I’ve seen more than my share of amazing abandoned infirmaries over the years, from the beautifully old-style *Tokushima Countryside Clinic* to the surprisingly modern *Wakayama Hospital*. And while four more spectacular hospitals are waiting to be written about, I would like to introduce you to the Trust Hospital today. Why? Because it was more than just a hospital…

When I arrived at the Trust Hospital with my friends Kyoko and Dan on a sunny spring afternoon, I was very disappointed… at first. The building we saw was more or less a gutted, vandalized shell full of graffiti. At the entrance there were some wooden shelves, some frames still had doors and halfway through the building we found a boiler room, but most of the dilapidated construction was empty – my initial reaction was “The only reason I am taking photos here is because I was told it once was a hospital – and who doesn’t like abandoned hospitals?”. Trying to get a feel for whatever this once had been I took a look around without taking photos. At this point it could as well have been a hotel or something completely different like a conference center for all I knew, as there were no hints that this really had been a hospital at one point in time. The front part of the two-storey building was a spacious, rather solid concrete building with some water damage here and there; interior, doors, windows and even most internal walls long gone. Separated by metal doors another part of the building started – the floors reinforced by Euro-pallets, doors and other makeshift methods. This part looked more like a youth hostel, with narrow hallways and rather small room facing northeast, surrounded by an overgrown park. The structure as a whole didn’t make much sense – the back area was too big to house family as overnight guests of patients in treatment, the rooms were too inaccessible and not properly equipped… and the front area could have been anything. At the same time the elevator in the middle of the building was too massive for a conference center or a hotel, and it was in the solid concrete area. And then it dawned on me! The Trust Hospital had been more than just a hospital… it had been a hospital and a retirement / nursing home! The front part was the hospital part. Big, wide, massive – for heavy machines and wide sickbeds. The back with it’s now crumbling wooden floors was used as a retirement home, a perfect addition for delicate elderly as medical help was just a call across the hallway away. Why the Euro-pallets? Because kids used the building to practice their non-existing graffiti skills and to play some airsoft.
Overall the Trust Hospital turned out to be a rushed, but quite interesting exploration – as soon as the expectations went down from above average to close to zero. The setting sun created an interesting atmosphere, warm orange light against dark corners and a really eerie atmosphere, especially in the colder and darker back. The slow realization that the Trust Hospital most likely had been more than just a hospital just added to this unique experience, even though I wasn’t able to find facts about this unusual location even after visiting it. Surely not a spectacular exploration, but memorable in its own ways.

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When I picked up urban exploration as a hobby almost six years ago, I was just another couch potato. I wasn’t very adventurous (aside from hiking by myself or with friends every other weekend in the mountains of Kansai, but that’s not really risk-taking) and the last time I had a LSR in my hand had been as a child, about 20 or 25 years prior; long before digital. For some reason I bought a DSLR and started exploring, and since nobody wrote about urbex in Kansai I started this blog, for quite a while read only by a few people other than friends and family. And then the blog picked up momentum, comments were overwhelmingly positive – some liked the writing, the fact that I was actually writing about the places and my experiences there, but the majority seemed to like the photos, despite the fact that I don’t crop or do any kind of post-production. The world was drowning in tonemapped HDR urbex photos while I couldn’t care less, as always minding my own business. Six years and something like 50000 photos later I am still baffled by the overwhelmingly positive feedback, especially about my photos – which is almost surreal to me, since I never had any aspirations to be a (hobby) photographer, but they keep turning out well; good enough for readers to leave nice comments, good enough for commercial sites to pay a small licensing fee every once in a while… good enough for the mayor of my hometown to offer me free space to present a selection of photos to the general public. (In Japan you usually have to rent space at a gallery, average cost between 4000 and 20000 Yen per day, depending on the size and the location. Some bars give up wall space for free if you guarantee a certain amount of guests on opening night.)
“Verlassen und vergessen – Moderne Ruinen in Japan” (“Abandoned and Forgotten – Modern Ruins in Japan”) is my first solo exhibition – a selection of 27 photos; 25 of them already published on Abandoned Kansai, one on the *Facebook page of Abandoned Kansai* and one premiering at the exhibition. I was very tempted to show more new photos, but I wanted to avoid revealing too many locations yet to be published here, on the blog.
The exhibition takes place at the city hall in Bürstadt, Germany – Rathausstraße 2; that’s about 45 minutes south of Frankfurt. It’s accessible free of charge on Mondays / Thursdays from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., and on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Friday from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. till August 26th 2015. Please leave a comment in the guest book if you can make it! :)
As I assume most of you won’t be able to see the exhibition live, I compiled the photos (minus the temporarily exclusive one) in the gallery at the end of the article. They were taken at the following locations – heavy spoilers ahead from this point on, in case you want to see the exhibition yourself!
Abandoned Dynamite Mine
Bibai Bio Center
Big Mountain Pachinko
F# Elementary School
Hachijo Royal Hotel
Hachijo Spa Hotel
Igosu 108
Katashima Training School
Landslide Mining Apartments
Landslide School
Matsuo Mine
Nara Dreamland
Nichitsu Mining Town
Okayama Hospital Haikyo
Osarizawa Mine
Red Bridge
Subterranean Shrine
Wakayama Beach Hotel
Western Village
Since I am very much interested in your feedback, I am curious to find out what you think of the selection. Did your favorite photo make it or did I miss one that deserved to be exhibited? Should I have left one or more of them out? And what do you think of the compilation as a whole?

