No matter what you think of marriage in general – weddings in Japan tend to take it to a whole new level, in many regards…
I actually don’t even know where to begin. Maybe I should just shut up, describe the building and get out of here before I write things I might regret later. To be honest with you, I am not exactly the most qualified person to write about weddings as I am not married myself and had to turn down most invitations in both Germany and Japan as I was coincidentally in the other country when they happened. But damn, Japanese weddings are weird!

First of all – getting legally married in Japan is the most unspectacular thing ever. It just takes a few minutes and involves the almighty seals (hanko) of both partners, but not necessarily their presence; one is enough as long as you have the correct documents to stamp. The way more important and spectacular part is the religious ceremony and the party afterwards; or rather parties – three or four (in a row!) are considered rather common.
At a time that Christian nuts are taking over the States and Muslim nuts are taking over the Middle East, the Japanese are very relaxed when it comes to religion. 85% are considered Buddhists, 90% are considered Shintoists, and 1% are considered Christians. “But… Florian, that doesn’t add up properly!” you might say – and you’d be correct! But that’s just part of the craziness, because according to statistics, 53% of Japanese couples marry in a Christian ceremony, 32% in a Shintoist ceremony and less than 1% in a Buddhist ceremony – the rest choose to marry in a secular or other way. Most men couldn’t care less, but Japanese women are basically like: “They nailed that Jesus guy to a cross? Funny, that’s what we did in Japan with Christians for most of the 17th, 18th and 19th century… But whatever! I want that white dress and I am getting that white dress!” (That’s actually not true. Most people in Japan aren’t even aware that their government persecuted Christians for centuries. But it’s only logical when the leader of the country legitimizes his power via their own religion, Shinto.) Most marriages end in ignorance and selfishness, why shouldn’t they start with it?
In Germany you still have to jump through quite a few hoops before being able to getting married in a church – like having several meetings with the local priest, convincing him that you are a dedicated Christian; and of course you better be a registered member and pay church tax! None of that in Japan, of course… most Japanese Christian weddings don’t even take place in real churches!
Since most Japanese live in tiny apartments not suitable for huge parties, most weddings take place at big hotels or specialized places; like the Ibaraki Wedding Palace. There they have decorated rooms for the most common ceremonies; like a love hotel has rooms for whatever turns you on… Comparatively small rooms, as only close family and a few best friends are attending those “religious” ceremonies, then everybody else joins for a rather big party; instead of choosing a considerate gift you pay an “entrance fee” that’s usually between 8000 and 10000 Yen – the couple will let you know in advance… Since Japanese weddings cost about 4 million Yen in average (though common ones are rather half that price!), that first party can be huge. 80 to 100 people are nothing, I’ve heard of friends inviting up to 250 people. And I’ve been invited to weddings of people I barely knew, in one case I actually never met the wife before! With all the fakeness surrounding Japanese weddings one can only hope that the couple’s love is real…

Anyway, the Ibaraki Wedding Palace… was one of those specialized wedding places – but unlike the *shangri-la* it didn’t come with hotel rooms and a pool, it was just a wedding and party venue. In the early 2000s it must have been quite a sight, with tons of tableware and items like fake plastic wedding cakes left behind. Since then it became a victim of arson and several clean-up operations, so when Y. told J. and I that this would be our next location after visiting the gorgeous *Japanese Vintage Pornographer’s House* I couldn’t believe what I heard. That piece of crap? After one of the most gorgeous locations in all of Kanto? Of course I didn’t say anything as I didn’t want to be impolite – and I am glad that I didn’t, because despite the Heian Wedding Palace being a rundown, burned down pile of garbage, it also offered an amazing amount of details; textures, to be more specific. Bent metal beams, charred window frames, tacky colored glass panes, cheap plastic chandeliers. Hardly anything that would deserve the label “beautiful”, but interesting enough to keep me busy for half an hour – then we continued to the third and last location of the day…

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In Japan you can barely throw a stone without hitting an abandoned hotel. Most of them are miserable, moldy and completely uninteresting places, but some are worth visiting for special elements – like rooms full of rotting arcade machines!

