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Uji is famous for green tea. And of course for the Byodo-in, the Buddhist temple on the 10 Yen coin, as well as for the final chapters of “The Tale of Genji”, one of the most popular pieces of classic Japanese literature. But overall the city is most famous for green tea.

Green tea (ryokucha, 緑茶) has been served and sold in Uji at least since 1160 when the cities’ (and probably the world’s) oldest tea shop opened, Tsuen. About 200 years later the famous shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu promoted the cultivation of green tea in Uji, resulting in what is now known as ujicha (宇治茶) – Uji tea. Located in the most southern part of Kyoto prefecture right next to Nara and Shiga prefectures, Uji still influences tea production across borders – and while most people think that Kyoto city is famous for green tea (thanks to its political significance for centuries and the perfection of tea ceremonies involving powdered green tea, matcha, 抹茶), it is actually the town of Uji that perfected its cultivation. So when you visit the city to have a look at the Byodo-in, you’ll see dozens of tea shops, selling several varieties of green tea and products like castella (a cake of Portuguese origin), manju (Japanese sweets made of flour, rice powder, buckwheat) as well as all kinds of cakes, cookies, puddings, chocolates and ice cream – if you like the taste of green tea, then come to Uji and you’ll feel like being in heaven!
There is hardly a dish in that town that they don’t flavor with matcha… (Even the vending machines in Uji sell 80 – 100% green tea!)

The Spring Tea Shop in Uji is the first and so far only abandoned tea store I found in Japan. Sadly there is little to nothing known about this beautiful straw-thatched little building, which is slowly falling into disrepair after it was vandalized probably for years. I’m not even sure about its name, since zenmai, which I translated as spring, can also be a name or the name of a plant, so maybe a more correct transcription would have been Zenmai Tea Shop or Japanese Royal Fern Tea Shop.
According to a calendar left behind the place was closed in 1999, but who knows who left that calendar behind? And there was not much else there… A couple of plates and cups, some cans… and that’s pretty much it (although trash and a dozen porn DVDs were dumped there probably long after the tea shop was closed and abandoned). The kitchen interior was gone, and so was most of the furniture. It was a small rest house for day-trippers and hikers, enough space for maybe 20 to 30 guests at the same time, with a little pond as a center piece and a rather big garden in the back.

Although there was not much left to see and to take photos of, the place strangely intrigued me. The building itself, despite its bad condition, was still gorgeous and I guess it must have been at least 50 years old, probably much, much older. Sadly my fellow explorer *Rory* and I were running out of time quickly, so the rather blurry photos I took don’t live up to the experience I had at this lovely place, that a lot of you might remind of a Miyazaki anime.

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Farms are probably the last things that come to mind when you think of Japan. Temples, shrines, beautiful landscapes. Neon lights, skyscrapers, robots. But farms? Maybe rice paddies and small wooden barns, where cattle is fed with beer and grain to produce wagyu, Japanese beef. But real farms?
You might be surprised to hear that the Japanese Mountain Farm is a regular on *haikyo* blogs, despite the fact that the location is rather remote, snowed in for several months per year and relatively hard to find. It seems like nobody knows or is willing to share the real name of the place, so even the Japanese blogs call to it “Mountain Farm” or “A Mountain Farm”; the “A” referring to the next bigger city, which is neither very close nor very big…

