Archive for October, 2010
When I started with urban exploration in November of 2009 it was “my” hobby – I did the research alone, I planned the trips and I explored alone. After about a dozen photo shootings my colleague Enric accompanied me once in a while and we became good friends in the process. I still did the research and planned the trips, but it makes a huge difference if you explore a place alone or with a friend. It took another six months until I met somebody for the first time with the purpose of exploring an abandoned place – Michael “Gakuranman” passed through Kansai on a trip and suggested to go to the Maya Hotel. I wanted to meet the guy for quite a while, so I agreed and since we had a blast exploring the most famous abandoned hotel in Japan I took him to one of my favorite places afterwards, the Takada Ranch Ruin. (Both the Maya Hotel and the Takada Ranch Ruin Revisited will be part of future postings.)
A couple of weeks later Michael told me that he wants to revisit the famous Doctor’s Shack and if I was interested in joining him – of course I was! Hanging out with Michael was a pleasure and the Shack is one of the best kept secrets amongst Japanese urban explorers (known to them as S診療所). While other places get published with full name and sometimes even maps the Doctor’s Shack is protected by a wall of silence and vague hints at best. So for the first time ever I didn’t do any research and my only planning was getting a Shinkansen ticket from Osaka to Nagoya. Michael took care of the rest and I didn’t even ask him about where we would go, just how much the several train tickets were.
The Doctor’s Shack is a small country doctor’s clinic somewhere in the middle of nowhere, hidden behind a hedge in a small town in Gifu prefecture. At first glance the place is totally unspectacular and quite vandalized, although the location is supposed to be a secret. Nevertheless Michael noticed a whole lot of differences to when he visited the place first earlier this year – objects were moved around or even stolen, items were destroyed and a wall collapsed. How big the damage was I only realized when I looked up the place on Japanese homepages, for example Team Haikyo.
The first floor obviously was the clinic part of the building with an examination room and a smaller one used as a pharmacy – bottles with chemicals still left on some shelves. Sadly most of the medical books and magazines were covering the floor now, a radio in the hallway (as seen on the Team Haikyo page) was smashed. The examination room looked a little bit better, but it was pretty much chaos there, too. And the mosquitos were nasty! At least 15 of them were swarming around us, no matter how many we killed. The situation in the private rooms on the second floor was a little bit better, but even there the rooms were either mostly empty or quite vandalized. One rather interesting thing I didn’t even noticed until Michael told me about was a footprint – on the ceiling! A really weird discovery that sparked our imagination… (Another neat detail was the fact that some of the medicine and magazines in the building used German terms as Prussia helped Japan in that area during the Meiji period, making German the second language for doctors in Japan until the 1960s and 70s.)
When I explored the Doctor’s Shack I wasn’t nearly as impressed as I though I would be. The place is small, overgrown and quite vandalized – not beyond recognition, but it’s not nearly in the state anymore that contributed to its fame a couple of years ago. When I came home and looked at the pictures I took I kind of fell in love with the place. Abandoned country doctor clinics are not exactly a common thing and I was able to take some unique photos that I couldn’t have taken at any other place I’ve been to so far. Then I looked up old pictures on the internet… and it made me sad. Five or ten years ago the Doctor’s Shack must have been the definition of “hidden gem”, now it’s still one of a kind, but it suffered severely over the last couple of years. Unnecessarily as it must have survived decades with hardly any damages. One or two more years and the Doctor’s Shack finally will be vandalized beyond recognition…
(If you liked this location go straight to the Tokushima Countryside Clinic – bigger, better, mind-blowing!)
After spending a whole night at Nara Dreamland it dawned at around 5.30am, so Mike and I went straight to the entrance area near the Dreamstation to begin our second round through the park. The atmosphere at Dreamland early in the morning is almost creepier than it is at night. The light was kind of blue-ish, the sky slowly turned to overcast and we could finally have a closer look at the state of this huge abandoned amusement park – it looks horrible! The main street is so fake it would make an Ed Wood movie look cheap(er) and the amount of vandalism and decay is almost shocking considering the place was closed down for good only four years ago. If you want to see pictures of an undamaged Dreamland you’ll have to find some that are at least one or two years old. Pretty much all the windows in the park are smashed in, most of them just for the sake of destroying them – and that’s why places like Doggy Land or the Doctor’s Shack don’t get published with their real names or hints on how to find them… Too late for Dreamland though, the damage is done and I think it will get worse every month. And I totally understand now why the security guard was quite aggressive when he caught me taking pictures in February since it’s impossible to know who’s a vandal and who’s a harmless urban explorer. It would seriously piss me off and I guess even scare me when I’d come to work in the morning only to see doors and windows smashed in!
Mike and I, of course, just minded our own business and took a few pictures here and there – but to be fully honest, I was a little bit disappointed. Maybe it was because at that point we already spent four and a half hours there and of course we were tired and worried that security will show up at any minute, but Nara Dreamland (at daylight) is just a miserable place to be. It’s widespread, it’s run-down, it’s ugly and it’s full of weird items. Like the statue of Abraham Lincoln in front of the castle, that doesn’t make sense at all. (Maybe it does – if you know an explanation please drop me a line!) The really shocking part about it is that the place most likely felt weird even when it was still open. I can see the Aska rollercoaster being fun, maybe the water park with the pools and slides, too. But the rest looks like a real embarrassment for everybody involved. Again, love and hate at the same time: It’s a huge amusement park with all the attractions still standing – but at the same time it feels like one of the cheap weird reality shows on TV you don’t really want to watch, but you do it anyways and feel a bit guilty for doing so. So I guess it was no surprise that Mike left after about an hour to wait for me outside and I followed maybe ten minutes later. For some reason the daytime version of Nara Dreamland wasn’t nearly as captivating as I hoped it would be – I defeated my haikyo nemesis, but it was a bitter-sweet victory to find out that “the enemy” didn’t live up to the expectations…
Overall my (most likely) last visit to Nara Dreamland was an ambiguous experience. It was great to hang out with Mike and being at an abandoned amusement park at night is an awesome experience – it just wasn’t nearly as fulfilling as my explorations of other places like the Taga Mine, the Takada Ranch Ruin or the mostly demolished Expoland.
