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Almost completely demolished, yet exploration fun for more than two hours – this Sumitomo Osaka Cement Factory delivered one last time!

Sumitomo is one of the oldest companies in all of Japan, tracing their roots back to Masatomo Sumitomo, who gave up his life as a Buddhist priest to become a businessman at age 45 in 1630. Starting with a shop selling books and medicine in Kyoto, he later became closely associated with copper – his brother-in-law Riemon Soga had learned from Europeans how to separate silver from unrefined copper in the late 16th century… and when Soga’s first son Tomomochi married one of Sumitomo’s daughters, the business expanded to Osaka under the Sumitomo name. In the following centuries the company diversified and became one of Japan’s four big conglomerates called zaibatsu; along with Mitsui, Mitsubishi and the now dissolved Yasuda.
After ignoring the cement market for decades, Sumitomo got into the business in the early 60s, when the demand for coal plummeted and the subsidiary Sumitomo Coal Mining was looking for new opportunities. In 1962 Sumitomo invested in one of Japan’s most successful cement producers, Iwaki Cement, and basically took them over in 1963. The new company soon opened / acquired more plants and in 1994 merged with competitor Osaka Cement to form the Sumitomo Osaka Cement Co., Ltd – one of their plants was in Shiga prefecture and ran from 1952 till 2003; shortly afterwards the demolition of the factory and partly new use of the premises began.

When my buddy Marvin came to visit from Berlin, it was pretty clear that we wouldn’t meet at a cute little café to spend 12 bucks on a piece of cake and a cup of coffee – instead we took the opportunity for a ride to the Shiga countryside on a lovely September Sunday; one of the first bearable days after a long, hot and humid summer. The Sumitomo Osaka Cement Factory was the second location of the day as its current condition was pretty much unknown to us, the area a blurry spot on GoogleMaps. All I knew was that demolition had started years ago and that there was at least one new company on the former factory ground. We approached from the south and it turned out that the area was a lot bigger than I expected – easily 400 by 800 meters, including the active looking part, most of it (sight) protected by partly overgrown fences; some fitted with barbed wire, some just plain fences of various kinds. When we found a section that looked like a possible entrance, Marvin was eager to get in, but I had a bad feeling and wasn’t ready to finish scouting yet; good decision as the area behind that fence was accessible from other places and still in use. About 15 minutes later I finally gave in at a gate we were able to pass easily. I still wasn’t fully convinced that it was a good idea, but most urbex noobs have an untainted enthusiasm that is infectious. We explored the former back of the now mostly demolished cement plant and actually found an open gate with no “Do not enter! / No Trespassing!” signs, which calmed me down noticeably. Still in the upper back part, all of a sudden I heard a heavy truck approaching – it turned out that they still loaded rocks on trucks there, they just stopped the production of cement. So Marvin and headed for cover and were just able to duck down before the truck rushed through. Phew, close call!
To avoid further run-ins with heavy trucks we headed down the slope to the concrete remains of the former cement factory, away from the main road crossing the vast premises. Technically there wasn’t much to see – one or two rusty machines here, some rusty packing devices there; but the atmosphere was just amazing. Very post-apocalyptic, like straight out of a Terminator or Mad Mad movie, the scorching sun on the almost clear sky physically supporting the feeling. Who would have thought that shooting a 90% demolished factory could be that much fun? There is just something about gigantic ferroconcrete structures I can’t get enough of…
Yet the most interesting part was actually a Hitachi transformer station, partly stripped, but still equipped with some switchboxes and all kinds of steampunk looking metal and ceramics parts. Sadly there were mosquitos everywhere, eating us alive and rendering some photos unusable.

Despite the fact that most of the plant was gone already, this was an amazing exploration – especially since at the time I didn’t know what kind of industrial complex the Sumitomo Osaka Cement Factory had been. I knew it under the name “Sumitomo Plant”, so it could have been anything. Just by looking at the remains and the surroundings, we figured out that it must have been a cement factory; later research at home confirmed our assumptions and revealed a lot more about the plant and its history. Good times!

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The Fuji 5 Lakes area consists of Lake Yamanaka, Lake Kawaguchi, Lake Sai, Lake Shoji, and Lake Motosu – forming an arch around the northern part of Mount Fuji in Yamanashi prefecture. Famous for hiking, mountain climbing, sailing, fishing, the Aokigahara Suicide Forest, Fujikyu Highland and local udon noodles, this recreational area two hours outside of Tokyo attracts about nine million visitors per year… and many of them enjoy a soak at an onsen in the evening. Of course not all of those public baths can be successful – bad for the owners, good for explorers like me and readers like you…
The Fuji Five Lakes Onsen is a surprisingly rare location and apparently virtually unknown to the Japanese urbex scene. It’s actually easier to find information about the time when it was open for business than about its current abandoned state; hence the rather vague fake name for it. The place was actually not just a day trip spa (charging 300 Yen for the time between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m.), it was also a ryokan, a Japanese inn for overnight guests. Located next to a river in a tiny mountain town, the Fuji Five Lakes Onsen turned out to be a hidden wooden gem, a glimpse at Japan’s simple past that is disappearing quickly.

