of a long and buckled road in the mountainous western edge of Saitama. It was once a thriving company town with hundreds of families, the women staying at home in their rickety timber apartments, the children at the large wooden high school, and the men down in the mines digging for tin.
View from the rooftop walkways.
But that was over 20 years ago- since then the town has been relentlessly pounded by avalanches and ravaged by decay. All around the buildings stand with their roofs and walls caved in, reeds shot through floorboards and decking, swingsets and see-saws over-awed by brambles and flurries of fallen leaves.
Repairs don’t last for long against the bitter weather.
Bridge to the Doctor`s office.
Brain in a jar in the storeroom.
More about Nichitsu Ghost Town here.
The derelict Taro mine lies at a generational crossing point- once a place where raw sulfides were dug from the earth, now it functions as a cosmic ray laboratory for a nearby University, capturing electrons from outer space in several large heavily wired pools. The town it once supported had a population of over 5,000, and the town had it’s own community centre as well numerous other facilities.
The big machine hall.
Second tier of the factory.
An overgrown side-hall.
More about Taro Ghost Town here.
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