The Arcade Machine Hotel was actually the second abandoned hotel I explored on *Hachijojima*, an island some 300 kilometers south of Tokyo. It looked huge on Google Maps and it actually took me two visits to fully explore it – during the first one I kind of ran out of time as I wanted to climb Hachijo-Fuji that day, too, so I returned two days later and approached from a different direction to see the missing parts; but first things first.
Upon arrival at the Arcade Machine Hotel I explored the immediate surroundings, only to find out that there was a still inhabited house rather close-by… and that a party was going on at an adjacent field, with cars parked almost up to the hotel. Even from the lobby I was able to hear people laugh and talk, so I had to choose my steps very carefully – luckily everybody was gone by the time that I started taking some video material (of which I published more than 23 minutes with this article). The ground floor of the hotel was pretty interesting, though quite vandalized given that it was abandoned just 10 year ago. The bar still had a soft ice-cream machine and a coffee grinder, the lobby a table video game and old tourism posters, the dining hall some chairs… and the office a lot of chaos. Quite spooky was a room connecting the dining hall with the lobby and the waterfront area. The room itself had some rather interesting soda machines rusting away, but you could also hear water dripping… probably in the dark restrooms – I wasn’t eager to find out.
Instead I was eager to get out and have a look at a really strange concrete annex building, just a short walk away from the main hotel, separated by the complex’s tennis courts. Maybe the living quarters of some employees, for sure home of the hotel’s diving school – there were quite a few posters left behind as well as equipment (like waterproof cases for cameras) and medicine (like the pseudoephedrine hydrochloride a.k.a. Sudafed – “Relieves nasal and sinus congestions due to colds or hay fever”).
Back at the main building I headed towards the waterfront through a greenhouse hallway with mostly dead plants. To the right I saw a small room with a Space Invaders cabinet, followed by a large hall, partly collapsed, with a hotchpotch of arcade machines, freezers and vending machines – I grew up with some of those machines, so it was a really sad sight to see them like that…
Shortly after the hallway split and I went left as I was too lazy to crawl under a roller door, open only one quarter. The floor all of a sudden became quite soft, so I had to watch my steps, and then I reached the waterfront area, a series of vandalized and partly collapsed tatami party rooms as well as the gender separated public baths with a view – you know, the stuff pretty much every abandoned Japanese hotel has. So I hurried back to the main hotel building for a video walkthrough, which turned out to be quite creepy for such a sunny day.

At that point it was a lot later than I hoped it would be, so I left the Arcade Machine Hotel for Mount Hachijo-Fuji… and came back two days later, when I was hiking along the coast. It turned out that the hotel was approachable from there without climbing under nasty, rusty, rotten gates on soft, brittle floors and I finally found what should give this article its name – the hotel’s arcade! The previously mentioned storage hall actually held only maybe half of the machines left behind, most likely less. Corroding away and already beyond repair were a Star Wars pinball machine (!), several Astro City cabinets, Flash Beats by Sega, Namco’s Wani Wani Panic, a Sega air hockey, Dance Dance Revolution Bass Mix (for two players!) and many more… a fully stocked arcade literally vanishing into thin air thanks to the salty humid breeze coming in from the sea, just a stone’s throw away!

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You would think that after eight years in Japan surprises and weird situations should become rather rare, yet Hachijojima was full of them – good and bad…

In early 2014 a bunch of interesting looking abandoned hotels popped up on Japanese urbex blogs, with one thing in common: they all were located on an island I hadn’t even heard of before, Hachijojima. Turns out that it is right next to Aogashima, a hard to reach volcanic island that is often part of those “the most remote places in the world” lists that are so popular on Facebook and other social media sites. When you are living in Kansai, basically one big city of 22 million people (plus 0.7 million spread across the countryside), “the most remote place in the world” sounds wonderful, at least to me – so I decided to do a combined Hachijojima / Aogashima trip during the first half of Golden Week. Long story short: I was able to locate three gigantic abandoned hotels on Hachijojima, but I failed to organize the side trip to Aogashima due to unpredictable weather, high risk of boats getting cancelled and the season I was travelling in; *Golden Week can be a real pain* as even the biggest Japanese couch potatoes think that they should travel, because everybody else is. So I stayed on Hachijojima for 3.5 days – part relaxing vacation, part urbex trip.

