Relics of WW2- the Japanese station that ordered Pearl Harbour

Mike GristHaikyo, Military Installations, Tochigi 13 Comments

On December 2nd 1941, just 6 days before the Japanese opened hostilities in the Pacific War against the Allies by bombing Pearl Harbour, a coded signal went out from the Kemigawa Transmission Station in Tochigi to all the Empire of Japan’s military forces: 1208, or CLIMB MT. NIITAKA 1208; the order to join the war. CLIMB MT. NIITAKA referred to Niitaka mountain, the tallest in all of the then-Japanese Empire (now Taiwan). 1208 referred to the date of commencement- the 8th of December Japan time, the day the Japanese surprise-attacked Hawaii.

Kemigawa front face.

This was the most impenetrable haikyo I’ve yet encountered, with every single potentially accessible opening bolted up behind rusted metal bulwarks welded fast with iron rebars. I went with an old friend Brady who was visiting Japan after living back in Canada for over 2 years. He had first arrived in Japan around the same time as me- about 6 years ago- and we joined the Tokyo pick-up frisbee group on the same day. We had a lot to catch up on.

We arrived in Kemigawa around 3pm, and made short work of the walk over to the Transmission station. It became quickly apparent that it was sealed up tighter than a drum. I had seen photos on the net of some of the panels peeled off, and even some of the windows at an earlier time un-barred at all- but not any longer.

We did a slow lap of the Station’s block, a wide swathe of weedy wasteland partially under re-development. There were several workmen in or near the Station’s vicinity, some of them piling up dirt as prep for foundations, others installing fresh security gates. We didn’t want to enter the fenced-off grounds with them watching, nor did we want to linger too long outside the fence and draw attention to ourselves, so we decided to go off for some dinner and a beer, to come back when the workers had left and it was getting dark.

So, we wandered around looking for some udon (thick noodles) for Brady. We talked about his course of study as a TV journalist back in Vancouver, and the potential internship he’d applied for with the CBC. He told me about chasing up leads and following stories, going to interview people and how taking the step to that kind of interaction was one of the harder parts of the course- cold-calling people looking for opinions, asking nicely if he could come and catch their words on film.

After walking around for nearly two hours we found a small restaurant by the tracks and ate and drank a beer. We talked more about frisbee. Soon we finished up our beers and headed back to the Station. The workmen were now gone and we hopped the fence to get a closer look.

Near the main building was a small shed, not barred up, so we went inside.

Inside there were concrete slats on the ground which I guessed might be covering a secret entrance to underground chambers. We hoisted a few and peeked under, quickly realizing it was just a mechanic’s pit for getting at the underside of cars.

We walked a tight circumference several times looking for a potential access point, coming up with only two possibilities: a few windows several meters high that looked to be barred from the inside, plus this tiny ventilation hole 3 meters up the wall:

Small and high, reached with a make-shift ladder.

We didn’t want to make our attempt while it was still light, concerned about the noise the ladders would make as we shunted them around drawing attention to ourselves. So we went back to pacing around the wide circumference waiting for dark proper.

We talked more, about Brady’s crazy life in Europe, about hopes for the future. It was a great way to catch up.

When it was dark enough, we bent to the hole. We had two ladders and we set them both up, one person steadying at the bottom and the other climbing. We were both able to get a foot in the hole on our turn, but after that were stuck for what to do. How could we get through? Even if we got a whole leg through, what then? How would we get our bodies and heads through with nothing to hold onto? How would we get down on the other side? How would we get out if there was no ladder on the other side?

I think even if this hole were on ground level we’d have a lot of trouble squeezing through. The only way my shoulder would go is if I put them through on the diagonal and shuffled like a worm.

So, we gave up.

We moved round to the potentially un-barred windows, but were daunted by how high they were. With the ladder at its steepest height and me standing on almost the top rung, I could just reach the bottom of the window sill. I was able by stretching to tap the window’s boarding, which turned out to be soft cardboard. I could have lifted myself up and scrabbled through I think, but Brady was counseling no from below, and I did feel very exposed and unsafe. How would I get back down?How would Brady get up with no-one to steady the ladder?

So, we gave up. Instead we settled on climbing the odd tower and standing on top, surveying the surrounding area. To finish off with, I climbed the ladder again and took this shot with flash through the hole:

Through the ventilation hole.

I’ve since found a site that has low-res photos of the interior, I can see now that it’s quite empty and rather unimpressive, so don’t feel like I missed out. You can see it here. It was more fun trying to get in and chatting around the outside than a successful quick in and out would have been.

This is Brady.

After all that, we went back to play Rock Band at my house.

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Location – Tochigi.

Entry – Impossible, unless you can squeeze through a small ventilation hole 3 meters up the wall, then somehow get down on the other side without breaking your neck.

Highlights – Hanging with Brady, shooting through the hole into the darkness with flash, climbing the watch-tower.


You can see all MJG’s Ruins / Haikyo explorations here:

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Comments 13

  1. Hey there, not sure if I’ve ever commented before but wanted to thank you for your site, which is continually interesting to read. Whether it’s journalism or not, a step on a career path or just a way to pass the time, I’m glad you are writing here and sharing your fascinating photos.

