„Whoah! Wooooah! Wohohohoho!” That was my initial oh so professional evaluation as an experienced urban explorer upon entering the Japanese Luxury Spa Hotel – and I knew it was right on the spot when my friend entering two minutes later reacted EXACTLY the same way, with the same… words…

There are thousands of spa hotels all over Japan, dozens, maybe hundreds of them abandoned. Most of them are rather similar – hot springs, tatami rooms, red carpet floors, nice shared baths (separated by gender). The Japanese Luxury Spa Hotel was quite different, very Western style – no hot spring, no tatami rooms, often tiled floors, real beds, private baths and almost a whole storey dedicated to typical spa treatments like chemical peelings and teeth whitening. Most of the rooms looked more like suites, including private kitchens, private bars or even extra rooms with medical equipment for all kinds of treatments; one actually featured two massive grey plastic one person sauna boxes – whenever you think you’ve seen it all…
While the hotel looked pretty rundown from the outside, the inside was still in good condition and furnished with impeccable taste. Whoever was in charge of the interior design spared neither trouble nor expenses – I’ve never seen that many beautiful carpets in Japan in my life, most doors had what looked like handcrafted mountings, most of the mirrors, lamps and a lot of other pieces of furniture were one of a kind; solid wood, of course, no veneer. A lot of walls were embellished with tapestries (topic: Dark Ages), some even framed and behind glass, like valuable paintings. A few rooms on the upper floors featured Balinese elements like ornamental metal lamps or the wooden sculpture of an archer – absolutely gorgeous items and a looter’s wet dream. Forget the medical equipment left behind… the basically mold free furnishings must have been worth a small fortune!
Sadly there is hardly anything known about the hotel’s history. It must have been closed about two or three years prior to my visit, but it is still listed as an active hotel on a couple of websites till this very day – and though there should be plenty of photos and other information out there on the internet, it is not. A small pot of coffee (three cups) was 1200 Yen, at least that’s what it said on a small ad sculpture, one of the few items identical in every room. Medical treatments apparently were up to 120000 Yen (currently pretty much exactly 1000 USD), but I can only speculate how much they charged for the rooms. Since the Japanese Luxury Spa Hotel is a rather little known location, vandalism was limited to a few rooms; opened windows probably caused more damage so far than active acts of destruction. Except… well, except for the kitchen area of the hotel’s biggest suite – there somebody defecated on the floor! Bunch of savages in this town…

According to a leaflet, this luxury accommodation once had a sister hotel just a few kilometers down the road. It’s also still visible on various online maps, but even at the time of my visit it had been gone already, so I guess the destiny of the Japanese Luxury Spa Hotel is sealed… if it’s still there as I write these lines…

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A festival village? What the heck is a festival village? To be honest, even 3.5 years after exploring it, I am still not sure!

A couple of years ago, the Shikoku Festival Village was one of the most popular abandoned places on Japan’s smallest and least populous main island; at least amongst Japanese explorers. Sadly, hardly any of them cared much about the location’s history – and the rest of the internet neither, given that it was apparently abandoned in 1999; three years after the first camera phone was sold in Japan and almost a decade before they achieved decent quality. And so I wasn’t able to find a single photo or video of the time the Shikoku Festival Village was still in business – and only little more information, though it is said to be yet another failed project of the Japanese asset price bubble, which means that the place was most likely built between 1986 and 1991. It consisted of two buildings, a dome shaped museum and a big multi-purpose building, connected by a huge parking lot that included a helipad and had two massive entrance gates on different height levels, given that the whole complex was located on a slope – yep, that sounds like the megalomaniac bubble economy…