For the first night I booked a small minshuku on the east coast, just five minutes away from one of the abandoned hotels. Sadly the place turned out to be in a very remote area with hardly anything around… and even worse, it was terribly overpriced due to Golden Week. So instead of extending my stay, I took a taxi to the local tourist information the next morning – and the super friendly staff managed to get me a cute little hut at a local lodge with breakfast, bathroom and internet for the same price as the basic tatami room with shared bath / toilet and without food or internet, a.k.a. the night before. They even drove to my new accommodation to introduce me to the owners of the family business as they barely spoke any English – a pleasant surprise after the cold reception at a local sushi restaurant the previous night; upon entering the chef, smoking outside, was asking his wife who just came in… and she answered “a foreigner”, using the slightly derogative term “gaijin”. Thanks a lot for the warm welcome! Luckily my new hosts were the exact opposite, some of the friendliest and nicest people I ever had the pleasure to meet. Should you ever go to Hachijojima and don’t mind a little bit of a language barrier, try the *pension Daikichimaru*!

I continued Day 2 by exploring the second big hotel on the island before climbing the most famous local mountain, Mount Nishi (literally “West Mountain” – guess where it is located…), better known as Hachijo-Fuji, thanks to its resemblance to Japan’s most famous mountain. 854 meters tall and of volcanic origin, Hachijo-Fuji turned out to be quite an exhausting and steep climb, especially on the last few hundred meters – but the view up there was amazing; one of the most rewarding hikes I ever did. (You can actually see the hiking trail on the first photo I took from the plane during landing approach.) If you are free from giddiness you can even walk along a sometimes just foot-wide path along the crater, but from where I started it looked like a rather risky walk, so I opted to descent to the green hell of Mount Nishi’s caldera; 400 meters wide and 50 meters deep it is home to lavish vegetation and even a shrine!
On the way down from Hachijo-Fuji I made a quick stop at the Hachijo-Fuji Fureai-Farm, a dairy products selling petting farm, which offers a great view at the plain between Hachijojima’s two mountain ranges. Upon arrival at the base of the mountain, near the airport, I came across a local guy and his dog. Despite being on a leash, the pooch ran towards me at full speed, barking like a mad dog (not a spaniel!) without any Englishmen; stopped by the slightly mental grinning owner maybe 20 centimeters from my ankles. Luckily it was one of those field goal dogs and not a German Shepherd or a British Bulldog, so I wasn’t too worried, but still… what a weirdo!
Almost as weird as my visit to a local supermarket the night before. After the sushi snack I had (made from local varieties like flying fish), I thought it would be nice to get some local products, so I entered a mom-and-pop store, the owner at the cash register talking to a customer. I grabbed a couple of things and when I was about to pay I saw the other customer leaving – and the owner told me that the shop was closed. So I asked if I could pay for the items I already grabbed. No! So I put the stuff back, which probably took longer than paying for it, and left empty handed… literally. Really strange 24 hours!

Day 3 was a lot more unspectacular. I took a bus to the southern part of Hachijojima and explored the third gigantic abandoned hotel after passing a police car basically in sight of it. Then I continued by bus to the Nankoku Onsen Hotel – which turned out to be a vandalized, boarded up piece of garbage with a neighboring house just 10 meters across the street. So instead of wasting any time I enjoyed a soak at a really, really nice onsen (without a hotel).

My last day on the island I spent mostly walking – to the Kurosuna sand hill and then along the coast back to the second abandoned hotel and then to the pension, from where I got a free ride to the airport.

