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When I arrived at the Akenobe Mine and saw it demolished, I was devastated. Three years ago, this was supposed to be my first big exploration of an abandoned mine… They are rare in Kansai, and while the *Tatsuyama Mine* the year before was a good start, it couldn’t compete with the country’s greatest. But upon my arrival, the Akenobe Mine was mostly gone and the surrounding area brushed clean. A blessing in disguise, because three years and half a dozen barely touched abandoned mines later, it was very exciting to have a look at those “old” photos again, being able to see what a stripped mine looks like underneath all the rusty metal and brittle wood.

It was a sunny spring day when my buddy Dan and I headed deep into the mountains of Hyogo; an area that can be cold, but was unlikely to have snow that time of the year. After exploring another place or two, we finally arrived at the Akenobe Mine at around two o’clock. Just in time for a proper exploration as the sun is setting early in Japan; especially in the mountains, especially that time of the year. We easily found the road leading up the slope, blocked by a massive barbed wire gate. Getting by was a bit of a challenge, especially for me, but in the end it wasn’t much of an obstacle. So we followed the concrete street, littered with branches and small rocks, up the mountain, eager to find out what condition the Akenobe Mine was in. The hairpin curve leading into a dark tunnel must have been quite a thing when driving a loaded truck, but on foot it was rather enjoyable. Sadly our good mood turned into disappointment after the next turn – all the administrative buildings of the mine were gone, except for some concrete bases and stairs here and there on different levels of the mountain. The whole wooden superstructure above the massive concrete containers in the mountainside were gone; so, of course, was all the machinery. The former mine looked like it was prepared as some kind of development area, though nothing ever happened since then – no housing projects, no solar park. To get closer to the concrete leftovers, we had to get past a massive green fence, which turned out to be no obstacle at all. Sadly there wasn’t that much to see, despite us checking out several levels of the former construction. Some cables here, some canisters there… remains of a rail transportation system, of course… Not at all what we expected, but like I said, in hindsight a really good experience.

A far less good experience there had 296 prisoners of war a few decades earlier – a fact neither Dan nor I was aware of at the time. Mining for copper, zinc and tungsten (wolfram) in the Akenobe area dates back to the Heian era (794-1185), but was taken over by the new Meiji government in 1868 in an attempt to maximize the potential and progress with organized, documented mining. Like many of those highly profitable pilot projects, the Akenobe Mine was sold to Mitsubishi in 1898, together with the nearby Ikuno Silver Mine. In spring of 1945 the Akenobe Mine again received some state support in form of almost 300 POWs as forced workers – 28 Australians, 168 Brits; the rest Americans. According to Private First Class Claude R. Lewis of the U.S. Marine Corps the POWs had to work in the mines till August 13th, two days before Japan’s capitulation. Thanks to an affidavit by him, we know that he witnessed how countless boxes and cabinets with documents were transported into the mine and probably hidden in the undocumented early parts that date back hundreds of years – sadly I wasn’t able to find out if they were ever retrieved after the war. While it seems like none of the forced laborers died in Akenobe, many of them reported war crimes of staff and guards at previous camps… which probably explains an oppressive statement made by Japanese translator Kazuo Kobayashi, who worked mainly with the Ikuno prisoners: “Just the mention of Akenobe does strangely bring back tragic images of right after the end of the war when the prisoners were freed, when some of the camp military personnel and Japanese bosses working at the Akenobe mine site were beaten to a pulp.”
Mining continued after the war, but all the mines in the area became less and less profitable, so in 1987 the Akenobe Mine was closed. It seems like these days parts of the Akenobe Mine and some other remains (like a small closed station with a three car train) are actually considered “Heritage of Industrial Modernization” and therefore are open to the public for a fee of 1200 Yen, supported by an NPO. Sadly there is no English website, and the Japanese one is a text heavy read with 1990s web design… Well, not much of a tourist attraction for foreigners anyway – though now I am quite curious if they even mention the POWs there…

Darn, even writing about the Akenobe Mine was a constant up and down. Sunny day, place demolished, relaxed exploration, prisoners of war / guards getting killed in an act of revenge… I guess that’s life. And despite the fact that there was hardly anything left of the mine, it was strangely full of it. I still feel quite a bit conflicted about this place, nevertheless I hope you’ll enjoy the pictures and videos that follow. If you want to know what similar mines look like before demolition, please give my articles about the *Abandoned Dynamite Mine* (yes, it was that exciting!) or the *Taro Mine* a try.

