Raiders of the Lost Subterranean Shrine

By Michael Gakuran | | Haikyo / Ruins | 35 Comments |

The day was drawing to a close and my haikyo partner and I could already hear the noisy mating gerrops of frogs. But one last thing had caught our eye. A shadowy hole cut into the upper regions of the cliff beckoned us in the fading light. A cave, perhaps..?

“It’s nothing, surely.” teased my partner. “Come on, it’s already dusk and we have an hour’s walk back to the station. No time for climbing up that cliff.”

“Yeah, I know, I know. But, I read something about an old shrine hidden away somewhere in this place. We didn’t see anything like that down below, so maybe it’s up there.” I urged. “Just one little look, okay? Then we’ll head back”.

“Hmm… Okay. Let’s be quick.”

The two of us scrambled upwards, the loose gravel sliding beneath our feet and sending cascades of rock tumbling down the mountainside. This really was no time to be looking for shrines. We’d already spent the entire day photographing the other areas of nearby haikyo and were thirsty and craving sugar. But something, just something about that cave-like crevice…

The crevice turned out to be nothing more than a shadow cast by a rock, but very close by we spotted a rusty old iron gate. One of the hinges was corroded and the gate easily came away at the side. The mouth of a tunnel carved roughly into the limestone rock stretched before us.

Sweeeet…. That Indiana Jones feeling surged up in our chests.

The tunnel went on for around 30 metres or so, I reckon. A cool, somewhat odorous cavern. As we tottered nervously inside, we spun our torches around us, scanning the walls. A dozen or so nasty Japanese spider cave crickets trembled above our heads, fuming at having been disturbed.

“Yuck. If one of those critters drops on my head I swear I’ll damn well crush every last one.” I grumbled. My voice echoed a little down the cavern.

As we pressed on, we passed a towering Buddhist statue with a disturbing set of blood-red lips. Somebody’s idea of a prank? At least it looks like we found the shrine.

Ducking under a rusty iron rail running along the ceiling, we continued down the hall. It occurred to my partner that this might be the perfect place for a bear to be living and he felt the need to fill me in on this just as we were about to step round into the main chamber.

“Right, just in case, be ready to run like shit. But the gate was closed, so I doubt anything is in here…” I murmured.

Sure enough, the place was empty, save for a few more disgusting spid-ickets attached to the ceiling.

In this room, we could stand up comfortably. A stone table with chairs was in front of us and beyond that what looked to be an altar in the darkness. I couldn’t help but feel like we’d stumbled across an ancient tomb.

Could it belong to a cult of some sort..?

Approaching the altar, two ghostly heads appeared. Marble, I thought, and most likely carved in the image of some bigwigs. A stunning vase with gold-looking rims and a feisty dragon sculpted onto its side gleamed next to the statue. I quivered with excitement as I ran my fingers lightly over its handle. I couldn’t believe our luck!

We made our way down the centre isle and bowed slightly at the altar in front of us. I’m not terribly religious, but something about being around Japanese shrines and temples makes me strangely aware of other beings. We were just about to snap the last of our pictures and leave when I spotted the hole in the wall. Just big enough for a slim adult male to slip through on all fours.

“No… No it couldn’t be…”

I grinned.

“What’s this man? Let me just shine my torch through to the other side.”

As I did so, more vases glinted back at me.

“No way!! There’s more stuff back here!”

“What?” my partner shot back. “Where?”

“Right here. Hold on, I’m gonna crawl through and have a look.”

I squeezed through the narrow opening on the damp gravel and came out in a tiny alcove. There wasn’t enough room to stand up completely, but as I did so I saw a set of stone shelves littered with old vases and Buddhist ornaments before me.

Evidently the place had electricity at one point, as there was a dusty light bulb hanging just behind my head. My guess is the priest would crawl through here into this storage closet to get the necessary tools to perform the ceremony. Perhaps the small opening is so as to force the person who enters to bow in respect?

I mused about the possibility and heard a scratching behind me. My partner was sliding through the hole and came out staring in disbelief.

“Amazing! Just look at all this stuff. Even another one of those huge ornamental vases!”

Most of the stuff was quite dirty and some of it broken, I noticed. Perhaps in an earthquake?

The thought hit me hard.

Damn… What if we have an earthquake while still in this cave..?

