Complete with advice from a local side character, this off-the-beaten path adventure is wild and frightening at the same time. 

Tunnels have long captivated artists, writers and travellers, with Japanese novelist Yasunari Kawabata (1899-1972) once describing them as “roads to other worlds“.

In Japan, you can find a wide variety of tunnels, and some of the most awe-inspiring are the secret hand-dug ones hidden along forest trails, lying quietly in wait to swallow up those who discover them. Over in the district of Oshibi, in Mobara City in Tokyo’s neighbouring Chiba Prefecture, you can find not one but three such tunnels, and they’re known collectively as Oshibi Subori Zuido Gun (“Oshibi Hand-dug Tunnel Group“).

▼ The three tunnels are known as Tanukidani (坊谷), Hanatate (花立), and Hosoda (細田)

Hand-dug tunnels are passages excavated without timbering, giving them immense character and mystique. The journey to get to them is often an adventure in itself, and when our reporter Mr Sato headed out to explore the area, he encountered a kind old man along the forest trail who helped to guide him towards his destination like a character in a quest, saying:

“If you go to the right, there’s a bright tunnel. If you go to the left, there’s a dark tunnel. It’s so dark that everyone gets scared and nobody wants to go through it.”

This message filled Mr Sato with a mixture of fear and excitement, and after they parted ways, he quickly snapped the photo above of the old man walking away, just to prove he hadn’t dreamt him up. As it turns out, this would be his last contact with another human along the trail, because from that moment on it was just Mr Sato and the trees.

The swish of the bamboo leaves reminded him of the rural countryside in Shimane where he grew up, and as he walked along the trail, he stopped to admire the flowers along the way.

▼ One person’s weed is another person’s wildflower.

It wasn’t long before Mr Sato came to a fork in the road, and this is where he recalled the sage words of the wise old local: “Bright tunnel on the right, dark tunnel on the left”.

According to Mr Sato’s map, that meant Tanukidani Tunnel was the bright one, and Hanadate Tunnel was the scary one.

Mr Sato is no fool so he turned right and walked to the less scary tunnel first. As he walked along, he found a weathered old sign that looked like something you’d see in a horror film, and though he couldn’t entirely make out what it was, it looked to be a caution for falling rocks.

Rounding the corner, he was able to finally lay eyes on the tunnel, and it drew him in with its mysterious aura. Though it looked dark beneath the bamboo forest that shielded the sun’s rays from above, the curved entrance looked strangely inviting.

▼ The name, “Tanukidani” (“Raccoon Dog Valley”) also conjures up sweet images of animals using this as their secret thoroughfare.

Heart pounding with excitement, Mr Sato stood at the entrance and found that the old man’s words were true — this was a bright tunnel, angled in such a way that the light could stretch through to the other side.

Many of the tunnels in this area were dug by farmers during the Meiji era (1868-1912) to help them access their fields, so they tend to be quite narrow, and this one is no exception. Stepping inside the tunnel, Mr Sato stopped to admire the handiwork, and could hear nothing but the sound of his footsteps…and his heart beating inside his chest.

Both sounds grew louder as he walked further into the tunnel, and at its darkest point, he was met by an overhead light to help soothe his nerves and extinguish the shadows.

▼ This light would make the tunnel look particularly eerie at night.

The ground appeared to show tyre tracks, which surprised Mr Sato, as he thought it would be a tight squeeze for a car.

When he came to the end of the tunnel, he blinked at the daylight and breathed in the sweet forest air on the other side. Then he switched his camera over to video and headed back for one last walk through Racoon Dog Valley.

▼ Experience the walk-through below.

Emboldened by the charms of the first tunnel, Mr Sato headed back along the trail to the darker Hanadate Tunnel. This journey was wilder than his previous one, with fallen bamboo crossing his path.

The path was so wild he wasn’t sure whether it was really okay to venture any further. However, after looking left and right for any possible trolls or monsters that might stop him on his quest, he continued along the path, with his footsteps cutting through the quiet stillness as they crunched on the fallen leaves.

The scene was so otherworldly that he decided to stop and capture his reaction with a selfie.

▼ Why would people want to crowd around the Mt Fuji Lawson when they can take photos in a place like this?

Walking beneath the fallen bamboo, Mr Sato saw that yet again, the wise local’s words rang true — with only a faint glimmer of light at the other side, this tunnel was almost completely dark.

Stepping gingerly into the darkness, Mr Sato gulped and immediately whipped out his phone to record the journey. As you can see in the video below, the tunnel was pitch black, and the light at the end seemed to remain far off in the distance for an unusually long amount of time.

Despite only being around 50 metres long and around a minute’s walk from one end to the other, the journey through the tunnel felt far longer. Walking in pitch black darkness was truly scary and he wondered what might happen to him if he tripped and injured himself inside.

Mr Sato felt like giving himself a pat on the back for continuing to walk calmly through the tunnel instead of screaming and running through the darkness, which is what his inner child wanted to do. However, now he had to go back through the tunnel again, although this time, walking from east to west, he thought the tunnel might be slightly brighter.

As it turns out, it might have been slightly brighter, but it was no less scary, with the light hitting the walls in an eerie way, casting shadows that made Mr Sato’s imagination run wild.

Feeling like Indiana Jones, Mr Sato was now ready to conquer the third and final tunnel, Hosoda, which was a 10-minute walk away.

▼ The journey to this tunnel ends at a shrine on a hill.

▼ The entrance lies next to the shrine’s torii gate.

The passage was surprisingly tall and seemingly long, with just a glimmer of light at the other end.

Mr Sato was relieved when he stepped inside and found it was lighter than the previous tunnel. Looking at the walls, he was able to see a lot of red markings, suggesting some repair work was planned to help preserve it into the future.

▼ This tunnel seemed longer than the others, with a fun curve in the middle.

Coming out the other side, Mr Sato was relieved to see blue skies and a cluster of buildings, giving him a sense of safety and civilisation.

He began to wonder what it would be like to live in an area like this, where you could enjoy the tunnel trail on a daily basis. Looking at the local map revealed there were a number of other tunnels in the vicinity as well, which would make life here a fun adventure any day of the week.

After exploring the three-tunnel trail, Mr Sato felt invigorated and rejuvenated, and made a vow to keep venturing off the beaten path for more hidden gems in future. With Japan being home to tunnels both cursed and haunted, there are plenty of secret sites to be found!

Images © SoraNews24
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