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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 When I first arrived at the Hototogisu Hotel with my buddy *Enric* in February of 2010 (yes, this is the oldest unpublished location of mine I could find!), I was a tiny bit worried that we would get ambushed by those soldiers of fortune, considering the BA Baracus like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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Spring is the perfect time for hanami haikyo – exploring abandoned places while the plum and cherry blossoms are in full bloom. The window of opportunity every year is small, especially during cold and rainy springs, but this year I was luckily to hit one of those perfect days early in the year…

A few years ago I saw the remains of what appeared to be a playground on some random Japanese blog. Another source called it an abandoned amusement park. And then some photos of a golden Buddha statue appeared. It took me a while to piece all those pieces together – and afterwards I knew as much about that mysterious place as before… plus its exact location on a small mountain in Gifu prefecture; very countryside, and so I explored in Gifu and passed through Gifu several times before I was finally able to visit the Golden Buddha Park myself – most likely not its original name, but the fake names Japanese blogs used make even less sense, so mine is as good as theirs.
In the Japanese countryside GoogleMaps often is little more than a general hint, especially when construction is going on, so Dan, Kyoto, Spencer and I (big group this time!) knew where we had to go, but didn’t exactly know how to get there. After several twists and turns we reached a strange area where about a dozen regular cars were parked on what appeared to be an abandoned road with small abandoned houses – and one active apartment building at the end, much too small to house everybody parking there. We turned back again and parked at pretty much the last available spot, next to a partly collapsed house and an overgrown and dried-out pond. The paved street had turned into a cobblestone road, the condition getting worse and worse, so we decided to walk. Soon even the cobblestones were missing and we hiked up what appeared to be a dirt road getting narrower and narrower, becoming more and more overgrown. But we were on the right track as I remember a mushroom shaped resting area I saw on photos years prior. At that point there was a rift about half a meter deep splitting the road / wide path we were on. A strange place and probably creepy as hell on a foggy day. After a couple of minutes we reached some kind of plateau with a metal beam cage – probably for bird or maybe a small feline predator. There was trash all over the nearby slope and a vandalized bus was rusting away, offering the first good photo opportunity of the day. Opposite of the bus and mostly overgrown were several flights of stairs, some handrails and other concrete leftovers – it seems like there had been a now mostly demolished solid building once, but what it was… your guess is as good as mine. Next to the construction ruin we found a massive flight of stairs leading up the mountain, one huge concrete elephant statue on each side, with the weirdest plastic eyes I have ever seen; also worth mentioning: since the trunk was crumbling away we could see that there was a hose inside, so those statues were probably able to spray water…
On top of the mountain / hill we finally saw the golden Buddha in its white dome, lined with cherry trees. What a sight! But it was also guarded by two statues that probably were supposed to be dogs or lions, but looked more aliens – or alions… The statues with their weird eyes formed an unnerving contrast to the tranquil atmosphere of the Buddha and the countryside beauty. Such a strange place!
Upon closer look the base of the interesting looking concrete construction must have been hollow as we found a door on the back. Since it was locked we rather climbed the socket and had a closer look at the statue. Most of it was actually undamaged, but the gold leaves of lowest part, even in reach of small people, needed some refoiling.
Sadly there we no sign or other hints what this could have been, so after a while we hiked back down the mountain to our car. There we had a closer look at the dried out pond and the neighboring building, probably a conference center or something like that. The front was already collapsed and the interior had seen much better days, too. With that, our motivation to go through another half a dozen abandoned houses dwindled and we decided to call it a day – if Japanese explorers were not able to figure out what this strange setup was, we figured it would be rather unlikely that we will. And it was a good decision, because later that day we found the most amazing *abandoned ski resort* ever. But that’s the story of another time…

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Abandoned ropeway stations are creepy – and usually they are hard to reach. Now deserted *hotels*, *hospitals*, *amusement parks* or *museums* were originally built to attract or at least serve people conveniently. Ropeway stations, at least the upper termini, were constructed as bridge-heads to otherwise inaccessible or at least hard to reach places – like mountain tops.
The Shidaka Ropeway Upper Terminal was one of those stations in the middle of nowhere with no road access. Other than that, little to nothing is known about it. It seems like it was opened and closed along with the now also abandoned Shidaka Lift to connect Beppu with the *Shidaka Utopia* and Lake Shidaka – the ropeway covering the Beppu side, the lift covering the Shidaka side, but nobody seems to know for sure, though 1984 and 1998 are years I’ve heard for opening and closing respectively.