And don’t even get me started on the Zone of Alienation, including Chernobyl and Pripyat! Oh… well… now that I think about it: Maybe it’s time to write up a couple of stories about radioactivity, gas masks and some of the most amazing places I’ve ever been to!
(For all your Nara Dreamland needs please have a look at the Nara Dreamland Special. For a look at the area around Nara Dreamland on GoogleMaps, including some fancy icons linking to articles on Abandoned Kansai and videos on YouTube, please *click here*. And since this article is quite popular: You can *follow Abandoned Kansai on Twitter* and *like this blog on Facebook* – and of course there is the *video channel on Youtube*…)
If you are a regular reader of this blog then you know that I have a love-hate relationship with Nara Dreamland. Abandoned amusement parks are quite rare, especially those without any destroyed or sold attractions. Sadly both times I went there I spotted a security guard. Once he spotted me, too – a very, very unpleasant experience. To me the chapter “Nara Dreamland” was closed. I wasn’t able to post pictures taken inside of Dreamland on this blog (since I had to delete the ones I took), but I’ve seen quite a bit of it and that is what is important to me. But when Michael John Grist wrote me a message that he would be in Kansai soon and asked me if I was interested in tackling Nara Dreamland again of course I couldn’t resist. Learning from previous explorations I suggested to meet in Nara late to do a shooting at night and get out of Dreamland before the guard(s) even show up. Mike agreed and so that’s what we did…
We met at JR Nara Station at around 0.30am and made our way to the park. Since I’ve been there twice before I knew exactly where to go and how to get in, but there were some changes since I last came to Dreamland. For example all the “If you see somebody entering Nara Dreamland: Call the police!” signs were replaced by new “If you get caught we’ll fine you 100,000 Yen” signs. Which I thought was interesting in two ways:
1.) It kind of seems like the police in Nara isn’t really interested in trespassers.
2.) Why 100,000 Yen (currently about 900 Euro / 1150 Dollars) and not 50,000 / 200,000 / 1,000,000 Yen? The number seems so random…
Anyways, it would really surprise me if the new signs keep anybody from entering. (“I don’t care about being sued for trespassing, but 1000 bucks scare me back to where I came from!”)
After entering Nara Dreamland the next difference was obvious: If you lift your car over the fence you won’t be able to drive into the park anymore as the road is now blocked by a fence of maybe 50cm height! If you are on foot you just step over it or use the non-blocked pedestrian walkway – which is perfect for all you urban explorers on bikes, motorcycles and unicycles, too! Seriously, WTF? I can understand why you want to keep people from entering Nara Dreamland, but if your effort ends with knee high fences you deserve to be ridiculed! I would have laughed out loud, but I guess my mean spirit was punished right away when a car passed the road under the bridge while we were walking across – in the middle of the night, in the middle of nowhere. Small sins get punished right away…
It was a strange feeling to enter Nara Dreamland that way since last time I was there I was running from a security guard. Shortly after the bridge we came across the merry-go-rounds and finally reached the mirror maze called “Mirror-Puzzle” where the yellfest happened in February. I would like to say that I felt more comfortable the longer we stayed at the park, but I didn’t. Not after one hour, not after two, not till we left. But at least this time I was able to see the whole park. We took at few pictures near the Mirror-Puzzle, passed through the castle and then went on to pay a visit to the park’s main attraction: the gigantic wooden roller-coaster named Aska. From there we went back to the castle and down the main road to the main entrance / train station. After that we returned to the area filled by merry-go-rounds to have a little rest and wait for the sun to come up.
The safety of exploring Nara Dreamland at night came with the price of a way more demanding shooting: Neither Mike nor I had shot any haikyo at night before, so we spent quite a while at each attraction. Basically learning by doing. It wasn’t pitch black dark and the sky was slightly lit in some parts due to light pollution, so most of the pictures turned out to be blurry or terribly lit, but could there be a better place to figure out stuff like that than an abandoned amusement park? The answer is “YES!”, but hey, some things just don’t work out as planned…
Exploring an abandoned amusement park on a warm night in late summer is nothing but an amazing adventure – and I guess it is even more so if you can suppress the uneasy feeling of not being wanted there. I can’t say that I really enjoyed shooting Nara Dreamland at night, but I nevertheless cherish it as an exciting and educational experience.
“Wait a minute!”, you might say at this point. “If you felt uneasy all the time, why did you even wait for the sun to come up?” Well, the answer is simple: Since the sun rises at about 5.30am in Japan even in late September we though we could kill two birds with one stone and do a second round through the park, shooting it under way easier lighting conditions – and that’s what we did. So come back soon and don’t miss the second part of Nara Dreamland Revisited!
(For all your Nara Dreamland needs please have a look at the Nara Dreamland Special. For a look at the area around Nara Dreamland on GoogleMaps, including some fancy icons linking to articles on Abandoned Kansai and videos on YouTube, please *click here*.)