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The Mount T Lift was probably one of the most pointless transportation devices in the history of mankind. A large hunk of junk that once lifted lazy butts from the parking lot of a now abandoned hotel to a viewing point on top of a mountain – but not all the way or all the height difference, just half of it each; time and energy saving 250 meters (!) / 15 meters (!) respectively… more or less parallel to a regular road!
Located on a mountain slope about 10 kilometers away from the nearest train station, the Mount T Lift is a rather rarely visited abandoned place, because hardly anybody cares enough about it to go there… even by car. I on the other hand explored the place solo and by public transportation, which was a steep learning experience and quite a pain four years ago. To cut down the walking time, I took a bus for the first seven kilometers and walked the remaining three up the mountain – though in the end it would have probably been more time effective to walk all the way as researching bus schedules and routes is a friggin nightmare in Japan. Not only for a stupid gaijin like me, but also for the staffs of tourist information offices all over the country. (Half a year later I needed a bus connection from Sapporo Station to a university in the suburbs – it took the staff about half an hour to find the proper schedule!)

Public Transportation in Japan

And with that we are onto yet another “I beg to differ, Japan!” topic: public transportation.
Public transportation in Japan has the image of being flawless, especially amongst tourists, so I will hold it to higher standards than in other countries, because that common (mis)perception is annoying when you have to live with it on a daily basis. At least back home in Germany everybody knows that trains are always late and calculate that factor into their plans; Italians apparently are positively surprised if a train actually runs, and in France everybody is on strike all the time anyway… So you have a car and don’t rely on public transportation unless you really have to. And even then it’s rather “giving it a try, expecting to be disappointed despite lowest expectations” and less relying on it. Japan’s public transportation system on the other hand lulls you in a sense of reliability and screws you over in the most sneaky ways, usually when alternatives are either super expensive (taxis) or not available (taxis…). (I actually started writing this bit of the article a while ago when I was sitting in the middle of nowhere waiting for my bus back to civilization – the one in the morning was cancelled due to a marathon (!), so I walked the 7 kilometers to my destination without a map and just a general direction in mind. It was January, overcast, cold, windy and the “bus station” was a metal stick with a 8 connections per day schedule. The afternoon bus was due at 16:35, but didn’t show up – luckily the next one 45 minutes later did; the other direction (on time at 16:34!) was already out of service for the day…)
First of all: The Shinkansen Superexpress that connects most of the major cities on Honshu and Kyushu (no service on Shikoku and only a hub on Hokkaido) is indeed close to perfect, except being overpriced unless you are eligible for a JR Pass; which you are not when you live in Japan. The Shinkansen is fast, clean, almost always on time, offers the best souvenir shops in special parts of stations, standard announcements are at least bilingual (Japanese and English, recently maybe even in Chinese and Korean) and overall it is a real pleasure for destinations within one hour of flight time. Or maybe 45 minutes. Living in Osaka I’d rather take a plane to places beyond Fukuoka or Tokyo, because it tends to be so much cheaper… and most likely faster.
Public transportation in big cities tends to be great, too. When you have intervals of 3 or 4 minutes, who cares if a train / subway is early or late? You just take the next one… One big letdown though: No transportation between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m. at all. Not even night busses once per hour in large cities. Nothing. Except for January 1st, so people visiting a shrine at midnight can go to one further away than just down the street. So if you limit yourself to big cities between Tokyo and Osaka (and / or between Osaka and Nagasaki), as most tourists do, your mind indeed will be blown. BUT:
If you leave the large cities, you might… you will… run into problems. Stations with 8 to 10 connection per day instead of per hour are anything but rare, so you better have your plans laid out well… It happened to me countless times that one of those countryside connections was late and I missed my connecting express at the next bigger station – which can quickly result in another hour of delay.
People tend to ridicule the Deutsche Bahn employees for their announcements in sometimes broken English… but at least they try! If something goes wrong, if there is any delay in Japan – only announcements in Japanese, not a single word in English; even on the Shinkansen and in cities like Osaka.
When you go to the countryside, be prepared that NONE of the announcements are in English anymore – just travel south towards Shikoku from Okayama to make that experience… or past Kansai Airport to Wakayama. A lot of those local trains heading to the countryside are old and therefore don’t have electronic signs, which means that you have to rely on the conductor’s announcements. Oh, and you’ll probably never forget your first “wanman” (one man) experience – normal looking trains that have no conductor, usually serving lines with unmanned stations. The first time I ever took one of those without being aware of the wanman concept I was sitting in the second car… and when I tried to leave, the doors wouldn’t open – by the time I realized that I had to leave through the first car (so the train driver could check my ticket, so I won’t exit the unmanned station with a low fee ticket), the train was already moving again and I missed my remote station. Since they tend to be far apart in the countryside, it was more time effective to wait 45 minutes in the cold for the next train in the opposite direction than to walk back one stop… Yay!
At least you can plan train schedules ahead easily as all train stations and schedules are available in English online data bases (if you can’t read station names you can write down when to get off the train) – probably 95% of the bus schedules / maps on the other hand are available in Japanese only… and on online maps usually only their locations are marked, not their names / schedules, like on GoogleMaps for example. Inner city tourist buses in major cities are the exception, but even regular city buses can be a challenge – like I said, it took the Sapporo Station tourist information staff 30 minutes to find me the correct bus to a nearby university…
Long story short: Japan’s public rail transportation in big cities is as good as it gets – if you think that also applies to bus transportation and / or the countryside… think again! In those cases you better know at least basic Japanese… and how to plan ahead. I’ve used bus routes with two connections per day and I’ve waited more than an hour for connecting trains just 13 kilometers (less than 10 miles!) away from an international airport – in perfect scenarios with no delays involved! Overall this rant is probably more than ever complaining about first world problems, but this is my tenth year in Japan and you have no idea what kind of ridiculous conversations I had about transportation in Japan. It’s good, but it’s also far from the glorified image some people seem to have…