After exploring the already mentioned Shidaka Utopia on a wonderful yet hot spring day in 2012, I tightened my hiking boots and made my way up the mountain to have a look at the upper terminus of the Shidaka Ropeway (not to be confused with the still active Beppu Ropeway leading up Mount Tsurumi, which is still a popular tourist attraction). The unnecessarily long path I took lead me along a steep slope up and down the mountain for a few hundred meters in height difference, and finally reaching the upper terminus of the Shidaka Lift felt like heaven. Hiking on unpopulated routes all by yourself is always a risk, even more so in Japan with its nasty wildlife in late spring, summer and early autumn, so knowing that I was on the right track was a big relief. I took a break and some photos up there before looking for the old path that was connecting the lift with the ropeway station. Stones on the ground were a good indication, but after a couple of meters the way was completely overgrown, so I had to fight through thick vegetation… until I finally reached the ropeway station a few minutes later, all sweaty and scratched up.
The view from the station down at Beppu Bay was absolutely gorgeous and well worth the strenuous hike. To my surprise the cables connecting the upper and the lower terminus were still there, a gondola crashed into one of the two holding bays. At the same time the station was in rather bad condition after almost 15 years without any maintenance, a rusty metal and brittle concrete construction, built on a steep slope – me being all by myself I was very careful watching my steps.
After about 45 minutes it was already time to leave as I had to catch a bus back to the city and didn’t know exactly how long the lower terminus of the Shidaka Lift would keep me busy; a story for later this year. While the Shidaka Ropeway Upper Terminus wasn’t a huge and spectacular location, it was a very fulfilling one. Finding out about it and locating it wasn’t easy, getting up that mountain much less so. As much as I like explorations with friends by car, they are quite a different experience than going to the middle of nowhere all by yourself. So when I took a final look down at Beppu, it felt like an achievement, something that I really earned…

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I love maps! I always loved *maps*. When I was a little kid, my grandma taught me the names of every capital in Europe, and my desk pad was a world map. To me, GoogleMaps is the best thing since sliced bread. Whether I need a quick two-minute break or have to kill a rainy day on the weekends, GM is one of my favorite websites of all time, especially since I picked up urban exploration as a hobby. Sometimes I just browse through Japan via the satellite view… and actually find abandoned places, like an abandoned ropeway station I yet have to write about, or the *Abandoned Poultry Farm* I mistook for the *Red Factory*. About two years ago I saw a red roofed building in almost Y shape that caught my eyes – and on Street View the entrance looked abandoned, yet in decent condition…

Well, it turned out that my first exploration in Yamanashi prefecture was a total dud and that the entrance was pretty much the only thing about the Sun Park Hotel Naito that was in decent condition. When my buddy Dan opened the door to the hotel’s bar (the front entrance consisted of massive automatic glass doors that wouldn’t move a millimeter…), I instantly knew that we were up for a disappointment – the smell of rotting carpets, wallpapers and all kinds of other materials was heavy in the air. While the abandoned bar still had a certain 1980s TV show retro charme, the rest of the hotel kept me wondering what the heck I was doing there.
We reached the reception area through a small hallway and went on a short walkthrough of the ground floor (or first floor, as it is called in Japan) – restaurant, kitchen, employee rooms / toilets, offices. The smell was bad and the air probably wasn’t healthy, but it got worse after climbing the sketchy main staircase to the second and third floors. The hallways were completely trashed, everything was rotting, except for the ripped-out yellow insulation that smelled like urine. What a disgusting, miserable place; and the rain outside didn’t help to lighten up the atmosphere. Since the third floor was less vandalized at least some of the rooms were accessible, though none of them contained anything out of the ordinary. The really kitschy telephones were kind of interesting, but that’s pretty much it. My favorite item though was a pillow in the hallway, rotting, partly overgrown by moss. It reminded me of the fading stack of tatami mats at the *Bio Center* in Hokkaido, still one of my favorite photos.
Well, not all abandoned places can be surprise super hits – and the Sun Park Hotel Naito definitely wasn’t a hit. It was just another abandoned countryside hotel, and those are a dime a dozen all over Japan. Luckily every once in a while a few of those mystery hotels turn out to be great finds, so you can look forward to some amazingly unique abandoned hotels on Abandoned Kansai in the future; and… well… some crappy ones, too…