After spending a beautiful sunshine day exploring (mostly demolished) mines in the Hyogo countryside, the weather more and more turned on my regular urbex buddy Dan and I the closer we got to the Japanese Mountain Farm – the sun started to hide behind clouds and by the time we arrived at the bottom of a mountain road leading up to the farm, the atmosphere was actually pretty spooky. The sky was a greyish mess and the dusk light made it hard to take photos. All day long we were risking a spring sunburn and all of a sudden it felt like we reached the outskirts of Silent Hill. Ten minutes on foot later, after passing some abandoned cars, or at least we hoped they were abandoned, the farm finally appeared behind some trees in front of us. The road under our feet was rather bad and partly overgrown, slightly muddy. There wasn’t any fog, but the area looked like the situation could change any minute. It was already past 5 p.m., so time was of the essence…
To the left we found a few 2-storey dwelling houses, in front of us a rather big metal barn, to the right an overgrown mess, including a severely damaged abandoned white car. Since I wasn’t sure how big the farm really was (blurry satellite photos…) I left Dan behind and followed the road passing the barn. Now there was a forest to my left and several barns and other buildings to the right – this location turned out to be pretty big, maybe 120 meters by 50 meters. In the end the farm’s premises were limited by slopes and the usual waste dump at the furthest point, far beyond where the road ended. I rushed back to buildings and started to take photos inside the barns and stables, most of them being connected and partly overgrown. It was a vast area, yet there was stuff everywhere, including at least one abandoned car, truck and bulldozer. In one of the buildings I found a calendar on the wall, last turned in June of 1998 – and the 15 years of abandonment showed everywhere. Metal was usually rusty, moss and other stuff grew everywhere. Some of the building faced south, over the slope, and they were in rather bad condition. As you can see on the one named after the place, “Japanese Mountain Farm”, there were huge cracks in both some walls and floors. The whole atmosphere was damp…
Running out of light I headed back to the residential area. The buildings there were run-down and moldy, countless visitors before went through all the stuff left behind. The partly locked barns with their abandoned vehicles and animal medicine had been much more interesting elements to offer, so I took a few quick snapshots and started my video tour on the second floor of the main living quarters. Upon my return it was pretty much pointless to try and take more photos inside of buildings, so Dan and I returned to the car and headed back home – leaving the Japanese Mountain Farm and god knows what kind of lurking creatures behind…

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The Shidaka Utopia was a well-kept secret for many years – until about three or four years ago, when explorers gave away its full name and with it its exact location. I visited this often overlooked abandoned amusement park in spring of 2012, but kept it to myself until now. What better time to present it on Abandoned Kansai than right after the little April Fools’ joke involving *Nara Dreamland*?

Shidaka Utopia started business in 1968 in competition to the nearby Rakutenchi, one of Japan’s oldest existing amusement parks, opened in 1929! 35 years later it closed its doors due to the usual lack of customers. Sadly there is not much known about the park, probably because it’s a little bit off the beaten track. The next train station is more than 10 kilometers away and Kyushu in general is not exactly a super popular tourist destination, though I have to say that I love Japan’s third largest island as I had some great times there!

20 years ago it was a lot easier to get to the Shidaka Utopia as there was a gondola / lift combination leading right to its entrance, but now you have to take a bus that runs about five times a day to this thinly populated mountainous area.
Upon arrival I checked out the Utopia’s entrance (more or less thoroughly barricaded, including some kind of locked door…) and had a look down at the park’s former go kart track – where a fox was patrolling what I think he thought was his. I had seen my share of Japanese wildlife over the years (monkey, boars, spiders, snakes, maybe a bear, not sure about that one…), but the fox was a first. Sadly I wasn’t only completely taken by surprise, I also had my ultra wide-angle lens mounted on my camera, so by the time I was able to take a picture, it was a pretty bad one. But still a photo of a wild fox! At a place I was about to explore…

A couple of minutes later I figured out a way to get in and the fox was out of sight, so what the heck! I didn’t travel 500 kilometers to be stopped by a small dog with red fur and big ears!
Instead I was stopped by two mid-aged Japanese dudes about an hour into my exploration. They were definitely neither security nor urban explorers, but made it pretty clear that I should better leave – with a certain authority, as if they were in a position to actually be in charge there. I politely asked them to let me finish taking photos of the collapsed wooden maze and although I am pretty sure they had no idea what I said, they granted my wish and continued to walk towards the huge building that once was a restaurant / gift shop / rest house, making gestures that lead me to the conclusion that they might have had plans with the property. I on the other hand had no interest in the big building at all, neither short term nor long term, as I had seen photos of it before; and it looked like the typical empty and vandalized abandoned Japanese restaurant / gift shop / rest house that you can find by the dozen in the countryside… just bigger. Anyway, I continued as if our conversation never happened and when I heard them coming back, I hid in what I would call the rest room area. And there I found THEM, the two most awesome rest room signs ever created. Probably the two most awesome signs ever created overall! I took pictures of them, so you can look at them yourself, but what made them so awesome was the Japanese writing on them. The male version said “オチンチンのあるひと“ and even with my limited command of Japanese I instantly understood what that meant: „(for) people with a penis”. And the female version of course said “オチンチンのないひと“ – „(for) people without a penis”! Bathroom signs… at an amusement park! In public! Only in Japan…

