Sado was considered an island of exile for centuries. From the 6th century until the dawn of medieval Japan, many noble and intellectuals who dared upset the ruling elite were cast away to this remote island. One such figure was Hozumi Asomioyu, a poet who criticized the imperial family. Another was Emperor Juntoku, the 84th emperor of Japan who was sent into exile on Sado around 1221.
It almost seems fitting that one of the hidden gems of this wild island is an old prison.
The Aikawa Prison (sometimes known as Aikawa Detention House) opened in 1954 and was utilized until it was abandoned in 1972. Concealed behind a nearly 10-foot (3 meter) high ivy covered wall and an iron fence, the prison’s buildings were constructed from wood. It’s one of the few remaining completely wooden structures left in Japan, as many were replaced over the years or destroyed during World War II.
Despite its sad history, the prison does project a sense of beauty that almost appears ethereal. Many of the cells have large windows with carefully fitted wood trimmings. During the spring, summer, and autumn months, a thick layer of ivy covers the walls. The scene brings to mind images from Frances Hodgson Burnett’s book, The Secret Garden.
The prison is open to the public, so anyone can take a look around this place of beauty and sorrow.
Know Before You Go
The prison is a 50-minute drive from Ryotsu Port and is not far from the more famous Ginzan mines.