Seiji is looking for a piece of Ainu legend in Hokkaido.
Pippu is a rural town in the middle Hokkaido, Japan’s northernmost prefecture. With only about 4,000 residents, most travelers pass through Pippu directly to the nearby city of Asahikawa, which has more tourist attractions.
But on his recent trips north, our Japanese-language reporter Seiji Nakazawa heard about a rather intriguing place in Pippu: a cave said to be the entrance to hell.
Seiji heard about the place from his friend Kinoshita-san, who lives in Pippu…and Kinoshita-san heard about it from other people in town. Kinoshita-san had never actually seen the cave, however, nor the person who had told her about it. Seiji begins to wonder if the very existence of the cave is an urban legend, but since he never shies away from the supernatural in pursuit of his professional duties, they got into Kinoshita-san’s car and searched for it.
Dark clouds began to gather as they drove. The only clue they have to go on is that the cave is supposedly located somewhere in the Minami Ichi-sen section of Pippu, and it’s at the base of Mt. Otokoyama.
Sitting in the passenger seat, Seiji silently cemented his resolve, mentally preparing himself to walk through the dense and dark forest to find the cave. So imagine his surprise when it turned out there is a roadside sign for the place.
Furthermore, the cave entrance is visible from the street, provided you know where to look, as indicated by the arrow we added to the image below.
▼ Stand by the river here, face north, then look to your left…
▼ …and here it is, the entrance to hell!
▼ The location of the cave on Google Maps
Officially, the cave network that begins here is called Ahun Ru Paro Caves. If you think that sounds different than most other place names in Japan, it’s because the name of the caves, and the legend surrounding them, comes from the native Hokkaido. Ainu culture.
The Ainu language has no written form, so the legend is passed down through oral tradition. According to the story of Ahun Ru Paro, a long time ago a pair of old villagers got lost inside the caves, and barely made it out alive. Scary, one of them spoke later “I want to go back to the caves again,” while the other, more sober, disagreed, saying “I don’t want to go back there.” Shortly thereafter, the one who had expressed a long-lasting love for the caves died, while the other lived for many years.
▼ The entrance to the cave
Today, the entrance to the cave is partially fenced off. like maybe you can crawl under the barrier, but it’s a pretty clear “Do not enter” warning, and Seiji decides to obey it.
He must admit that, if you don’t know the legend behind it, it’s not the most dynamic or intimidating place. Out of curiosity, he decided to go around the back of the mountain, to see if this supposed portal to the underworld was just a tunnel leading out somewhere else..
But when you go to the other side of the mountain, it’s a solid stone wall, so if the cave leads somewhere, it must lead down.