I didn’t need to dawdle much after that. We snapped our final few photos and made to leave the secret shrine behind. The light at the end of the tunnel was very dim now and the evening sky was already losing its lusty blue tint as night approached. We had quite a scramble getting out of the surrounding area in the darkness, getting lost in the brambles several times and being scared witless by a rabbit that darted out. Definitely an exploration to remember though, and by far one that will merit a return visit.

35 comments on “Raiders of the Lost Subterranean Shrine
  1. Joshua says:

    The vases are Japanese. They are Satsuma ware. I find it odd though because I’ve never really seen them used in a funeral or “death” situation. Sometimes you see miniature versions in home shrines, but usually they are just decorative. I have a couple myself. They look to be made around the 40s or 50s. So glad I collect Japanese antiques that when I see something as cool as this I can give some info!

  2. AWESOME! It’s like finding a treasure! And I can totally imagine you walking around and getting scared shitless by a rabbit.

  3. Monkeystu52 says:

    Amazing! Where about in Japan is this? I currently live (nearby I think) in Fukui and would love to see this place. It looks so mysterious and breathetaking. I have come across some pretty amazing hidden shrines – particularly in Shiga, but this tomb style thing is remarkable!

  4. tetra 18 says:

    If you ever go back to that cave, and the vases are still there, try to take a lot of close-ups of them and look under them for identifying marks. They look like museums pieces. Somehow, I have the feeling they were stolen.
    They are Chinese though the 2 marble busts look Japanese. The one in the close-up is outstanding. The scuptor was trained to copy western art. It also looks like a museum piece.
    I wonder if you should not report this find to a museum, or some kind of authority.

  5. Jill Sylvan says:

    Dangit, you're making me want to Haikyo. And I am terrible at that sort of thing.

  6. Gakuranman says:

    Thanks :). That certainly would be weird if this place was still visited… The gate was really rusty and padlocked. Although it was broken at one side, it wasn't very obvious that the cave was accessible… Maybe I'll have to do some more research!

  7. Fascinating stuff! As always! My guess based on the lack of dust or debris accumulation is that it is still visited on occasion by someone. Furthermore, the style of display of all the pottery suggests that this is probably a tomb or memorial of some sort. If you do a little research into the history of that area you could probably find when it was active and if any relatives of people who worked there still live in that area (which might explain more recent visits to pay respects).

  8. Gakuranman says:

    Thanks Jason. As far as I know, it hasn't been covered anywhere else. Never seen it in books or on Japanese haikyo sites. I had a peak inside some of the vases – all of the ones I looked in were empty, but am wondering now if perhaps some contained funeral bones or something. Might have to go back and check it out. As for securing stuff – you know the motto: take only pictures, leave only footprints. Nothing tiny in that place anyway – the vases were over half a metre in height!

    I have been taking as much video as photos when on haikyo recently, even Gunkanjima, but it just takes so long to edit and find the right music. When I have enough time I will be posting extra haikyo videos though :).

    No protection on this haikyo. Just a hefty torch and tripod! I wasn't swinging across open pits, but I was climbing up trees to reach the second floor of an abandoned factory while in Nagasaki. Stay tuned for future posts ;)

  9. Jason Collin says:

    Dude, epic find Gak! Not only discovering a new haikyo altogether (have Japanese posted about this haikyo, or a true, true scoop?), but filled with artifacts like a movie! Can't fathom you did not “secure” even one tiny item? You can tell us . . . did you look inside any vases? Maybe people keep their medicinal supplies in it.

    Pretty nice job with the photos too assuming you were shooting in the pitch dark.

    Video, great productions values, though the music might have been a bit overbearing with its loudness. But now I expect such video with every haikyo post.

    What kind of monster protection did you have with you? A Leatherman at least?

    I expect to see you swinging across open pits in the next haikyo post!

  10. Gakuranman says:

    Thanks Ikumi. You were a great help on Twitter as well. If you don't mind, I'll copy and paste what we talking about here and translate it:

    台湾にもこんな感じの場所があるのは見たことがある。
    この場所が炭鉱だとすると、中国からの出稼ぎ労働者が過去に居たとかもあるかもね。
    でも間違いなく、神社ではないね。
    壺が綺麗すぎるのが怖い・・・。まだ誰か訪れてるのかな?
    盗品だったらとてもまずいよね・・・。
    怖いけど、行ってみたいなあ。とても異様だわ・・・。

    I've seen a place like this in Taiwan as well.
    There might have been migrant workers from China working here.
    But yeah, this definitely isn't a (Japanese) shrine.
    And that the pots are still clean is worrying… Maybe someone is still visiting..?
    It'd be really bad if these turn out to be stolen about or something.
    It's pretty scary, but I'd really like to go. It's a very strange place…

  11. ikumi says:

    Very strange place
    However, it is very attractive.
    I want to go here. .

