After hiking for well more than an hour through the Japanese countryside, past fields and hamlets, up and down the winding streets… roads… paths… the Abandoned Transformer Station appeared out of nowhere at the other side of a small mountain river two meters below me – and once again I had to ask myself the eternal urbex question: Do I really want to cross that bridge?

Sometimes I do, sometimes I don’t; obviously depending on the bridge. It this case it didn’t look too bad. If I was riding a heavy truck I probably would have said “Nah!”, but the times that heavy trucks reached this remote area had been long gone anyway, so I hastily rushed across the rather dilapidated wood and metal construction… to explore a massive concrete facility that looked completely out of place.
It was late autumn, the perfect hiking time in Japan, just weeks before snow would reach out for heights below 1000 meters. Nature had loosened its tight grip it has on most of Japan from late May till early October and made areas accessible again that were hard to reach and sometimes even dangerous from mid-spring to mid-autumn. (And then again in winter, of course…) The transformer station laid there in perfect silence and I first had a closer look at the outdoor area with its big metal towers before entering the building itself. And that’s when I painfully missed my tripod and a flashlight. Some parts of the building were terribly dark and I had to crank up the ISO drastically to avoid blurry photos, but I guess that was the price I had to pay for travelling light. Sadly both parts of the building were stripped of all machinery and almost all furnishings, leaving empty whitewashed rooms. Not exactly a spectacular location, but a nice and welcomed diversion from the usual rundown abandoned onsen / hotels I visited so often in my first years of urban exploration.

Since this transformer station isn’t exactly popular amongst urbexers, it was close to impossible for me to find out much about its history. It most likely was built in the late 1920s and abandoned in the 1970s, but I can’t say for sure. There were a couple of documents still lying around, but none of them gave any clarity…

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The Landslide Mining Apartments have been a challenge from the beginning till the end. They were difficult to locate, they were difficult to access, they were difficult to document and they were difficult to write about!

I remember how fascinated I was when I first saw those two massive concrete yet delapidated buildings on a Japanese blog years ago… and how I assumed that they would become the next Japanese urbex sensation. Most of the modern ruins in Japan have been abandoned in the past 20 years or so, but the Landslide Mining Apartments clearly had a longer history. Much like the incredible *Matsuo Mine Apartment Buildings* the LMAs were built after World War 2 and abandoned in the late 1960s, but unlike their famous counterparts, the Landslide Mining Apartments fell into obscurity during abandonment. And that’s where they still are, which is good for them… and good for the safety of countless potential visitors that would otherwise risk their necks going there. Japanese blogs usually name their articles after the original mine’s name, despite there’s close to nothing of it left – and most likely because they visited before the buildings’ current signature feature rolled through: a huge landslide that damaged several apartments; some more, some less, some not at all.
So, is it smart to visit abandoned concrete apartment buildings from the 40s or 50s that were built on a steep slope in the middle of nowhere and abandoned in the 60s, which rather recently have been hit by a landslide? Hell no! But it’s terribly interesting, at least to me… :)

Like I said, the Landslide Mining Apartments were rather difficult to locate. Most of the time I had to wait for months to receive another part of the puzzle, for example a prefecture name or a photo of the surroundings, but after a while I was able to piece everything together. Or so I thought. Since the LMAs are located in a very countryside area rather well-known for its tea, the GoogleMaps satellite view turned out to be a massive greenish / slightly brownish blur, countless narrow streets leading up and down the mountains – one wrong turn and you are lost forever. Luckily I spent another 30 minutes to figure out details before heading over there, because it turned out that my first pin-down was a couple of hundred meters off; too much in a mountainous area for buildings that can’t be seen from regular streets.

When I first saw the Landslide Mining Apartments with my own eyes I was heading towards one of those tea fields, probably not an abandoned one – and my heart sank a bit when I realized that there was no way I could climb the slope as it was completely overgrown. And by that I mean COMPLETELY overgrown. In March. Crazy! But if there was a way to get to the lower end of the buildings… maybe there was one to get to the upper end… somehow. After trying several roads and paths, ending up too high / too low / too far north / too far south, the buildings finally came into reach. Well, the northern building (in the background of the first photo, since my safe return the wallpaper of my computer) came into reach, the southern one appeared to be protected by nature from all sides. And even Building 1 (yes, they were numbered…) was difficult to access as you know from the introduction. There were no steps leading down, but I spotted a partly overgrown path leading from where I assumed the entrance was to… pretty much nowhere. A fainting rut in the slope indicated where previous explorers made their way down there, so I followed their example, reaching another area with thick vegetation. Only a few meters away from the upper staircase (each building had two, with apartments on each of the four floors IIRC) I just pushed for it and finally made it through – realizing that I forgot my tripod in the car…