Spending a couple of days on Hachijojima was one of the best things I did in all of 2014 – it’s just such a surreal and yet neat place! The main roads on the island for example look brand-new and very expensive. Given the massive drop in tourist numbers one wonders how a place like that can survive financially. Sure, three planes and a ferry per day bring quite a few tourists, but at the same time the three biggest hotels on the island and a few smaller ones are abandoned. Back in the 1950s and 60s Hachijojima was known as “Japan’s Hawaii” as it is much closer to Tokyo, Yokohama, Nagoya and Osaka than Okinawa, but those days are long gone and I doubt that fishing and some local farm products can pay to keep the island as neat as it is today.
Some of the islanders were just plain weird… and others were quite the opposite, the most helpful and welcoming people you could dream up. While mainland Japan became somewhat predictable to me over the years, Hachijojima gave me that “first visit feeling” back, where you just roll with the punches and expect the unexpected at all times. The nature on Hachijojima was absolutely stunning, the food was amazing (especially at the *izakaya Daikichimaru*, same owners as the pension; the best sushi I ever had!) and I even enjoyed the onsen visit… though usually I don’t like onsen at all – but the entrance fee was part of the bus ticket, so I gave it another try and liked it tremendously.
*Facebook followers of Abandoned Kansai* might remember two photos I posted to the “Brand-new and Facebook exclusive!” album in late April this year – those will show up in future articles as I will start the Hachijojima series with the most unspectacular of the three hotels on Thursday, two days from now; though unspectacular is relative, especially if you are into abandoned arcade machines…

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The Japanese Art School in the mountains of Okayama was one of those mysterious and legendary places I wanted to visit for years, but wasn’t able to find… and in the end I barely made it!

In spring of 2014 I was exploring the *White School* with my urbex buddy Rory when… Darn, I actually forgot the details of the story. We finished exploring the school and somehow we talked about the art school, though it wasn’t even on our schedule for the day. I think Rory’s wife, who helped me out finding the *Japanese Gold Cult*, pinned down the general area of the Japanese Art School the day before and we had to decide whether wanted to head to a mediocre *haikyo* I located exactly… or if we wanted to roll the dice and go for the unknown. So we headed north, deeper into the mountains. We knew that the school was near a very countryside train station (5 connections per day in each direction!), but that almost turned out to be a dead end. Rory tried to call his wife for more details while we spent about an hour or two on foot and by car looking for the art school. Running out of time we dared a most desperate move: We just stopped at a house near the train station and asked the people living there if they knew about the school. Not only did they in fact do, the lady of the house was even willing to escort us there! A kilometer can be near, but it also can be very, very far… especially when you have to turn half a dozen times and don’t know where.

The sun already started to set when we arrived at the school and I knew that time was of the essence. Access was surprisingly easy, though navigating was rather tough due to serious damage to the wooden floors. While I am still not 100% sure what the Japanese Art School really was, it turned out that at the end of its use it had been a private company – originally it was a local elementary school, closed in 1975. Japanese urbex blogs always portrayed it as an art school, but upon arrival (and based on what our lady guide told us) it was pretty clear that there was more to it. We entered through a massive hole in the wall and stumbled into some kind of warehouse I was never aware of. 40 years prior it must have been the main auditorium of the school, but now it was filled with boxes and crates full with all kinds of art supplies: colored pencils, oil colors, engraving knives, watercolors, little bottles and flasks and even models of pagodas and horses. Dozends, hundreds, thousands – depending on the item and its size. A lot more stuff than an art school could make use of in decades! One of the former class rooms was equipped with a heavy machine to help casting busts and masks, bolted to the wooden ground; the room next to it was a storage of those busts. The second main building was stuffed with all kinds of art equipment, too, including a room focusing on sewing. And one thing was pretty clear: There wasn’t enough space to house a full-blown art school, even if you would limit it to painting and sewing. The whole thing looked more like an art supplies company that manufactured busts and masks (some of which I had seen before at the amazing *Shizuoka Countryside School* and other places!) and probably offered hobby arts and craft lessons to the locals.

