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What a Whimsical Skull Museum Teaches About Life

From real skulls and replica skeletons to skull-themed artwork and slot machines, this skull museum in Hyogo Prefecture is like no other.



A skull-themed artwork made from egg shells. (©Hideaki Furuno)

The Skull Museum is located along National Route 2 in Amagasaki, Hyogo Prefecture. It had always caught my attention whenever I had driven by. Upon finally venturing in, it turned out to be exactly as I had expected: skeletons, skeletons, and more skeletons.

The museum is full of real and replica skeletons and skull-themed items that the museum's founder, medical doctor Keiji Kawamoto, had collected from around the world. The reason he began this museum was quite profound.

The museum's front, which faces National Route 2, displays the words "The World's First Skull Museum!" along with a skull logo. On the side, a huge skull replica makes quite an impression. But going around the back to the entrance reveals an even more surprising sight — because the building itself is skull-shaped.

The entrance of the Skull Museum, which can't be seen from the highway for the driver's safety. (©Hideaki Furuno)

"It might be confusing, but we decided to have the entrance in the back because we didn't want to shock people while they were driving," explains Kawamoto's eldest daughter, Kayo, who is a pharmacist. She took charge of the museum after Dr Kawamoto died four years ago.

The windows at the back of the museum are designed to look like the eyes, nose, and mouth of a skull. Even bumps and cranial sutures are reflected in the building's design. The late Dr Kawamoto's passion is evident just from the building's facade.

Dr Kawamoto, the founder of the museum. (Provided by his family)

A Dreadful Welcome

Once inside, I was greeted by a skeleton bride carrying a skeleton groom in bridal style. Apparently, children have been scared by this skeletal couple to the point of tears, unable to venture any further.

The museum's exhibition space is made up of three floors, with shelves stuffed with skulls. Along with real and replica skulls, there are accessories, stationery, art pieces, slot machines with skull motifs, Halloween goods, and so on. This museum has almost everything connected to skulls.

A skeletal couple welcomes visitors at the entrance. The skeletons move automatically and their eyes light up. (©Hideaki Furuno)

The regular exhibition features about 1,000 pieces, which is only a fraction of the roughly 8,000-piece collection. "It may have been his hobby, but I'm still surprised at how much he collected," Ms Kayo says, smiling at memories of her late father.

Dr Kawamoto was a professor of neurosurgery at Kansai Medical University and had served as the chairman of the Japan Society of Brain Tumor Pathology. Due to his job, he was well-versed in skulls, but he began showing an earnest interest in them about 40 years ago.

How It All Began

In 1986, he visited San Francisco to participate in an academic conference. There, he went to a random antique shop and picked up a decorative skull said to have been of a Tibetan high priest.


The skull sparked his obsession and is now on display at the museum. It is decorated with elaborate metal parts and has glass balls in the eye sockets. The label next to the skull explains that the sight of the skull "shocked" Dr Kawamoto. It also says that the skull was purified in Tibet because it brought unfortunate accidents to his family. 

"My father totaled his car, and several family members became involved in accidents. But after the exorcism, nothing else happened and we lived peacefully," explained Kayo.

The skull that Dr Kawamoto bought in San Francisco. (©Hideaki Furuno)

From then on, Dr Kawamoto began collecting not just real and replica skulls, but merchandise and art that used skull motifs. Whenever he traveled, he filled his suitcase with new items without hesitation, even if they were expensive. Kayo said, "My mother took his credit card away many times."

As his collection grew substantially, he established his private museum at exactly 3:03:03 am on March 3, 2003. He opened it to the public at exactly 11:11:11 am on November 11, 2011.

Whenever Dr Kawamoto had free time, he would hole up in his museum, sorting his collection, conducting research, or "just having fun with the skulls," reflects Kayo.

"He always said that he had to one-up the skeleton and skull enthusiasts who visited the museum," she adds.

Dr Kawamoto passed away at age 75 in August 2019.

Thinking About Life Through Death

The Skull Museum is unique in every way, and it isn't simply about one man's obsession. There is a deeper meaning behind the vast collection. 

Dr Kawamoto used to say, "After death, everyone ends up the same, rich or poor. I want people to see these skulls and think about what it means to live." 

His daughter, Kayo, has taken on his final wish. "I may not have his knowledge, and I have my own job as a pharmacist. But I want to keep the theme of this museum alive," she states.


Dr Kawamoto didn't want the museum to be a house of horrors, but Kayo sees it differently. "I want people to come, even if it's out of curiosity for the macabre."

She continued, "The collection may look chaotic and incoherent, but there are some real gems here. Each of the skull-themed items has different expressions, so they're fun to look at. I want people to enjoy them as though they're craftwork, and while they're here, they can also think about life."

Dr Kawamoto's precious museum thrives in the steady hands of his daughter. 

The museum is filled with skulls from the floor to the ceiling. (©Hideaki Furuno)


(Read the article in Japanese.)

Author: Hideaki Furuno

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