… which was one of the reasons why I had some difficulties documenting the Landslide Mining Apartments. A lot of the rooms were actually not exactly well-lit in the afternoon, since the windows faced north and south, while the sun was setting in the west, disappearing way too fast behind a mountain. Even from below at the tea plantation it was pretty obvious that the LMAs would be a rather dangerous exploration, given their age and the condition the buildings were in, but I didn’t even have to go to a second apartment to see how risky maneuvering within the building would be as it was filled up to the ceiling with earth and debris – not too long ago a landslide must have hit Building 1, damaging some of the apartments. And most of the other ones weren’t exactly in great condition either. Mold and moss made the tatami and wood floors a lot more instable as they appear to be in perfect condition… and even the concrete didn’t look like I wanted to trust it with my life. And so the exploration turned out to be breathtaking in many ways, but also because there were quite a few items of daily life left behind. Games, clothing items, a toilet brush, alcohol bottles, newspapers, and the obligatory porn stash; this time a loose-leaf collection spread over a living room floor and a kitchen.

So why did I have a difficult time writing about the Landslide Mining Apartments? Well, mainly because I tremendously enjoyed the location. With all the difficulties on the way I felt that I really earned this exploration, which turned out to be an amazing place full of little surprises. The LMAs were far from being beautiful in a way most people would agree on, but their rough charm totally appealed to me. Despite being typically Japanese inside, wooden floors and tatami mats, the buildings oozed a goozebumpy Nineteen-Eighty-Four-esque atmosphere. It’s the kind of place I could stay at for hours without taking a photo, just enjoying its vibe and letting my thoughts getting carried away. And that is great at the time, but it also adds incredibly to the pressure whenever I write about one of those outstanding places… like in this case. Even now, more than 1000 words into the article, I am not sure if I was able to do the Landslide Mining Apartments justice… but I really hope I did!

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Abandoned schools are the latest hot urbex trend in Japan – it seems like they pop up everywhere. I assume the main reason for that is the fact that endless lists of closed schools appeared on the (Japanese speaking) internet and really dedicated urban explorers check them out one by one, despite that only a few of them are really abandoned. The vast majority of those closed schools are literally just closed, not abandoned – some still have electricity and active alarm systems, others are at least maintained by the local community, which includes proper gardening. But urbex being one big grey area, new so-called “abandoned schools” appear on Japanese blogs almost on a weekly basis, despite them being locked, boarded-up or even guarded – sooner or later I will write a small special about countless disappointing trips to those outside photos only schools, but today I’ll present you one of my favorite abandoned schools. One that I haven’t seen on any Japanese *haikyo* blogs yet, so the indoor photos at the end of the article might be the first ones ever published! (After you’ve seen what happened to the *Shipyard Germersheim* I hope you understand why I use a… descriptive… name and keep the prefecture / people I went with a secret – please respect this decision by not asking me any questions about the school’s location.)

The Landslide School being a really fameless abandoned place, it was one of those rare locations nowadays that felt like a real exploration. If you go to famous sites like *Gunkanjima* or *Nara Dreamland* you know exactly what to expect as they have been photographed to death. Walking up to the Landslide School though was an adventure by itself as I didn’t even know if it would be one of those locked-up ones… or if I would find a way in. Well, obviously I did, and much like the rather popular *Shizuoka Countryside School* the obscure Landslide School was in amazing condition. It was located on a small slope and its “hallway and two rooms” upper part was connected to the lower main area by a concrete staircase as one solid wooden building. I am time and again amazed how old Japanese school became part of the original landscape, while modern Japanese schools all look the same, as if they were designed by one single architect and just adjusted for size.
The Landslide School was a stunningly beautiful wooden complex, but that wasn’t the only reason why this location stood out. There was also the name-giving landslide that severely damaged the upper part of the school, more precisely what once must have been an auditorium. While the debris was stopped by a wall, the mud flew through both rooms and the hallway – dried at the time of my visit, it gave the area a very unique look. By now I’ve seen more than my share of abandoned buildings, but I’ve never seen anything quite like that… and I doubt that I ever will again. (The landslide obviously happened after the school was closed in the late 1980s, otherwise somebody would have cleaned up the mess… though there were a few signs that the lower part was still used as a storage.) Despite the massive damage, the school was filled with countless interesting old items: overhead projectors, Kawai pianos, record players, newspapers, speakers, a butterfly collection, rock / mineral collections, old photos, globes, books, magazines, … I felt like a kid in a candy store, moving from one “exhibit” to the next. The main attraction though was the science corner in one of the lower area rooms. There I not only found a (severely damaged) taxidermy turtle filled with what appeared to be wood chips, there was also a glass tube with some preserved parasites and a smaller glass with a chicklet running low on liquid. Oh, and I almost forgot Mr. Innards, the partly dismantled and slightly faded model of the human body! Since I usually don’t move stuff around, it was pretty tough to get proper photos of everything due to lighting problems and the lack of space, but it was totally worth it. What an amazing find, so full of surprises and unique items!

