It was once called a “paradise above the clouds.”
The makeshift town was built to house the working population of the Matsuo sulfur mines. The concrete apartment complex sheltered over 15,000 people and was considered luxurious at the time for its central heating, flushing toilets, and garbage chutes. It had schools, a hospital and a movie theater, everything a functional town might have. The “clouds” referred to the opaque fog that often surrounds the town, rendering it barely visible.
Following the end of World War II, Japan had a rapid economic boom which was accompanied by serious environmental issues, including the outbreak of Yokkaichi asthma. It was caused by the emission of sulfur dioxide, so the Japanese government mandated petroleum refineries to install desulfurization equipment, resulting in the vitalization of sulfur production. Thus, the mining of sulfur eventually went out of demand.
The Matsuo mine ceased operations in 1969, leaving the town with no residents or purpose. The eleven buildings have since been left to decay, giving the town the ambience of a post-apocalyptic setting over which emptiness reigns. The commonplace objects in the apartments and school communicate a rapid departure and an eerie sense of normalcy in this ghost town. The town is isolated both by mountains, which make travel difficult, and by the fog, which makes visibility almost impossible. The mines, which once clamored with people and machinery, now sit in hushed silence, at odds with the physical presence they command.
Know Before You Go
From Tokyo, seven hours by car. Tohoku Express Way, Hachimentai Exit then follow the Matsuo signs. By train follow: Tokyo – JR Shinkansen Hayate 25 (2.5hrs) Morioka – IGR Iwate Ginga Tetsudo (50min) Kitamori – walk to Matsuo Hachimantai, Iwate (15min) to Matsuo