The Japanese love fishing – not just whales and dolphins, but in general. When I grew up, I saw short bits on TV about swimming pool like fishing ponds in Tokyo, right next to trains rattling by. Now that I live in Japan, I see anglers at almost all bodies of water, especially in the countryside – even in the mountains at 600 or 700 meters of elevation.
Karuizawa is a small town of about 18,000 people in Nagano prefecture, just two hours outside of Tokyo by car; or half that time when using a Shinkansen super express train. While never hosting Olympic games by itself, Karuizawa was host to the equestrian events of the 1964 Tokyo Summer Olympics and to the curling events of the 1998 Nagano Winter Olympics, making it the only place in the world hosting events for both Summer and Winter Olympics. But even without this little know fun fact Karuizawa is a really lovely town on the base of the active complex volcano Mount Asama, mostly consisting of small houses on surprisingly large parcels of land, surrounding a gorgeous small city center with lots of German, French and British influence; if there ever will be a Japanese remake of Groundhog Day, it should be filmed in Karuizawa!
Attracting predominantly Japanese tourists from Tokyo trying to escape the dreadful summer heat or looking for some skiing fun in winter, Karuizawa offers all kinds of outdoor activities.

A fishing park just outside of Karuizawa offered retreats for companies, universities and youth groups; adding tennis courts, a gateball court and a community center with pool billiard and karaoke to the list of recreational activities. Not much of it is left these days – a couple of rotting buildings as well as some left behind items.
What elevated this exploration and made it quite memorable was another encounter with wildlife; a fox this time, to be more specific. My exploration buddy Hamish and I were just entering the lower level of a barn like structure (see photo…) when we heard animal footsteps from the floor above. We took a couple of photos of the missing floor and the building in general when out of nowhere a fox came running down the broken wooden stairs and right at us. Not knowing what to do we just looked at each other, when the fox all of a sudden realized that he was not alone. In a 1960s cartoon like move he made a full break, turned around, sped up again and tried to escape through a window next to the flight of stairs… BOOM! The window was closed. Another try. Boom. And up the stairs he went, apparantly uninjured. Bursting into laughs about what just happened we continued to shoot for a while, when Hamish went out to the open again – seconds later the fox appeared, much more careful this time, seeing me and retreating again; it seems like he had been looking through a glass door and thought we left when he saw my buddy. Afterwards we left for good and never saw each other again… happy that it was such a shy creature and not some rabies ridden calf mangler!

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Japanese love their onsen hotels, accommodations with natural hot springs – they are popular all over the country and of course Hachijojima was no exception… until this hotel had to close for a quite bizarre reason!

I’ve written about Japanese bathing culture on Abandoned Kansai several times before, for example in my article about the *Meihan Spa Land* – usually not in a very flattering way as my first and for years last visit wasn’t a very pleasant one. The day that changed everything was April 28th 2014, when I first visited the abandoned Hachijo Spa Hotel… and then Mirahashi No Yu in the tiny village of Sueyoshi. Both visits I enjoyed surprisingly much in hindsight, despite or maybe because of my low expectations in both cases.

I wasn’t off to a good start when I got off the bus pretty much right next to a *koban*, one of those small neighborhood police stations you can find everywhere in Japan. It wasn’t so much that the first thing I saw was a koban – it was the sign in the window stating “on patrol” that worried me a little bit. But hey, what can you do? The show must go on… and it did. Walking up and down several different roads on Hachijojima’s steep slopes in search of the Hachijo Spa Hotel I got lost several times (GoogleMaps being rather useless in that specific area due to many additional roads big and small) – and when I finally found my way… I got passed by that friggin police car maybe 200 meters away from the hotel! Despite being a big tall foreigner far away from anything even remotely touristy, the cops ignored me, but of course my confidence was ruined when I finally arrived at the wooden fence that separated me from the abandoned hotel; even more so when I realized that said fence featured a brand-new chain and lock, which meant that someone checked on the place at least every once in a while and was invested enough to invest in basic security equipment like that.
Obviously I finally made it in somehow, otherwise there wouldn’t be any photos at the end of the article, but my first impressions of the Hachijo Spa Hotel confirmed the concerns I had before my visit – that it would be another rotten, rotting piece of moldy trash that was really boring and exhausting to explore. Even the gorgeous view from the lobby and the small arcade right next to it couldn’t cheer me up; not really a surprise after I explored the amazing *Arcade Machine Hotel* the day before. I tried to lighten up a bit, so I used the big mirror pillars in the lobby for some more creative photos before I headed outside and down the slope, where I found another part of the hotel as well as several tiny apartment buildings. While the latter were locked up, the hotel building hosted a big dining room, but everything was moldy and rotting, so I left after a few quick shots – the whole building was one big decaying health risk. Outside most of the roads and trails leading to more small buildings were overgrown, everything made of metal was rusting at a mind-blowing speed. I almost had given up when I saw steps leading underground somewhere, so I grabbed my flashlight to make up for the rather cowardly start.
To my surprise this rather short tunnel was the access point to one of the hotel’s pools / spa areas – and it was gorgeous! Back in the days it was an indoor area, but like I said, metal was rusting quickly and anything made of glass had been broken a long time ago, so this area surrounded by thick vegetation was its own little rundown paradise and definitely the highlight of the Hachijo Spa Hotel!
Which reminds me, I never mentioned why this hot spring hotel had to close its doors. Guess! Okay, you don’t have to guess. You would have been wrong anyway if you would have said “lack of customers”. The main reason this hot spring hotel had to close was… because the hot spring dried out!
No hot spring, no hot spring hotel…