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Urban exploration is dangerous, even more so if you are a hedgehog. For humans it can be frustrating in addition, especially in Germany, where vandalism is on the rise…

Three years ago, when I was visiting family and friends back home, I did my first solo exploration in Germany, the *Shipyard Germersheim*; you can read all about the location’s history and how much I enjoyed my first visit in the previous article. It was 9 years after the shipyard closed, two years after it was used as a location for a famous German TV show and about 4 months after a geocache was hidden. The back had been taken over by a car sales and repair company, the front was abandoned and in rather good condition – so much for the situation in 2011.
In the past three years since my first visit several contradictive rumors had popped up. Some said that the shipyard had been demolished to use the prime property for high-class apartment buildings, others claimed that the area had been taken over by a boat retailer and repair shop. Sadly none of it turned out to be true when I revisited the shipyard with my sister Sabine less than four weeks ago. Instead the area had been trashed by vandals…
I had a bad feeling when we approached the shipyard from the back, after I realized that the car shop was gone. During my first visit I was kind of disappointed that I wasn’t able to explore the whole area, but I guess in the end it was a blessing in disguise as the business kept the vandals away. We followed the road and turned left, to the main entrance of the shipyard. This time the big gate was open, but the access to the river in the back, where I spotted some anglers and geocachers last time, was blocked by a padlocked gate. The main building showed signs of massive amounts of vandalism. Pretty much every window was broken – and when we headed to the main entrance, we saw that not only the safety glass doors were smashed, but that somebody stole the huge metal SG emblem above the entrance. Last time I lay on the ground to take a picture of the entrance, but sadly it was impossible to recreate the photo as there were glass shards all over the place.

We decided to have a closer look at the manufacturing buildings first. Most of them were locked last time, but this time they were cracked wide open – three years ago broom-clean, this time covered by trash; bad graffiti everywhere. Not good stuff like at the *La Rainbow Hotel & Tower*, but really bad scribbling you can find all over the place in Germany at abandoned places, along train tracks, under bridges… and pretty much everywhere else where those cowards can do damage with low risk of being seen or heard. Don’t get me wrong, I am a huge fan of high-class graffiti art, but why anybody would want to deface their own surrounding is beyond me!
On the way to the back, Sabine and I saw a hedgehog in some kind of uncovered manhole. It was a very hot and humid day, so we assumed that the little fella was probably dead already. Luckily we had a second look after we came back from the waterfront with its crane, empty halls and an empty circus trailer – the hedgehog was in a different corner, so he definitely was alive. Neither of us was eager to rescue the spiny guy with bare hands, so my Sabine climbed into the waist-deep hole and I found a former speed sign lying on the ground; we were able to shove the hedgehog on the sign with a slat. I named it Gianluigi and carried him to a place in the shadow far away from the manhole, but little Gian looked pretty much dead already on this hot and humid summer day. Luckily we brought some water with us, so Sabine created a little puddle right in front of Gian’s face and we continued to the main building.
During my first visit the building was empty, but almost untouched – only the big safe on the top floor had been toppled and natural decay started to set in with an unfortunate amount of mold. This time there was scratchwork all over the place, window were broken; some idiots even started to tear down a wall. If they would put all this crazy amount of energy into positive things, the world would be a much better place! Instead the Shipyard Germersheim went from an interesting exploration to a shithole (pardon my French!) in less than three years… To see how much damage was really done, I recommend watching both videos; the one from this article and the second one from my first visit. It’s a shame how vandalism can ruin the atmosphere of a location completely!
But to end on a positive note, let me give you a final update on Gianluigi – he was gone even before we left the office building. Sabine checked on him from the second floor and found the speed sign empty. I guess he found himself an even cooler spot and something to eat…

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Last week Lost, this week The A-Team – TV weeks on Abandoned Kansai! When I first arrived at the Hototogisu Hotel with my buddy *Enric* in February of 2010 (yes, this is the oldest unpublished location of mine I could find!), I was a tiny bit worried that we would get ambushed by those soldiers of fortune, considering the BA Baracus like fortifications of both access routes, but then I remembered that they couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn even if their noses would touch the wood!