Up Where We Belong

Sadly there is nothing known about the history of the Mount T Lift, but I assume it operated for a few years sometime between the opening and closing of a nearby hotel. Right next to the bright orange upper terminus was a little shack made of corrugated iron and wood on a concrete platform, supported by metal stilts – with a huge glass front, offering a great view to everyone too lazy to continue for another 250 / 10 meters on foot to enjoy the full 360 degree experience. Most of the lift line was overgrown and rather unspectacular, but parts of it were secured by a net below as the lift seats didn’t have safety bars.

Overall the Mount T Lift was a nice extra to the abandoned hotel I mentioned before, especially since I wasn’t aware of it beforehand. So I took some pictures and a video of the lower terminus before I explored the hotel – and some more pictures and another video of the upper terminus after I explored the hotel. What about the hotel, you ask? Well, that’s a story for another time… :)

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And now for something completely different – an outdoor shooting range of the French occupying army in Neustadt, Germany!
After six years and more than 350 articles it’s not easy to present abandoned places you haven’t seen yet at all. Better ones or interesting variations… no problem. They keep me exploring and you reading. But basically new ones? Something else other than deserted hotels, theme park, hospitals, schools, … How about an outdoor shooting range then? I explored it back in 2012 and two more since then, but I don’t think I ever presented one here on Abandoned Kansai.

The first abandoned outdoor shooting range I ever explored was built and used by the French occupying army near the beautiful town of Neustadt an der Weinstraße, Germany. My sister and I were on our way to the now demolished *IBAG*, so we made a quick stop at a forest in Neustadt’s outskirts. The former military area was easy to find and even easier to access – a surrounding fence was still there, but the open gaps were as big as Alsace…
There is little known about the history of this outdoor shooting range, but people on the German-speaking part of the internet agree that it was used by the French occupying army… and sometimes by the German Bundeswehr, for joint exercises. The range consisted of two lanes, 600 meters each, with a bunker 15 meters high at the end; functioning as a backstop. The earth walls to each side were six meters high and about every 20 meters down the lane was a wooden clad concrete bullet trap to catch ricochets. Near the front end of the shooting range were a couple of abandoned and completely empty buildings without roofs, obviously beyond repair. Pretty much the whole area was at least partly overgrown and progress wasn’t that easy, especially since the exploration took place mid-summer.
Despite the fact that there wasn’t that much to see, the Military Shooting Range Neustadt was quite an interesting exploration – mainly because it was my first abandoned firing range… I didn’t even try to namecode this location as it is really well-known and easy to find, but if you want to have a look yourself, be careful in summer: that area is tick infested!