  12. Sanvé says:

    Until you're standing on a mere empty block, sunburnt and facing a dog kennel full of used porn…

  13. Gakuranman says:

    Cheers Mike. Hope it's still around if you get there. Be sure keep the location safe :).

  14. Gakuranman says:

    Cheers Katy. Never thought about that! If the place is gone next time I go back….

  15. Katy says:

    I want to be you.

    Just…wow.

    I'm especially enamoured by the notion that if there is an earthquake nearby this might be the only evidence that remains. Fantastic find.

  16. Gakuranman says:

    Cheers Florian :). Will check out your discovery too. We'll have to meet up soon!

  17. Gakuranman says:

    Cheers Steve :). Fingers crossed for its safety eh?

  18. MJG says:

    Great find, definitely something I'll look out for if/when I get there. Hope it's still there and intact.

  19. those pictures are awesome, I really hope the items remain hidden. i can only imagine what it felt like to be discovering the shrine, and being the first person inside for such a long time.

    Nice one

  20. Paul says:

    Oh wow. That ones truly an Indiana Jones style find, and seems extremely susceptible to vandalism. Good job on the pics — I can imagine getting the lighting right having been a royal pain in the butt — and a big thankyou for not posting location details anywhere on your site. Many of the sites over here around Tokyo have been seeing a lot of damage of late, or in one case demolishion due to overexposure, and are getting a lot of casual tourist traffic in addition to the regular urbex hobbyists.

    Yeah, that doctor's shack can take perhaps a couple of hundred more _cautious_ visitors max before it'll topple. Fewer if people head upstairs (curious readers: there is nothing up there!)

    I'm very surprised this is the first time I've seen this ruin anywhere. Although you mention you'd heard of this place prior, I'm definitely beginning to believe that the strangest discoveries in Japan are still to come, likely in prefectures without any active groups.

  21. Gakuranman says:

    Me too. I was amazed that they were still lying there, untouched. Let's hope it stays that way.

  22. Gakuranman says:

    I certainly hope so! This place is almost as fragile as the Doctor's Shack. I hope the wrong people don't discover it.

  23. Florian says:

    It's always good to see rarely covered haikyo – and that's a great one! Please give “my” posts a look. They are not nearly as impressive as this one, but to my knowledge some are haikyo blog firsts. (At least English speaking as I don't read all Japanese haikyo blogs…)

  24. Yes that's indeed very exiting, and surprisingly there is still many interesting things to see, almost untouched..hopefully it will remain like that…nice one!

  25. Jon L says:

    Wow. Awesome find. This is one of the coolest haikyo I've seen yet. Amazing those vases are still there and intact. I wonder how old the shrine is. I would have thought those artifacts would have been broken or stolen a long time ago. Amazing.

  26. Gakuranman says:

    Thanks Paul :). Yup, I believe this is the first time anyone has posted this location on the web, either in Japanese or English. It's pretty hard to find. I completely agree with you about not posting details, or the real names of places, especially when they are rare or fragile. Very sad to hear that some of the Tokyo sites are getting trashed :(.

    I hope the Doctor's Shack remains a secret. It's already been subject to theft and vandalism…

    Seeking out new ruins has got to be one of the best parts of this hobby. Being the first in some hidden, unknown location…

  27. Disquieting, yet enchanting! You can't fathom the height of the envy that fill my heart when I read about your adventures! Really precious! I can only wish to do something as exciting!

  28. dsankt says:

    Awesome :D

  29. Gakuranman says:

    Ah ha, I think I can, a little. I used to be the one sitting in my computer seat reading the tales and looking at the beautiful pictures taken by other explorers. You can get out there too – just look up some locations near to where you live :). Be sure to take care and read my Haikyo Safety Article before going though! http://gakuran.com/the-hazards-of-haikyo-and-urban-exploration/

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