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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.
But whatever the cause, the stories remain unsettling. Some tell of full-on apparitions: A woman bearing a strange expression may linger around the tunnel; if she’s feeling ambitious, she might leap onto the hood of your car, but if she’s feeling shy, you might not even lay eyes on her, only hearing her shriek from somewhere within the tunnel or the forest in the surrounding area. Others speak of strange effects simply being around the tunnel has on humans: You might feel dizzy or nauseous or suffer from a pounding headache while traveling through it. Still others speak of strange properties the tunnel is thought to display: Some believe that, should you travel through it one way, it might suddenly become a different length on your return trip. The traffic lights around the tunnel are also said to change without warning, outside of their normal patterns, causing road accidents and other mayhem.
And, of course, there is at least one story that predicts something terrible befalling those who don’t heed its warning: Avoid looking in any mirrors around the tunnel — whether they’re the road mirrors located outside of it or the many mirrors in your car. If you should even glance in one—and if you should see a spirit reflected back at you in it — well, let’s just say you shouldn’t have done that. You’ve met with a terrible fate, haven’t you?
It’s somewhat curious to me that so many roads and bridges come with a number of odd or frightening legends attached. I’m most familiar with the ones in the United States — Bunny Man Bridge, Clinton Road, Emily’s Bridge, Mount Misery Road, Boy Scout Lane, and of course the numerous Cry Baby Bridges that can be found in so many states — but these kinds of stories can be found all over the world. I can’t help but wonder: Why is that?
I’m just spit-balling here, but if it’s anything like most of the other major urban legends out there, these stories are a way for us to deal with something we find inherently frightening — and in this case, I suspect they might have something to do with a latent fear of cars. I mean, think about it: Each time you go out for a drive, you’re strapping yourself into a reinforced tin can and putting your trust in it to protect you should your either your own reflexes or those of other people fail. According to the World Health Organization, the latest statistics we have for the number of road traffic deaths that occur globally each year are from 2013; that year, the number was 1.25 million. It may not seem like a lot, comparatively speaking — as of this writing, there are 7.5 billion people in the world — but if you push yourself to look a little further, you’ll remember that we’re not just talking about numbers. We’re talking about people. And even if the percentage isn’t necessarily “high,” that’s still 1.25 million people dead in a single year due to car accidents.
That’s pretty scary.
And so we tell ourselves stories to cope, to make sense of something that feels otherwise senseless. Humans like to find order where there is none, so that’s what we do when we tell ourselves these kinds of stories: We create order from chaos. It all has to happen for a reason, right?
For the curious, here’s what the Kioytaki Tunnel looks like in the sunlight. But honestly? I wouldn’t want to get stuck there at any time of day or night.
[Photo via JapanKyotoWalker/YouTube]