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The Partly Submerged Water Power Plant is one of the most famous abandoned places in Nara, probably in all of Japan. And everybody seems to approach it the same way: drive to the middle of nowhere, rent a boat for a ridiculous amount of money (something like 8000 Yen!) a few hundred meters down the Kitayama River, take photos from the water, leave – a few brave ones actually enter the building, but even those guys all get the same shots; boring! So Ben, Chelsey, Ruth and I approached the unusual setup from a different angle… the land side.
Getting to the Partly Submerged Water Power Plant by land isn’t an easy task and requires some planning – and since I hadn’t seen anybody done it before us, we didn’t know what to expect or if we would be able to get there after all. The road leading to the plant is blocked by barriers and warning signs from both directions, impossible to pass by anything bigger than a bike. On foot you should also discard the option from the west as you will run into a landslide or two sooner or later on this unmaintained, unpaved, basically abandoned road. If you approach from the east, the road is basically a mediocre, flat hiking trail. A nice walk if you wear decent shoes. If not, they may fall apart. Like Chelsey’s. As soon as we picked up the rental car in the morning and even before we had driven one meter, the sole of her shoes started to come off. But instead of making us drive through the Osakan suburbs for hours to pick up another pair at home or a store that would open hours later, Chelsey just smiled and said “I need some duct tape!” – tough chick, the kind you really want to have on an urbex trip like that. (Since the nearby 24/7 kombini didn’t have any, the shoes were later fixed with free package tape at a supermarket in the countryside… and then started to fall apart on the way to the plant. So why did I tell this story? Because it was hilariously funny to everybody involved, a key moment of this exploration, and as a huge sign of respect to Che-Che who raised even more in everybody’s appreciation.)
We were walking along that more or less trustworthy dirt road for about 20 minutes when all of a sudden I felt eerily cold, as if a dozen ghosts rushed through my body; or at least how I image twelve rushing ghosts would feel if they would exist. I ain’t afraid of no ghosts, and I obviously don’t believe they exist, so there must have been another exploration. I looked up and saw a tunnel ending mid-air about 20 centimeters above my head – then I looked into the other direction… and there it was behind me, down in the water, the Partly Submerged Water Power Plant. We decided to explore the tunnel first and I had a very bad feeling about it, the place just didn’t feel right. After a while we reached a sharp drop with a sketchy looking ladder somebody left behind. Up there was a concrete reservoir construction very reminiscent of the *Kyoto Dam* I explored years before this adventure. Since I stupidly left my tripod in the car (not expecting tunnel systems to shoot in…) I wasn’t able to take any pictures there, so I left with Chelsey while Ben and Ruth pushed forward; basically confirming the Kyoto Dam thing from above, while I continued on to the dirt road to see the rest of the construction, obviously severely damaged, but nobody would ever need those concrete pipes again. Not since the 1960s, when the Nanairo Dam was constructed, slowly damming the river behind it from 1965 on, flooding several valleys and everything below a certain level, including this older water power plant, apparently built between 1929 and 1931.
A couple of minutes later our group was reunited, so we headed down to the power plant to have a closer look. There we even found two boats we could have used for the short ride of maybe 20 or 30 meters, but none of us felt lucky… or like stealing a boat. The sun was already setting and the light was quite difficult from that position, so after a couple of minutes we headed to the dirt road again and back to the car. Personally I never thought this location was very interesting, but approaching it by land and finding the massive concrete leftovers at the slope above the plant gave it a new spin – and as a group experience it was just incredible fun. There are many factors that make or break an exploration… and company is definitely one of them!