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About four years ago there was a brief period of time in which there were three abandoned New Zealand themed parks in Japan; in Kagawa, Hiroshima and Yamaguchi – and to the best of my knowledge I am the only urban explorer to visit them all. One of them even twice…

There are many reasons to revisit abandoned places. At some I run out of time, so I come back to see more. At some mother nature prevents a full exploration with lavish vegetation in summer or snow in winter. Some I fell in love with and want to enjoy again. And then there are those nearby places I shoot several times in different seasons just because they are there and I have nothing better to do. The *Shikoku New Zealand Village* (in Kagawa prefecture) though I revisited for several reasons, despite the fact that I had been there just half a year prior: Different seasons (March vs. September), there was construction machinery parked nearby during my first visit, during summer I bought a toy drone that I wanted to try at a suitable place, and my friend Chris from New Zealand was interested in going – so we went.

Exploring a location a second time is equally different as exploring it with a friend. Exploring the Shikoku New Zealand Village a second time with a friend almost made me feel like coming home, showing him my old neighbourhood. (If you haven’t read the *article about my original exploration*, I recommend doing it now as I won’t repeat certain information in this article.) This time we entered straight away without scouting the perimeter, heading through a park like area straight to the barn – which was actually accessible this time. And people say there is no vandalism in Japan… Anyway, while I was still taking pictures inside, Chris headed towards the back of the barn where he found something I had overlooked the first time – a small museum like the one at the *Yamaguchi version* right next to what I assume was the sheep show; including information about different kinds of breeds. One of them was called “Romney”, which probably isn’t that funny anymore now, but 3.5 years ago, at the time of my visit, good old Mitt was running for president of the United States, so this made me chuckle at least a little bit.
From the small auditorium we continued to the little kart track and then deeper into the park, to the souvenir shop / restaurant called Oakland, with the landslide in front of it. (If you read the previous article, you know what I mean!) And to my total surprise… the landslide was gone! Right in front of the building was a brand-new road with a freshly secured slope, including a low fence. Now, why on earth would anybody repair a road at an abandoned themed park? We had no idea, so we continued to explore the park. Well, Chris explored, I just took some more pictures of the same old… and a video walkthrough of the Oakland House, which was accessible this time, too. Speaking of videos: Thanks to the nearby model plane airport I was able to fly my toy drone without making much extra noise, but the combination of me being a horrible pilot and the weather being overcast by the time I started filming created some barely watchable videos of which I chose the least eyesore one. It doesn’t have sound for obvious reasons… and the video is a bit choppy. But hey, what do you expect from a cheap five year told tech toy in this day and age? (Drones in general are not really urbex compatible, even modern ones with good or optional cameras – indoors they are hard to navigate and the rotors blow everything up / away, outdoors they tend to catch the attention of people passing by…)

And that’s pretty much it. Chris and I had a good time exploring the Shikoku New Zealand Village (again), and I was prepared to go back for a third round, but that never happened. Recent updates of the GoogleMaps satellite view though show that the construction work on the premises continued. All buildings except for the entrance and the Oakland House have been demolished, the pond has been drained, lots of vegetation has been removed, the ground levelled – the Shikoku New Zealand Village now is a huge solar farm… (And so is the nearby model plane airport!)

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You didn’t like the *Tsuyama Plaza Hotel* very much? Well… I can beat that… and not in a good way! So let’s start this year with one of the worst locations I ever explored. One I only took pictures of, because I already had climbed the friggin mountain it was located on and had nothing better to do after shooting the neighboring, partly demolished and now completely gone *Misasa Plateau Family Land* – welcome to the mostly demolished Misasa Plateau View Hotel!