At 7,000 to 10,000 Yen per person and night the FFLO wasn’t exactly a cheap place to stay at, especially considering that it closed about 10 years ago. I am sure back then it was easily possible to get a more luxurious accommodation for a lower price – but probably with a lot less character. The main building of the Fuji Five Lakes Onsen was a narrow, but rather long wooden construction – followed by small apartments in the backyard along the river. After ten years of abandonment rather wobbly and squeaky, the main hallway wasn’t for the faint of heart, especially with road construction going on right outside. If we were able to hear them scavenge the street, they were able to hear almost any noise we made. Luckily they weren’t aware of *Hamish* and I being there, so they didn’t pay attention; a huge advantage on our side and a late reward for us approaching the Fuji Five Lakes Onsen carefully, avoiding any noises getting in.
The tricky part was the upper floor with its tatami party room. Regular readers know what kind of place I mean – the big one with the stage and the karaoke machine and stuff like that. What was so tricky about it? Well, the upper part was actually on road level, so the construction workers were able to look inside through some of the windows… if they would have paid attention, which they didn’t. Good for me, as the party room held some interesting items to take pictures of, including some 60s or 70s music devices and a Konami Hyper Shot controller for use with the smash hit Hyper Sports.
Down on the main floor again I took some photos of the pretty run down onsen part, the gender-separated shared bath. Surprisingly small, it must have offered a nice view on the river a few decades prior. Now the huge windows were mostly overgrown from the outside and vandalized by penis graffiti from the inside – the whole room felt rather cold and inhospitable on this beautiful autumn day.
The half a dozen guest “houses” in the back looked a bit like an afterthought and some were already in quite questionable condition. The eclectic conglomerate was big enough for about 30 people, with each hut hosting a family or a carload full of friends. Been there, done that… and the light was disappearing quickly.
What made the Fuji Five Lakes Onsen such a memorable exploration was the simplicity of the place. No shiny modern kitchen, no ten-storey concrete building, no spa area the size of a football field, no arcade, no elevators – just plain wooden buildings, a handful of guest apartments and an almost underwhelming shared bath. The most modern item probably was that controller for said Konami game, every other item there most likely was from the 70s, 60s or even 50s.
The last couple of places I presented on *Abandoned Kansai* were not very Japanese at first sight, especially locations like the *Western Village* or the *Hachijo Royal Hotel*… but the Fuji Five Lakes Onsen is as Japanese as it gets!

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The morning after exploring the abandoned *Western Village*, I woke up physically and mentally drained like hardly ever before. All I wanted to do is getting home, so I skipped breakfast and the first location I considered exploring that day. Feeling slightly better on the two or three trains I had to take towards Tokyo, I decided to stop at a small station with a large shopping mall. Two fences later I found myself in the semi-basement of an abandoned psychiatric hospital, taking pictures of metal-grilled solitary cells – by far the most nerve-wrecking solo exploration I’ve done so far!

