One of the most popular and morbid urban legends is that of the existence of human pillars, people that were deliberately buried alive inside of construction sites. Spawning from Japan, this urban myth also known as hitobashira, has been around since ancient times and is based on the belief that a human sacrifice sealed inside of a building or other structure would make for a more durable and stable foundation after construction.
Working conditions on many Japanese building sites were known to be very poor and many men would perish from disease and exhaustion while on the job. These unfortunates would then be buried near the foundations to hide what had happened and to ensure the foundations would stand for decades to come. It has also been suggested that some laborers were terminated during construction of castles as a security measure so that the secrets of the building couldn’t get out to the public.
The story of Matsue Castle remains one of the most famous tales concerning this phenomenon. Built during the 17th century, the stone wall of the central tower would repeatedly fall after construction. So naturally, the builders were convinced that their only option was to sacrifice a human for the main pillar. They found a beautiful maiden dancing at the local Bon Festival – a festival of the dead– and tricked her into coming with them to seal her alive in the castle walls.
Legend says that her restless spirit haunts the castle and supposedly whenever a woman dances in the streets of Matsue, the walls of the castle will shake violently. Soon after, a law was passed prohibiting dancing in public places.
Creepy Urban Legend Involves Human Sacrifice
Another famous story surrounds Jomon Tunnel which has been rumored to have had many human sacrifices. The tunnel was constructed on the Sekihoku Main Line in 1914 and in 1968, a terrible earthquake damaged the inside wall revealing a number of skeletons sealed in the walls and standing upright. Many human bones were also unearthed near the tunnel and this solidified the beliefs of human pillars existing. To this day, many villagers avoid the tunnel for fear that its haunted by the many poor souls buried within.
The Matsue Ohashi bridge is another structure with a rumored human sacrifice and actually has a park nearby called Gensuke, named after the man who was buried alive to keep the bridge standing. Legend says that because of the treacherous current of the river, the pillars would sink every night and have to be rebuilt during the day. General Horio Yoshiharu, who first commissioned the bridge, decided that a sacrifice would need to be made to appease the angry river spirits that repeatedly flooded the structure. A homeless man, Gensuke, was picked off of the streets then buried alive in the riverbed near the middle pillar and after that, the bridge stood solidly for 300 years.
Many more structures are rumored to have human pillars including:
Nagahama Castle, Maroka Castle, Ozu Castle, Fukashima Bridge, Kintakiyou Bridge, Itsukashimi Shrine, Immagawa Irrigation Channel, and Manda Levee. There are possibly more buildings with human bodies in existence and not just overseas.
Japan is a nation that embraces superstition as well as some pretty terrifying urban legends. The ancient stories and traditions of this culture have lived on to modern times spawning some of the most terrifying books, films, and even party games that would send us westerners packing. Or just send us kicking and screaming into a hellish dimension of death and sorrow.