At the moment there’s a picture book that’s very popular in Japan called “A Picture Book of Hell.” It’s intended to teach kids good manners, and it’s become something of a hot topic, if you’ll excuse the pun. Popular illustrator Akiko Higashimura even mentioned it in her manga series “Mama wa Tenparisto”, loosely translated as “Momma With a Short Fuse”. As you can imagine, there’s been a lot of interest among mothers and educational professionals.

I suppose terrorizing your kids with two-dimensional representations of hell is OK, but did you know there’s a place you can take them to experience it in real life?

Senkouji Temple is located in the Hirano district of Osaka. As you approach along the shopping street, Senkouji looks like any other temple. But as you get closer, you start to notice some differences.

Like this sign, reading “Tell a lie and I’ll rip out your tongue!”

A demon! Shouldn’t a temple be decorated with statues of Buddha or something? Nevertheless, we press on to…


Well, that wasn’t so bad. Here’s where we get our first peek at hell. It’s a disclaimer to parents reading, “We opened this temple of hell to teach children right from wrong and the value of life… Don’t use it indiscriminately to scare your kids into listening to what you say.”

Geez, is it really that terrifying? With our hearts in our throats, we entered the building and opened the door next to the alter, venturing deeper into hell.

The first thing we laid eyes on was a huge statue of Yama, the lord of the dead, and his ten judges. Then we noticed the devils and some weird old woman. Creepy! And kneeling at their feet was the form of a naked person.

If you tell lies, this is supposedly where you will end up. If your sins are of a different variety, they say you will see what hell will be like for you if you look into this mirror.

If, during your lifetime, you killed living things, your body will be cut. If you deceived people, you will be boiled in an iron pot. Slander is punished by having to find one needle in a haystack. Children who don’t listen will be placed in a burning carriage. One by one, the punishments are laid out, using historical illustrations of hell to make them more vivid. The voices of people praying for forgiveness or calling out for mercy sounded around us…

And finally, a voice said, “You mustn’t do things that hurt others. You have only one life, so spend it with care.” And with that, our tour of hell is over.

Even as an adult that fairly shocking display made quite an impression on me. You shouldn’t do bad things or hurt those around you, and you should value the life you are given. These are lessons that get forgotten in the hustle and bustle of daily life, but visiting Senkouji’s version of hell reminded me to keep these important things in mind.

By the way, there’s also a machine you can use to check whether you are leaning towards an angelic or demonic eternity.

We gave it a shot and …

Aw, crap! Headed to hell, apparently. Best reflect on how we can improve our behavior.

In case you were wondering, there’s also a place to experience heaven at this shrine. Both exhibits are free, so bring your friends or your kids and experience heaven or hell, depending on your mood. And be sure to pick up some of the delicious sweets available on your way out.

Senkouji Temple

4-12-21 Hiranohonmachi, Hirano-ku, Osaka-shi

About 13 min walk from JR and subway Hirano Station

[ Read in Japanese ]