Insane, crazy, bonkers, lunatic, nuts. It was really stupid to explore the Japanese Mental Hospital all by myself, especially since pretty much everything that could go wrong, went wrong – yet I got away with it…
I wasn’t up to a good start when I woke up with a cramp in my right leg, only to realize that I had a serious headache, too. The previous day had taken its toll as I totally forgot to eat or drink between breakfast at 7.30 a.m. and dinner at 8.30 p.m. – not a problem 10 years ago, but I am no spring chicken anymore. The first location I planned to explore required a 12 kilometer roundtrip walk, so I scrapped the idea quickly as I didn’t even feel like walking from the bed to the bathroom in a really tiny hotel room. My secondary target that day was an abandoned hospital in Saitama, kind of on the way home and much closer to Osaka than my then current location in Tochigi’s capital. So I did some last minute research plus some paperwork and headed south 1.5 hours later. While I had no urge in the morning to ever take a single photo again, that feeling was gone around noon as my shutter finger was itching again. I wasn’t as super excited as I usually am, but at least I didn’t feel like turning inside out anymore – and the weather was really nice!
To my surprise the small station I arrived at was super busy, and so was the large supermarket / shopping mall right across the street. I had a general idea where to look for the mental hospital, so I walked right into a developing area that now more or less surrounded the former asylum – you could say that I entered the psychiatric ward. Most plots already had houses on, their inhabitants busy with cleaning and bringing out trash. Great. Exactly what I needed. Soon the old hospital stood out like a sore thumb and visible from quite a distance as it was two floors taller than the surrounding residential area. It was fenced off by a typical Japanese construction fence – the one consisting of connecting metal plates, about 30 centimeters wide and 2.5 meters tall. Faaaaaan-tastic. But it got better. Between the road I was on and said site fence was an elevated barbed wire fence, rusty as if it was made to spread tetanus. In-between was a grassy area… mown, which means that somebody still took care of the premises. Ding-ding-ding! We have a winner – full-blown urbex nightmare. Or so I thought, because I actually found a small hole in the outer fence where I was able to squeeze my bag and tripod through, followed by a bigger hole some 40 meters down the road where I could enter – I already had figured out how to get past the inner fence, but of course the outer opening was in the opposite direction of the inner opening. So I put my equipment through the outer fence and turned around to make my way to the Florian sized access point, when I looked directly at a woman living two doors down another road. Darn! So I walked towards her, trying to start a conversation, but she just closed the veranda door and disappeared. Damn, damn, damn! I was too close to give up, so I hurried down the first road, got past the outer fence, ran back on the inside, grabbed my equipment and… ROAR, another neighbor started his car! Seriously?! I didn’t even take the time to look up, headed towards the inner fence and went all in. Literally and figuratively.
The Japanese Mental Hospital turned out to be some kind of whitewashed concrete building, 95% boarded up or blocked by rusty grilles. For obvious reasons super nervous I first had a quick look at the semi-basement in the back, from the outside of course – separated from the real world only by a solid metal fence I could hear neighbors, the kids of neighbors, and of course the dogs of neighbors… as if they were right next to me. I assumed I would have 20 minutes max until a ballsy neighbor, security or police would show up to politely ask me to leave / threaten me with the police / arrest me, so I quickly looked for a way in.
The first option wasn’t really one – the smelly, dark boiler room of the semi-basement, but I wasn’t ready for that, not even close. Luckily I found an opening the size of 1/3 of a door, barely enough for a big guy like me, but a great gift given that the rest of the ground floor was shut tight. Seconds later I found myself in front of the reception, the only light coming from the hole in the entrance door. I took a couple of shots and moved on to the staircase, lit from the not nailed-up upper floors. About 20 minutes into my adventure I started to calm down a little bit, which wasn’t exactly easy as I was exploring a friggin mental hospital all by myself! Nevertheless I headed into the dark again, to have a look at the rest of the ground floor. The second of three patient rooms had a special surprise for me – on a rack I found a dozen comic books lined up, accompanied by plushies of Stitch and Sergeant Keroro / Sgt. Frog as well as all kinds of plastic figurines. Japanese urbexers… In other countries people steal and vandalize, in this part of the world they add cutesy stuff. The upper floors turned out to be well-lit and mostly empty – a wheelchair here, some beds there, but nothing too exciting. I kinda liked the massive concrete hallway that exuded strength and hopelessness at the same time. There was only this way to get in or out… and I am sure back in the days it was very well guarded. Upon reaching the top floor with its caged roof I finally felt relieved. I was done taking photos and ten minutes later, after filming the walkthrough, I would be out of there, finally relaxing on my way home. Even the possibility of people waiting outside the fences didn’t scare me much anymore – I had seen everything I wanted to see, took pictures of everything that looked interesting to me. So I took the video and…
… realized that the staircase lead down to the semi-basement; an area. Where it was sparsely lit at best, most areas were actually pitch-black. Where the solitary cells were… with solid metal doors on one side and almost floor to ceiling iron grids on the other. Where the mistreatment most likely happened… to helpless victims, mental patients in need of the care of others. Oh, didn’t I mention why the hospital was closed? Word on the street is that the Japanese Mental Hospital closed in summer of 2001 due to financial fraud and human rights violations against the inpatients! Up to 80 unexplained deaths over the years… Did I really want to go down there?
Of course I didn’t! I was exhausted enough already, I didn’t need that kind of excitement. I am not even into urbex for any kind of excitement, I do it for the tranquil atmosphere and the unique aesthetics most places have… and what’s more unique than a wheelchair in front of the rusty bars of a dimly-lit solitary cell at an abandoned mental hospital, once accused of mistreating patients? Right! Friggin nothing – so down the stairs I went! I hope you’ll enjoy the photos and the video, because I guess I aged about three months spending 20 minutes in the semi-basement… ;)

BTW: Not only is this the 300th article on Abandoned Kansai, today marks the 5th anniversary of the first exploration I ever published. What started as a small blog read by family and friends has turned into a CNN featured resource read in 205 countries and territories. Thanks to everyone for the continuous support!