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Would you like to hear a really messed up story? This one involves 4000 people being cheated out of 800 million dollars – and two murderers breaking into an apartment in front of 2 security guards and at least 40 journalists!

In 1981 a young man from Gifu prefecture called Kazuo Nagano founded the Osaka Toyota Trading Company and renamed it Toyota Trading Company (TTC) – despite the fact that there was already a Toyota Trading Company, part of the famous conglomerate that produces cars, amongst other things. (Nagano’s first job was at Nippondenso, a company that supplies automotive parts to Toyota…) The TTC targeted widowed elderly people by phone, claiming to sell (and of course store) gold – if that first step was successful a representative would visit the potential customer’s house, trying to gain their trust and make them invest – of course the famous Toyota brand name was chosen on purpose to imply a connection that wasn’t there. In 1985 the TTC became part of an investigation lead by the National Consumer Affairs Center after about 4000 people claimed they invested 800 million dollars without any results. In April of that year the head of the Kajima Trading Company, which sold membership for non-existing Toyota Gold Clubs, was arrested. On June 18th 1985 the arrest of Kazuo Nagano became very likely, so a few dozen reporters besieged Nagano’s apartment in Osaka, which was protected by two private security guards. All of a sudden two men showed up and demanded entrance, claiming that “We’ve been asked to kill him.” – then they smashed a window next to the door, climbed inside and killed Nagano with a bayonet. Nobody even tried to stop them, but the present cameramen made sure to film the whole scene, which can be found on Youtube. (The actual murder is not visible as it took place inside – the two killers were sentenced to eight / ten years in jail.)
Over the years, the Toyota Trading Company claimed to be involved in many businesses – newspapers, airlines, diamonds… and construction. None of these businesses ever made any money, in fact they lost most of it with failed investments. Two of those failed investments still stand tall in the Japanese countryside – a pretty much locked up 5-storey brick hotel in Hyogo and a gigantic 13-storey onsen hotel with about 250 rooms in Kyoto. Since the unfinished hotel in Kyoto is much more interesting visually, I bundled this quite unusual and very tragic background story with the smaller one in Hyogo…

The Hyogo Construction Ruin actually looks brand-new from the outside and nobody would know that it is abandoned, if it weren’t for the out of control vegetation surrounding the building and the massive amount of corrugated iron blocking windows and doors. The last time I saw this location on the internet (years ago!) it must have been just in the process of being abandoned as the vegetation was a lot lower and the ground floor hadn’t been prepared for the zombie apocalypse yet. Back then I was fascinated by it, with the dark clinker brick façade outside and a brand-new clinker brick wall inside – in a huge glass front room most likely to be the resort hotel’s dining hall.
Upon my visit the building turned out to be quite a disappointment and one of the most unfun explorations of the year. Despite massive glass elements in the dining room and the lobby, most of the ground floor was incredibly spooky due to the mostly boarded-up windows and some pitchblack areas – finding some photo albums and left-behind blueprints didn’t help much to distract from the fact that this was a very, very uncomfortable place. And it got worse. The staircases leading down had huge yellow tubes disappearing in the basement, most likely industrial size dehydrators, the staircases leading up were both completely dark – and so was the second floor; darker’n a black steer’s tookus on a moonless prairie night. Windows boarded up, most rooms boarded up. Nothing was finished, the few installed bathroom doors still in their plastic wrapping. There was little to see and even less to take interesting pictures of, maybe except for the fact that in some rooms the floor / ceiling was missing, as if somebody took a sledgehammer and thought a demolition workout would be a good idea. Other than that… nothing. More or less dark hallways, more or less barricaded rooms, more or less finished interior. And though there was not much in the building to rot, the smell inside wasn’t exactly pleasing either. Just a really, really creepy place I was more than happy to leave after about spending a total of maybe an hour there…

