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5 Places In Japan You Are Not Allowed To Visit (And How to Still Enjoy Them)

With so many wonderful places to visit in Japan, the fact that there are a few that do not allow visitors is hardly an issue for tourists or even locals. And yet for many, the abundance of accessible possibilities does nothing to quench the allure of the forbidden.

Of course, attempting to actually access the truly forbidden will only result in undesirable consequences. But some of Japan’s “forbidden” places can still be partially accessed, and there are many opportunities to learn about them outside of being in the forbidden area.

So here are five places in Japan that prohibit visitors for one reason or another, and how you can still enjoy them.

1. Daisen-ryo Kofun (Tomb of Emperor Nintoku)

Photo: Sakai City GovernmentThe tombs are completely off-limits, but there are viewing platforms.

The tomb of Emperor Nintoku is one of the Mozu Tombs, a UNESCO World Heritage Site located in Sakai, Osaka. It is the largest tomb by area in the world, so it seems like an excellent day trip from the city. Yet many visitors find their visit disappointing. No one is allowed to enter the tomb complex, which is surrounded by a moat surrounded by a gate. The fact is that no one has been to the inner moat since 1872, and the main part of the tomb has supposedly not been accessed in about 1,000 years. So we cannot know for certain that this tomb is in fact the final resting place of this legendary 4th-century emperor.

Despite all this secrecy, the tomb can still be turned into an enjoyable trip. There is a 2.8-kilometer path that encircles the tomb complex, making for a peaceful walk that takes about an hour. Much of the path is surrounded by lush greenery, and signs provide visitors with information about the tombs, their history, and ancient Japanese burial practices. There is also a beautiful Japanese garden at Daisen Park across the street from the tomb and a small museum and gift shop by the tomb’s main viewpoint.

1079-1 Daisencho, Sakai Ward, Sakai, Osaka – Map

2. Okinoshima

Photo: Pixta/ grandspyNo girls allowed.

Another of Japan’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites is the Sacred Island of Okinoshima, which sounds like a wonderful place to visit until you find out virtually everyone is prohibited from setting foot on the island. Okinoshima, which is about 60 kilometers off the coast of Fukuoka, is home to the most important of the Munakata Shrines, and the entire island is considered a kami, or Shinto god. Women are not allowed on the island at all, and the only men allowed are around two dozen Shinto priests who take turns staying on the island in 10-day intervals as its lone inhabitant and protector.

However, Okinoshima is part of a larger site that includes two more shrines that are open to the public. Nakatsu Shrine is on Oshima Island just off the coast of Kyushu, and Hetsu Shrine is located in Munakata City on mainland Kyushu. On the grounds of Hetsu Shrine is the Shinpokan Museum, which houses thousands of ancient artifacts found on Okinoshima. Additionally, you can catch a glimpse of the forbidden island from Oshima and the coast of Kyushu when visibility is good.

Oshima, Munakata, Fukuoka – Map

3. Main Sanctuary of Ise Grand Shrine

Photo: Wikicommons/ Jean Pierre DalbéraThe only view you are getting.

Most of Ise Grand Shrine is open to visitors, and every year millions of people come to see Japan’s most sacred Shinto shrine. However, one part is strictly guarded from the public. The shrine’s main sanctuary enshrines Amaterasu, the sun goddess and the most important deity in Shinto. It also houses the Sacred Mirror of the Emperor, one of three legendary imperial regalia handed down to Japan’s first emperor by Amaterasu. Only a select few priests and members of the imperial family are ever allowed inside. Multiple fences surround this main hall, and visitors are only allowed inside the outermost of them. From here, only part of the main buildings can be seen, and even then photography is not allowed.

But the Grand Shrine, even the spot right outside the main sanctuary, is still worth visiting. The lesser shrine buildings are exact replicas of the main sanctuary on a smaller scale, giving visitors a good idea of what the main building looks like. Plus, there is plenty more of the shrine to explore. The 2000-year-old architectural design is beautiful, and the peaceful forest setting feels like a testament to the shrine’s sacredness.

1 Ujitachicho, Ise, Mie – Map

Hours: 5 a.m. to 6 p.m.

4. Fukushima Exclusion Zone

Wild animals took over the area soon after the evacuation.

I hardly need to describe the 2011 disaster that occurred when a 9.0 magnitude earthquake caused a tsunami of up to 40.5 meters to hit the coast of Fukushima, instigating a nuclear meltdown and devastating the area. After the disaster, the government declared a 20-kilometer radius exclusion zone around the Daiichi Nuclear Plant, and residents from 11 districts around the plant were told to evacuate. Even today, there is a 30-kilometer-wide difficult-to-return zone that visitors are prohibited from entering.

Today, circumstances are improving rapidly and the exclusion zone is now a small part of the coastal area. The final evacuation orders were lifted, local train lines have reopened and there are now organized tours that visitors can take to view the exclusion zone and nuclear plant. Visitors can learn about the disaster and decontamination efforts while being exposed to less radiation than a flight from Tokyo to New York. Though it’s not possible to enter the difficult-to-return zone without proper authorization, you can access formerly forbidden territory and support Fukushima’s revitalization efforts and tourism sector.

Okuma, Futaba, Fukushima – Map

5. Iwo Jima

Photo: iStock/ jriedyMount Suribachi on Iwo Jima.

Now officially romanized as “Ioto,” this island is most famous for the WWII battle of the same name that took place on its soil.  The island is volcanic and emits sulfurous gasses, and its name even means “Sulfur Island.” It is part of the Ogasawara Archipelago that lies in the middle of the Pacific, 1200 kilometers south of Tokyo.

Before WWII, the island was inhabited by about 1,000 Japanese people and used by the Japanese navy. Before the battle, all civilians were evacuated to Honshu, and after the war, Americans occupied the island until it was returned to Japan in 1968.

Today, it is only possible for civilians to visit through a small number of (expensive) tour operators or family attending memorial services for U.S. and Japanese fallen soldiers. It is currently garrisoned by the Japan Air Self-Defense Force and has no permanent inhabitants.

Iojima, Ogasawara, Tokyo – Map

What other forbidden places have you come across in Japan? Was it worth the trip? Let us know in the comments!

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