Back in 2010 the Hototogisu Hotel was one of the hottest urbex spots in all of Kansai, probably because people visiting faced a couple of challenges. First of all was entering the premises. Being located on “the other side“ of a typical onsen town river you could have either headed to the entrance via at least two bridges, one of them a then already collapsed suspension bridge – or you could have crossed a bridge suitable for cars and go to the back entrance via a parking lot. Sadly both ways were blocked by said fortifications that reminded me of that iconic 80s TV show. Or Mad Max. Or any post-apocalyptic movie ever made. Luckily Enric and I found a weak spot in one of the wood and iron made blockades, so we could face phase two: Entering the building. Unlike a lot of other places in Japan the Hototogisu Hotel’s lowest floor was completely bolted shut from the inside and the outside (as you can see in the pictures they nailed and screwed massive wooden boards from the inside to pretty much all doors and windows). So we had to climb an outside staircase, secured by lots of rusty barbed wire, wooden planks and other nasty constructions to keep unwanted visitors out. Doors were locked and nailed shut, so we had to climb through a narrow opening in the spikey wire fence, risking to fall two or three floors to at least serious injuries.

Sceptical at first I was able to follow the more adventurous Enric to explore one of my first abandoned hotel. Back then I still was a very inexperienced photographer without a tripod and only one lense, facing horrible lighting conditions with some corridors being completely pitch black… so sorry, the next couple of sets will be much more interesting!

I also still was a rather inexperienced explorer, so I didn’t fully realize what a rundown and vandalized place the Hototogisu Hotel was. Pretty much every room was trashed, pretty much every window broken, pretty much every item damaged, including a dozen dirty and partly „dismantled“ TVs. Back then I didn’t know about the *La Rainbow Hotel*, the *Nakagusuku Hotel* or the *Wakayama Beach Hotel*, so Enric and I felt like we hit the jackpot. „Look, there is even stuff left behind in the kitchen!“ Darn, we were easy to entertain! :)

But leaving the Hototogisu Hotel turned out to be a final challenge. We made it to the external staircase when we realized that a neighbor or something like that had spotted us and was waiting in front of the parking lot barricade – where we came in. Trying to avoid trouble, Enric and I decided to look for another way to leave. The other barricade was not an option, so we headed upstream… and discovered a second big building we didn’t even know about! Not in the mood for another exploration we took a dozen of quick shots and continued deeper into the premises, only to find out that it was cut off by train tracks! Luckily there was a way down to the river, and the river wasn’t very deep in that area. After figuring out a route from the top we headed down, crossed the river and climbed a quite overgrown and steep slope to the main road. Dirty and exhausted we returned to the train station, always worried that said neighbor was looking for us instead of waiting in front of barricade.

What about that second building you ask? Well, I returned a year later with another friend. But that’s a story for another time…

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I felt Lost. It was a hot and humid early summer day in Japan, about six weeks after the controversial finale of the infamous TV show – and I was hiking up a rocky path. Down the slope next to me the concrete leftovers of turbine mountings, in front of me the buzzing green hell of a Japanese July. Seconds later the rather low concrete dam appeared in front of me and I climbed a flight of stairs to get to the top of it. I knew that this solid construction that once supplied electricity for a small amount of people would be there, yet it felt very mysterious in its slightly surreal environment and state. Right next to the dam, on the other side of the narrow valley, stood a small wooden building, little more than a shack, that looked like it was straight out of the 70s. I got closer and had a peek through an opening – an electronic device with a glowing display was slightly brightening the darkness, showing numbers in bright red… and all I could think of was 4, 8, 15, 16, 23 and 42!

