Prison (9)

Japan is littered with museums–there are museums for swords, tea ceremony, and even parasites. Now, we love museums as much as anyone with a healthy sense of curiosity, but sometimes it can get a bit overwhelming. Like those parasites–do they really need their own museum??

But there is one museum that we can’t imagine getting bored of: The Abashiri Prison Museum!

Prison (10)Via Morimori tetsudo

Located in Hokkaido, the Abashiri Prison Museum is not just a museum–it was once a real, actual prison. In fact, it was said to be the most difficult prison from which to escape in Japan. We’re not exactly sure how you measure something like that–though Sylvester Stallone is probably involved.

During the Meiji period (1868 to 1912), the prison was such a severe place that its name became synonymous with “prison.” What we’re saying is that it was no trip to the beach back in the day. Now, on the other hand, it’s actually a tourist destination!

Prison (13)Via Abashiri Prison Museum

Located in Japan’s snowy northern lands, we don’t imagine prison sounds like a fun place to spend the weekend, but we have to admit that it actually looks like a lot of fun!

Prison (1)Via Trikehawks

After crossing the bridge pictured above and getting into a properly dreary mood, the prison eventually appears before visitors. The red brick face of the entrance is somehow both dull and intriguing at the same time. Outside the gate stands a pair of mannequins, a guard clad in black and another man in orange–a very special prisoner.

Prison (8)Via Retorona tatemono wo tazunete

The other mannequin, just out of frame in the photo above, is Gosunkugi Torakichi, the nickname for the man named Torakichi Nishikawa. Gosunkugi who was considered the king of prison escapes during the Meiji Period, earned his nickname, which means “Long Nail,” after one particularly dramatic escape attempt. In the middle of one of his six break outs, he accidentally stepped on a nail 15 centimeter (about 5.9 inches) long–and then pulled it out and ran for about 12 kilometers (7.456 miles).

▼Gosunkugi, a man who just does not give a poop.

Prison (7)Via Renzu jigoku

If you’re wondering why he’s standing outside the prison gate, it seems that the escape artist calmed down later in life and became a model prisoner. He was even entrusted with cleaning the area outside of the gate. In his later years, he was eventually paroled and spent the rest of his life going around the country, sharing his stories.

However, Gosunkugi wasn’t the only escape artist to have spent time in Abashiri Prison! Below is a photo of the museum’s Yoshie Shiratori mannequin. While Gosunkugi was the king of prison escapes in the Meiji period, Shiratori held that crown during the Showa period (1926-1989).

Prison (11)Via Kyo no ichiyou

Shiratori was said to have superhuman strength and is alleged to have run 120 kilometers (74.6 miles) in one day, in addition to snapping apart his handcuffs…with his bare hands. In addition, it is said that he was able to dislocate his joints and could slide through an opening no bigger than the size of his head. We must admit that we’re a bit skeptical…but he did successfully escape from prison four times!

Once through the gate, visitors can enter the actual prison, a wooden structure with wings connected to a central hub. In the center of the hub is a guard house perfectly situated so that guards could look down any of the halls with a simple glance, creating a kind of panopticon.

▼ The guard house

Prison (5)Via Tabi ha michiture, yo ha nasake

▼One of the wings containing a long row of prison cells.

Prison (4)Via Iroiro shitai

Visitors can look in the cells as they walk down the halls. Some people have noted markings scratched into the wooden walls and graffiti left behind by prisoners. The building actually looks surprisingly beautiful, if you ask us. Well, for a prison anyway. It seems that some cells were designed to hold a single prisoner while other cells were meant for roommates. We’re not sure which would have been worse!

In addition to the famous escape artists, there are many other mannequins, such as the prison warden seen in the photo below. One of the appeals of the prison museum is the depiction of everyday prison scenes from when the prison was in operation.

▼ That mustache! So…magnificent!

Prison (12)Via Mi no mawari no fukei

▼ A prisoner at work making envelopes.

Prison (6)Via Tabi ha michiture, yo ha nasake

If the accommodations look a bit severe to you, well, you’re right. Apparently, the prisoners received logs for pillows! In the morning, guards would walk around and hit the logs to wake the inmates.

Prison (2)Via Wikimapia

Obviously, the prisoners also bathed together, as you can see in the photo below. We have to admit, that actually looks like a pretty nice bathhouse! And the tattooing on the inmates is a particularly nice touch, we thought.

Prison (9)
Via Retorona tatemono wo tazunete

▼ Signs on the outside of a cell designed for solitary punishment.

Prison (3)Via Puroguramingna nanika, ato jitensha nihon isshu toka

The prison museum even offers a “traditional prison meal,” though patrons have reportedly found the food surprisingly delicious. We’re somehow disappointed about that. It’s not that we want to eat bad food, but it just seems like you’d be missing out on the full experience!

Via Abashiri Prison Museum

If you’re interested in checking the museum out yourself, be sure to take a look at their webpage which has information on hours, ticket prices, and more stories about the prison!

This certainly looks like a great destination for those of you willing to venture off the beaten path–and the country side looks absolutely beautiful! But, after all of this, we can safely say: We don’t ever want to go to jail!

Sources: Naver Matome, Mi no mawari no fukei, Abashiri Prison Museum
Naver Matome