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!)