Old Japanese Jail – Saipan, Northern Mariana Islands - Atlas Obscura

Old Japanese Jail

This jail once controlled by the Japanese military now sits abandoned on a remote Pacific island. 


The old abandoned Japanese jail on the island of Saipan has a haunting history, serving as the home to American prisoners of war after the bloody Battle of Saipan. Today, graffiti made by soldiers, both during and after the war, can still be found scrawled on the walls of the complex.

During the Pacific Campaign of World War II, Saipan was a Japanese colony. After withdrawing from the League of Nations in 1933, Japan began to militarize the island, and Saipan became an important strategic hub for defense of the Japanese mainland. In the bloody Battle of Saipan, in 1944, Americans sought to gain possession of the island as they moved east in the Pacific campaign. After suffering stunning defeats by the Japanese in the early months of the war, thousands of Americans became prisoners of war on the island. Japanese military buildings, including the old jail where these POWs were kept, remain standing, though they have fallen into decay over the years.

Still bearing the marks of battle, the three buildings of the jail complex remain mostly intact. One was most likely used as an administration building since it has no metal bars. A second consists of 4 cell blocks, most likely used for isolation. The third, the largest and longest building in the complex, contains 15 cell blocks. The jail complex has not been entirely overtaken by nature, and is relatively easy to walk around. The decaying walls of the jail buildings are etched with Japanese and English writing, a visible reminder of the island’s history.

Recently, the old Japanese jail on Saipan was the setting of a number of Amelia Earhart conspiracy theories, connected with the now-debunked History Channel report claiming photographic evidence of Earhart being imprisoned by the Japanese. Some have theorized that the pilot was held at the old jail on Saipan after being captured, and did not actually crash into the ocean. An even more unlikely theory claims that Earhart had been a spy for the Japanese before being imprisoned. Historians have debunked these claims, but even with only whispers of evidence, Earhart devotees remain fascinated by the haunting ruins of the jail.

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Easily accessible with any vehicle, or a walk from downtown.

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