I am sure at one point in time the Misasa Plateau View Hotel has been an awesome accommodation. Located on the slope of a mountain plateau, it was actually kind of cut in half by a street leading to a country club further down the road. But the street didn’t go through the hotel… When the hotel was planned and constructed, the main building was on top of the mountain, but the annex was down below on a small ridge along the slope – and both buildings were connected by a tunnel for guests underneath the road! That it had been surrounded by its own amusement park was just another awesome perk… Sadly, by the time of my visit the main building already had been demolished to make space for a now finished solar park, but the lower ridge part was still standing – and completely vandalized. The view from the small balconies was gorgeous, but the building had turned into a bit of a death trap. Some exits sure weren’t safe anymore… Despite its elevated location, the hotel most likely featured some really nice public baths, not for nothing the floor plan I found showed the name “Misasa Plateau Radium Garden”. The most interesting part though was the old outdoor pool, though I am not 100% whether it was part of the hotel or of the theme park. It was located on the side of the main building / family land, but a bit lower, probably the same height as the annex building. Two pools, a slide and a pool building with some sponsored benches in front… Morinaga HiCROWN chocolate. Nothing special by any means, but photography gold in comparison to the rest of the location.
So here you are, another vandalized hotel in Japan. Shot in 2012 and totally not representative for the mind-blowing explorations I did over the course of the past 12 months. I would even go so far to say that 2015 has been the best year of explorations ever for me – some of those locations I have already written about (for example *here*, *here* and *here*), and I am looking forward to showing you some more in 2016! :)

Happy New Year everyone!

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I am getting a bit tired of hearing stuff like “Oh, there is no vandalism in Japan!” and “Japanese people are so much more respectful towards things that don’t belong to them… and nature!” – yeah, you might get that impression if you’ve never been to Japan or never left a bigger city here, but overall those almost quotes are highly exaggerated in my experience. So now I finally post a location I should have posted years ago… the Tsuyama Plaza Hotel.

