International media loves to portray Japan as weird and wacky, and sometimes the label fits. That is certainly the case when it comes to these four “alternative” museums in Shizuoka’s Atami, Izu and Ito cities. If you love the strange, the sexual and the uncanny, then consider this a meguri — a tour or pilgrimage — of intriguing museums. If, on the other hand, the creepy and the curious make your skin crawl, then be glad that we went so you don’t have to. 

1. Atami Castle

Built in 1959, Atami Castle is best described as a castle-shaped multilevel amusement park. Riddled with Showa-style kitsch and charm, an exploration of the facility’s many floors — each one with its own theme — is a good way to ease into Shizuoka’s wild world of weird museums. Starting on the first floor, you’ll find a samurai museum with an anticlimactic “katana experience” that involves sticking your hands into a plastic box and holding the sword inside. The free-to-use massage chairs and the outdoor jet-powered footbath are an odd but appreciated addition after exploring the whole venue from top to bottom. 

The second floor boasts elaborate reconstructions of Japanese castles using matchsticks, while level three displays an intriguing collection of erotic shunga art. (Maybe don’t bring the kids to this one.) Edo-themed quizzes (in Japanese), costume experiences and historic photo sets cover the fourth and fifth floors. 

The sixth floor, though, is this towering venue’s crowning jewel. It offers unbeatable views overlooking Atami and Sagami Bay. This view alone is well worth the entry fee and it’s a popular spot to check out fireworks festivals in summer and the cherry blossoms in spring.

If you have the time and inclination, head down to the basement floor to check out the free arcade center, where retro games mingle with ping pong tables and even a ball pit. 


2. Izu Gokurakuen

Ever wanted to know what happens after you die? Izu Gokurakuen may have the answers — at least if you’re a Buddhist. Run by a local family, lucky visitors will catch a breathtaking live show introducing the various levels of hell performed by the son, who is dedicated to creating an immersive experience. Removing your shoes adds to the uncanny feel of this place — it’s as if you’re entering someone’s old, haunted house. This is further strengthened by the fact that displays are mostly either crafted or collected by the father of the family. His works depict often gory scenes in disturbingly realistic detail.

Exhibit information is in Japanese with some plaques in English, but phone translations will suffice for the most part. Things like the mini sex museum tacked onto the side — no photos allowed — are easy to understand even without detailed explanations. For those who want the full scoop, watch the documentary Searching for Hell before visiting.

3. Ayashii Shonen Shojo Hakubutsukan

Roughly translated as “Suspicious Boys and Girls Museum” in English, this seemingly infinite collection of bizarre paraphernalia will make your head spin. Whether you end up scarred for life or just mildly unsettled is dependent on your mental fortitude. Either way, know that you will leave a changed person. 

The whole location is piled high with bric-a-brac ranging from creepy dolls and old arcade games to horror movie memorabilia. It’s not an exaggeration to say that you could spend hours here and only see a small percentage of the mass of objects on display. Highlights include mannequins in period dress, a large pile of sex manuals at the entrance, Ultraman collectable drink cans and a dinosaur with a sexy dancing creature inside its belly.

The haunted house is a must-see, though there are exhibits that may make you wish that you could bleach your eyes or your memory of the experience. At best, it’s a bad acid trip in a glasshouse. At worst, it’s pure nightmare fuel. Consider yourself warned. 

4. Maboroshi Hakurankai

Save this one for last, as it’s on a completely different level from the previous museums. Larger-than-life props are scattered around the parking lot — and anywhere else there was room to put them. Starting with exhibits of Showa-era newspapers and period-appropriate mannequins, each room gets progressively weirder as you move on. As with the other museums, it’s best to anticipate a fair amount of sexual content. To give an idea of the darker and more eldritch creatures here, just know there is a human-like Doraemon (complete with nipples) and a Hello Kitty with a bloody nose. The final room may be a form of cutting-edge artistic expression, or it could be an exhibition of a depraved mind — either way, don’t bring the kids. 

Wait, There’s More!

Honorable mentions in the area:

The Cat Museum

For those anticipating cutesy kitties, adjust your expectations. The museum houses an extensive collection of feline taxidermy, which may come as a shock to some visitors. There are live kittens on the second floor that you can pet, but note that they are not well-socialized.

More info:

Atami Hihokan

Atami’s famed adult museum is perched on a cliff and, surprisingly, offers great views of the city. Kitschy trinkets and sex-themed displays await those who venture inside.

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Dive further into the world of weird: 


Words by Lisa Knight and Christina Nagasawa.