  2. Sounds like you had a good chance to catchup with Brady. I wish he had visited a couple moths earlier though!

    Instead of using the world journalism, might not documentary be more appropriate? In going to these haikyo locations it is like making a mini-documentary each time it seems to me.

  3. Mike (if I may), great site. Very cool to learn of the haikyo and what you’re doing. I think your work should come out in a book. There are lots of other books on Japan but none that focuses on haikyo. I would certainly buy it. You could self-publish if Tuttle, Kodansha and the rest are unwilling. Keep up the great work.

  4. Not news, but what you’re doing here is certainly a form of journalism. In fact, by getting so bodily into real research, I think you’re doing a lot more than what usually passes for journalism these days. Plus you’ve got a knack for telling a fascinating story with your words and photographs.

  5. I’d love to see a book with all these pieces and photo’s in them plus tidbits about japan like the wacky products etc. I wonder why it’s boarded up if it’s so un-interesting inside?

  6. Post

    A book, thanks for the encouragement on this Kelly and Dave- it’s something I’ve been mulling over and prepping for some time now. I’ve actually had a few positive interchanges with a specialist Asian publisher, though they backed off some with all this economic trouble happening. Revamping a few aspects of the site- checking through photos and selecting the best- is also all part of preparation work for the book.

    Journalism vs. mini-documentary, thanks for support David, geekmom, Jason, and Tornadoes. Working for an English language publication is a good idea if I could get it- though I’ve always wondered what I’d report on- hard news reporting has never much interested me, maybe I’d want to shoot for a features writer, or something more like a columnist. Anyway, I don’t know much about the field or employment opportunities here- I guess I ought to look into it 🙂

    About Kemigawa and it being boarded up- in this case Kelly I think the local council is doing it’s due diligence- they can’t have people breaking in then hurting themselves, they’d be liable. I think that’s the main reason it’s locked down so tight.

  7. MJB, First off may I say thanks for the great site. It is at once both entertaining and informative.

    I am considering coming to Japan for a holiday in Oct-Nov 09 and you have given me a whole new spectrum of site-seeing to look for 🙂

    One thing I would ask however, is it possible to give more accurate location information so people such as myself who don’t know where these places are can find them in Google Earth and therefore follow your exploits from home?

    As to whether what you do is Journalism or not? There is no doubt it is, it has lots of names, “photo-journalism” is just one, reporting on social issues such as the history of a region is just one of the many aspects of Journalism. If you can’t find an avenue there in Japan you might like to contact people such as National Geographic and similar publications for further prospects. There is no doubt what you do is good, and if you chose to you could significantly expand the write-up you do to make it a more in-depth coverage with more history and associated detail. This may be useful if you want to use this site as part of your “resume” for your application (I would strongly recommend this as it would show your commitment to reporting detail etc)

    Thanks again,

  8. Post

    Skipperau- Thanks! And it’s MJG, not B…. 🙁

    More accurate location information- I totally hear you on this, but it’s something I struggle with really. In the first iteration of the site I included maps with every post, then I got worried about people using my maps to find a place to trash or steal from, after I returned to one location and found it far more vandalized than when I’d been there. I took my maps down. Then I started responding to requests for locations with trades- as in, you give me a location you know, and I’ll give you one of mine. I feel like a bit of a stooge doing that though.

    What I’ll probably do is put a few starter maps up to some of the easier locations, so people can cut their teeth on them, get some photos, put up a post, etc. Then they’ll both have something to trade, as well as a record of their lack of vandalism at the location.

    I always think it does seem a bit bizarre to worry so much about ‘vandalism’ in ruins, but if I told someone how to get there and then they do trash the place, it’s really me that’s responsible.

    Anyway- I’ll probably add a few maps in the coming weeks.

    About the comments on journalism, I definitely appreciate your opinion. The write-up side of things could perhaps be expanded- but normally I exhaust all the generally known facts about a place when I write about it. I suppose if I could dig up some people who lived or worked in the location- that’d be best. Thanks for the ideas and encouragement.

  9. Pingback: All the Demolished Haikyo | michael john grist

  10. Although boarded up, this place is kinda worth the visit if not just for its surreal appearance from outside. Personally, having now seen those inside photos, I’m very glad it is sealed tight – those red rebar reinforced rusted panels just look alien. The unusual architecture on an lush, green, overgrown (I guess those foundations didn’t blossom into anything afterall!) block surrounded by a really old fashioned Japanese district on one side and a faux American ‘burb on the other is quite the sight to behold. Its also at the end of the bay so it catches the wispy clouds blowing in from the south during sunset, rather spectacular. Kinda like a chunk of Tatooine, classic Edo-period Japan and Utah or some shit got sucked into a time rift.

  11. Theres also a fair amount on this haikyo by some people trying to get it preserved on YouTube, incidently also disclosing the pretty much exact location. Crappy Nippon no Haikyo map notwithstanding, its not like this place is kept obscured anyway.

    Worth the watch.

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