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Abashiri Prison

Coordinates: 44°0′59.7″N 144°13′51.8″E / 44.016583°N 144.231056°E / 44.016583; 144.231056
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Abashiri Prison
LocationAbashiri, Hokkaido Prefecture, Japan
Coordinates44°0′59.7″N 144°13′51.8″E / 44.016583°N 144.231056°E / 44.016583; 144.231056
Managed byMinistry of Justice

Abashiri Prison (Japanese: 網走刑務所, Hepburn: Abashiri Keimusho) is a prison in Abashiri, Hokkaido Prefecture that opened in 1890. The northernmost prison in Japan, it is located near the Abashiri River and east of Mount Tento. It holds inmates with sentences of less than ten years.[1] Older parts of the prison were relocated to the base of Mount Tento in 1983, where they operate as the country's only prison museum.


In part to increase Japanese populations on the island as part of the Meiji Restoration, the Meiji government implemented penal transportation policies for Hokkaido in 1868.[2] In April 1890, the Meiji government sent over a thousand political prisoners to the isolated Abashiri village. Many of these political prisoners were samurai from Tokugawa period who were convicted during the 1877 Satsuma rebellion.[3]

Prisoners were forced to perform a variety of tasks from carpentry to agriculture.[2] Notably, poor water quality in neighboring areas forced convicts to build water pipes, dams, and reservoirs to supply their own drinking water and irrigate neighboring fields.[4] In addition, convicts at Abashiri Prison were forced to build roads linking the area to the more populous south.[5] Construction of Hokkaido's Central Road relied on penal labor from Hokkaido. Many prisoners died along one section of the road between Abashiri village and Asahikawa, causing it to be referred to as Prisoner's Road.[6] Initial conditions were extremely harsh, with insufficient food and rest, and over 200 prisoners died as a result of malnutrition, accidents, and as punishment for attempting to escape.[6][7]

The political advisor Kaneko Kentaro had previously submitted a report implying that the government was not responsible for providing funerary services to convicts who perished during the process of road building.[6] During the 1960s, Hokkaido residents were influenced by a nationwide effort to uncover history and began excavating prisoner remains along Prisoner's Road.[6]

Abashiri prison was constructed amid the globalization and standardization of penal theory.[8] The built environment facilitated discipline and surveillance, which was emphasized by the panopticon layout of the building.[4]

Abashiri Prison later became known for being a self-sufficient farming prison, and was cited as a model for others throughout Japan.[5][9]

Most of the prison burned down in a 1909 fire, but it was reconstructed in 1912.[9] Previously known as Abashiri Kangoku (網走監獄), it took on its current name in 1922. In 1984, the prison moved to a modern reinforced concrete complex.[5]

Due to the 1965 film Abashiri Prison and its sequels, the prison became a popular tourist attraction.[5] The prison is also known for its wooden nipopo (ニポポ) dolls carved by its inmates.[10]

Abashiri Prison in June 2010.


The inside of the original prison house, one of the Important Cultural Properties at the Abashiri Prison Museum, 2013
Inside the prison museum, 2022

In 1983, older parts of the prison were relocated to the base of Mount Tento and operate as a museum called the Abashiri Prison Museum (博物館網走監獄). It is the only prison museum in the country.[5] As of 2016, eight of the buildings preserved at the museum are designated Important Cultural Property by the Agency for Cultural Affairs,[9][10] while three are registered Tangible Cultural Property. Those who visit the prison partake in dark tourism, tourism centered around areas significant because of death and suffering that occurred in those areas.

Notable inmates[edit]

In fiction[edit]

The 1965 film Abashiri Prison spawned a popular series of yakuza films featuring the prison.

In the 1984 video game Hokkaido Rensa Satsujin: Ohotsuku ni Kiyu, you play as a detective trying to solve a murder that leads you to Hokkaido, where Nipopo dolls made by the Abashiri Prison inmates play a big role in the story.

In the 2012 video game Yakuza 5, one of the protagonists, Taiga Saejima, is incarcerated at and escapes from Abashiri Prison.

In "Mako Tanida", a 2014 episode of the television series The Blacklist, the episode's titular yakuza boss escapes from Abashiri Prison.

The 2014 manga series Golden Kamuy, set shortly after the Russo-Japanese War, features a raid on Abashiri Prison as one of its major plot points.

In the 2020 novel The Lost Future of Pepperharrow by Natasha Pulley, set in 1888 Japan, Abashiri Prison is one of the main plot locations.


  1. ^ "Inmates in Hokkaido raise beef cattle to learn about value of life". The Japan Times. 2015-06-23. Retrieved 2018-03-07.
  2. ^ a b Sakata, Minako (August 2018). "The Transformation of Hokkaido from Penal Colony to Homeland Territory". International Review of Social History. 63 (S26): 109–130. doi:10.1017/S002085901800024X. hdl:2381/42211. ISSN 0020-8590.
  3. ^ Volger, Pia (December 2005). "Blurring the boundaries: prisons and settler society in Hokkaido" (PDF). Cultures of confinement: a global history of the prison. Retrieved 3 March 2023.
  4. ^ a b Song, Lei (2022-07-04). "Panoptic apparatus: a study of the Japanese-built prisons in colonial Taiwan (1895–1945)". Journal of Asian Architecture and Building Engineering. 21 (4): 1244–1261. doi:10.1080/13467581.2021.1941984. ISSN 1346-7581.
  5. ^ a b c d e Kosaka, Kris (2013-03-24). "Abashiri astounds with its ice and convict connections". The Japan Times. Retrieved 2018-03-07.
  6. ^ a b c d "From "Convict" to "Victim": Commemorating Laborers on Hokkaido's Central Road". The Asia-Pacific Journal: Japan Focus. Retrieved 2023-03-03.
  7. ^ "Abashiri Prison Museum | Japan Experience". www.japan-experience.com. Retrieved 2023-03-03.
  8. ^ "Convict Labor and Its Commemoration: the Mitsui Miike Coal Mine Experience¹". The Asia-Pacific Journal: Japan Focus. Retrieved 2023-03-03.
  9. ^ a b c "道内の文化財を訪ねて 旧網走監獄 静かに光差す舎房 /北海道" (in Japanese). Mainichi Shimbun. 2016-06-12. Archived from the original on 2018-03-08. Retrieved 2018-03-07.
  10. ^ a b "国の重要文化財指定へ!事務局長に聞く「博物館網走監獄」の楽しみ方" (in Japanese). Hokkaido Relations, Inc. 2015-12-29. Retrieved 2018-03-07.
  11. ^ Schreiber, Mark (2018-05-05). "News outlets quick to fall in love with prison break coverage". The Japan Times. Retrieved 2020-10-13.
  12. ^ Mitchell, Richard H. (1992). Janus-Faced Justice: Political Criminals in Imperial Japan. University of Hawaii Press. p. 93. ISBN 9780824814106. Retrieved 2020-10-13.
  13. ^ a b Ishikawa, Machiko. "Writing the Sense of Loss in the Inner Self: A Narrative of Nakagami Kenji and Nagayama Norioin Late 1960s Tokyo" (PDF). Australian National University. p. 5. Retrieved 2020-10-13.
  14. ^ Simonović, B. (2016-04-26). "Pol i Hiroši, braća po ocu Ličaninu" (in Bosnian). Vesti. Retrieved 2020-10-13.

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