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Misasa is a small onsen town in the mountains just behind Tottori’s coast line, famous for its radon rich spring water and the Sanbutsu Temple, a temple complex with one of its buildings built into a cliff. Interestingly enough, radon is a decay product of radium – colorless, tasteless, colorless, but radioactive. Despite being generally considered a health hazard, radon rich waters are keeping several spa towns all over the world alive; and Misasa is one of them, avoiding the demise other second tier onsen towns are fighting against for decades now. Well, the city center of Misasa does… the Misasa Plateau, about 200 meters above the city on a mountain ridge, was less lucky though. While the Misasa Country Club survived Japan’s rough 1990s, the Misasa Plateau View Hotel and the Misasa Plateau Family Land, combined known as Misasa Plateau Radium Garden did not – and neither did several company and family retreats in the area; while some are still frequented by their owners, about one in four are not, decaying on steep slopes along scenic mountain roads and paths.
My trip to Misasa in the spring of 2012 marked the end of a rather *bad Golden Week* – and even though the *Sand Dune Palace* and the *Saikaibashi Corazon Monorail* weren’t exactly highlights of my exploration career, they were still better than what waited for me at Misasa. It took me hours to locate both the hotel and the amusement park on the then blurry GoogleMaps, but I went there with high hopes – otherwise I wouldn’t have made the long trip, including a costly train ride, a bus ride and a long hike up a friggin mountain along vaguely labelled hiking trails. Finally reaching the plateau, I only found some roads, some rubble, some debris and some more or less intact structures here and there. It took me a while to figure out on location what happened and how the pretty much gone hotel (part of a story for another time) and the pretty much gone theme park were related. Both looked really interesting the one time I saw them on a Japanese blog, but now they were gone. The upper area with the three storey hotel, all the arcade machines and the go-kart track were carefully leveled and I took quite a long rest in the shadow on that brutally hot spring day, barely a cloud in the sky. After taking photos of some of the smashed leftovers (piled arcade games, UFO catchers and pachinko machines), I made my way down some wide, but rather overgrown steps, past a rotting totem pole and several signs indicating that the Misasa Plateau Family Land had been a pay as you go amusement part. The final couple of steps were on a sketchy looking metal construction, but since it was the only way down to the lower area, I took the risk – though it turned out there was not much left to see. Basically just a wooden hut, filled with all kinds of left-behind stuff, and a huge parking lot, mostly covered by various kinds of debris and garbage. At one point I saw a guy in a car there, but he seemed to mind his own business, later harvesting some roots or whatever.
Overall the Misasa Plateau Family Land was a really disappointing exploration, given the amount of time, money and effort I put into it. But that’s urbex – sometimes you are the windshield and sometimes you are the bug. Not every abandoned theme park looks like *Nara Dreamland*… But to end this article on a lighter note – when I had a look at the area on GoogleMaps again recently, I found out why the upper area was neatly leveled… solar panels! The Misasa Plateau Family Land is a solar park now, which is absolutely fantastic news. Japan has an energy problem, and this is definitely a step into the right direction!