Of course I didn’t dare to enter the shack, worrying to set off an alarm (or a self-destruction device…), but I took a couple of photos. It turned out that the display was labelled “Pressure Indicator”, though I still don’t know where exactly and what kind of pressure was measured by the device. Instead I stumbled backwards a couple of steps, when less than a meter away from me a big branch crashed to the ground; I guess they are called “widow makers” in English, and now I understand why, though no widow would have cried over me.
A locked and not really confidence inspiring metal staircase was leading down to the now dry basin, so I continued further to the back, where mushrooms were growing on moist trees. Luckily I didn’t hear any voices whispering in the background, but the atmosphere was still quite spooky, despite the bright sunshine. From the back, the concrete and metal construction looked like a little bit like a submarine turned into stone, but since I was all alone, I didn’t want to take any risks – so I headed back to the part below the dam, the one with the giant turbine sockets.
This area was extremely humid as countless tiny rivulets were running through, making me feel like I was in a steam sauna, sweat dripping from every pore of my body. Moss was growing on the huge concrete blocks, trees and vines made exploration tougher than necessary. At the lowest end I found huge concrete pipes leading underground, blocked off carefully by solid metal grids, water rushing in the background – if removed most likely the end of countless uncareful animals and humans!
When I finally left after about 1.5 hours I felt strangely relieved and sad at the same time. As spooky as the remote Kyoto Dam was, as wonderfully fascinating was it in many regards. Long before I saw the first signs of modern civilization again I knew one thing for sure: I had to go back! And I did…

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My summer vacation to Germany in 2013 felt a little bit like the weirdest USO tour ever as I was basically heading from one abandoned military base to the next – in the end I went to about a dozen of them, ranging from “demolished” to “dangerously decaying” to “in almost perfect condition”. And of course some of them turned out to be just closed and heavily guarded… but since urbex is one big grey area I’ll write about all of them sooner or later.
The Babenhausen Kaserne I remember vividly from back in the late 1990s, when I saw it every couple of weeks on my way from my hometown to my place of study – I was always impressed by the massive red stone wall and the surprisingly beautiful buildings, but I had no idea that its history dated back to the turn of the century (between the 19th and 20th century that is…).

After the necessary negotiations with the Reichstag and the war ministry in 1899 (pre-Orwell and therefore pre euphemisms like Ministry of Defense!), the construction of the Babenhausen Kaserne began in the following year, with a groundbreaking ceremony on July 3rd. 15 months later the construction of 21 buildings and a water tower were finished and the 2nd battalion of the 61st field artillery regiment of the Grand Duke of Hesse was the first unit to move in. Almost 13 years down the road, on August 7th 1914, the regiment was transferred to fight in World War I. Now empty, the Kaserne soon was used as a hospital during the war. Upon Imperial Germany’s defeat in November 1918 the regiment briefly returned and then was deactivated in December; three months later the hospital was closed. In the following 15 years the Kaserne had many tenants: a French infantry battalion, a Reichswehr regiment, the Hessian security police, the Hessian police school, a section of the University of Darmstadt, the SA, the 36th Field Artillery Regiment, a horse riding and driving school for the German cavalry, a flying school and development detachment, a maintenance company, a Flak unit and several other smaller groups – and for some time it was even completely empty.
On March 25th 1945 the 3rd infantry division of the US Army liberated Babenhausen, confiscated private houses and used the Kaserne as a camp for displaced persons and as a POW camp for up to 30.000 German soldiers – PWTE-A-20 was disbanded in October 1946…
In May 1947 the US Army officially took over the Kaserne for the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA), organizing refugee camps for Russians and Poles as well as shelter for displaced people from Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia.
From February 1951 on the Kaserne became a military purpose again. The US Army expanded the base and in August the 36th field artillery group moved in – followed by the 36th FA GP; 18th, 519th and 593rd field artillery battalions, the 41st field artillery group (later becoming the 41st field artillery brigade). In the early 1990s the HHB 41 Brigade, 1/27 FA, 4/77 FA, 77 Maintenance Co and the 72nd Ordnance Battalion supported Operation Desert Storm from Babenhausen.
The deactivation of the Babenhausen Kaserne began in 2005 and on July 9th 2007 more of 100 years of military history ended with a closing ceremony.

Phew – researching and writing about the history of the Kaserne in Babenhausen actually took a lot longer than exploring it as the whole area was fenced off and guarded very well. Heck, when I got close to the main gate a watchdog started to bark and didn’t stop until I was very, very far away. Heading for the back of the area, now home to a small airfield, didn’t do much either – barbed wire metal fences, concrete blockades and massive gate made it impossible to infiltrate the base without getting hurt or caught by security.

Sadly the future of the Babenhausen Kaserne is still uncertain. Right after the barracks were closed several interest groups developed the Brundtland-Park concept, but a dedicated homepage in German hasn’t been updated since 2009. More recent news articles show that there has been lots of talking in the past years, but no decision making – and so the area is slowly decaying, heavily guarded…

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