Haunted Globetrotting: The Many Spirits Of Kiyotaki Tunnel, Japan

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Welcome to Haunted Globetrotting, an international version of the United States-based Haunted Road Trip feature I run here at The Ghost In My Machine from time to time. Now that we’ve been at it for a few years, it seems like it’s about time to broaden our travel horizons a little, doesn’t it? First stop: Japan.

Running between Arashiyama and Sagakiyotaki in Japan’s Kyoto Prefecture is a tunnel. It’s unremarkable in appearance (as these places tend to be); to the casual observer, it looks like a simple, covered through-way — albeit rather a narrow one — connecting one town to the next. But to those who know the stories attached to it, it’s quite remarkable indeed — because Kiyotaki Tunnel has a reputation for being one of the most haunted places in Japan.

There are a huge number of defunct railway companies in Japan, and Kiyotaki Tunnel used to be part of one of them. Construction began on the Atagoyama Railway in 1927; between 1929 and 1944, it shuttle people between Arashiyama Station and Kiyotaki Station, as well as between Kiyotakigawa Station and Atago Station. Atago Station is itself worth a visit — once an essential stop for people making pilgrimages to Atago-jinja Shrine, it now lies in ruins, with the abandoned track nearby overgrown and reclaimed by nature. Meanwhile, Kiyotaki Tunnel, through which part of the Atagoyama Railway once ran, is far from abandoned; on the contrary, it’s been incorporated into the roads of the area. But it’s no less spooky. I would actually argue that it’s more so. There’s something unnerving about things that look so unassuming, yet bear such dark secrets.

Although some estimates peg the length of the tunnel at around 500 meters, legend insists that it’s actually 444 meters long — four being a “cursed” number in many East Asian countries, due to its similarity with the word for “death” in many languages.  It’s said that the working conditions for those constructing the tunnel were brutal, with the workers receiving no pay. Fatalities due both to the general working conditions and due to accidents were allegedly many (although again, it’s worth bearing in mind that this is just what the legend states — as is often the case with legends, it’s difficult to verify the details). Nor are these tragedies the only tales to cling to the place. Railway incidents, suicides, and executions are also said to have occurred there — and if you go far enough back, there’s even one story that tells of a warrior killed during a battle that raged long ago on the spot where the tunnel would eventually be built.

All of which is to say that no one is quite sure what allegedly haunts the tunnel. Some believe it to be the construction workers who died while the tunnel was being built; others believe it to be a woman who jumped from the road located above the tunnel to her death; and still others believe it’s the ghost of the ancient warrior fallen in battle.