For a little under two hours I felt like a kid in a candy store… or a nerdy kid in an art supply store. There was so much to see, so much to discover! The auditorium alone would have deserved two hours, but I had to rush to see everything – I wouldn’t have had time to open boxes or drawers even if I would have wanted to. Interestingly enough this forced me to be creative with angles, focal lengths and exposure times. Overwhelming and challenging, the Japanese Art School was all I hoped for. And it left me yearning for more, which is one of the best things in life; having a great experience that makes you desperately wanting more… like a fantastic first date!
Sadly my heart was broken just half a year later, in September, before I was able to see the Japanese Art School again – it was cleaned out and most likely demolished…

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Like many other countries, Japan struggled with religion and its negative attending ills many times. In 794 the capital was moved from Nara to Heian-kyo, modern day Kyoto, when Buddhist clergy became too powerful and the Imperial household decided to break free from its influence. In the early 17th century Tokugawa Hidetada and Tokugawa Iemitsu struggled with Christian merchants and missionaries so much, that the Sakoku Edict of 1639 turned pre-modern Japan into North Korea 0.9 – more than 200 years later, religious freedom was restored, the total power of an absolute leader was abolished and the country opened again for modernization, trade and travelling. Since World War 2 a more moderate country in many ways, Japan had to dispel only two religious groups for criminal activities in the past 70 years: Aum Shinrikyu after their sarin gas attack at the Tokyo subway in 1995… and Ibaraki’s Myokaku temple for financial fraud – welcome to the Japanese Gold Cult!

The whole story started back in 1984, at the same time when Aum Shinrikyu was founded. The superintendent priest of the Myokaku Temple in Chiba prefecture established a company that sold aborted fetus bodhisattva. In 1987 he established a religious enterprise called Hongaku Temple and started to sell all over Kanto, before becoming an independent temple in 1988. Soon after, the Consumer Affairs Agency started to receive complaints and temporarily shut down business. Unimpressed, the gold cult bought the Myokaku Temple on Mount Koya in Wakayama prefecture to expand its business to Kansai – which at that point included spiritual consultations for 3000 Yen and performing memorial services for 1 million Yen (back then and currently more than 9000 USD!) as well as selling overpriced item like marble vases and items made from gold. Center of the scam were the ihai, spirit tablets believed to hold the souls of deceased people – the cult took care of thousands of them and placed them in two special buildings at the Myokaku temple; but obviously they didn’t take of them in a proper way, hence the fraud accusations. In December 1999 a Wakayama district court finally followed the Agency for Cultural Affairs request to dissolve Myokaku / Hongaku Temple – the organization subsequently lost a legal battle for survival in front of the Supreme Court.
Sadly and surprisingly I couldn’t find anything about the case in English or German, so I had to piece together above information from various very complicated Japanese sources; please feel free to correct me if I misunderstood something! (My knowledge about Buddhism is limited, so I tried to avoid specialized terminology when possible… and I still don’t know what happened to Mount Koya’s Myokaku temple.)

After hiking through the mountainous Japanese countryside for about an hour on a hot, sunny spring day I finally reached the headquarters of the former Japanese Gold Cult:  a cluster of about half a dozen buildings – and after climbing a rather long and steep flight of stairs I reached a regular looking building that probably was used for meetings and as living quarters. To the right, past a pond and a collapsed gate, there was a comparatively small storage house – nothing of interest. Up another small flight of stairs I found the main hall, which was hard to miss at it was by far the biggest building. Almost as good as new, with lots of dark corners and significantly colder than the outside, it felt kind of strange being there. Solo explorations are always a lot more nerve-wrecking than group explorations… but this location had a spiritual / religious component to it, obviously. I don’t believe in ghosts and I am not religious at all, nevertheless there is some awe-inspiring element to a lot of those institutions – graveyards like the Okunoin, cathedrals like the Kölner Dom… and abandoned fake temples like this one.
The main reason though why explorers from all over Japan travel to the middle of nowhere are two small buildings behind the main hall, in which the Japanese Cold Cult stored all the ihai – and the bling-bling of gold and black lacquer was indeed quite impressive and worth the long trip from Kansai!
I just had entered an official looking, administrative building, probably the one where visitors were welcomed, when I saw somebody outside through a window – so I left through the back without taking any video material or interesting photos. The parts I saw were small offices and a main room full of boxes and random items, not of interest.
The last building looked like a big, chaotic family home and was probably used for meditation. Since it was pretty much busted open, nature was taking over again and parts of the floor were rather soft and brittle. Again, items were scattered all over the place, as if somebody was looking for valuables without finding anything.