Before I get to this vandalized rundown piece of sh…ub-dee-doo, let me say a few words about vandalism in Japan… and why the problem is a bit more complex than “Because it’s Japan”!
Yes, I am aware that the average place presented on Abandoned Kansai probably is indeed in better condition than the average place presented on a weekly blog about urbex in Europe or the States. One of the main reasons probably is that I am holding back locations like the Tsuyama Plaza Hotel, because I rather show you more interesting places. And when I go to rundown, vandalized buildings, I still try to take interesting photos, presenting even those locations in the best possible way. “But most urbex blogs do that!”, you might say, and you have a valid point there. Which bring us to an urbex related reason why there is less vandalism / damage to abandoned places in Japan: There are a lot less urban explorers in Japan than Europe and the States! I know, urbexers don’t damage, don’t steal, and don’t reveal places – in theory… But every visit, even when executed as carefully as possible, contributes to the downfall of a place – you bring in dirt and humidity, some people move items when looking for hints about a location’s history or to create more interesting photos… and when those are published, they attract more people to those locations, not all of which are (serious) urbexers. Speaking of attracting more people – geocaching is not a thing in Japan; not at all! I know, I know, geocachers treat every place with the highest respect and would never damage anything… in theory. But they actively lure people to deserted places by publishing coordinates. Just google “lost places geocaching” and I am sure you’ll find tons of abandoned places in the German speaking parts of Europe, despite none of those search words are German. And please don’t get me wrong, this is not an attack against geocachers – they have the same right to be at abandoned places as urbexers (technically: none…), though I’ve never heard of a place being torn down due to too many careful, serious photographers, while I was given the “too many” reason about geocachers by the demolition crew tearing down the *Deportation Prison Birkhausen*. Long story short: a lot less urbexers, hardly any geocachers in Japan. But in my estimation a lot more abandoned places per square kilometer. Japan is a country with very densely populated and rather remote areas and a distinct “out of sight, out of mind” mentality – outside of city centers, places are rather abandoned than demolished, especially since there is (was?) a tax break for built-up land, which means abandonment not only avoids demolition costs, but also taxes in the years to come.
Which brings us to “the Japanese people” – and as much as I hate those generalizations, I guess they are kind of necessary in this case. First of all: the average Japanese person is a lot more superstitious than the average European person. It’s actually mind-blowing how many of them believe in ghosts and stuff like that – which probably can be explained by the indigenous Shinto religion and its relationship with spirits and purification in general; abandoned places, especially those where people died, are absolute no-go zones for those people. In addition to that, Japanese people are a lot more subservient to authority than most Americans and Europeans, at least in my experience. They tend to follow orders by higher ranking people without questioning them, kind of in a Prussian way. Do you remember that Simpsons episode in season 20 where Lisa is standing in front of the Springfield Bell Tower with a sign stating “Keep out”? Below is another sign: “Or enter. I’m a sign, not a cop.“ Well, in Japan a sign, a rope or even a traffic cone usually is enough to keep people from entering places thanks to that general obedience. I’ve been to abandoned places with Japanese people and they didn’t dare to pass a sign or step over a rope – which is nothing in comparison to what urbexers all over the world do to get past barb-wired fences or avoid security to take pictures of places they consider “abandoned”. (But if somebody pays for security, is that place really abandoned? Or just currently not used to its full potential?) Which brings us to another major character difference – Japanese society is still about (large) groups, while urbex tends to be a rather individual hobby; especially when you are interested in taking photos. In my experience, Japanese people love big groups. 15, 20, 30, 40 people. But that doesn’t work for urbex. Even 5 people can be too many for some locations, especially if the place is small and / or access is a bit more complicated. Big groups also support another thing Japan is great at – social control and public shaming. Even in a group of 15 people there is always a snitch happy to rat out the rest… All of that combined explains why there are a lot less urban explorers / geocachers / individualistic people in Japan.
As for vandalism in general… in my opinion / experience it’s quickly on the rise in Japan. Sure, there is not nearly as much graffiti and pointless destruction in Japan as in Europe or the States, but there is infinitely more in comparison to when I first came to Japan almost 20 years ago. And when there is the opportunity, there is lots of vandalism in Japan, too. Just look at the *Rape and Death of an Abandoned Japanese Sex Museum* article I wrote a few months ago. That place went from awesome to completely vandalized in less than two years. Why? Because it was located on the main road in a busy spa town just south of Sapporo and somebody marked it on GoogleMaps. Plenty of bored people of all ages after dark – 4.45 p.m. in winter, 7.30 p.m. in summer. The *Tuberculosis Clinic for Children* in the south of Osaka went from “completely locked with running machines inside” to “completely trashed” in less than three years. Why? Opportunity! The clinic was out of sight and out of hearing from any neighbors, yet still in walking distance of a train station. If you went there at any time of the day, even with the intent to smash windows and furniture, chances were close to zero that anybody would have heard you. And those are just two examples for trashed places (both have been demolished in early 2015). And sometimes they literally get trashed. With trash. Because getting rid of electronics can be expensive in Japan, a lot of people just dump their old TVs, fridges and other equipment somewhere in the woods or at abandoned places – so much for the nature loving population mentioned in the intro… (I once took a very special photo in the middle of nowhere – a sign stating in many words “Don’t unload your garbage here!”… and in the background a huge pile of garbage bags and electronics…)
I’m not trying to be “anti” here, I just wanted to share my experiences / observations of living in Japan for almost 10 years. Maybe I am wrong and there really is significantly less vandalism in Japan. Who knows? But if there is, I am pretty sure the explanation is much more complex than “because it’s Japan”.

Now, let’s finally get to the Tsuyama Plaza Hotel… and get it over with. According to the calendars on the walls, the hotel closed in June of 2000 – and neither time nor people have been nice to the building ever since. It was (and probably still is) basically a prime example for a large, boring vandalized hotel with nothing special about it. Graffiti everywhere, broken glass everywhere, interior and everything not screwed or bolted lying around everywhere… and even some of the screwed stuff got screwed. Heck, I don’t have anything nice to say about the place either, except that the view from the lounge on the top floor was rather nice during sunset; but that’s something not even the most violent vandal would be able to destroy. I was bored exploring the place and I am kind of bored writing this part of the article. So I’ll stop – please enjoy the photos and the video. I’m outta here! :)

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“Nail ‘em up I say! Nail some sense into them!”

