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Tragedy and Paranormality at The Tokugawa Execution Grounds

In this posting we stay in Kansai but step over the borders of Kyoto into neighbouring Osaka for a tragic tale of paranormality that also connects to historical events of the 17th century.

On the night of 13th May 1972 in downtown Osaka a fire broke out in what was then the Sennichimae Department Store. As well as being a department store the building also contained a number of nightclubs, so it was always busy. One particular club in the building, the popular Playtown Cabaret Club, was packed when the fire, which was thought to have been started accidently by a cigarette or match left by a construction worker in the department store, broke out just before 10:30pm. (Picture below, on the site of the Sennichimae Department Store today is the BIC Camera Store).

The fire department confirmed later court cases that the club had lax fire safety precautions which made the disaster even worse. Fire doors were locked, emergency shutters didn’t function, the elevators failed to work, the building didn’t have a fire sprinkler system, all this as the main entrance filled with smoke and poisonous fumes from burning construction materials in other parts of the building.

As the fire grew, the people trapped inside panicked. Three people died from being crushed underfoot as club goers frantically tried to get out, and tragically 22 of the 24 that jumped out of the windows died. Many lives were lost from carbon monoxide poisoning, and 20 people died when an emergency escape chute collapsed, and they plunged to the ground. Victims were discovered, dead, huddled in corners of the club.

Three days later, when the fire had been extinguished it was confirmed that 118 had died and a further 78 injured. The building was demolished and some years later on the site a Printemps Department Store was built (which would be later replaced by Bic Camera).

After Printemps opened, rumours surfaced about ghostly happenings. It was said that staff wore prayer beads and buddhist sutra tape was spread around the store as a precaution to ward off spirits. Another story goes that during a special late-night sale, from the gift-wrapping counter area a woman’s voice was heard to shout “Fire. Fire.” This ghostly alarm call was heard at the same time as the fire started on the 13th May. It was reported, by staff that smoked in an underground employee lounge, that a heavy feeling on the shoulders was constantly felt whilst smoking, was this because the 1972 fire had been started by a cigarette or smoking accident?! Were the ghosts unhappy with the smokers?!

People in the neighbourhood have claimed to hear heavy thuds at night, possibly the sound of people falling.

The company that supplied the elevator music for the store received a complaint that strange sounds were mixed in with the recordings that were scaring the elevator staff. The supply company checked the tapes in the elevator and heard the strange sound was the distinct crying of women. A new recording was made and sent to the store, but the sounds were heard again. The only thing was though that the crying sound only occurred when the recordings were played in the elevators.

And the sightings and ghostly happenings were not limited to the location of the fire. The subway line runs underneath. Commuters reported hearing muffled cries for help. Stories circulated from taxi drivers of picking up kimono wearing women from Sennichae-mae late at night but when they reached their destination the passengers had vanished. A group of the department store female workers claimed to have seen an apparition of a kimono-clad club hostess disappear through a wall!

Even before the fire, the site had a gruesome history. After the battle of Osaka Castle in 1615, thousands of bodies had to be buried at different locations throughout Osaka. One of those locations was here. And during the Tokugawa Era of the early 17th to late 19th centuries this place was used as an execution ground for criminals. But here is a chilling part of the story. During the department store and club fire, 118 people lost their lives. During the Tokugawa Era, the number of executions carried out here was 118!!

For further tales of the unknown and paranormality PARANORMAL KANSAI - Mysteries and Unexplains Stories of West Japan is available in paperback and digital formats from all regions of AMAZON (link below at the green button).

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