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As of a week ago, one of my biggest urbex regrets had been not exploring the abandoned Western Village before its demolition. I found out about this Wild West amusement park many years ago, long before it was picked up by Japanese urbex blogs, but it was far away from Osaka, nestled in the mountains of Tochigi prefecture, giving it a Rocky Mountains-ish vibe. A trip rather time and money consuming, I kept postponing my visit, until I heard in autumn of 2014 that Western Village had joined the long list of famous places demolished last year. Apparently that news was rather exaggerated, as I read by chance last week – heavy machinery had been put into position and a locomotive was removed, but the main park was still there… at least during the Japanese winter break, ending on January 4th 2015. So I did what every upstanding person with regrets would have done: I tossed all concerns about money and time out of the window and headed up to Tochigi to explore Western Village before it was gone for good! (Which is probably, but not necessarily, happening as you read these lines…)

Western Village emerged from a family owned guest ranch with a few horses and a fishing pond called Kinugawa Family Ranch, started in the early 1970s as an additional attraction for visitors of a nearby hot spring – there were metal cups labelled that way all over the premises, most likely around 40 years old and once sold in gift shops. Kenichi and Masayuki Ominami’s uniquely themed leisure park was divided into several zones, the last one added in 1995 for about 25 million USD, featuring a three-floor building with a 1/3 scale replica of Mount Rushmore; the latter earned Western Village a few awards, from the Mount Rushmore Society and Northwest Airlines, making the park’s then-president Kenichi Ominami a honorary governor of South Dakota. Main attractions included said Mount Rushmore, several (now removed) locomotives and cars imported from the United States, and a live Wild West show – minor attractions were an arcade, two haunted houses, and lots of smaller buildings with western content. In addition to that, Western Village was often used as a film set for promotional videos and movies.
From 2003 to 2006 visitors were able to rent Segways, and in its later years of existence the entrance fee was lowered from 2400 to 1500 Yen, but all of that didn’t stop the demise of Western Village. In 2006 the official website announced that the park would be closed from December 6th till late March 2007 (the end of the business year) for maintenance, but the park never opened again as announced in February of 2007. In April 2007 the Sankei Shimbun, one of Japan’s biggest newspapers, reported that the creditor NIS Group filed for foreclosure of land and buildings in the Tokyo District Court in September 2006, deciding that it would be financially impossible to re-open the park. Since then Western Village has fallen into disrepair, suffering from metal thieves and vandalism, despite reports of security on patrol and the Tochigi police training on the premises. In the second half of 2014 Japanese explorers reported that the demolition of Western Village had begun. Usually something like that takes only a few days in Japan, a couple of weeks max, if the crew is small or if ferroconcrete buildings are involved. So everybody believed Western Village was no more and none of the visitors since then cared to debunk the rumors… until last week.

Every year around New Year’s Day Japan shuts down for about a week, coming to a near standstill on January 1st. On that day only basic services like trains, taxis and 24/7 supermarkets are running, even most bank ATMs are shut down – the perfect time to get out of the country or to welcome visitors without having to take sparse paid days off. In my case, my sister was visiting, so I was super busy planning and executing day trips, dinner with friends and stuff. By coincidence I saw a friend posting on Facebook that he just came back from Western Village and that heavy machinery was still in place, idle during winter break. Without time to plan anything, I packed a small bag with some clothes and my camera equipment, actually forgetting my ultra-wide angle lens. On Friday morning I accompanied my sister to the airport for a proper farewell, headed back to Osaka (without stopping at home) and took several trains north – continuing to Western Village on Saturday, spending more than six hours till sunset on the premises.