I think it’s safe to say that the Shikoku Festival Village was carefully closed and shut tight when closed about one and a half decades ago, but vandals / airsoft players made sure to gain access as BB pellets all over the place indicated. The museum was still split in two parts by massive shutters all over the building. Offices, exhibition rooms (with both intact and shattered showcases) and a couple of bathrooms. On the ground floor I found a huge and still closed abandoned safe, a Pythagoras by SECOM. The main building across the parking lot was accessible on the ground floor and on the third floor – which turned out to be a great thing, because when I was about to leave, I realized that a car parked in front of the gate I entered… not really through… but rather by. Luckily not a security guy, but some random dude, most likely trying to kill some time away from his family. Nevertheless it would have been a hassle to exit with the fella watching through his driving mirror. The building itself was big enough to have an escalator, though I have to admit that I don’t remember much of it as I kinda rushed through since I was running out of time. On the ground floor I found some hover disc, flying saucers if you want to call them that – probably a lot of fun in the 1990s, especially with the large parking lot right in front of the building. The top floor seemed to be the amusement area with a bar or two, seating areas and more exhibition space. There also were several boxes filled with high quality prints of the last museum exhibition – expensive pottery. The quite vandalized middle floor offered more party space, though it didn’t look as if the building allowed for overnight stays, which probably contributed to the Shikoku Festival Village’s downfall, given that there were no bigger hotels in walking distance.
On a sunny day with friends I probably would have considered the Shikoku Festival Village somewhat of a dud – but the overcast, drizzly weather and the fact that I was exploring solo added quite a bit to this event space’s atmosphere. Especially the darker areas of the museum were spooky as hell. Too bad that the place’s history is still mostly shrouded and most likely will stay that way forever, but overall it was an interesting exploration. Oh, and of course I would have loved to take a ride on one of those hover discs, but they were probably beyond repair anyway after all those years of abandonment.

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I fell in love with this abandoned restaurant (and onsen) instantly when I first saw a photo of the building about two years ago. Sadly the interior didn’t live up to the expectations when I finally got there…

There is always a lot of construction going on in Japan. Most buildings are having a life expectancy of just 30 years, a lot of river beds are embattled with concrete, and mountain roads once following the natural formations of small streams and hills are rectified by tunnel shortcuts. The Japanese Restaurant & Onsen, apparently a luxury product of the 1980s bubble economy, was located on one of those river bends that were cut off by a new road with a tunnel. It looks like once all the traffic from and to the mountains had to pass by the gorgeous little complex – and then all of a sudden people were able to speed by a sign on a much bigger road; most likely the kiss of death for this beautiful relaxation oasis.
Sadly I wasn’t able to find much reliable information on this location – when it was built exactly, when it was abandoned, if it was just a rest house or if they had rooms to rent. The main complex with the restaurant was actually so overgrown that we were lucky to get there in winter; in summer it’s probably inaccessible without a machete. While the small complex looked amazing from the outside, the inside wasn’t able to match. A lot of rooms were empty or just had a few objects lying around – and it was moldy like hardly any place I’ve been to before. I’m sure the area gets quite a bit a snow in February / March, and being located directly next to a mountain river probably didn’t help either. The onsen building across the street was in much better condition, but neither a place I would want to stay for a whole. The interior was rather simplistic, but not without beauty – stone, bright wood, nice carpets. I definitely can imagine people having a luxury meal and then enjoying a good soak there, probably the best way to break up a long drive for one or one and a half hours!

Years of abandonment obviously didn’t do any good to this interesting, somewhat contorted complex – while it was a bit disappointing to explore, it still offered some great angles and objects, for example the huge stone lantern outside at the dried-out pond.

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I’ve been to some amazing abandoned / closed schools over the years, one or two so spectacular and utterly beautiful they deserve to be preserved as museums – this isn’t one of them. But whenever I post a location in good condition, somebody leaves a comment (usually on *Youtube*, i.e. without reading the article) about how in other countries the building would have been smashed to pieces and how Japanese people are above vandalism – which isn’t true. There are just less urbexers in Japan, explorers tend to be even more secretive about locations (including a strict hierarchy I luckily don’t have anything to do with as an outsider), and with inner city real estate being so expensive, most untouched abandoned places are actually rather remote; good for some (no bored youth around!), bad for others (nobody hears vandals when they destroy places). And of course I rather explore places I expect to look beautiful than stopping at every pile of trash that is rotting at the side of the road – as a result the percentage of interesting places I explore is much higher than the percentage of actually interesting abandoned places in Japan. So before I showcase the next gorgeous school, you have to suffer with me through this one… :)