Three hours after my arrival I left with a heavy heart as I had an afternoon flight to catch. Exploring the headquarters of the Japanese Gold Cult was a weird and unique experience. On the one hand I felt a bit uneasy as I was exploring a crime scene solo, and the garden there wasn’t out of control (which means that somebody still had an eye on it), on the other hand it was such a tranquil and beautiful place, the peaceful atmosphere disrupted only once in a while by farmers tilling their nearby fields. The Japanese Gold Cult had been kept a secret for about a year or two – now that Japanese explorers gave away too many hints and its exact location kind of became common knowledge, I really hope that people will keep respecting it. Not because it’s a (fake) sacred site, but because it’s a beautiful and unique abandoned place that deserves respect!

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Old family pictures, dry plate negatives, books with titles like “Avoidances From Sexual Temptation”, a wooden wall telephone that looked like straight out of “Boardwalk Empire”… and somewhere there had to be 90 year old porn photos – my head was spinning!

3 years prior to that slightly overwhelming spring day, I went on a *second trip to Kyushu*. It was my first long-distance solo exploration trip and included amazing locations like the now demolished *Kawaminami Shipyard*, the also demolished amusement park *Navelland* and the wonderful *Ikeshima*.
3 months prior to that slightly overwhelming spring day, my urbex buddy Rory and his wife had helped me locating an amazing abandoned hotel I deemed worthy dumping 25.000 Yen travel costs on, so I spontaneously booked a flight from Kobe to Ibaraki Airport… I had 28 hours in the Kanto countryside and I was eager to make the best of it.
3 days prior to that slightly overwhelming spring day, I sent a message to a Japanese dude I made friends with some years ago on Facebook. Back then he contacted me referring to a girl from Tokyo we both kinda knew. Usually I am very hesitant adding complete strangers to my private Facebook account, but I added him anyway after we exchanged messages for a couple of weeks. I thought he was living in Tokyo, but just before my trip I found out that he was living in the city where I booked my hotel, so I asked him if he was available for a chat on short notice. First he told me that he had to work… and before I was able to answer he wrote that he would really like to explore with me – so he changed his working schedule and offered to pick me up at the airport with a friend of his. Positively surprised by the kindness of that stranger I told him about the locations I intended to visit, but that I’d be happy to be guided, too, as he knew the area a lot better than I did.
When I arrived at Ibaraki Airport, Y. welcomed me like an old friend (“Long time no see?!” Heck, we never met!) and his buddy J. was super nice, too. We went to his car and Y. started driving, so we did the obvious, chatting about urbex. He had great stories, I had great stories and all of a sudden he was like: “First stop: red villa!” And I was just thinking: “The old photographer’s house? The guy who had amateur porn on glass plates? THE 2013 urbex hot spot? A place people didn’t even hint about on the internet for a very, very long time?” Since Y. kept insisting that we met before, I just had to break it to him, as I didn’t want to take advantage of the situation: “Dude, I am terribly sorry, but we never met before! You added me on Facebook a while ago, we chatted about urbex because we have that common acquaintance I haven’t even met in person, but I’m afraid that’s it…” Instead of driving me back to the airport he said:
Y: ”You’ve been to Kyushu, right?”
F: ”Yes, I went there three years ago!”
Y: “Me too!”
F: “Oh, that’s great! Where did you go to?”
Y: “The Kawaminami Shipyard!”
F: “Amazing place, wasn’t it? Too bad they demolished it…”
Y: “Yeah, we met there!”
F: “I met people there…”
Y: “That was me and my friend Ben!”
F: “Wait a minute! I remember meeting a Japanese dude and his friend Ben!”
Y: “That was me!”
F: *blush*
Check out my article about the *Kawaminami Shipyard* from three years ago! I even wrote the following line: “The guys turned out to be Ben, an English teacher from Otsu in Shiga (close to my current home), and his Japanese friend from Kanto.“
Have I ever mentioned that I am bad with both names and faces? A truly horrible combination – but Y., J. and I had one of the best laughs ever… on our way to the amateur pornographer’s house! :)

