The Aso Kanko Hotel (Aso Sightseeing Hotel) has been an urbex legend for many, many years. Japanese bloggers were excited about its size, its beauty, its famous former guests – and after the abandonment: its security and its function as a movie set. They came up with abbreviated or even fake names to keep it a secret, but of course sooner or later somebody spilled the beans… without mentioning some essential information!
When Kyoko, Dan and I arrived at the Aso Kanko Hotel on a warm spring afternoon, we were in need of a successful exploration. Earlier that day we wanted to explore abandoned onsen hotel with an amazing water park, only to find the demolition crew wrapping up their work – the onsen hotel was gone, but the heavy machinery was still there… Next on the list was the *Bungomori Railyard*, and you know what happened to that one! So after another 90 minutes in the car we finally arrived in the Aso area, famous for its active volcano(s). The road leading up to the Aso Kanko Hotel was in good, but not perfect condition, and soon the distinctive roof was appearing between the treetops. Everything was going according to plan…
… but then the hotel turned out to be not nearly as big as I expected it to be. Not small, but mid-size at best. Long, but narrow; only three storeys tall. And it was vandalized! Not just slightly, but pretty much beyond repair. They shot a movie here? Really? Even though that was ten years prior to our visit, the hotel was in really bad condition. Well, average abandoned hotel condition, the kind I really loathe to explore by now. But given that the first two destinations were total duds, this wasn’t too bad… We quickly scouted the surroundings and found another small, but extremely rundown house plus a couple of rusty shacks, so we headed back to the main building. As you can see in the videos and on the photos, most of the windows and doors were smashed, the whole thing was just wet and rotting and moldy. I am sure both the outdoor and indoor baths for men and women were gorgeous 30 or 40 years ago, but now they were just part of this depressing sight. The rooms were pretty much standard, just some kind of bar next to a huge terrace showed original 70s style. Overall a rather disappointing exploration, but the background story of the hotel is actually quite interesting.
The Aso Kanko Hotel was opened in July of 1939, built with government funds. It made quite a splash those days as it was designed to be a Western style hotel with several features very unusual in Japan at that time, like a revolving door, flushing toilets, a Western style bath and a big dining room with a bar. After World War 2 ended, the Aso Kanko Hotel, much like the gorgeous *Maya Tourist Hotel in Kobe*, was used by the American forces for rest and recuperation – to make the stay even more comfortable for the exhausted soldiers, some billiard tables, a golf course and a trapshooting facility were added.
When the American military occupiers left, the Aso Kanko Hotel was taken over and renovated by a predecessor company of today’s Kyushu Industrial Transportation Holdings Co., Ltd. – a move that lured one of the most controversial people in Japanese history to visit the hotel: Emperor Hirohito.
The elder amongst us might remember the Showa Tenno as an older, tiny man with a friendly attitude towards everything but the Yasukuni Shrine… an image bestowed on him by both the American occupational forces as well as the Japanese Imperial Palace. Yet much like the image we have about the samurai, our impression of Hirohito is mostly wrong – he might have underwent a Damascene conversion after the end of WW2, but up till that point he was responsible for one of the most costly war of aggression in human history, and was only spared being tried as a war criminal due to the forceful powers previously mentioned; especially McArthur, who saved countless high ranking Japanese war criminals for political reasons, including surgeon general Ishii Shiro, one of the worst human beings in history. But don’t let propaganda fool you, Hirohito was actively involved in Japan’s wars during the 1930s and 1940s, even authorizing the production (on *Okunoshima*, now known as Rabbit Island) and use of chemical weapons – unique during WW2! And he at least knew about and condoned the horrors his military spread over Southeast Asia, including the vivisections on humans conducted by Unit 731. Oh, also I am sure you’ve heard stories that many Japanese rather committed suicide than being taken prisoner towards the end of the war – that was based on Imperial orders to civilians (!), released by Hirohito from as early as June 1944 on! Please keep that in mind and stop contributing to the myth that Japan was one of the main victims of WW2… especially later this year at the 70th anniversary of the end of the Pacific War. (Sorry for getting distracted, but Japan’s unwillingness to take responsibility for its actions from the Meiji era till 1945, especially for the last 13 years, makes me sick to the stomach every time the topic comes up. 70 years of history-falsification are enough!)
Okay, so it was back in 1957 when “I honestly had no idea what was going on during my reign…”-san visited the Aso Kanko Hotel with his family… and apparently he liked it so much that he came back twice in the following years, making the hotel one of the most famous ones in all of Japan.
Sadly that didn’t prevent the resort from disastrous events. On July 9th 1964 for example, 3500 square meters of the hotel, including the lobby, went up in flames. Nobody got killed, but an exhibition of paintings by Ebihara Kinosuke became a victim of the fire. Renovations took a whole year, but afterwards the complex of three main buildings and several annexes continued to thrive and quickly became the most popular summer retreat in all of Kumamoto. Three main buildings? Yes, three. It seems like back in the heydays the Aso Kanko Hotel was a much bigger resort than it is a ruin now. Nobody seems to have documented what happened exactly, but as the complex grew older, it became less popular. In December of 1999 it was decided that the AKH would be closed in February 2000… and so it happened. After five years of (undocumented) abandonment, director Shimizu Takashi (inventor of the Ju-on / The Grudge movie series) shot most of his Japanese flick Reincarnation on location. Back then the complex must have been still intact as you can see much more of the Ono Kanko Hotel (as it was called in the movie) than on any urbex photo of the Aso Kanko Hotel. The oldest photos I’ve seen of the abandoned AKH were from 2007 and showed the hotel pretty much in the same state as it is now, so I assume most of the other buildings were demolished shortly after the movie shot wrapped up.
That explains why the Aso Kanko Hotel was much smaller than I expected upon arrival. It also leaves us with the question why Japanese explorers glorified the place so much that they left out the fact that 70 to 80% of the hotel already had been demolished upon their arrival. But then again, if there is one thing you should have taken from this article, it’s that Japan has a long history of idealizing history…
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