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Nichitsu is a legend amongst Japanese urban explorers, a world-class ghost town that attracts visitors from all over the country and even overseas. In day trip range from Tokyo (but not from Osaka!), this mostly abandoned mining village in the mountains of Saitama prefecture is famous for its huge variety of abandoned structures crammed into a single valley – countless mining buildings (some still in use, even on the weekends!), several schools, a hospital, a gymnasium, a vast residential area and who knows what else.

After exploring a cute little regular ghost town on a sunny Sunday morning, my buddy *Hamish* and I arrived in Nichitsu to grey weather and low hanging clouds; at one o’clock, totally underestimating the vast amount of buildings to explore – though even a full day would barely be enough to see everything there, let alone document it properly. To make the best of the situation, we avoided the rather busy lower part of the valley (with company cars parked as well as a group of explorers arriving) and headed for a small parking area used by hikers. From there we wanted to find out what all the fuzz was all about… and it didn’t take us long!
Given the rather active area we passed through just minutes prior (feeding the rumors about security) as well as the fading light even rather early in the day, I decided to take a first video of what I thought was everything there was to see in that area – then we started to explore buildings on a sample basis as it was pretty clear that less than 4 hours of daylight remaining wouldn’t allow us to see everything anyway. From the very beginning it was close to impossible to take indoor photos without a tripod as exposure times quickly reached up to 30 seconds in darker areas of buildings.
A school, an office building, several private houses (ranging from completely empty to fully stocked and suitcases packed), a small fire station and some other structures later we reached the area at the end of the first video – only to realize that the really interesting buildings were still ahead of us and just seconds away; including a gymnasium and the now mostly collapsed hospital! Crazy…
With less than an hour of daylight left, we kept shooting and shooting and shooting, but even test shots to frame pictures properly took painfully long (as you might or might not know, I don’t even crop my photos). The last building we found was the hospital, of course, and despite the conditions we both managed to take a couple of decent shots – overall it was a bit disappointing though as it didn’t even come close to its reputation or similar places, like the *Tokushima Countryside Clinic*.
Overall the Nichitsu Ghost Town totally lived up to its reputation… and given that I didn’t even enter a mining related building means that another visit is in order – probably sometime in 2015 as I am pretty sure that Nichitsu will see some snow soon, rendering parts of the village inaccessible (then I will tell you more about Nichitsu’s complicated history, too…). The white stuff in some of the videos and pictures definitely wasn’t snow! Maybe some kind of gypsum? Solid when dry, it became viscous when in contact with water – I am sure during a typhoon you can watch it flowing down slopes and roads, slowly suffocating the lower parts of Nichitsu…

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About three years ago my dear friend and colleague Kit asked me who my favorite superhero / video game character was. I didn’t want to go down the well-known roads like Star Wars or Indiana Jones, and I had picked up urban exploration two years prior – since I was a big fan of the first Dead Rising game and thought it would be a great fit, I said “Frank West”! Six weeks later, I had almost forgotten about the short conversation, I found a picture attached to an e-mail Kit had sent me – a drawing of myself as Frank West, with zombies and *Nara Dreamland’s* Aska rollercoaster in the background. I couldn’t believe it! That was by far the best present ever, and common consensus was that Kit outdid himself; not only nailing the looks, but also both characters. From the next day on I started to use part of the drawing as my online avatar, proudly, with a smile on my face every single time I saw it.
Back then, in 2011, Abandoned Kansai was a tiny blog with less than one tenth of today’s readership – but with the 3 year anniversary of my avatar and the 5 year anniversary of *Abandoned Kansai* coming up, it’s finally time to say Thank You in public:

Kit, you are an amazing artist and I loved your drawing from the second I laid eyes on it! Thank you very, very much!

Over the years my avatar became a conversation piece and I know that some of you guys out there like it, too – if you want to see more of Kit’s amazing work, check him out on *Facebook* and *DeviantArt*. He’s already hugely popular, especially on DeviantArt, but nothing would make me prouder than turning some of my followers into his fans, too!

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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