It turned out though that those two signs were the absolute highlights of the exploration. A good decade after being abandoned, the Shidaka Utopia had suffered from the forces of nature, was partly demolished, severely vandalized and in great parts overgrown even in spring. What I loved about it though were the countless items left behind. The roller skates, the kiddy rides, the gum display, the handwritten signs – wherever I let my eyes wander, I had my feet follow. There were so many small things to explore and to discover that I totally forgot that it was basically a pretty rundown place. But it was big and it was abandoned and it was an amusement park and it was a gorgeous spring day in the mountains and it was in Japan, so it was awesome!
After two and a half hours I left Shidaka Utopia to get some lunch and to check out a few other locations in the area, before I returned in the afternoon to have a look at the fox hideout a.k.a. go kart track, where I found more items: a fire distinguisher on wheels, Dunlop tires, racing helmets, a Japanese Mercedes Benz 300E ad – in the end I had to hurry back to the bus stop to catch the last ride back to civilization, just before the sun was setting.

The whole day in the Oita countryside will have a special place in my heart – but it’s the bathroom signs that will stick out with their glorious epicness for all eternity! (Epicness is a word, right? If it isn’t it should be!)

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Believe it or not, I am really not a fan of April Fools’ jokes – probably because I equally don’t like lying and being being lied to, which is really tough sometimes in a country that glorifies being a two-faced bastard with the term “honne and tatemae”. Nevertheless I couldn’t resist coming up with my own April Fools’ joke yesterday:)

It all began in late 2013 when I was writing and scheduling the articles about my *second trip to North Korea*. I had to spread them out in a way so I would be able to publish the next regular urbex article on a Tuesday, because I pretty much always update Abandoned Kansai on Tuesdays – and that’s when I realized that April 1st would be on a Tuesday in 2014, too. At around the same time I found out that *Igosu 108* had been dismantled in autumn of 2013 and that it was shipped to Vietnam to be rebuilt there. But… what if it would have been *Nara Dreamland* instead of Vietnam? So I wrote the first draft of my April Fools’ joke story.
The piece was resting for months until coincidence helped me bringing it to a whole new level. Some weeks ago I found out that on January 31st the Nara Shimbun wrote a story about Nara Dreamland being foreclosed, because the current owner “Dreamland” owed the city 650 million Yen in taxes, that negotiations about tax reductions failed and that neighbors opposed the city’s idea to buy the property and build a crematorium. All of this is actually true – it’s just that Dreamland still owes the money as the auction hasn’t happened yet. So I updated the article by incorporating those new facts.
Since I tend to write or at least polish articles last minute, I went over it again just before I published it, adding some details you might have or have not found interesting. The company’s name for example, Nara Dreamland: The New, is a reference to “Biohazard: The Real” a.k.a. “Resident Evil: The Real” – a haunted house style attraction at Universal Studios Japan in Osaka. Not only is it extremely bad use of English in both cases, but USJ is one of the reasons why Nara Dreamland had to close. The CEO’s name, Katsuhiro Yuenchi, is a combination of the real first name Katsuhiro and the Japanese term for amusement park, Yuenchi. Japanese business years indeed usually start on April 1st and most outdoor water parks here are in fact open for only two months, completely ignoring that it is hot enough to make money from at least June till late September. Of course I really asked Japanese friends to write letters to the owners of Nara Dreamland to get permission to take photos there, maybe even to interview somebody – still no answer though… Oh, and the article ends with a quote from Vanilla Sky, one of the few Hollywood remakes I liked better than the original.