The Japanese School Beyond Repair I found next to a small hamlet (now abandoned) and several kilometers away from the next village, and it is just *another victim* of Japan’s post-WW2 energy policy on the Kii Peninsula. Back then the government decided to staunch several rivers with dams to install large-sized modern water power plants. The construction of the Sakamoto Dam began in 1957, from 1962 on the water level behind it was raised – destroying a remote village’s old school (founded in 1890!), so the new ferro-concrete building was constructed in 1964 as compensation. They even made it a combined elementary and junior high school, but since more and more families moved away, the school had a student body of five. Yes, it was so low, I had to write out the number! Five… in total – the school had more rooms than pupils! I guess it’s no surprise that classes were suspended in 1969, though the school wasn’t officially closed (and therefore maintained) till 1998.

Now nobody lives in the area anymore within a distance of about 20 kilometers, leaving the school defenseless to vandals – and it shows. Pretty much everything that can be broken has been broken. Windows, doors, furniture, a piano; everything! Some idiots even destroyed the parquet flooring in the big room on the upper story. And of course there are graffiti all over the place. Not nice murals you can sometimes find at other abandoned places, just some more or less random scribble. It also didn’t help that a mudslide or two rushed through the ground level of the school, probably after people with not enough parenting, but too much energy ripped apart windows and doors.
The school actually looked quite interesting at first sight from the outside, but the interior was just one big mess with the worst from both worlds, vandalism and natural decay. This probably is what abandoned schools should look like, but personally I prefer the nice looking ones with tons of items left behind – like the *Landslide School* I explored with the same people (Ruth, Chelsey and Ben) on the next day.

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A quiet mountain ridge. A rather new looking, but closed hotel. Fog creeping in from every direction – and all of a sudden an unexplained noise…

When I started taking photos at abandoned places six years ago, I went all by myself on sunny weekend days, using public transportation. Then I started to involve friends, recently we rent a car – that required more planning and allowed for less flexibility, yet most of the time we were lucky with the weather.
This wasn’t the case on a weekend in June… and not really a surprise, given that it was the middle of rainy season. And boy did it rain! Sometimes it only drizzled, there were even short breaks without any precipitation, but overall it was a pretty rainy weekend; especially in the mountains. After a few hours of driving, Ruth, Chelsey and I finally reached the mountain ridge we were looking for, welcomed by light drizzle. We parked the car next to a small shrine and headed over to some run-down abandoned buildings so moldy that we left after checking out the lobby. Time started to be of the essence as it was afternoon already, so we headed over to the rather new looking building – a closed hotel according to a Japanese travel blog, inside condition unknown as the guy didn’t dare to enter. At this time the drizzle stopped and fog started to creep up the steep mountain slopes. Surprisingly quickly we found an unlocked door to an untidy office room that looked like somebody stayed there for a while. At this point everybody’s general uneasiness went from “Should we really enter?” to “We probably shouldn’t have entered…”, yet we all tried to play it pretty cool.
On the ground floor of the Silent Hill Hotel (obviously a fake name, I could have called it Abandoned Hotel In The Fog or Eerie Fog Hotel, but it really reminded me of the famous video games series, especially in hindsight) we found the lobby, tatami party rooms, shared baths for men and women, a pretty messy kitchen and several offices / dorm rooms, probably for employees. On the upper floors were the guest rooms, western style with beds. Since the hotel offered little to nothing I hadn’t seen several times before, I rather rushed taking photos, much to the delight of my female companions. When it started to rain again and the fog almost swallowed the hotel, Chelsey and Ruth decided they had enough and returned to the car. I stayed behind on an upper floor since I wanted to take a couple more photos and the video tour – but I heard them leave and saw them outside. About five minutes later I heard a noise coming from the ground floor. Not a window closing in the wind or something. More like the door opening and closing again, definitely something rather heavy snapping shut. I assumed the girls came back, so I continued taking photos, kind of expecting them upstairs any second – but they didn’t show up. When I was done I decided not to wait any longer and get the heck out of this eerie building, so I started the video walkthrough… which turned out to be an unnerving experience, because not only did I go to the known areas I was already uneasy about, stupid me headed over to the back, the dark area, where the kitchen was – a part of the hotel the girls had seen, but not me as I was too busy taking photos; walking through the hotel all alone felt extremely weird, as if something was lurking in the darkness. Leaving an abandoned place with a camera full of good photos is always the best moment of an exploration to me, no matter how easy it was or well it went – but never was I happier than when I left the Silent Hill Hotel!

