From the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster to walking in 'suicide forest': Dark tourism in Japan

2019-01-15 12:00 - Marisa Crous
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Synonymous with the meticulous and serene, Japan, the Land of The Rising Sun also has a darker side. One, which, is also celebrated for its shadowy past, annually attracting many curious tourists opting to chase its notorious ghosts. 

READ: Get lost in these 10 weird places found only in Japan

Dark tourism is alive and kicking in Japan as you can go from visiting sites impacted by the atomic bombings of Hiroshima to sightseeing on a derelict island off the coast of Nagasaki.

Here are a few dark tourism spots to check out in Japan: 

1. Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster

Japan's unique geotectonic location makes it one of the world's most earthquake prone places, with over 1500 felt per year. Mostly tremors, deadly quakes have shaken the country to its very core in years past. 

On every dark tourist's radar is the nuclear disaster zone that was the result of an energy accident at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant in Okuma, Fukushima Prefecture. Brought on primarily by the tsunami following the Tohoku earthquake on 11 March 2011, many towns in this area has since become ghost towns. Dark-tourism.com notes that one town in the vicinity has been declared safe to be re-inhabited, yet most dark tourism tours only travel through towns without stopping or walking around as the radioactive levels are still unsafe. 

TIP: Also watch the Netflix documentary Dark Tourism hosted by David Farrier, which gives some great insight into the world of dark tourism at this disaster zone in particular. 

2. Aokigahara aka Japan's 'suicide forest'

At 13.5 square miles, the forest is known as a 'sea of trees'. Eerie, covered in a dark aura and haunted by spirits of the past, the forest has gained notoriety over the years as being the place where people go to disappear, mainly to commit suicide. The thick frost with its twisting ad turning tress is easy to get lost in, and going there alone is not advised. 

Dark tourism tours are now offered to this morbid destination, however, people are warned that they may see relics of suicides or even dead bodies. 

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3. Hiroshima 

The Urban List says that if anything, the ground zero of Hiroshima is the Genbaku Dome, also known as the A-Bomb Dome. Sat almost directly below the atomic bomb hypocenter when the bomb dropped in 1945, it has since been declared a UNESCO World Heritage site, receiving around 1.5 million visitors a year.

TIP: Also see the Hibakujumoku or Phoenix Trees, about 740m from hypocenter of the site. The trees survived the big blast and are still standing today. 

And you don't just have to stop here. Nagasaki is also worth a visit. Struck only three days after Hiroshima, many sources note it as an essential part of dark tourism in Japan, as it's home to Atomic Bomb Museum and several other affected sites. 

4. Hashima 'ghost island'

Off the coast, south-west of Nagasaki sits this unique ghost island. Formerly populated by underwater coal miners, it has been derelict since 1974 when all workers left the island. Japan moved on from underwater coal mining to fossil fuel. 

The island has a dark history as many of the miners were slaves and worked in extremely dangerous and harsh conditions. 

5. Okinawa

World War II buffs would love to visit this island. During WWII, the invasion of Okinawa was solidified as the final and fiercest battle of the Pacific War. The United States kept the island in its possession after winning this battle, only returning it to Japan in 1972.

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