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about exploring the abandoned *Lower Terminus of the Yubara Onsen Ropeway* (if you are interested in the history of the place, please read that article first as I don’t plan to reiterate it). It was quite easy to find, quite easy to access, quite easy to explore.
The upper terminus was a little less known and a little harder to find (or at least it was three years ago, when GoogleMaps wasn’t nearly as detailled in the countryside as it is now), but obviously a worthwile destination to be combined with the lower terminus, if for nothing else but convenience – like most people we got to Yubara Onsen by car, so the difference in elevation wasn’t much of a problem. Finding the half-overgrown building though was a bit of a challenge as it was behind a corner after several left or right decisions walking up a slope from the road below.
Arriving at the upper terminus, we were rewarded by a stunning view of the surrounding mountains, including a massive storage reservoir. Half a dozen coin-operated binocular were once lined up here, but only the Nikon labelled poles were still there. The building itself was much more vandalized and delapidated than the valley station, which didn’t give us a boost of confidence, given that it was forming a platform over the slope – when that thing goes down the mountain, you don’t want to be on there for the ride! It looked like a typical ropeway building, with a small restaurant at the entrance and the platform and machinery room at the far end of the construction. Sadly there wasn’t much left, except for a rusty cash register, a broken wooden chair and some machinery on the ground floor. The metal stairs leading up to the control room were very rusty, a couple of footholds actually missing; and I really hope that nobody got hurt when that happened. Being a rather big guy myself I took it as a warning and refrained from climbing up there, hoping that one day I would be able to explore a less risky ropeway control room. (My patience was rewarded just a couple of weeks later during a solo exploration trip to Tottori prefecture at a virtually unknown station there. Stay tuned, it’s one of many great stories yet to come!)
Overall the upper terminus of the Yubara Onsen Ropeway was an easy, rather unspectacular exploration on a sunny spring day – nothing too exciting, rather relaxed actually; a pleasant, yet not very memorable experience, but one I’d repeat at any time, if for nothing else than spending an hour with friends in the countryside.

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We were driving down the mountain on a road consistently getting worse for about ten minutes when all of a sudden the navi wanted to send us in the opposite direction. Relying on the previously researched route we decided to continue… and five minutes later we reached our destination, a tiny hamlet in a valley of the Nara mountains, about 30 minutes away from the next town. It was a small wooden school that lured us there, but a neighborhood shrine turned out to be the secret highlight of this dying town.

Upon arrival we saw an old lady in front of her house opposite the school, so we exchanged friendly greetings and headed over to the orange bridge, leading across a gorgeous stream into a cypress hurst. There it was, the wooden neighborhood shrine, in perfect harmony with its surrounding – such a spiritual atmosphere, exactly what you expect to see when you hear “wooden shrine in a cypress grove in rural Nara prefecture”.
A few minutes later we headed over to the school – smaller than expected, but nevertheless quite charming. To the left we found two small class rooms for maybe half a dozen students each, to the right was a rather large room for a regular size class, probably also used as an auditorium and gym. In one of the smaller rooms we found a large soroban (a Japanese abacus), while the bigger room was filled with wooden boards, which had been there for at least a year since I’ve seen them on a Japanese blog before. The black piano in the corner instantly caught my eyes, but with keyboard instruments in pretty much every abandoned Japanese school, the nearby ceiling fixtures looked much more interesting to me. In addition to electricity plugs and a lamp, there was a rather simple compass rose and a mounting for large maps.
The rest of the school was a lot less interesting – a mostly empty room in the back, probably once some kind of a teacher’s lounge / storage room, plus some urinals / restrooms outside. Luckily my fellow travelers Chelsey and Ruth didn’t mind, so while I wrapped up shooting the school, they sat outside and made friends with the village dog; in *the DPRK* it probably would have been named “beige”…
Spectacular abandoned Japanese schools like the *Landslide School* or the *Stolen Anatomic Model School* feature buildings with several floors, tons of left behind items, and spectacular views – the Nara Countryside School on the other hand impressed us with its remote yet sublime location and an overall relaxed atmosphere. Osaka more often than not turns into Osucka, so just being in such a serene surrounding was a reward by itself… and a perfect start into a road trip weekend with occasional urban exploration.

