“Dying is illegal!?” This rumor about Svalbard is circulating the internet. What will happen if you die in this town? Will violators be imprisoned for life? Besides that, there is an unusual town where Japanese people can get easily get permanent residency. On the 16th stop of the Domain Island Tour, I went to Svalbard to find out the truth. The ccTLD (country code top level domain) is “.sj”.
◆Where are the Svalbard Islands?
Svalbard is an archipelago in Norwegian territory, approximately halfway between the Norwegian mainland and the Arctic Circle. The largest town is called Longyearbyen and is the most northern settlement in the world. Many things here can be prefaced with “The World’s Northernmost…” From April to August is the time of the midnight sun, meaning that the sun doesn’t set for months.
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◆The Northernmost Town in the World “Longyearbyen”
Longyearbyen, the main town of Svalbard, is the northernmost settlement in the world, with a population of over 1,000 people. I arrive at Longyearbyen Airport well after midnight.
But, take a look at my photos. During August, the time of the midnight sun, it’s so bright you can’t believe its late at night.
At the airport, a bus waits for passengers from the incoming flight. I ride the bus to the center of town. I need to tell the bus driver the name of my hotel.
Opposite the airport, I found this interesting signpost, which is not surprising in the world’s northernmost town, I guess. From here it is 5,581 km to New York and 6,830 km to Tokyo. It sinks in to me just how far I’ve come, once again.
It takes about 10 mins. to get to the center of Longyearbyen. From the blue skies of Saint Vincent, the last place I visited (domain “.vc”), to the grey skies of Svalbard.
For people to be able to sleep at night, the hotel has unique black blinds to keep out the midnight sun.
I spot some snowmobiles, a winter mode of transportation. Many of them are made by Yamaha.
◆An Archipelago with more Polar Bears than People
There are about 3,000 polar bears on the Svalbard Islands. In contrast, the human population is about 2,600. So, there are more polar bears than people. Polar bears usually live on the ice, near the seals and other prey, so there is little fear of them coming into town. However, it’s well known that if polar bears start eating human food, they will remember the taste and the location and will keep coming back. For this reason, the residents of Svalbard are very careful about food storage.
If you go a little distance out of town, you’ll see a polar bear sign like this one.
If you go past the sign, you need to carry a gun with you. A warning shot is used to scare off the bears, but the guns would only be used to actually shoot a bear if someone were attacked. It’s important to give a warning shot first because the population of polar bears is declining due to global warming.
These guns were for sale in a corner of the Mountaineering equipment shop in the town center. I was really surprised to see guns for sale in a shopping area.
At the entrance to many buildings, such as supermarkets and restaurants, there are signs that prohibit carrying a gun inside. Though it seems there have never been any crimes committed with these guns. I feel very safe, maybe because of the bright midnight sun.
I wasn’t able to see any real polar bears, but I did see polar bear illustrations all over town. When you visit, look for a cute, Instagram-able polar bear to take a picture with.
These stuffed toy polar bears are being sold from a fridge. But the fridge is not running.
By the way, do you know the difference between a polar bear and a white bear in Japanese? Actually, their official name is polar bear, so there is no difference.
f you want to know more about polar bears, I recommend the northernmost museum “Svalbard Museum”. You can get a close-up view of the museum’s main attraction, a real stuffed polar bear. Getting this close, you get an overwhelming sense of the polar bear’s size and power. Also, you can learn about the polar bear’s ecology and relationship to humans, as well as the history of Svalbard.
This male polar bear ignored several warning shots and kept approaching humans in March 2005, unfortunately he had to be shot and killed.
If you want to see polar bears in the wild, there are plenty of tours you can take, so you might be able to see them.
There is also something called “Polar bear jokes” in this area. Best to know before you visit.
◆Dying is Illegal!? Being NEET is Illegal!?