Upon arrival, Y. indicated that we should keep a low profile. We were as countryside as it can get in Japan – and we stuck out like a sore thumb anyway, so no need to attract extra attention by being noisy. We walked past small houses and fields until we reached a bamboo grove. The path lead down a gentle slope… and there it was, the photographer’s house. Or rather estate. In addition to the main building, there were two or three side buildings, all of them about 100 years old according to the word on the street. Y. had been here before several times, but for J. and I it was the first visit. Since parts of the main building had already collapsed and the rest was in questionable condition, Y. guided us a bit. The first floor alone could have kept me busy for hours, with all the old photos, dolls, books, furniture and exposed parts of century old construction, but after around 20 minutes Y. called me upstairs; where I had another 30 minutes to take photos of a mind-blowingly gorgeous balcony, old magazines and newspapers, books and dry plates – Y. was kind enough to play hand model.

This was actually my first time in the 4.5 years that I do urban exploration to explore with a fellow Japanese explorer (not just say Hi at places when I coincidentally meet them…) and it seems like they are in more of a rush than I usually am. Nevertheless it was a great experience to explore the Japanese Vintage Pornographer’s House, though we didn’t even try to enter any of the other buildings and the closest we came to find porn was a printed nude drawing in a newspaper. In spring of 2014 the place already had severely suffered from vandalism (despite the obviously pretended secrecy) and it seems like somebody either thoroughly hid or even stole the porn dry plates – and after the really rainy summer this year I am sure the condition of the building hasn’t become better, considering the holes in roof and subsequently in the the ceiling. As great as the place still was, it was sad to see how much it suffered from spray paint, aggression, staging and most likely theft. In the past couple of years Japan had been an urbex sanctuary, but the Japanese Vintage Pornographer’s House is a prime example that the current trend goes to European and American conditions – where you have to rush to new discoveries as quickly as possible, before hordes of people from all over the world trample through and damage or even destroy the atmosphere…

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The Kümmelbacher Hof, an estate with a long history and most recently a nursing home called pro seniore Residenz Neckarblick, was my favorite location back home in Germany. When I explored the massive building complex with my sister Sabine back in 2012 it was already a rather dangerous location – a geocaching friend of mine told me that the abandoned building was overrun by cachers, especially at night, and that neighbors were calling the police on a regular basis whenever they spotted people. Sabine and I were lucky, the Kümmelbacher Hof was not – after being visited by one logged group of cachers per day (!) in average (plus an unknown amount of visitors not logging their caches) and a somewhat serious case of arson on February 17th 2013, the building was finally cleaned out and bricked up in late 2013.
R.I.P., Kümmelbacher Hof!

More than 200 years ago, around 1800 AD, the Kümmelbacher Hof was founded as an agricultural and silvicultural estate in the outskirts of Neckargmünd near Heidelberg – a small town Mark Twain must have passed through while traveling Europe, which he described in his book “A Tramp Abroad”. In 1879 a brewery was founded on the premises and in the early 1920s the mansion there was expanded to a spa hotel… and closed in 1961, with the complex for sale. Three years later, in 1964, the department store group Kaufhof AG bought the Kümmelbacher Hof and turned it into a skill center for executive staff members. In the 1970s, the brewery had been closed too, further reconstruction work was executed – and the Kaufhof AG decided to train staff in Cologne, so the buildings were rented to the vocational promotion center of the Confederation of German Trade Unions (Berufsförderungswerk des Deutschen Gewerkschaftsbundes), which offered an education to become a geriatric nurse. Soon after that, the Berufsförderungswerk (bfw) rented the former spa area to Pro Seniore, Germany’s biggest private operator of nursing and retirement homes. The pro seniore Residenz Neckarblick operated till 2005, when Pro Seniore owner Hartmut Ostermann as accused of tax evasion, but not convicted – he closed the Residenz Neckarblick immediately and with that pulled the financial carpet from unter the Berufsförderungswerk, which moved to Heidelberg in 2006. In March 2010 a geocacher named “Zaunkönig” posted a cache called “The Shining” at the estate, attracting thousands of fellow geocachers to the abandoned building – a second cache called “The Cache Hunt Project” was added in February 2011… Two years later, on February 17th 2013, a fire caused by arson destroyed parts of the Kümmelbacher Hof. As a result, Pro Seniore emptied the building, bricked up the windows / doors, cleared the savaged park and hired security.