While a good portion of *Nara Dreamland* was just false front, Western Village was actually a full-blown Wild West town. All buildings were accessible, all of them had a purpose. The fully stocked arcade was surprisingly big and featured a custom made animatronic shooting game as well as classic video games like Space Harrier, Alpine Racer and Crazy Taxi. Two gigantic restaurants were able to feed hundreds of customers at the same time, not to mention the saloon next to the gift shop. There was a fake hotel, a barber, a bank, a black smith, and a sheriff office; interestingly enough the fake looking church was real, imported from California. Several attractions costing extra money included a haunted house, the now almost empty Mystery Shock with its messed up floors and walls, a shooting game featuring futuristic looking guns (long before Cowboys & Aliens!) and a photographer’s shop, where you could dress up in cliché outfits. Some of those buildings were “inhabited” by animatronic characters like a clerk, a bartender and a Pony Express employee, giving the now abandoned park a really spooky Westworld vibe, especially since most of those animatronics were built to match the likenesses of movie icons. (The older among us remember Michael Crichton’s movie with Yul Brunner and James Brolin, the younger will get a star-packed HBO version produced by J.J. Abrams and Jonathan Nolan soon.)
Western Village has suffered quite a bit from vandalism and natural decay over the last couple of years. Animatronics and mannequins have been moved all over the park, so were clothes from the photographer’s shop and several single items. Some people clearly had fun positioning large teddy bears (from an exhibition at the Mount Rushmore building) behind partly smashed doors and lurking creepily through windows. The auditorium at the foot of Mount Rushmore was rather overgrown even in winter, and the veranda of the hotel was on the brink of collapse – but overall Western Village was still in decent condition, considering that it consists largely of wood and is one of the most popular *haikyo* in all of Japan. It’s totally beyond me that *Nara Dreamland* is super popular and Western Village is completely overlooked; the latter one is actually in much better condition (well, probably because of it…). Sure, it lacks the rollercoasters, but it’s stuffed with tons of interesting items and animatronics. It’s a lot easier to access and has a unique subject matter, especially considering its location… Japan. Overall a fantastic exploration – and I really hope that somebody will hold back the heavy machines for a while, so more people will be able to explore Western Village!

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The most beautiful abandoned looking hotel I have never entered – this title goes to the Hachijo Royal Hotel, once the biggest hotel in all of Japan. I went there twice, at sunset and the next morning just after sunrise, both times I ran into several people, both times I had a feeling that this hotel wasn’t really abandoned… and I turned out to be right. Half a year after my visit several Japanese explorers changed their reports about the hotel, some of them apologizing – apparently they had been contacted by the current management…

In the past two years more and more allegedly abandoned hotels on *Hachijojima* popped-up on Japanese urbex blogs, and when I decided in early 2014 to have a look myself, I went there with one very specific picture in my mind: the front of the Hachijo Royal Hotel, the first photo of the gallery at the end of the article. Sadly none of those blogs did much research on the hotel’s history, so I had to dig a little bit deeper, like so many times before…
The Hachijo Royal Hotel was opened in 1963 – eight years after the former military airport on Hachijojima was turned over to civilian control and four years after the local tourist office was established. At the time the biggest hotel in all of Japan (according to one of the people I spoke with) the owning company celebrated their then-president Eiji Yasuda with a statue of himself in the vast park of the resort. Tourism on the Izu Islands was booming back then, especially on Hachijojima, since the government nicknamed it the “Hawaii of Japan” in an attempt to give the island a positive image and the population of Tokyo a warm place to visit. That couldn’t have sit very well with Okinawa back then as all they got were quite a few American military bases; something they are not really happy with till that very day. Nowadays Japanese people prefer to go to Okinawa or the real Hawaii. Most likely due to Hachijojima’s lack of sand beaches and spare time offers other hiking, surfing and diving – resulting in a steep decline of tourism on Hachijojima. In 1996 the Hachijo Royal Hotel reopened as the Pricia Resort Hachijo… as in Pricia Resort Yoron on one of the Okinawan islands. The Pricia Resort Hachijo closed in August 2003 and re-opened on June 1st 2004 as the Hachijo Oriental Resort, which is still written on the main entrance, the road sign and a car with license plates parked on the premises. In 2005 “Trick the Movie 2” was shot at the hotel, the sequel to a movie, based on a three season long Japanese comedy drama TV show. It seems like the hotel was closed again around that time, which is just proves how quickly places decay when they are refused any maintenance, especially on an island surrounded by saltwater.

