We’re not normally ones for speculation here at Tokyo Telephone… but we love a good urban legend! The imaginings of a highly-strung mind, or is there a wee kernel of truth in there?

A while ago, the majority of The Internet’s curiosity was piqued by this article from the Japan Times about Shun Akiba’s book outlining his theories relating to tunnels under Tokyo. His quest started from the find of an old Tokyo subway map that clearly showed two lines parallel to one another… however, on modern maps they are shown crossing each other. Why such a major difference? What followed was a major undertaking for Akiba; combing construction plans and attempting to talk to officials resulted no definitive answers. And that’s not the only thing on Akiba’s mind: his book also mention six other ‘riddles’ of Tokyo – from locked basement floors to mysterious tunnels that don’t officially exist.

If this all sounds a little too far far-fetched to you to be true, then you’re not alone! However, there is some fact in the fiction…

(Photo by Joe Nishizawa)

Underneath Tokyo is the G-Cans project (首都圏外郭放水路) – a vast infrastructure lurking under Saitama designed to redirect excess floodwater from under the city in case of heavy rains and typhoons. The structure is literally amazing; resembling something like an enormous ancient temple, the location has been used in adverts and as the setting for video games and other media. If exploring an underground mega-structure tickles your fancy, I’m told that guided tours are available in Japanese.

(The G Cans project – no tricks of the light, it’s really like that!)

Something for the future, perhaps: with the sprawling mass that is Tokyo almost completely built up to it’s limit, what do you do? Go underground! Alice City, a sub-surface town with manufacturing plants, offices and houses, has been proposed to be constructed under Tokyo itself. Whether or not this actually is ever developed – with ever-increasing land prices it’s looking more likely – it’s a step too far into Resident Evil for me! Ah, dystopian future, how quickly you arrived! (I might have to go &  read some Philip K Dick to get my fix of depressing sci-fi futurism… or just put a brew on)

Understandably, the semi-myth of hidden tunnels under Japan’s capital has also attracted some attention from the media. Pop culture references to the legend include, and are by no means limited to: Haruki Murakami’s novel ‘Hard-boiled Wonderland & the End of the World’; the film ‘Marebito’ (The Stranger – a turkey if ever there was!); the game ‘Breath of Fire 5: Dragon Quater’, and the film/manga ‘Kaiji: The Ultimate Gambler’. Can you think of any more?

Add to all this the huge subterranean shopping malls that are centred around major subway station such as Shinjuku and Osaka’s Namba, as well as friend-of-a-friend stories of stairwells to nowhere and locked doors, and you start to build a picture not only of how this myth has become common knowledge but also that there is also a factual element amongst the fiction.

In my personal opinion, I think there are probably some pre-existing WWII-era structures under Tokyo – it seems more prudent than anything to construct hideaways for major dignitaries. As to the subway lines,  I’m not so sure; waterways, earthquake fault lines and other underground features would have had to be taken into account, perhaps creating the need for non-linear lines (ahem), plus maintenance passageways, electrical and water pipes… Seeing as this is one urban legend that has produced considerable creative output, I think I’ll shy away from drawing any more specific conclusions.

So, who’s for a trip underground?

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5 Responses to Tokyo Tunnels; Urban Legend or Concealed Reality?

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by BlogLinkJapan, R & S. R & S said: Tokyo Tunnels; Urban Legend or Concealed Reality? http://bit.ly/cTqOMu […]

  2. brad-t says:

    I want to go down there with a toy sword and an iPod playing Final Fantasy OSTs.

  3. […] Kanba is confronted by Masako in Ikebukuro, and they enter the statue located in front of the department store there, they find themselves entering Tokyo’s abandoned tunnel system. I brought up Magical Realism earlier before, because this scene, while established to be occurring in the real life neighborhood of Ikebukuro replete with recognizable landmarks, also has in it the improbable penguinbombs and the sudden inclusion of that vast network of tunnels that is architecturally improbable. Former reporter Shun Akiba has written a book about his finds and claims that there is nearly 2,000 km of secret tunnels underneath Tokyo. That’s all very well and good, but it starts to merge with the fantastical when Mr. Akiba talks about secret codes hidden in decades old maps and government conspiracies to ridicule him and debunk his claims. He still has a cadre of believers, but the the Tokyo Tunnels nowadays have become something more like an urban legend. […]

  4. Urbex says:

    I’m now not positive the place you’re getting your info, however great topic. I needs to spend some time finding out much more or understanding more. Thank you for fantastic info I was in search of this info for my mission.

  5. […] Kanba is confronted by Masako in Ikebukuro, and they enter the statue located in front of the department store there, they find themselves entering Tokyo’s abandoned tunnel system. I brought up Magical Realism earlier before, because this scene, while established to be occurring in the real life neighborhood of Ikebukuro replete with recognizable landmarks, also has in it the improbable penguinbombs and the sudden inclusion of that vast network of tunnels that is architecturally improbable. Former reporter Shun Akiba has written a book about his finds and claims that there is nearly 2,000 km of secret tunnels underneath Tokyo. That’s all very well and good, but it starts to merge with the fantastical when Mr. Akiba talks about secret codes hidden in decades old maps and government conspiracies to ridicule him and debunk his claims. He still has a cadre of believers, but the the Tokyo Tunnels nowadays have become something more like an urban legend. […]

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