When Sabine and I explored the area in July of 2012, we were as careful as one can be, taking our time to explore the vast area including both the bfw building as well as the Kümmelbacher Hof itself; this article though focuses on the former nursing home, the bfw skill center deserves its own in a couple of weeks / months…
Before we entered the Kümmelbacher Hof, Sabine and I spent about an hour outside, getting a feeling for the huge complex and the surrounding park area – and of course we stumbled across some cache item that deeply disturbed Sabine as she didn’t know about the cache and was worried that a child was abducted there! Luckily I could dispel her concerns, but there were signs of vandalism and we were aware that the police could show up at any moment, called by annoyed local residents, so we tried to feel comfortable with the area before actually entering the main building – through an open window next to the main entrance.
The former nursing home consisted of various wings on three floors plus a leisure area that lead to the medical and administration offices. Most rooms were almost empty, but some were stuffed with mattresses, medical beds or other equipment. Some parts looked like a typical hospital, others felt more like a pension. One of my favorite areas was a former bar with amazing post-war flair, probably renovated in the 1950s or 1960s after Kaufhof took over. The former “Cafè Panorama” had already lost most of its grandiose atmosphere, yet it surprised with a weekly menu from 1999 and the most disgusting placemat possible: comic drawings of two old pigs partying, labelled “Party Sau”; meaning party animal or rather party pig. Also rather unusual was a room with a handwritten “Fäkalienraum” sign, feces room; I assume that’s where all the bedpans and other medical equipment was cleaned.
Without the best part of the building was the lowest floor with the medical room and the director’s office, despite the fact that it reeked of mold. The medical room, or rather medicine room, was pitchblack and against my hope none of the photos turned out to be even decent, but the room was highly interesting as it contained boxes of medicine and medical supplies, like artificial urine (!) and gauze – most likely a problem for Pro Seniore if some controlling authority would have found out as I can’t imagine that it’s legal to stash that stuff and then disappear. The director’s office on the opposite end of a loooooong and gloomy hallway was stuffed with tons of folders, containing all kinds of patient information and financial data about both the clinic and the inpatients! We also found construction plans, handwritten presentation notes with headlines like “strategies for solving problems” and employee memos about things like closing the clinic’s tennis court (that’s how we found out about it – and we checked it out on the way home, though not much was left of it). Urbex heaven, it was like looking 10, 20, 30 years into the past.
Even back in 2012 the Kümmelbacher Hof had quite a bit of a graffiti problem. You can see the extent in the videos, but I don’t want to offer those vandals an encouraging platform, so I won’t post any specific graffitis as stills, especially since most of them were really bad anyway. Well, except for one. And coincidentally there is one thing I hate more than graffiti on abandoned buildings… which is the hypocritical way modern Japan deals with its role in World War 2. Before you call me Walter Sobchak – the graffiti I saw in one of the rooms resembled Shy Guy (of Super Mario fame) spraying “Unit 731” at a wall! I’m sorry, but that’s exactly my kind of humor, especially since the reference is even more obscure in Germany, where probably only a few hundred people have ever heard of Unit 731. Just in case you are with the majority who isn’t familiar with this disgrace for all humanity: Unit 731 was a top secret biological and chemical warfare research and development unit of the Imperial Japanese Army that killed several thousand people in human experiments (including vivisections without anesthesia) and up to half a million Chinese in field experiments. If you have a strong stomach, *read about Unit 731 on Wikipedia*.

Overall the Nursing Home Residenz Neckarblick was an amazing location, definitely my favorite one in Germany, easily Top 20 overall so far. The area was vast, the building complex was huge and there was so much to see, to explore, to discover. When we drove up to the Kümmelbacher Hof I expected to stay maybe an hour or two, in the end we spent almost six hours on the premises. When we left, Sabine and I both hoped that Pro Seniore would re-open the Residenz Neckarblick one day, so when I found out earlier this month that it suffered from arson and was bricked up, I honestly felt sorry that the urbex world lost such a great location!
For a somewhat similar institution in Japan, check out my articles about the *Abandoned Tuberculosis Hospital For Children*.

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