From 1918 to 1919, the Spanish influenza was pandemic worldwide. An estimated 500 million people were infected and some 50 to 100 million people died. The Spanish flu came to Longyearbyen as well, but due to the extreme cold, if a body was buried, it froze, allowing the virus to live on. For this reason, there’s a rumor on the internet that dying in Svalbard is illegal, for fear a pandemic virus will live on to re-infect future generations.
When I asked the local authorities if this was true, they said to me “If that were so, what could we do to punish a corpse?” There did seem to be some inconsistency there.
It turns out that “dying is not illegal” on Svalbard, but there are some particular regulations and circumstances around dying.
①You cannot be buried on Svalbard
This is connected to the unique climate of Svalbard. Because of the severe cold, bodies buried in the ground don’t decompose. If a corpse doesn’t decompose, viruses etc. will remain in the corpse, therefore, the government prohibits burials for fear of a virus living on to re-infect people.
As Svalbard has no crematorium, bodies are shipped to Norway, where they are cremated and then the ashes returned to Svalbard for burial.
②Medical Care on Svalbard
The locals told me that there is only one hospital in the Svalbard Archipelago, with one doctor and several nurses. When a woman needs to give birth, she usually goes to the Norwegian mainland because the hospital is not well enough equipped on Svalbard.
Besides giving birth, there are many other treatments that are not available on Svalbard, so people go to the hospitals in Norway.
For this reason, many people who are ill or facing death, end up meeting their end in hospitals in Norway, not on Svalbard.
For these two reasons, I supposed the false idea came about that dying is illegal on Svalbard. It’s not illegal to die, but most people meet their end in Norway, and then are buried on Svalbard after being cremated in Norway.
Being NEET is illegal (Not in Education, Employment or Training) that is, you can’t live in Svalbard if you don’t have a job. Unemployed people will be immediately deported. However, if retired and unemployed people can prove that they have sufficient means to support themselves, they will not be deported, so really, it’s ok to be NEET if you have a lot of money.
◆It’s Easy for Japanese People to get Permanent Residency and Start a Business?
Japan is one of the member nations of the Svalbard Treaty. Citizens of treaty member nations can go to Svalbard without a visa, they can live there, start a business or work part-time. In front of the supermarket, children open a street stall.
In order to clarify these matters regarding permanent residency and doing business, I went to the government office to ask “Can I open a Sushi restaurant on Svalbard?”
I went inside and explained the situation, then I was taken to a private room for a consultation.
First, about permanent residency on Svalbard. If you are from one of the member nations you have the same rights as a Norwegian citizen, so you can have permanent residency without a visa. However, because it’s so cold, most people can’t live here long term, the average people can stand it seems to be about 4 years. Incomes on Svalbard are lower than in Norway, but it seems if people have their own reasons for coming here, such as ‘they want to spend their time doing more interesting things than making money’ or ‘they feel it’s worth it, because Svalbard is not as developed as mainland Norway’ etc., then they can make it work.
What about a Business? As with permanent residency, a citizen of a treaty member nation can open a business without a work permit. So yes, I can have a sushi restaurant. The most difficult part of starting a business on Svalbard (in this case a sushi restaurant) is securing a location. The area allocated for businesses in Longyearbyen is more limited than you might expect. But, if you could overcome this difficulty, there would be no other problem.
I was also given advice to look for work on sites like “Facebook and nav.no”.
There seems to be a temporary need for part-time workers. I actually checked some of these sites earlier and there was one for a watchman to “warn if a polar bear starts to approach”. I’d like to try my hand at this, if the job is still available.
The biggest challenge of living on Svalbard is adapting to the harsh climate. So, if you want to become a Svalbard resident, that is ‘a guest of the polar bears, the true residents of the islands’, please contact the Svalbard government office. A kind person will answer your inquiries.
◆”The World’s Northernmost…” Found in Svalbard
①The World’s Northernmost Ghost Town: “Pyramiden”
Discovered by Sweden in 1910, Pyramiden is located on Spitsbergen Island. In 1927, it was sold to the former Soviet Union, and became a busy mining town. But the coal mine closed in 1998, and the entire town was abandoned.