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A lot of Japanese people are very proud of their country’s distinctive four seasons – summer, autumn, winter and spring. Yet a lot of them mention a fifth season, which explains why they are not very proud of their math skills… rainy season. Rainy season is a period that lasts for about two to four weeks, usually starting in early or mid-June, turning most of Japan (especially Honshu, Shikoku and Kyushu) into a humid hellhole for about three months. Personally I don’t think Japan has four seasons as it stretches too much for a general statement like that. Okinawa definitely doesn’t have a winter, and in my personal experience, Osaka has only two seasons: “Kind of nice” and “unbearably hot and humid”.
The period of rather intense rain began early this year, in the first week of June, starting to turn Osaka into a sticky place where you don’t want to wear any long clothes or do anything that requires even the slightest effort. Luckily my friends Dan and Kyoko weren’t eager to stay in Osaka either, so I planned a nice little weekend trip to Shikoku… which I had to re-plan after the weather forecast changed – Chubu instead! (Chubu is one of eight major regions in Japan, basically the central part of the main island Honshu between Nagoya and Mount Fuji)

Three days later I found myself sweating like pig hiking up a mountain in Shizuoka prefecture. A couple of minutes prior we passed through a small village on the slope, located in the middle of nowhere, where only one old lady was living, at least part time – she and her husband were tea farmers, but he passed away a few years ago, so she takes care of what is left; everybody else had died or moved away many years before…
We escaped Osaka’s rain and humidity, but central Japan’s countryside was surprisingly warm for early July. The hiking trail us three were on connected the hamlet with its school, closed in the late 70s and officially abandoned in the early 90s. Why it wasn’t built directly next to the settlement is beyond me, but farm land was probably more valuable than the place for an elementary school; and so the kids had to hike up that mountain every day, an elevation gain of almost 100 meters! Even after 30 years the path was clearly visible, yet partly overgrown and covered by several layers of foliage, making it a rather slippery climb these days. I was taking another break enjoying the beautiful surrounding and silence, when I heard Dan from above: “The school is up here!”

A few minutes later I saw the school near the top of the mountain myself – a surprisingly big wooden building with a living quarter annex; probably for a teacher or two to live in. The main building consisted of two classrooms and an office (all wooden floors), plus a tatami room right next to the office. Outside was a small playground with a slide and leftovers of some swings and a soccer goal. And there was a shrine with a wooden building, empty according to the old lady…
What made the Shizuoka Countryside School quite special was its authenticity. While a lot of “abandoned” schools in Japan are still maintained by the local community (like the *Kyoto Countryside School*), it was pretty clear that this wasn’t the case here – yet there were barely any signs of vandalism, with small exceptions like the pink painted nipples of the female gypsum bust or the smashed wooden metronome. There were signs of visitors though – not only did I find a Sony lens cap in the grass, you could see that certain items were staged for photos and that some explorers crashed through the wooden floors when they were not cautious enough. Most of the rooms had plenty of interesting items left behind, like a chair and table combination, a table tennis plate, books, posters, chalk, and whatever you think should be at an abandoned countryside school – considering that it was basically a two room school I think it was rather well equipped and I really loved some of the tacky items, like the National manufactured red record player. The icing on cake, of course, was the location itself. Near the top of a mountain, with a shrine next to it, on a lovely late spring / early summer day… quite magical. Sadly I had to share one of the rooms with a suzumebachi a.k.a. Giant Asian Hornet. There are a lot of them at abandoned places these days and usually I avoid them, but in this case that would have meant not taking pictures of one third of the school. Half the time it was trying to leave through a window and failed, half the time it was flying around the room, causing me to hastily leave. After a few rounds of hide and seek I got most of the shots I wanted to take and called it a day.

Just getting out of Osaka for another two days was a blessing, exploring an abandoned countryside school in good condition and being able to share that with friends… priceless!

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