The Doctor’s shack lies hidden in rural Japan, its location closely guarded by haikyoists and folk who like to explore. And for good reason – inside is a goldmine of pre-war medicines and medical books, dusty bottles and old rusty instruments.
The site itself is well documented in ruins literature, and especially so on the Japanese side of the internet. But as far as I know, this is the first time it has been written about in English. It took me a good 6 hours of research and the painstaking piecing together of clues to get an idea of the location.
I started with just a rough point on a prefectural map and a name – S診療所. Usually this is enough information to dig up some posts in Japanese and pinpoint the exact spot, but in this case it wasn’t to be. Every website I visited had gone to the trouble of erasing all mention of the location. Even in the pictures with the shack’s real address, the characters has been blurred out. It was clear this place was well protected.
Undeterred, I ploughed on, trawling Yahoo and Google for all mentions of the name. It was the early hours of the morning at this point and my friend and I were planning to leave the very next day to go and look for the shack. I dug up hints about the shack’s past, old pictures showing a river, a cryptic clue saying ‘it’s near the house where a God lives’ (神の住む家).
(Image source: Team Haikyo)
A tantalising trail of pictures on the Team Haikyo website showed the approach to the old medical clinic, but alas, no concrete details about how to get there. I was closer now though – a city name and house-dwelling God were on my side, but dawn was fast approaching. A thread on 2-channel had a match for my shack, but all the posts written were full of frustrating clues and half-baked information. For probably the first time in my life, the Internet was not giving me an answer.
After some time browsing 2-channel, I had the location narrowed down to a place beginning with ‘S’ and one with over a thousand years of history. With the help of Wikipedia, I filtered this down to a few matches in the prefecture and then took an intelligent guess.
“A 70% chance I have the right place”, I told my friend, rubbing my sleepy eyes.
“You’ve been up all night?? You’re mad!” he burst out.
“…I’m pretty sure I have it now. It’ll be worth it, I’m sure.”
Setting out on the train, we made the long trip to where I estimated our shack to lie. We happened to miss a local train that would take us to our destination, so during our hour’s wait, I busied myself quizzing local taxi drivers and train staff with my information.
“You know anywhere known as ‘the place where a God lives'” I asked in vain. It shouldn’t have surprised me that I was greeted with blank stares every time.
“Okay, what about this place? How much to go there?”
“Hmm… About 6000 yen I reckon”, retorted the group of taxi drivers, puffing on their cigarettes.
We decided to wait for the train. It was only another half hour or so to wait. And that mid-afternoon sun looked like it wanted to burn long and bright for some time yet.
Another train ride away, we hopped off at our destination. Some melting snow from the passing winter lined the roads. As we walked closer, I could do nothing but let out an audible gasp of relief and sheer thrill. I grinned ear to ear at my friend and flicked a single tear from my eye. The mysterious gate leading to the shack lay before us.
(Image source: Team Haikyo)
“That’s it!! That’s the path!”
Hurrying now, we trotted along the winding track and emerged in a cluster of trees. The towering 2-floor doctor’s shack greeted us with a groan and we stepped carefully into its walls. It was just as the pictures had promised.
We only had an hour of light remaining, so it was going to be a pretty rushed time. I busied myself with capturing video while my friend tested out his DSLR. After zipping around the first room, we entered the doctor’s office. Two holes in the wall – one for receiving orders and the other for giving patients their medicine – seemed to glow with the remaining light and rows of old glass bottles filled with strange substances glimmered against the wall.
Nearly all the bottles were labelled in Latin with the equivalent Japanese underneath. Along the main wall were huge bottles containing all sorts of substances I bet my old science teachers wouldn’t know, but the label above them – 普通薬 – told me that they were medicines for ‘regular use’. At the bottom of the cabinet were some drawers that I failed to notice in the fading light labelled as 毒薬 – poisonous medicines. Judging by the size of the drawers, I’d say they were filled with mostly small bottles, and I reckon this next one may have originally had its home in the drawer of poisons.
Calmotin. It stood on the shelf alone, beckoning me to take a nice isolated shot. Having researched the name, I now know why somebody positioned it so artfully. This drug is notorious in Japanese history for being used to commit suicide.
It seems this substance is better known as Bromisoval, a hypnotic and sedative.
Apparently it isn’t easy to consume enough of the chemical for it to be fatal, but novelist Akutagawa Ryunosuke succeeded in killing himself by acute poisoning using the drug and the writer Dazai Osamu also used Calmotin many times to try and commit lover’s suicide. According to this article, it was originally manufactured by Takeda Pharmaceutical Co., Ltd., but production has since been halted.
Not only that, but Calmotin was used in the infamous case of ‘poison woman’ Sada Abe, remembered for erotically asphyxiating her lover and severing his genitalia for loving him so much. Her story has since been made into the controversial film ‘In the Realm of the Senses’ (愛のコリーダ). Quite a history attached to this Calmotin stuff then.
Various other bottles with names I have no hope of deciphering begged to be photographed. It turns out that a fellow explorer by the name of Kuromax has written about many of the medcines. Well done to him or her for all that work! Unguentum Wilonl, then, is reported to be used mainly on the skin to prevent spots. It is also anti-inflammatory. Nice. Turns out the other bottle is ‘Lycopodium’ (not Ectopodium as I originally misread) and is a type of plant used as a dusting powder for things like ulcers and eczemas – thanks to Peter in the comments!
Bismuthum Subnitricum is some type of medicine for internal disorders and Chininum Aethyl Carbonicum is apparently used as an anti-malarial drug. Wouldn’t want to mess around with these things…
It seems that this medical clinic was active before the Second World War. Kuromax found a woman’s magazine dated 1935 on their trip and I came across a fair few really old books myself. The rotting state of the shack and the fact that its front porch has already collapsed doesn’t inspire confidence that it’s going to be around forever. The stairs were at a frighteningly odd angle too, and I really had to tread carefully as I creaked my way up them.
But not just decay, there also seems to be thievery at play here. The messy random piles of papers and scrambled books I encountered were just the start – going by the photographs taken by other explorers, there seem to be quite a few missing bottles and other objects that have vanished. Despite its hidden location then, a fair few people seem to be making the trip here. It’s a real shame that this place is bearing the brunt of vandals and other less respectful visitors. I do hope it doesn’t get much worse.
Amongst the mess, there were also aged photographs. I didn’t have a lot of time to sift through the rubble because I was sitting on the creaky second floor in darkness by this point. My friend was waiting downstairs and I was spending half my time worrying about the floors – a huge gaping hole just feet away from me didn’t give me the best of reassurance.
There was also what looked to be a box of numbered blood samples and tweezers nearby. I was almost reaching out to pick up one of the little glass plates before I realised what they were and why the metal tool sat blatantly on top. Snatching my hand away and heeding the calls from my haikyo buddy below about missing the last local train, I paced back down the wooden stairs.
We had just enough time to snap a few more shots of the nearby scenery before running to the rural, gate-less train station. With no time for tripods, this below picture was the best I could do.
It had been a fleeting encounter, but one definitely worth the time spent researching and travelling there. And in some ways, I feel as though I’ve learnt a little about savouring the exploration. It isn’t all about hitting up a place, shooting the photographs and going onto the next, I realised. All that time browsing the Internet. The frustration of trying to decipher cryptic clues and being led to dead-ends. Of losing sleep. All of that was part of the experience. It really felt like I’d earned the right to visit this wonderful piece of history and document it. And perhaps, just maybe, I’m a little closer to being able call myself an explorer because of it :).
Finally, here’s the video experience below.