My friend and I were on a regular night walk the other day after dinner. It was only around 7 p.m., but due to daylight saving the campus was already dark and each passerby’s face hardly visible. As we were passing by the Viterbi area, one of my favorite places on campus and one covered with many trees, I brought up the question on whether she knew any ghost stories.
At first she said she didn’t, that she never had a ghostly encounter in her life. When I assured her that it didn’t have to be a personal experience and asked her again, she said, “Hold on,” thought about it for a moment, and began to recount.
“So I heard this story from one of my Korean friends. This is how the story goes. There was this tunnel in Japan—Shit, I forget the name, but anyway, it was a haunted tunnel. Apparently this tunnel is one of the three—oh fuck, I can’t remember—but it’s one of the most haunted places in Japan. So one day, this man was driving his car through this tunnel. And he heard a screeching sound [while driving] halfway through. Freaking out, he speeded up and tried to exit the tunnel as fast as he could. But then he started hearing this bustling sound outside of the tunnel, although he was pretty damn sure that he was the only one inside the tunnel. But no matter how fast he drove—he drove at like 100 km/hour—the tunnel was, like, never-ending. I mean, he could see this beam of light at the end of the tunnel but no matter how much he drove, he just couldn’t get past the damn tunnel.”
“Then suddenly, he saw this man pass by his car in a glimpse of a second. He doesn’t remember what the man exactly looked like, but the guy was wearing some kind of traditional clothes—it wasn’t—shit, what was the traditional Japanese clothes called again?” “Kimono.” “Right! It wasn’t kimono, but more like the Korean traditional clothes—what are they called?” “Hanbok.” “Yeah, that. So after seeing this creepy ghost, the man freaked out and stepped on the accelerator pedal as hard as he could. But you got to realize that this was a tunnel, built a long time ago and very dim aside from the flashing light at the end. The more he accelerated, the faster the ghost chased after his car, until bam!” She paused, holding her hands out, “The ghost caught up with the car, appeared in front of the mirror and completely covered the front view. The man then turned his handle to the left to get rid of the ghost, but he crashed into the cement wall and died instantly.”
“So it turns out that this tunnel was built a long time ago by Korean laborers who were forced by the Japanese to do labor during the Japanese occupation of Korea. Many, many Koreans died while doing the labor, and so the ghosts spotted in this tunnel are wearing hanbok to show their Korean heritage, I guess. Because there were so many cases of ghost appearances, the Japanese government then decided to shut down the tunnel.”
After my friend finished storytelling, I asked her what she thought about the ghost story. She said that the idea of haunted tunnel was not too original and that she had heard stories of other haunted tunnels and places before. Nonetheless, she was amazed by the past injustices revealed by the ghost story. Thus to my friend, the ghost story had more than just high entertainment value; it was an alternative perspective to and retelling of history, which ever so often glorifies accomplishments of the victorious and covers up the past injustices and wrongs committed to achieve that level of success.
Upon research, I found that the tunnel is called the Inunaki Tunnel and is situated in Fukuoka, Japan. According to Korean sources, this tunnel is one of the three most widely known haunted sites in Japan (Hwan). During the Japanese occupation of Korea, the Japanese forced Korean laborers to build the 433m-long tunnel, and during the construction many Korean laborers died while mining (Hwan). Rumors say that instead of giving the laborers proper burial, the Japanese simply interred the bodies in the cement walls of the tunnel (Hwan). Since its completion in 1926, the tunnel has been notorious for ghostly appearances of Korean laborers, screeching and wailing as if to express the ineffable grief of forced labor and separation from the family. Due to the many ghostly appearances, the Japanese shut down the tunnel in 1994 and trespassing is strictly prohibited today; yet written on the tunnel walls are messages such as “I want to go home [Korea]” and “I miss my wife and children” in Korean (Hwan).
East Asian ghost stories in particular seem to put much emphasis on the motif of grudge. South Korea has a poignant history of being conquered and brutally persecuted by its neighboring countries including Japan, and therefore it is no wonder that considering the improper burial and forced separation from family, they bore grudge upon death that could not be alleviated and made them return to the living world to haunt the living. Thus regardless of its truth value, this story reveals the history unique to South Korea.
Other motifs seem to be shared across cultural borders. The motif of an unappeased soul due to improper burial or infringement of the burial ground, for example, shows up in just about every culture. American college ghost stories on Native Americans, for example, are intended to reveal the disruption of sacred burial grounds for Native Americans and the callousness of Americans who excavated or built college campuses on the graveyards. In addition, “The Haunted Tunnel” resembles the famous Hispanic ghost story, “La Llorona,” in which the protagonist mother wails and mourns her children’s death. Both stories use crying and wailing as a symbol of the ineffable pain of both individual and social tragedies.
Hwan, Patrick. “Inunaki Tunnel: One of Three Most Haunted Spots in Japan.” Chung Myung
Hwan’s Note. N.p., 9 May 2013. Web. 12 Nov. 2013. <http://patrick8321.blog.me/50171063177>.