After returning to Osaka the next evening, Chelsey, Ruth and I had dinner at a local restaurant, recalling the weekend – and we agreed that the Silent Hill Hotel was by far the creepiest place we ever visited. Ruth said that she almost grabbed a crowbar lying on the reception desk shortly after we entered. I mentioned the second noise coming from the ground floor and asked if they returned to the hotel for a while – they said no, but confirmed that they had the same unwell feeling that something or somebody was lurking in the dark. If you don’t understand what I mean, watch the video at the end of the article, especially the second half. I only watched bits and pieces again to make sure that the quality was at least somewhat presentable – that’s all I was able to stomach. Even my solo exploration of an *abandoned mental hospital near Tokyo* wasn’t nearly as nerve-wrecking as this harmless looking hotel in a very scenic area of the Nara mountains… on a sunny day.

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France and Belgium are famous for their sheer unlimited amount of abandoned mansions and villas, some the size of small castles – a kind of look you just can’t find in Japan. So when my good old buddy *Gil* suggested to explore the Chateau Lumiere during one of my summer trips to Germany (primarily to catch up with family and friends) I was quite intrigued…

Urban exploration in Europe, more often than not, is or borderlines infiltration as a lot of buildings are not really abandoned, but rather not inhabited or used anymore – regularly patrolled by security or caretakers, some with more or less tender nicknames. With the exception of *Nara Dreamland* I try to avoid locations with security and rather focus on the really deserted places; it’s just more relaxed when you don’t have to Solid Snake your way in and be paranoid while taking photos for hours. After friends reassured us that the Chateau Lumiere is one of the easy in and out locations I felt a bit better, but upon arrival after three hours on the road I wasn’t that sure anymore – the villa featured rather new “Keep out!” signs in French, clearly visible from the main street, the front of the premises almost completely overgrown. Easy in and out is relative, I guess, but in the end we found a way into the mansion… after Gil scouted the situation and came to the conclusion that there was nothing to worry about, neither security nor security systems. (Big thanks again, my friend, this exploration was all you! I just took some photos there…)

Entering the Chateau Lumiere (“Castle of Light”) it was instantly obvious why this neo-baroque style mansion from the early 1900s got its interesting nickname – even though it was a cloudy day and most of the window shutters were closed, a huge skylight impressively illuminated a big portion of the building on all floors. Gil started taking pictures on the ground floor, but I had to see more of the building, so I headed up one flight of stairs, then another, the building basically draped around the source of light in its core. Once the family home to a Swiss tobacco tycoon, it is said that the building was sold several times and used for business purposes after the original owner died / left in the 1950s. Since then most of the interior was removed or stolen, but the mansion still looked absolutely amazing, with countless details everywhere – for example massive glass blocks in the floors of one section of the hallway, allowing light to reach otherwise pitch-black areas of the villa. The wallpapers and the general setup of some hallways reminded me of something, I just couldn’t put my finger on it… but when I saw one very specific bathroom on the second floor (by Japanese count…), it hit me like the grip of Chris Redfield’s Samurai Edge – this was straight out of Resident Evil! Chateau Lumiere’s layout obviously was completely different from the Spencer Mansion, but the black and white bathroom and the narrow hallways all of a sudden gave me serious flashbacks to almost 20 years ago… Luckily there were no dogs jumping through any windows, but I developed an increasing craving for a sandwich. ;)
The rest of the building wasn’t a tiny bit less interesting – even the attic offered some nice spots to take pictures of. Sadly I forgot my tripod in my sister’s car the day before, so I had to borrow an old one from my dad… one that was a pain to handle, so I went through the villa twice – one time to take all the vertical shots, and then another time to take the horizontal ones (hence the weird looking gallery at the end of this article…). By the time I got back to the ground floor, the sun was already setting and we were losing light quickly. Even after three hours there was so much to see, so much to explore, so much to take pictures of. Unfortunately we had to leave, given the long drive home ahead of us.
If you are curious about the minor signs of vandalism – despite being one of the most respected abandoned places in Europe and mostly unharmed for years, a group of vandals severely damaged the Chateau Lumiere in spring of 2015. When pictures of the damaged mansion showed up on the internet, some local urban explorers gathered at the villa in April and cleaned up, trying to undo as much of the damage as possible, even including a regional French newspaper and the current owner – who didn’t seem to be too happy about the publicity stunt as it attracted even more attention to his property. New signs were put up and apparently one explorer ran into the guy in May, claiming that the owner threatened him with brass knuckles and tried to extort 50 EUR from him. I guess my uneasy feeling at the beginning of the exploration didn’t come out of nowhere…