Owned by the Russian company “Trust Arktikugol”, it is now a popular ghost town. The infrastructure has been improved and there is a hotel there open for business.
I’m going on a ghost town tour by boat.
The boat crew and guide.
Not only can we see the ghost town on the tour, but also glaciers and dramatic cliffs.
It’s a surprisingly spacious boat, with room to get seasick in peace, or if a polar bear attacks there’s space for running away.
In winter, the sea is frozen so you can go to Pyramiden by snowmobile. On our way to the ghost town, we pass the Nordenskiöldbreen Glacier and observe many cliffs full of seabirds.
August is nest-building season. I was able to see a variety of birds including the Atlantic puffin.
I found a seal drifting on an ice berg.
I tried zooming in. It was far away but I could see it moving a little. In other words, we could have polar bears nearby.
This tour includes barbecued whale meat for lunch and whiskey with glacier ice.
Wow, I’m excited to drink whisky with ice from a glacier right in front of the glacier! While I’m waiting expectantly for my whiskey, two of the crew throw a kind of net into the ocean. It catches some of the ice drifting by. The 1st time they missed, the 2nd time they got it. Locally procured ice! I was so engrossed with the surrounding scenery, I didn’t pay attention to the ocean, but I have a feeling it was a little dirty.
On the deck, the crew crushes the ice they caught.
This ice tastes of history, formed over many years.
Although the color of the water where the ice was drifting was a bit worrisome, it goes without saying that the whisky tasted better than ever before. Please note, there isn’t always drifting ice, and even if there is, they might not be able to catch any, so there’s no guarantee that you can drink whiskey with glacial ice if you join this tour.
We arrive at Spitsbergen 2-3 hours after we left Longyearbyen. From this point on we’ll have a Russian guide. He explains the history of Pyramiden and the life of people at those time in an easy-to-understand way.
Pyramiden has a variety of buildings such as apartments (with names like Paris and London), pools and sports facilities, schools, cultural centers, including music halls, dining facilities for residents, and warehouses for storing food. You could see that it used to be a prosperous town. The people who worked here at the time had generous support from the government, it seems that housing and food were free.
The world’s northernmost Lenin statue. According to the guide, this Lenin statue is one that is commonly found around Russia (mass produced).
At the cultural center behind the statue of Lenin, the former library has been partially renovated into a souvenir shop and small cafe.
You can buy Russian vodka in Pyramiden, but most Russians have never heard of the place. However, since Pyramiden is historically significant for Russia, in recent years more people are coming to sightsee here.
As a ghost town, I had the idea that Pyramiden would be in ruins, but the central part of the town has been completely renovated, so there’s no impression of “ruins”. Rather, it was impressive that almost everything from that era of Russia remained intact.
The coal mine a little way away does have a bit of a ruined atmosphere. I wanted to go in, but it was not part of this tour.
For some reason, this apartment building alone has become a residence for birds. Even the guide says “Why did the all the birds choose this building exactly?” It’s mysterious. The birds are so noisy all the time.
②Eating at the World’s Northernmost Sushi Restaurant
A sushi restaurant in the Svalbard Islands. I went because I had to try the world’s northernmost sushi restaurant.
It’s called “NUGA Sushi & Noodles”. I’m thinking that ocean-going fish caught near the Arctic Circle must be strong, healthy fish.
The restaurant was in “Hotel Svalbard The Vault”
I ordered “Kyoto” off the menu.
The roll had broken a little by the time it was served, but the salmon was amazing! So, I can forgive them if the rice is not a good as Japanese rice.
European sushi often has fruit in it, or complicated arrangements, but this place keeps it simple.
I see that there is ramen on the menu. I order the chicken ramen. This is the northernmost sushi restaurant in the world.
The soup is a little thinner than it would be in Japan, but this is not bad ramen. The noodles are very tasty, but I feel like they are a little soft, like Chinese style noodles. It’s a creative ramen with crispy chicken. Also, broccoli.