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The Izu Sports World (or officially „Izu Nagaoka Sports World“) was a huge vacation destination (480000㎡ including vast parking lots!) for sporty people in the northern part of the Izu Peninsula – the main attractions were several pools with gigantic water slides, but the resort also featured tennis courts, a gym, and a golf course as well as a hot spring and several restaurants. Opened in July of 1988 it was a prime example for Japan’s gigantomaniac real estate bubble, especially since Izu Sports World went bankrupt less than five years later in February 1993, accumulating almost 10 billion Yen in debt – back then and nowadays more or less 80 million USD. In the early 2000s it became one of the most famous abandoned places in all of Japan and the urbex world was shocked when it was demolished in 2010 – right around the time I planned to visit it.

About three years later I first found out about the Izu Water Park, kind of a smaller version of Izu Sports World on the same peninsula – but unlike in the case of the big cousin, Izu Water Park is a fake name, so it took me another 20 months to find its exact location as the darn thing popped up only twice on Japanese blogs so far (to the best of my knowledge). So almost 5 years after Izu Nagaoka Sports World was gone, I finally went to explore an aquatic theme park on the Izu Peninsula… not the real deal, but as good as it gets these days.
Spring is the most beautiful time of the year in Japan as it combines rising temperatures on sunny days with the awakening flora and fauna that makes explorations in summer and autumn so difficult when in full bloom. Despite Mother Nature still more or less dormant in late February, it took me a while to enter the IWP, because after years of abandonment the surrounding vegetation was thick enough to keep (some) unwanted visitors out. The entrance building, locked at the front, was open from the back, but didn’t have much to offer, except old equipment and some lockers. The main building in the center was only partly accessible – some storage rooms and the toilets, but it also featured a now locked restaurant / kiosk to supply guests with food and drinks. The water park itself was tiny in comparison to Izu Sports World, covering maybe 2000 square meters (no vast parking lot, no accommodations!), but it still consisted of two levels: three sets of two water slides ending in a lower pool plus an oval pool on the upper level, about one quarter with very shallow water for toddlers, the rest probably deeper. How deep? I have no idea as the “water” was pretty much a green mess.
So, why did the Izu Water Park go bankrupt? Probably because the Japanese outdoor water fun seasons are generally extremely short, despite the long, hot, humid summers that follow already warm springs. The temperatures in my hometown are about 5°C lower than those in Osaka, yet the local public bath back home is open from May till September, making the best of the situation by using solar power to heat the water when it’s too cold outside for the sun to do the job without support. In Japan on the other hand, at least on the main islands, you go swimming in July and August. Already 30 degrees for weeks in June? Nobody will open the water park. Still 35 degrees in September? Empty beaches, even at locally famous party spots like Suma Beach near Kobe – buzzing for two months like a Mediterranean island or a spring break location. Why is the season so short? Because it is that way. Shoga-friggin-nai – deal with it! :)

Exploring the Izu Water Park was a great experience, though I have to admit that is was smaller and less… impressive… than I hoped it would be; sometimes size matters, especially in the case of water parks! Thinking of it, even the one that it is part of *Nara Dreamland* might be bigger – but it’s also photographed to death, while the Izu Water Park is virtually unknown. I had only seen a dozen photos beforehand, so my image of the park was quite different from reality. As a result this was urban exploration at its core. Finding the place, finding a way in and out, finding good angles for photos, finding ways into the buildings without damaging anything… all while avoiding being seen by people from the outside; an almost constant stream of cars and some pedestrians made this quite a challenge. It was a very rewarding exploration on many different levels though, one I wanted to tell you about for several months now, but I thought I should wait for a proper occasion – the beginning of outdoor bathing season tomorrow, July 1st!

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