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Japan is famous for many things – glass production isn’t one of them. The more I was surprised to find an abandoned glass factory and wholesaler somewhere in the countryside.

Ancient Chinese, Greek and Roman glass, Venetian glass from the island of Murano, Baroque style Bohemian crystal… those were milestones, both technically and artistically. And though early glass production in Japan dates back to the Yayoi period (300 BC to 300 AD), production was suspended for several hundred years between the Heian period and the Muromachi period, roughly between 800 AD and 1600 AD. In the 1570s glass products and glass making was reintroduced by the Dutch and the Portuguese and spread from Nagasaki via Osaka and Kyoto to Edo (modern-day Tokyo), where glass production began in the early 18th century. The most famous and most expensive Japanese studio glass is from the second half of the 19th century, when Shimazu Narioki and his son Shimazu Nariakira invited craftsmen from Edo to the Satsuma Province (modern-day Kagoshima) in an effort to combine their knowledge with technology imported via Nagasaki, the *Rason* of the Edo period. After WW2 Japan became a world leader in the production of industrial glass while glass art was damned to a niche existence – Kagoshima revived their Satsuma tradition in the 1980s, Otaru and Sapporo are somewhat known for their glass craftsmanship… and in Okinawa you can take glassblowing lessons at several locations as a tourist attraction. (I took one in Sapporo and it was great fun, especially when you have to kill time on the way to the airport on a rainy day!)

Sadly there is a lot less known about the Kansai Glass Factory & Wholesaler. The oldest photos of the abandoned place I found were from 2009, showing a calendar from 1999 – so I guess it’s safe to say that the business closed about 15 years ago. At the time there were at least one or two additional buildings on the premises, gone by the time I went there in 2014. The main factory though is missing even on those older pictures.
All that was left in both 2009 and 2014 was a small abandoned glass furnace next to the mostly intact storage hall, a rather small administrative container building and several gas tanks all over the place, implying that the now leveled ground indeed once had production facilities on them. Oh, and there were a few abandoned cars, too, at first confusing me a bit since I assumed they were still in use as there are fewer items easier sold than cars…
The storage hall on the other hand was still quite busy. Maybe not used on a daily basis, but it seemed like the neighboring recycling company took over in the past few years. On older pictures the hall was mostly empty, with crates of glass products stacked in the back. Those crates were still there and kept me busy taking photos for about an hour, but in addition to that I found a couple of old fridges and a massive amount of huge sacks filled with cloth. I’m not sure what those were exactly, but the way they were warehoused didn’t inspire confidence, so I tried to keep my distance – better safe than sorry, especially since I was exploring solo.
From an urbex point of view the Kansai Glass Factory & Wholesaler left me with mixed emotions. There was a lot less to see than I was hoping for, but on the other hand it was a rare and rather unusual location. What elevated this experience tremendously was the walk from the nearest train station to the exploration location through picture-perfect countryside on a wonderful late summer day with picture-perfect weather. Living in a big city now makes me appreciate the rural areas even more…

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