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Abashiri Prison Museum

Sandwiched between Mt. Tento and Lake Abashiri, Abashiri Prison Museum, often referred to in the past as “the prison in the farthest land”, is an outdoor museum made up of a number of buildings conserved from the original Abashiri Prison including the oldest wooden prison structure in the world. Replicas of inmates in the different prison buildings provide a fascinating, albeit dark, insight into what life in an isolated Hokkaido prison over 100 years ago was really like.

  • Abashiri Prison Museum

    Abashiri Prison Museum

    While Eastern Hokkaido may still be classed as “out in the sticks” these days, until the 20th century the region was almost completely inaccessible. The opening of Abashiri Prison in the 1890s saw over 1,000 criminals put in the prison and put to work building the Central Road, which to this day is one of the main connections between Abashiri and Hokkaido’s capital, Sapporo. While there is now a modernised version of Abashiri Prison in the city, the remaining buildings from the original prison were moved halfway up Mt. Tento where the museum was set up in 1985.

    Abashiri Prison Museum

    Abashiri Prison Museum

    With a 1,080-yen ticket giving visitors access to all of the museum grounds, you can spend a good couple of hours dipping in and out of the conserved and restored buildings where you’ll also find comprehensive English explanations of the history and the use of the rooms. The buildings include the star-shaped prison house as well as a vegetable storehouse, dining room, prison house, lecture hall, administration building, prison staff quarters, solitary chamber, and brickwork punishment chamber.

    Abashiri Prison Museum

    Abashiri Prison Museum

    The grounds are also home to replicas of the sleeping quarters constructed by inmates who were building the Central Road. Known as traveling prisons, these little huts were made up of just one room complete with an open toilet so they could be guarded at all times. Prisoners were provided with thin bedding even in winter and a few extra logs as a pillow.

    Abashiri Prison Museum

    Abashiri Prison Museum

    Before taking a look around the dining room, which is complete with wax models of the prisoners, pop into the vegetable storehouse where vegetables such as radish, cabbage, and cucumber were pickled. While the cold weather in Hokkaido meant there were very few fresh fruit and vegetables available, inmates were given a serving of pickled vegetables every day and the meals are rumored to have been surprisingly tasty. Anyone wondering what it consists of is invited to dine at the restaurant on the grounds which serves up typical meals eaten at the original Abashiri Prison.

    Abashiri Prison Museum

    Abashiri Prison Museum

    The Abashiri River which crosses in front of the prison offers the one entrance to the prison, however, inmates were allowed to raft out on the river - in the presence of a guard - where they would collect commodities that were shipped into the prison. Inmates also took buckets of manure away from the grounds to be sent off to farms in the region.

    Abashiri Prison Museum

    Abashiri Prison Museum

    Most probably one of the only occasions you’ll get to see tattooed Japanese men taking a bath, the bath house on the grounds is one of the more cheerful parts of the prison as one of the highlights to the inmates’ grueling routines. When the prison first opened, bathtime only happened on special occasions, at times just once a month, due to the large number of prisoners having to be separated into groups of 15 every time. However, on the rare occasions that inmates were allowed to take a bath it was a somewhat military affair with their total 15 minutes in the bath split up into timed activities - getting changed, soaking, and washing.

    Open from 8.30am to 6pm from May to September and from 9am to 5pm October to April, the museum offers free 50-minute guided tours, full group tours for a total of 1,020 yen for 10+ people, and guides in a powered cart for just 510 yen as well as full wheelchair accessibility.

    Abashiri Prison Museum
    Address
    Hokkaido Abashirishi Yobito 1-1
    Phone
    0152452411
    Abashiriko
    Address
    Hokkaido Abashiri
    Phone
    0152445849
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