I first arrived at the Hachijo Royal Hotel in the afternoon of a gorgeous spring day. This was one of the last big ticket items I really wanted to explore in Japan, so I was quite nervous when I approached. Thanks to Google Street View I knew that I would be able to get close to the hotel without jumping any fences, but I also knew that there would be a barber shop near the back, just across the street. To fill some of the blanks, I first approached the area that the Street View car couldn’t access – and of course the first thing I saw were two cars with license plates parked directly in front of the main entrance, a Suzuki Carry kei truck a little further in the back. Darn! Would my exploration end 30 seconds into it? Luckily it didn’t. I kept myself together and walked up to the cars, prepared for some small talk with an owner, security guard or some construction workers. Turns out the whole thing was a false alarm – all cars had flat tires, some were rusty beyond repair… and the kei truck was labelled Blues Mobile; very funny! I had a look around and it seems like the Hachijo Royal Hotel consisted of two parts. The main building with its amazing back towards the waterfront – and a White House style annex building opposite the main entrance. Following a couple of dozen photos, I started the obligatory video tour, when suddenly a huge roar was thundering down the coastal road, apparently a couple of bikers, also enjoying this warm spring day. Okay, second attempt, starting next to the White House annex. A minute or two into it, I just arrived at the main entrance, an old guy walking his cat size lap dog showed up in the background, so I stopped filming and approached him with a smile, again ready for some small talk. Sadly the guy seemed to be in a very bad mood (no surprise, I would be embarrassed, too, being seen in public with a dog like that…) and literally tried to shoo me away; which actually pissed me off quite a bit, because Senior McLapdog obviously had about as many rights to be there as I had; at least I tried to be a friendly person. Long story short, I pretended to go away, but ran into him again as I need to go back to take the video I wanted to take. After a while he finally left, but I wouldn’t have been the first vengeful person to call the police, so for the next hour or so I made sure to stay on public ground; after I took the video, of course.
The back of the hotel with its amazing gigantic and partly overgrown pool area as well as a huge park was mind-blowingly beautiful and all I hoped it would be – strangely enough it faced the main road, so the back of the hotel was the front… or vice versa. Anyway, I took some shots and after I was pretty confident that the police wouldn’t show up any time soon… I was approached by another elderly on his bike, telling me about the history of the hotel. 10 minutes later, the guy was finally out of sight, I walked up to the hotel. Up there were some outdoor showers, another (small) pool, a few European style statues, at one point in time probably water fountains, and a back entrance, blocked from the inside with a large rusty sickle! When you think you’ve seen it all… It was getting dark pretty quickly and I didn’t bring my tripod, so went for a stroll along the coast and for dinner at a sushi restaurant, serving flying fish, amongst other local delicacies.
Right after I woke up the next morning I went back to the Hachijo Royal Hotel. Different light from a different direction… but pretty much the same amount of people passing by. Heck, nobody was getting in or out, but the area was as busy as a beehive! After a friendly morning talk with a female dog walker I took some photos as the seriously damaged tennis courts before heading back to the “backfront”, to finally grab the photo I really wanted to take. A conversation with another biker later I finally descended to the partly overgrown pool area. One of the two changing areas looked like somebody was squatting there for a while (and what better place for that than an island so warm that it offers a free camping site all year long?), but other than that it looked as abandoned as the rest of the hotel – so signs of maintenance, no signs of any ownership, except for years old, trampled down ropes here and there. In its heydays the gigantic pool must have been amazing, at the time of my visit it was barely accessible – especially the concrete pathway with steps towards the backfront with the smaller pool and all the statues was completely overgrown and barely visible.
Even without entering the Hachijo Royal Hotel, it was a great experience exploring this wonderful resort and its absolutely stunning seaside front. It’s quite a big photo gallery this time, so make sure to not miss the hidden gems, like the picture on which the sun is setting behind Mount Hachijo-Fuji while a plane is just leaving for Tokyo’s Haneda airport. The four videos I publish show most of the resort’s exterior and I hope they will give you a better impression of how gorgeous the place really was. If there really still is an owner, I really hope he will act quickly and spend some money to save this modern classic – it’s one of those places that would really deserve to be saved!

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Sex museums in Japan are dying out. Once there were dozens of them all over Japan, now there are only two remaining: The Atami Sex Museum and the Kinugawa Sex Museum in Nikko; the latter one will close its doors for the last time in a week, December 31st 2014 at 5 p.m. JST, so let’s send it off with a farewell article!