I ordered gyoza dumplings as well.
The taste of the gyoza is quite different from the taste I’m familiar with. The skin is crispy but the sauce is sweet. It might be better to think of it as a “Svalbard dumpling” and eat it with different expectations.
The world’s northernmost sushi restaurant; “NUGA Sushi & Noodles” was also the world’s northernmost ramen shop.
③Other “The World’s Northernmost …”
- “The world’s northernmost tourist information center.” If you want to enjoy Longyearbyen safely, I recommend taking a tour. This is where I booked my tour to Pyramiden.
- “The world’s northernmost tourist information center.” If you want to enjoy Longyearbyen safely, I recommend taking a tour. This is where I booked my tour to Pyramiden.
- “The world’s northernmost post office. There were a lot of postal boxes.
- “The world’s northernmost museum”; the North Pole Expedition Museum. The who and what of those trying to reach the North Pole is explained here in detail. In those days, trying to reach the North Pole was a daring and incredibly difficult endeavor.
◆Interesting Things in Svalbard
① This town map is helpful to figure out where you want to go in Longyearbyen. I think it takes about an hour to walk from one side to the other.
②When you want to go to Pyramiden or other places beside Longyearbyen, this is a guide of available boat tours.
③A “Sushi Kit” for sale in the supermarket.
④A statue of a coal miner in the center of town. I wonder if the local people meet up here, like at the statue of Hachiko in Shibuya?
⑤The “Svalbard Buss og Taxi”, where you can take a two hour ride around Longyearbyen with a local guide as your driver.
This is the view from the top of the hill, about 10 minutes from Longyearbyen.
I also saw a flock of birds like geese.
This is the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. Currently, the area is under construction, so we couldn’t go close. Construction will be finished soon.
I was surprised to see quite a few wild reindeer near the town area. They don’t seem to have any natural enemy.
This is a facility for sled dogs. Getting in shape for the winter performance.
Thank you, knowledgeable local taxi driver!
⑥If you want to eat something unique to Svalbard instead of just sushi or ramen, I recommend “Gruvelageret” in Longyearbyen.
They only have dinner courses, with very specialty dishes.
“Local mushroom ravioli with winter-dried reindeer and mushroom sauce” on the left,
and “Arctic char with king crab sauce and baked beetroot” on the right.
◆How to Purchase a SIM Locally & Test the Internet Speed
At Svalbard Airport, I couldn’t find anything like a communications kiosk, so I couldn’t get a SIM card.
I looked for a prepaid SIM card for travel in the supermarket, but I couldn’t find it, so this time I used “GlocalMe”. Around Longyearbyen it works just fine. When I measured the speed at fast.com, it was faster than I expected. Because we are so far north, the Internet may be an important means of communication (or of killing time).
◆ The Phantom Domain “.sj” and the Norwegian Domain “.no”
The country code top level domain (ccTLD) assigned to the Svalbard archipelago of Norway is “.sj”. However, although it is registered to a route server, the registry policy is to not use the domain name. So, “.sj” is a domain that no one can use. In Longyearbyen, I found “.no” the Norwegian ccTLD being used, rather than “.sj”.
- Car rental company （https://autorent.no/）
- The Svalbar Bar. A great name for a bar in Svalbard.（http://www.svalbar.no/）
- A construction company.（https://www.foraas.no/）
- Restaurant “KROA”, (in the right season, you can eat seal steak here.) This waitress has been living in Svalbard since February 2019.
I thought “The World’s Northernmost Town” was going to be a remote, lonely area for solitary exploration. But actually, August isn’t that cold, and it seems like this is a summer get-away place for elderly Europeans.
I guess I’ll have to come back in winter to experience the truly harsh climate of Svalbard.
The following is a summary of the places visited during the Domain Island Tour.
■For Access Details to the Svalbard Islands,Click Here
■ For “.no” Domain Details and Application, Click Here