As you can see, most of the article is true, and I guess that’s one of the reasons why so many people believed it. I am actually quite flattered by that fact, because it makes me believe that I enjoy quite a bit of credibility out there on the interwebz. And I hope I didn’t jeopardize it with my little joke. (I even waited till 10 p.m. Japanese time to publish yesterday’s the article, to make sure that it would be April 1st in most countries in the world – I could have posted it at 0.01 a.m. Japanese time, still March 31st in most Asian countries and in all of Europe, Africa and America…)
On the other hand I have to say that the April Fools’ joke about Nara Dreamland turned out to be one of the most read articles I have ever written – because people happily spread the word. *My posting on Facebook* was seen by three times as many people as I have subscribers there! Usually about 40% of my subscribers see my postings, which already is a lot more than the 6% Facebook average that we all read about in the media recently. 300% vs. 40% vs. 6% – so please keep Liking and Sharing stuff, if you think Abandoned Kansai is worth supporting! On Facebook and Twitter, by posting links on forums, in comment sections or by sending them to friends. I really appreciate it – and I really don’t like making up big stories to get attention…
By the way: April 1st will be a Tuesday again in 2025… so be careful when reading Abandoned Kansai in 11 years! :)

Oh, and since the sour was actually the April Fools’ joke, I’ll give you lots of sweet this week! The gallery below consists of previously unpublished photos I took at Nara Dreamland plus an exclusive one photo preview at tomorrow’s article about another abandoned Japanese amusement park you probably haven’t heard about yet!

(For all your Nara Dreamland needs please have a look at the *Nara Dreamland Special*. If you don’t want to miss the latest article you can *like Abandoned Kansai on Facebook* or subscribe to the *video channel on Youtube*…)

Nara Dreamland soon to be reopened – all the details exclusively on Abandoned Kansai! (Unless you speak Japanese…)

For almost eight years people were wondering: Why do the owners of *Nara Dreamland* pay for a nasty security guard to keep intruders away? Some thought they had too much money while others claimed that they wanted to avoid vandalism, so they could rent out the place as a movie set – Japanese horror movies are famous all over the world, or at least they were for a while, before they were beaten by the descendants of their common Korean ancestors. For years I tried to get in contact with the owners (first Daiei, then a company called “Dreamland”, represented by “L.A. Investment” in Nara) to get official permission to shoot there, just to run into a wall of silence. On January 31st 2014 the Nara Shimbun reported that the city of Nara foreclosed Nara Dreamland and put it up to auction as Dreamland owed about 650 Million Yen (currently 4.6 million EUR or 6.3 million USD) in taxes; previous negotiations about tax reductions failed – and local residents opposed the city’s idea of buying the property to build a crematorium (no kidding!).

The new owner, a company called “Nara Dreamland: The New” (Japanese people and English, always good for a laugh!), went to work quickly. Not only did they finally answer  the letters I wrote months ago to their predecessors, they also invited me and a couple of well-known Japanese urban explorers over to Nara on Sunday, March 30th, as they appreciated “the support of our most devoted fans”, so CEO Katsuhiro Yuenchi. I went to Nara with a bilingual friend and the story embargo was just lifted seconds before this article went online… it will probably hit the mainstream news tomorrow. And news they had for us, unexpected big news! (In case you wonder about the timing: In Japan most companies start their business years on the first day of the second quarter.)

As you already know from the headline, Nara Dreamland is about to re-open soon! Renovations began right after the acquisition in January to make a ridiculously tight deadline: April 26th, just in time for Golden Week, one of the most important vacation periods in Japan. Mainstreet USA and the Cinderella Castle are already almost completely renovated, dozens of experienced woodworkers and technicians currently make sure that the Aska roller-coaster will be ready to go, while the park’s other famous ride, the Screw Coaster… is getting screwed. After almost a decade of negligence the coaster was so rusted and overgrown that new management decided to demolish and replace it. The merry-go-rounds and other small rides in the back of the park are under repair as we speak, so are the BBQ area and the monorail, for which brand-new trains will be imported from the States, hopefully arriving on time for the grand reopening. New attractions include a freefall tower and a Ferris wheel – although the latter one will actually be an old friend! A couple of months ago the giant wheel *Igosu 108* disappeared from Shiga prefecture *as I mentioned on Facebook a while ago*. Structurally sound and completely repainted it now makes Nara Dreamland visible from far away. At least one major attraction like that will be added every year, according to the new management of Nara Dreamland. Sadly they guys were also a bit stuck up and told us to leave our cameras behind in the bus before they gave us the grand tour. Well, most of the attractions and buildings were under construction and partly or completely scaffolded anyway, but I am sure official promo photos will be released soon.