In spring I went on a *road trip to Tohoku* with my buddies *Mike* and *Ben* – and on the way back we passed through Kinugawa Onsen, a small spa town in the mountains of Nikko, famous for the UNESCO World Heritage Toshogu Shrine, dedicated to Tokugawa Ieyasu, the historical model for James Clavell’s Lord Toranaga in his most famous novel, Shogun. Rather rundown, like so many onsen resorts these days, the town of the Angry Demon River offered a very special attraction, one of two remaining sex museums open for business in all of Japan. We were short on time, nevertheless we managed to squeeze in a one hour stop at this special location.
Opened in 1981, the museum focused on the depiction of the sexual culture in the Edo period a.k.a. Tokugawa period (1603-1868). Artful carvings, colorful paintings, beautiful shrines and several sex acts re-staged with dolls, for example the rape of noble women in a forest or a woman peeping on a couple having sex in an onsen. The last part of the museum was a bit more modern and included a blue movie theater with a tinge of green, a Marilyn Monroe doll on a red couch, several mannequins, a sex shop and a handful of those Ufo Catcher crane machines you might know from regular arcades – but instead of plush dolls you could win toys to make your girlfriend blush.
Usually it is not allowed to take photos or even videos in those sex museums, but I guess it was a combination of its certain demise and the fact that Michael had been there before for scientific reasons with one of his former professors – so we actually got permission to take Pictures and do a video tour. Given the extremely limited amount of time on our hands I filmed a walkthrough right away without having seen anything in advance, which was quite tricky due to countless mirrors and mirroring exhibition cases as well as the uncertainty of what would be ahead of me – luckily no other visitors, so I finished the virtual tour without any unjoyful incidents. Ten minutes later I was back at the entrance and started taking pictures with up to nerve-wrecking 30 seconds exposure time. After exploring two abandoned sex museums in *Yamaguchi* and *Hokkaido* it was extremely interesting so finally see one open for business and I really wish I would have had more time to enjoy the experience – but sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do… and we had a rental car to return in Shinagawa, about three hours away without traffic jams, which were rather likely at the end of Golden Week.
Access to the museum was strictly forbidden to minors (you had to be 18 year or older!), given mostly the artful yet graphic depictions of genitals and sexual acts. Interestingly enough all movies and photos were censored with the pixilation Japan is famous for, yet most of the dolls were anatomically correct – so I had to censor one of the photos I took myself, just in case. The rest of them are graphic, too, but in an artistic and / or educational way that didn’t cause any problems with WordPress or YouTube when I wrote about the two abandoned sex museums… and I hope it will be the same this time, too (though YouTube already forced an age restriction on the video, requiring you to log into your Youtube account to watch the video). While not pornographic in nature, the following photos are not safe for work – and if you are easily offended by images like that, I recommend skipping the photo gallery this time, even when you read this article in the privacy of your home. I do not intend to offend anybody, but you can’t write an article about a sex museum without showing some of the exhibits… :)

Merry XXX-mas, everyone!

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How to enter Spreepark?

That never really was a question. I knew I would find my way into Germany’s most famous abandoned theme park, though I wasn’t sure if I really wanted to. When I first saw the sad leftovers of what once was Spreepark im Plänterwald on a sunny early Monday afternoon my heart sank a bit – all the horror stories about vandalism at famous abandoned places in Europe seemed to have come true at first sight, even from the outside. I just had arrived in Berlin to abysmal weather forecasts (rain, rain, rain and… rain), so I headed there immediately after I dropped some luggage at my freshly booked hotel – a mild disaster in comparison to what I am used to living in Japan. In Japan you go to the clearly labelled tourist information and you name your budget and the part of the city you are interested in. At Tegel Airport I first had to ask somebody if there was a tourist information at all and the first reaction I got there upon voicing my general request was „We charge three Euros for a hotel reservation!“ – I guess it’s needless to say that it’s a free of charge service in Japan. After not being asked, I tried to state my budget and the area of the city I was interested in, to which I had to deal with a rather rude „First I have to find out what’s available!“ Jawohl, mein Fräulein! Of course the hotel she found was 50% above my budget, which provoked her to the following snarky comment: „You can go to the city center and try to find a cheaper hotel on your own!“ After booking, the tourist information “lady” tried to send me on my way with the hotel’s address printed on top of a legal document 5 pages long, but without a map or information about how to get to the damn city center. Gosh, you gotta love Berlin… (It turned out that the hotel was not only over the price I had in mind, but it was also overpriced. Breakfast was 10 EUR extra per day, WiFi in the room an additional 5 EUR, the room had no fridge or complimentary toiletries like a toothbrush, and the bed was about half as wide of what I am used to from Japan – where I pay about half as much per night, but including all of the above!) If you think I sometimes rant too much about Japan, don’t get me started about Germany! ;)

