Location: Kanehana, Rubeshibe-cho, Kitami City, Hokkaido Prefecture, 091-0021
A man was on the night train travelling through Hokkaido. As it approached the Jomon Tunnel, he suddenly heard a whistle.
“Is there a deer on the tracks?” the man thought, but as the train went further into the tunnel, the whistle continued.
He got under the covers and tried to go to sleep, despite the noise, but then he sensed something passing by his cabin door. He nervously approached the door to look out the tiny window installed in it. Afraid of what he might see, the man worked up the courage to take a peek. He looked out into the hall and saw a black shadow slowly passing by.
It wasn’t a person. It was in the shape of a person, sure, but it wasn’t one. He could see the wall on the other side of it. It was semi-transparent, like a ghost. A few moments later it disappeared.
He looked at the ground and saw wet footprints where the shadow had just been. Then he saw the conductor walking down the hall. He bent down to wipe the wet footprints away.
“Sir, did you just see that?” the conductor stood up and asked. The man looked at the tissue in his hand. It was stained red with blood…
Jomon Tunnel is part of the JR Hokkaido Line in Kitami, Hokkaido. The tunnel is situated on the Sekihoku Main Line between Ikutahara and Nishi-Rubeshibe stations and cuts through the Jomon Ridge. Construction began in 1912 and was completed in 1914. At 347 metres above sea level and running 507 metres in length, the tunnel runs through a difficult section of the Jomon Ridge in the middle of nowhere. The tunnel is often called the place with the cruellest history in all of Japan. But how did it manage to get that reputation, and why is it considered one of the most well-known haunted locations in Japan today?
Construction on the tunnel began in 1912 with the use of tako labourers. Tako labourers first came into existence on the island of Hokkaido in 1887 as prison labourers. Vast areas of Hokkaido were, at that point, still untouched by the modernity of civilisation, and these men were forced into building roads and railways to connect the far-flung cities and villages. By 1894, however, the Meiji government declared that the prisoners being forced into such difficult work in the horrendously cold Hokkaido weather was inhumane, and the practice was stopped.
Work had to continue, so labourers were instead recruited from the main island of Honshu under the guise of legitimate work. The workers were holed up in tako rooms and stripped of their basic human rights. These tako rooms were tight living quarters that were easily and quickly built near construction sites. They were small wooden bungalows usually made with pine logs and thatched roofing that fit around 70 men. To stop men from escaping during the night, there was a single sliding door with a bell to alert camp leaders when someone was trying to enter or exit the room. The door was also able to be locked from the outside. With only tiny slits for windows, the rooms received almost no light and had very little ventilation.
The men were watched over by an oyakata, a master, who had several men working below him; the manager, reception, head labourer, and supervisor. The tako labourers were themselves split up into three groups; the upper-class dining, the middle-class dining, and the lower-class dining. The men who worked beneath the oyakata were upper-class and were able to eat in a separate room come meal time. The majority of tako labourers made up the lower-class and were forced to stand when having meals. Those who worked particularly well, however, were rewarded by being moved up to the middle-class, where they were allowed a bench to sit on during meals. In order to control these men, the labourers often faced false imprisonment, assault, exploitation and oppression. They weren’t prisoners, technically, but they were treated like them, regardless.
By now you probably have some idea of the horrible conditions the tako labourers were forced to live under when they were working. The men were forced to work 15-hour days without break. On top of the physically demanding work and incredibly cold Hokkaido weather, the men working on the Jomon Tunnel were only given meagre meals; rice twice a day with a side of miso soup. By the time the tunnel was completed, over 100 labourers had died. Thanks to the hard labour and malnutrition, men started to collapse one after the other due to beriberi, a chronic form of thiamine deficiency. And yet they were not given medical care; the men instead faced corporal punishment and their bodies were buried in a mass grave in the forest close to the tunnel. There are legends that locals who stumbled upon the area while gathering edible plants collected their bones for burial.
Men who tried to escape also faced harsh punishments. Once they were caught, the men were brutally assaulted and, in the worst cases, tied naked to trees and lynched. If they died during such punishments, they were tossed in a pile with the rest of the dead bodies.
After the tunnel opened, it was plagued with troubles. One story goes that an engineer was driving his steam train inside Jomon Tunnel one evening, not long after construction had finished, when he saw a man standing before him, blood pouring from his head. The engineer quickly stopped the train and ran out to check, but when he got there, the man was gone.
He returned to the train and started it once more, but he again saw the man standing before him with blood pouring from his head. He stopped the train again, but the man’s dreadful expression was burned into his eyes. He closed his eyes and waited for the train to stop, but another train was approaching from behind. He got out and informed the driver of the other train what was going on. The driver agreed to switch places with him, and the engineer followed in the other train from behind.
But it wasn’t just inside the tunnel. Passengers claimed they could hear moaning that sounded like someone was suffocating close to the tunnel, and a station attendant who worked at Jomon Station went mad and fell ill to a mysterious disease. It didn’t just affect those nearby either. The mysterious happenings near the tunnel even extended to family members. Yet another station attendant’s wife threw herself in front of a train inside the tunnel and killed herself.
People blamed these incidents on the spirits of the dead, and in 1959, a Kanwa Jizo statue was erected about one kilometre from the tunnel. This was an area where the skeletons of roughly 50 railway workers and their family members were discovered. But in 1968, the Tokachi Earthquake hit with a magnitude of 7.9 on the Richter scale. The walls of the Jomon Tunnel were damaged, and work started once more to repair them in 1970. It was at this time that the skeletons of over 100 workers from the original tunnel were discovered near the entrance and in the woods nearby. The bones were broken and showed evidence of violence and mistreatment. It was here, over 50 years later, that people finally discovered what horrible conditions the original labourers were forced to work in.
In September of the same year, Jomon Station (currently Jomon Signal Station) was undergoing expansions when a skull was found in the gravel roughly 60 centimetres from the brick wall near the exit. There had long been rumours that hitobashira were used in the construction of Jomon Tunnel. Hitobashira, literally ‘human pillars,’ were people sacrificed in prayer to the gods to avoid disaster. They were either buried inside the building like a pillar, buried in the earth, or submerged in nearby water. They were, of course, alive during this whole process. The sacrifice was only worthy if the hitobashira was alive when being buried.
The discovery of a skull by the station wall appeared to confirm this practice to be true, and one station attendant claimed that “there’s a good chance there are more of them around here.” He also claimed that everyone who worked there knew the wall had a hitobashira inside. And indeed, more skeletons were found standing up inside the walls of Jomon Tunnel during reconstruction. The state of the skeletons and the position they were found in led people to believe that the labourers hadn’t been buried in the walls after death, but rather forced in while they were still alive. They were later moved to the nearby Rubeshibe public cemetery for reburial.
In 1980, a monument was erected in Rubeshibe City looking down over the Sekihoku Main Line near Kanehana Station. This monument was in commemoration of all the victims who died during the construction of Jomon Tunnel, but it doesn’t appear to have appeased the dead. On the contrary, hauntings and strange occurrences reportedly continue in the area to this day.
Passing through Jomon Tunnel
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