To stick with the park’s tradition and to stand out from the competitors, the new Nara Dreamland will be a pay-as-you-go amusement park, which means that the entrance fee will be only 500 Yen (free during Golden Week 2014!) and that you’ll have to pay for every ride – between 200 and 800 Yen. Dreamland’s water park is currently fenced off and will open completely overhauled  from early July till late August / early September, like most other water parks in Japan, too.

Personally I am very excited about this news! I’ve been to Nara Dreamland at least once a year since 2009 and I am happy that I can finally enter for a small fee without sneaking around. Sure, it is a loss for the whole Japanese urbex community – but at the same time it is such a big win for Nara and all of Kansai! (Sorry, no “new” abandoned location today. Just remember: The sweet is never as sweet without the sour!)

(For all your Nara Dreamland needs please have a look at the *Nara Dreamland Special*. If you don’t want to miss the latest article you can *like Abandoned Kansai on Facebook* or subscribe to the *video channel on Youtube*…)

CNN Loved This Photo So Much, They Put It On Their Front Page (Archive Photo)

CNN Loved This Photo So Much, They Put It On Their Front Page (Archive Photo)

After a long day of exploring, my buddy Dan and I wanted to spend a few relaxing minutes on a shore enjoying the sunset before heading back to Osaka, when we came across the abandoned Japanese Flower Park – and grabbed our cameras one more time…

I actually don’t remember what was drawing us to this location, as neither Dan nor I had heard about it before. I guess it was just coincidence, like it’s the case with most original finds. While driving around we saw a huge empty parking lot and decided to check it out. It was already late in the day, so empty parking lots were nothing unusual, but I somehow had a hunch that there was something special about this one.
Pretty much from the parked car we saw a wooden pay booth in really good condition, a big greenhouse towering in the background. The combination of both gave us a general idea about the purpose of the place, but was it closed for the day or closed for good?
Well, it quickly turned out that it was closed for good. While all buildings were in really good condition, the park itself suffered quite a bit of damage. There were basically two areas – indoors (greenhouses) and outdoors (the park). The flower park was about 50 meter by 50 meters big and consisted of a (once) beautiful garden with several wooden rest areas. The lack of maintenance and regular typhoons though did quite some damage to the outdoor area. The greenhouses on the other hand were spared, much to my surprise. Not only were they spared, they were also locked, like the pay booth at the entrance. Except for one door of the main greenhouse, as Dan told me when I was about to wrap taking photos of the park.
Despite being just early summer with still moderate temperatures outside, the greenhouse was blazing hot. I was wearing jeans and a T-shirt, but I started dripping almost instantly. Turns out that the greenhouse was not only another flower exhibition area for the more delicate genera, but it was also host to a snack shop – still stocked with Tetra Paks full of soft serve ice cream mix; I’m sure that stuff was an easy sell back in the days… Heck, I guess it wasn’t a surprise that most plants inside the greenhouse were dead as a dodo. And I was so happy when I finally got out of the main greenhouse!
Based on some pamphlets I found there and a little internet research afterwards, I was able to reconstruct at least a little bit of the place’s history. The Japanese Flower Park obviously had a different name, but it was opened halfway through 2006 with the goal to attract between 200.000 and 400.000 tourists per year. When only 30.000 showed up in 2007, the park sadly was closed just a year later after being in business for less than 2.5 years – which isn’t really a surprise considering the steep admission charge of 1500 Yen for adults and 700 Yen for kids!
You should think that an abandoned flower park must be extremely boring to explore, but like the abandoned cactus paradise *Himeyuri Park* in Okinawa it was everything but. It was actually one of the most pleasant explorations I ever did, just for the facts that I could just walk in without jumping fences and then was surrounded by plants – some beautiful, some not, but all of them were interesting to look at. More than an hour later I left with a heavy heart, hoping to come back one day…

