Ruin of a century-old Japanese prison

Mike GristHaikyo, Nagasaki, Prisons 9 Comments

Kyu Nagasaki Prison was built in 1907, one of five ‘ultra-modern’ Meiji-era prisons built throughout Japan. Its Victorian design is attributable to a research mission to study European prisons conducted by the Meiji government. Within its five meter-high red brick wall, a five-pointed prison block held up to 800 high-security prisoners.

The prison went out of use in 1992, becoming a haikyo. 15 years later the wall and most of the interior complex were demolished after complaints from the growing number of housing developments being built in the surrounding area. Now only the abandoned front gate and gatehouse remain.

This was the first haikyo SY and I went to on our recent Kyushu Christmas holiday. Walking up to it our hearts sank as we saw it had been almost completely demolished. Workers by the roadside were laying pipes set to go into the now-empty space, I assume as preparation for building more houses. We wandered on by them, and approached the prison gate from the front.

It was still imposing. With hindsight I suppose it’s probably a good thing it was mostly demolished, as if it had not been, then the wall would still have stood, the gate would have been locked, and we’d have been very impressive prison escape artists (entrance artists?) if we`d managed to get in. As it was, we could just walk around the edge of the front gate.

Inside there was just a gatehouse with a low tower atop it. We walked around it in circles a few times, trying to capture the feeling of what it would have been like to be imprisoned here 100 years ago. Quite bleak, I imagine. The windowless red wall would have shrunk the world down to just the prison yard and facilities. Inside the walls the prisoners would have been put to work, as they currently are at the replacement prison nearby, making crafts, hammering hot metal, and breaking rocks.

City Office on the left.

The sign says ‘No Parking’.


Bars to keep prisoners in / us out.

The wall is gone.

Inside the gatehouse, looking out to what would have been the main prison block.

Sky and timbers.

Weather-battered walls.

The gate from inside, what the prisoners would have seen only when their time was up and they got to leave.


Once at the heart of a giant prison complex.

Wreathed with blue skies.

All these buildings now demolished.

Peeling white plaster.


Lock on the main gate.

After we walked the ruin for a while, drawing stares from the road crew laying pipes, we decided (bold SY decided) to head into the next-door city office to ask for some info about the prison. We first spoke to one guy round the back, who said come on in, then headed through a side-door. We went to follow him but haha, it was the worker`s entrance, and he shooed us out. Back in through the correct front door, another chap met us and ushered us over to a corner partition where someone had thoughtfully laid down a few sips of steaming coffee. Wow.

We sat with him and he talked a bit about the history of the prison. He broke out a few books, one of architectural plans, one of a local school-teacher and haikyo fan, and answered our questions. It was really great, largely because SY is fluent in Japanese and could have a proper dialogue with him. At times like that I wish I had better J-skills. I caught the gist though.

Then that was it. I felt a bit rueful, especially after seeing the school-teacher`s photos, that we hadn`t been able to walk the blocks and really get a feel for an almost 19th century Japanese prison. To that end, here are a few videos taken by others (on a day before the demolition, when the ruin was opened to the public.)



My walk around

Kyu Nagasaki Prison from Michael John Grist on Vimeo.

See the rest of the haikyo I’ve been to in the galleries:

[album id=4 template=compact]

Comments 9

  1. Hey,
    Good to finally see some of what went on in Kyushu, why the long wait?

    My favourite pic is the close up of the steeple, nice and sharp, and blue sky instead of being blown out. However I’m wondering why the other pics aren’t quite as sharp? Were you doing hand held HDRs?

    Nice the SY was bold enough to just go up and talk to those construction workers! Respect. If she hadn’t been there would you have gone in anyway like we did at Kappa Pia?

  2. Yes, like the Can said….thought you would have posted haikyo from Kyushu much sooner as basically no one we know has been to them yet (?). I like the composition of the 6th shot from the top.

    No black & white shots of a prison?

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    Can- No reason really for the long wait, just got round to it now. Other pics not sharp probably because of quality level I post them at. None of them are HDR.

    The talking was to a different group, not the construction workers, but the dudes washing their cars in front of the war office. We only talked to them after we`d already toured the ruin.

    Jason- Black and white, hmm, didn`t occur to me. Huge ad can`t be blocked cos it`s not an ad script, instead is just images of books I selected to recommend to readers of the site, with links. It`s there to add value, offering other avenues to explore for people interested in the area of ruins or Japan.

  4. Great photos. I liked the prison and the empty space even if it was demolished. It’s good to talk with local people. They are friendly, give useful information and FREE food (the most important fact). 😀

    Cycle Haikyo adventure next time? 🙂

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