Well, there I was, finally, at the Spreepark, just 15 minutes on foot away from the S-Bahn station Plänterwald, named after the city forest of the same name. The park opened in 1969 as the only amusement park in the German Democratic Republic a.k.a. East Germany. Called Kulturpark Plänterwald (cultural park Plänterwald) back then, it was privatized and renamed in 1991, one year after Germany’s reunification. Originally a pay as you go amusement park, the concept was changed in 90s as the Spreepark Berlin GmbH under owner Norbert Witte added more and more attractions – nevertheless visitor numbers dropped from 1.5 million per year to 400.000 per year, followed by the bankruptcy of the GmbH in 2001. In early 2002, Witte, his family and some employees made authorities believe that they would ship 6 attractions to repair, instead they sent them to Lima, Peru, where they opened a new theme park called Lunapark – later Witte and his son were convicted for trying to smuggle 167 kilograms of drugs upon returning back to Germany. The gutted park itself closed for the public in 2002 and became a famous spot for urban explorers, despite round the clock security. Taking advantage of that huge interest, a company offered official photo tours from August 2009 on, a café called Mythos opened in April 2011 on the weekends and from Mai 2011 on the park’s train Santa Fe Express became its first official active attraction again – and Spreepark turned into a zombie amusement park; looking (and probably smelling) dead, but being somewhat alive…
In early 2014 the city took over and I was told that for the first time in 12 years there were neither security nor official tours – and by coincidence I went to Berlin anyway, so I had a look myself. Remains of the park can be found as far as 500 meters away from the entrance, where I saw a huge ad box for the park, promoting raffles for free tickets. From there a path lead through the forest to the main entrance, damaged lamp posts from the GDR era on both sides of the way. Upon arrival the first thing I saw was a parked car right inside the gates, so I assumed somebody was on the premises, which made me have a look around first. A couple of minutes later I found several spots to enter Spreepark comfortably, but at the same time the sun was gone and it began to rain… heavily… at least for a while – the forecast was right after all. I took shelter in a little hut right next to the Spree and when the sun came out again I continued to circle Spreepark in full, amazed that the fence had more holes than Swiss cheese! On the way I saw several vandalized signs, a vandalized wooden kiosk and a locked up, fenced off and slightly vandalized restaurant for day-trippers called “Zum Eierhäuschen” (The Egg House), dating back to the 19th century and made famous by Theodor Fontane’s novel Der Stechlin.
Upon getting closer to the main entrance again, I finally saw the park’s landmark, a Ferris wheel 45 meters high – and to my surprise it was moving! I took a quick video, when I saw some people inside of the park, walking towards one of the gates… Half a dozen left, one stayed behind, so I talked to the guy and asked him when the next tour would start – it turned out that he wasn’t a tour guide, but security. Damn! He also told me that he kicks everybody out straight away and calls the police when he sees somebody twice – and that I was notice. Damn! And the Ferris wheel wasn’t running, it was moved by the wind… damn! Not my day…
Well, after a dozen years of vandalism and removing attraction, Spreepark was a rundown piece of crap anyway – and after 5 years of official tours and thousands of people entering illegally, there was no way I could have taken a photo inside you haven’t seen a million times on the internet anyway. So I decided to stay outside, taking some pictures from there – not spectacular ones, but new ones, stuff you probably haven’t seen yet; and to enjoy the atmosphere there for another hour or two. Minutes later I talked to a group of British students on a school trip to Berlin, who were eager to enter, but couldn’t decide whether or not to risk it. Then I went back to the Ferris wheel to have another look, when all of a sudden I saw a guy inside running like crazy, followed by a police car outside. The guy was able to hide and the police car left without catching him, but to me this was great – I am not used to that doing urbex in Japan, it’s a lot more mellow here! I headed back to the main entrance, when I saw two young women inside, just carelessly walking around, obviously not the slightest worried about security or the police – an attitude I saw repeatedly on two more locations the following day; people in Berlin don’t seem to have a sense of guilt whatsoever, their level of entitlement was amazing to see – though I guess some of them get crushed at the police station… :) Despite that, I still had no urge to get inside and take some photos – again, there was close to nothing for me to gain. One big element of urbex is risk assessment. Spreepark is photographed to death and I have been to much better abandoned amusement parks in the past. *Nara Dreamland* for example – I was willing to take the risk to go there five years ago, when it was virtually unknown. Now it’s a vandalized piece of garbage much like Spreepark, and I pity the fools who nowadays risk getting caught by security and the Japanese police. At the same time I don’t mind taking a risk if it’s worth it – just three days ago I explored an abandoned capsule hotel right across the street from a police station, because it’s a unique location and I was able to take some amazing photos that no one has ever taken before; *click here for a first impression on Facebook*.
Anyway, I sat down on a bench, looking through the photos on my camera, when I was approached by an older man. We talked for a while and it turned out that he lived in the area for like 40 years and knew all about the park and its history, not happy with the current situation. He confirmed that the Ferris wheel hasn’t been used in a while and that it is actually very dangerous to get close to it as the authorities are worried that the whole thing might fall over as the foundations are completely rotten and a very strong wind could bring it down.

Wow, this visit really had it all – security, police, neighbors, wannabe explorers, risk takers; and me enjoying the atmosphere.
About four weeks later Spreepark made national news when four men started two fires that destroyed parts of the park. The city’s reaction? Increased security, a new fence all around the park… and new photo tours, probably starting in 2015.

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