Since we’re all stuck at home due to COVID-19 and not really able to explore, I thought I would take you on a virtual tour to one of the creepiest places I’ve been to in Japan: the abandoned Okutama Lake Ropeway in west Tokyo.
I actually made this first haikyo (廃虚, ruins) exploring trip in the autumn of 2017, so it’s been a couple of years. As such, I’m not sure what state of disrepair the ropeway is in now, or if it has been completely barred off. (I doubt it). Still, blogging about the experience has been on the backburner for a while, so I thought I would take this period of isolation to cross it off the list.
So here we go.
Brief history of the Okutama Ropeway
The Okutama Lake Ropeway (奥多摩湖ロープウェイ) was completed in October 1961 to take passengers on a 621-metre journey across the lake. On the north bank sat Kawano Station (川野駅) while Mitosanguchi Station (三頭山口駅) sat on the south, with a mere 0.65 metres difference in elevation between them.
With Japan’s economic growth on the upswing ahead of the Tokyo Olympics (oh boy, sounds familiar but I’m referring to the 1964 one, not the upcoming one in
2020 2021), the ropeway’s operators probably banked on having plenty of passengers. Unfortunately, things didn’t go quite as planned, as alternative access across the lake was made possible by newly-constructed bridges, rendering the ropeway redundant.
The operators eventually decided to temporarily shut the ropeway in December 1966 over winter, but needless to say, they never ended up restarting it. And so, the ropeway has sat abandoned and rusting away to this day, earning its rightful title of haikyo.
Getting to Okutama
You can reach Okutama Station from central Tokyo via Shinjuku Station. The journey takes roughly two hours, with one or two transfers along the way.
Visiting Okutama in November, I was also able to enjoy two famous things the area is known for: fall colours (紅葉) and drying persimmons hung out in the streets by locals.
I took in the views and basked in the inaka feel of the town, a breath of fresh air from the bustling Tokyo city life, as I made my way towards a bus stop. This infrequently running bus would take me a stop within walking distance from Mitosanguchi, one of the abandoned stations of the Okutama ropeway.
The haikyo of Okutama Lake Ropeway
All right, let’s get to the juicy part of this post. After the bus dropped me off on a main road, I found the inconspicuous set of stone steps that would lead to Mitosanguchi ropeway station. Climbing up the steps covered with moss and leaves, I saw the crumbling relic of the ropeway station in front of me. There was a lot of broken glass around; no doubt the windows had shattered over decades of abandonment.
Besides the occasional sound of cars passing by in the road below, it was dead silent. There was a couple also exploring the site when I cautiously entered, but they left soon after. So I had the whole place to myself for a while, which made it deliciously creepy.
As I rounded off the steps onto a soft bed of leaves, the Mitosanguchi ropeway station towered in front of me, its shattered windows resembling tear-filled eyes.
I cautiously made my way to the entrance to the rundown building, which had its doors blown wide open in a welcoming embrace. The trees swayed gently in the wind.
Stepping inside, I saw the place was in shambles, as to be expected from over 60 years of desolation. Broken glass and timber lay everywhere, and the walls had most definitely seen better days. Surprisingly for Japan, there were even spots of graffiti.
To the right was the public bathroom. Or what used to be the public bathroom. The three tiny urinals were smashed, and the toilet stalls featuring squatters no longer offered much privacy.
Walking through the dark building, I found the main attraction, the ropeway car itself, sitting outside. Silent and rusted as it watched over Okutama Lake, it was almost poetic in its melancholy.
The retro-style ropeway car from a bygone era was captivating, and I spent a while taking photos and videos from various angles. During its operation, it had a capacity of 36 people.
Turning around, I spied a sign indicating the station name “Mitosanguchi” in hiragana and romaji. The destination station, Kawano, was also written below.
What about Kawano Station?
I did walk over to the other side of the lake in an attempt to access Kawano Station on the north bank, but unfortunately it appeared to be sealed off. A lady on the street level waved me away disapprovingly when I asked if it was still possible to go up there. I have read reports from others that she often stops people from accessing the station.
Some avid haikyoists have managed to slip past her and get up to Kawano Station too, so you can definitely find photos of it by Googling if interested. The station sits behind a deteriorated tennis court with high fences, but apparently there is a shortcut through the woods.
Even in broad daylight the Okutama Ropeway haikyo was pretty creepy, but as with all things from a time forgotten, there was also a certain poignance to it. It was eerie enough to be a full-fledged haikyo, but not so hardcore it was illegal or dangerous.
The fact that it was my first time and I was alone made me hesitant to do the more risky stuff (such as walking through a forest), so I wasn’t able to get some of the thrilling shots I’d seen on blogs from previous explorers.
But I am definitely eager to explore more haikyo around Japan — hopefully next time with company so I can be more adventurous — once these soft lockdowns and stay-at-home requests are lifted!