Over the years I have explored quite a few abandoned *temples* and *shrines*, but deserted churches are hard to find in Japan. Why? Because if you look at the past, the longest tradition regarding Christianity in Japan is nailing known believers to the cross – yes, religious persecution was a thing in the land of the rising sun until the second half of the 19th century!
Real churches older than 150 years are very hard to find in Japan… Nagasaki’s Oura Church, finished in 1864, is actually considered Japan’s oldest church, but even modern ones today are rather a place for non-Christians to experience a White Wedding than a place for prayer. I actually wouldn’t be surprised if there are more fake chapels and churches as part of wedding halls and hotels than real ones… A rather new trend that apparently can be traced back to Prince Charles and Lady Di in 1981. So here’s another chapter from the not yet existing book “Things you probably didn’t know about Japan”…

I’ll try to keep the history lesson as simple as possible.
Christians first arrived in the Japan in the early 1540s. Back then Christianity as a whole was a bit more violent and a bit more aggressive than nowadays – and the Portuguese set their eyes on the island nation, as it was theirs according to the Treaty of Tordesillas, which basically split the world between Portugal and Spain. Both powers quickly realized that they wouldn’t be able to colonize Japan, so the missionary presence in Japan meant trade and conversion one by one. At the time Japan was split into several spheres of power, fighting each other in a civil war. Trade with the outside world was welcome, especially if that meant access to new technologies and rare materials; like firearms and saltpeter. To reach the masses, missionaries would trade with and convert / baptize local rulers, the daimyo – most of them would then be favorable towards Christianity, but not necessarily actively support the new belief. Either because they lacked interest or they didn’t want additional conflicts with the then rather powerless imperial family, which tried to ban Christianity completely several times for good reasons: According to Shinto, the emperor is / was a descendant of the sun goddess Amaterasu – Christianity tells a different story and therefore threatened the claim to power of the Japanese imperial family. By 1585 Toyotomi Hideyoshi had reunified Japan and was able to focus on external threats, not just internal ones. Worried about loyalties, slave-trade of other Japanese, and the butchering of horses and oxen for food (!), Toyotomi released a decree know as “Purge Directive Order to the Jesuits” in 1587, which was only partly enforced at first – resulting in the crucifixion of 26 missionaries and converts in 1597. Persecution continued, but wasn’t enforced vigorously until 1638, when the Shimabara Rebellion, an uprising of overtaxed, mostly Christian peasants against the rather newly established Tokugawa shogunate, failed. As a result, Christianity was driven underground, more often than not literally “under ground” with believers hiding in caves and mines (like the now abandoned *Osarizawa Mine*), trying to escape certain death. And Japan almost completely shut off to the rest of the world for more than two centuries, turning into something resembling North Korea very much…
Even after Commodore Matthew Perry “opened” Japan in 1853 the persecution continued. Thanks to the Harris Treaty foreigners were allowed to live in Japan again (outside of Dejima, the shogunate’s version of Kaesong) from 1858 on, but it wasn’t until 1873 that the ban of Christianity was officially lifted – an impressive and rather unbelievably 5 years after the Meiji Restauration began; and only because Western governments kept complaining about the ongoing persecution.
Since then the number of people in Japan identifying as Christians rose to a whopping 1% – no word about how many of those are of Western or Korean descent. Yet more than 50% of all Japanese people marry in a Christian ceremony, there are “German Christmas Markets” all over Japan, stores are decorated from mid-November on (playing ALL the usual songs as background noise), overpriced Christmas cakes for couples sell like crazy… and unmarried women above the age of 25 were called “leftover Christmas cakes” for many decades.
So if you think in your country Christmas is all about commerce and Christianity has become nothing but an empty shell – welcome to Japan! :)

As for the Japanese Church, it wasn’t an impressive one… A rather small, white, regular looking building, slightly elevated with a broken cross on top; a small shack with a couch, some chairs and tables right next to it. It was actually more of a prayer room and kind of reminded me of the next town mosque back home in Germany – but I guess the depictions of Jesus everywhere made it very clear what this location was. The main room consisted of a little stage, barely resembling an altar, with a piano to the left; the rest was mostly empty, except for the carpet on the floor and some chairs. Located about 20 minutes away from the next settlement, I doubt that the parish was big one… and most likely bilingual / of Korea descent, if the Korean signs on the walls were any indication.

Given that the Japanese Church wasn’t exactly visually stunning, I waited for this time of the year on purpose to give this article at least some relevance. At least it was a real abandoned church, not a fake one… :)

Happy Holidays everyone!

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