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An old GPS system can be a blessing in disguise. For the longest time my buddy Dan’s car was equipped with a navigational system that must have been about ten years old, maybe 15 – you know, from an era when Japan was a magical place with color screen mobile phones, by far the best video games in the world and… well… the first navi systems in regular cars. But what was so great about an ancient GPS device in 2013? Well, pretty much all the abandoned places we visited together were still in the system as active locations, making it very easy to find them. But one day last summer it got even better! Dan and I were cruising through the countryside, when I saw the name of a ski resort appearing on the screen – a ski resort I had never heard of, neither as active nor as abandoned. So we went on a little detour…

… and the resort turned out to be abandoned. By the looks of it pretty much around the same time Dan’s GPS was installed, maybe even before that. Located at a half-overgrown side-road in the middle of nowhere and covered by the most blurry satellite shot on online maps you can imagine, this rather small ski slope is close to impossible to find; unless you know where it is or you have a GPS system so old that it’s still marked there. (It isn’t on GoogleMaps…)

Sadly this also means that I know nothing about the Kyoto Ski Resort, which is obviously a shortened name to protect its exact location. Absolutely nothing. Not when it was opened, not when it was closed, and of course I can only assume the reasons why it was shut down, which are probably the same everywhere. Not enough snow, not enough customers, outdated equipment, short piste.

Exploring an abandoned ski resort in summer is a bit strange as a location like that looks out of place at that time of the year, but if you are (un)lucky like I was, it still can make a good story.
At the bottom of the slope were two wooden buildings, a restaurant and what looked like a gear rental / general shop. From there we walked up the mountain to a smaller restaurant / snack bar in questionable condition; the wooden beams outside were crumbling away and we had to be very careful where we stepped. After passing some shacks in extremely poor condition, used as restrooms and storages, I reached the now rusty ski lift.
I took some photos up there, minding my own business, when I was hit in the head what felt like a golf ball or a tennis ball, right after I heard something buzzing. This surprising event caused me to make a noise that can be described as “less than manly”, but hey, despite my explorations in the middle of nowhere I actually like nature tamed or grilled, not kamikaze attack me. Anyway, my less than manly outcry caused Dan to laugh his ass off, which was kind of good as we actually had lost sight of each other. Minutes later Dan’s head popped up behind one of the shacks, still laughing. And while he came closer, all of a sudden I heard that buzzing noise again, followed by Dan yelling “SUZUMEBACHI!!!” – and him running down the slope as if the devil himself was after him! Not so funny all of a sudden, if they are after you… (Just in case you don’t know: suzumebachi, also known as Japanese Giant Hornets or just Killer Hornets, are gigantic hornets with a body length of about 50 millimeters, a stinger of 6 millimeters and a wingspan of about 75 millimeters; they kill 40 people in average every year in Japan, especially in the countryside.)
I followed my fellow explorer down the hill for a while, but I hadn’t taken a video yet – so I went back up to the abandoned ski lift, where the suzumebachi probably had their nest. Aware of the dangerous situation I started the video right away and did the usual tour…
Urban exploration is not a fun thing to do in Japan during summer – not only are there giant killer hornets, there are also huge spiders and pretty big snakes as well as all kinds of non-venomous critters. From June till September the whole country‘s wildlife is buzzing and it seems like all of those buzzers are eager to have a look at you when you visit their habitats; and some like to have a bite! So after the suzumebachi incident we had a quick look at the restaurant at the lower end of the slope; a wooden building in dilapidated state, the floor arching and a HUGE old suzumebachi nest right under the ceiling. And then we left. There was not much to see anyway – and everything was in rather bad condition.

Overall the Kyoto Ski Resort was a neat original find. Nothing you would rent a car for and spend a day on finding / exploring, but it did a good job as a bonus between two locations we were eager to see.

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