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Archive for December, 2010

Doing urban exploration it’s hard not step into the trap of chasing only after the famous locations like Gunkanjima or Nara Dreamland – everybody has them (for good reasons), so you kind of gotta have them, too. But it’s important to stay open minded and not just look for the big ones when doing research. Because if you are really dedicated and incredibly lucky every once in a while you will stumble across a hidden gem that will blow your mind unexpectedly. Ladies and gentlemen: The Tokushima Countryside Clinic…
I saw the Tokushima Countryside Clinic (徳島田舎診療所) on a small Japanese travel blog about half a year ago. Although its location is quite remote I was able to pin it down. Jordy knew about the place, too, and was even more eager than myself to see the place (I was actually only moderately excited about it beforehand), so we decided to go there first thing on the second day of our road trip to Shikoku – abandoned hospitals are hard to find, but Japanese countryside clinics are almost unknown. Up till now the secret Doctor’s Shack was the benchmark for that type of haikyo, but over the last couple of years it lost quite a bit of its former attraction as it’s not that secret anymore and suffered a lot from vandalism. With the discovery of the Tokushima Countryside Clinic I’m sure its reputation will go down in no time…
I’ve been to several famous locations in Japan and I enjoyed most of them, but this really unknown find came with almost no expectations and therefore captured my heart in no time. Big but quite unremarkable from the outside I entered the TCC through the only room of the building partly collapsed, the former front desk. While Jordy instinctively went to the pharmacy part to the right (which had a sign that straight-up said “If you want medicine you have to pay cash!”) I had a look around on the first floor and finally settled in the treatment room. Abandoned about 32 years ago (as Jordy found out later talking to some locals) the TCC offered an almost endless amount of items and angles. There was so much to see it didn’t get boring for a second, from syringes and rusty needles over patient files to medical books and instruments – and since the partly boarded-up place had hardly any visitors during the last few decades the atmosphere there was just amazing.
I thought maybe 20 minutes had passed when Jordy suggested after 1.5 hours (!) that we should switch rooms. So I went over to the pharmacy, wondering if it was really a good idea to take pictures in a room filled with all kinds of odors. I was setting up my tripod in the narrow pharmacy, but it took me another 10 minutes or so to realize that there was another tiny room behind it, filled with hundreds of bottles, flasks and cardboard boxes full of more medicine and chemicals. Whenever I thought I’ve seen everything there was more. Like when Jordy asked me half an hour later if I had seen the study room behind the examination room – of course I hadn’t! I shot in that room for more than one and a half hours and didn’t even realize there was another (opened) door… So I made my way over to the study room and took some more pictures of books, test tubes and other stuff.
The rest of the TCC was a mansion-like estate with a beautiful huge living room set in complete darkness (harboring a gorgeous house shrine) and a spacious kitchen including a brick-built oven. The sleeping rooms must have been on the second floor and in another building that was also used as a storage.
Overall the Tokushima Countryside Clinic is a haikyoist’s dream and I have to admit it totally blew my mind – it’s unique, it’s in great condition, it’s virtually unknown and I had almost no expectations when going there. I spent about four hours shooting (due to the difficult but interesting lighting conditions exposure times went as high as 30 seconds) and I guess I could have spent another four if there wouldn’t have been other locations on the schedule for that day. The TCC is without a doubt my favorite location in Japan so far and I guess it’s the perfect opportunity to finally present you my favorite location worldwide – so next week I’ll finally start the long overdue series about Pripyat and Chernobyl
(I decided to publish the photo set of this location in black and white to stress its unique atmosphere; finally a simple form of post-production – *please have a look at the color version here*)

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Right next to the Young People’s Plaza and Museum was a building named 大見山荘 according to the kanji above the entrance – the ‘Ohmi Lodge’ or ‘Big View Mountain Villa’. Sadly there is hardly any information about the place available, but it’s safe to say that it was opened and closed along with the close-by monument and museum, providing accommodationto people who wanted to stay in the area overnight while avoiding the costs of the luxury hotel a couple of hundred meters down the road. With about 20 guest rooms, a conference room and a restaurant room the Ohmi Lodge must have been perfect for school trips – nowadays the abandoned building is almost completely empty, tagged with graffiti and without a single undamaged door or window. Luckily the architecture was quite interesting, so I decided to dedicate the Ohmi Lodge its own posting on this blog…

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Growing up in Germany education about history is almost omnipresent, both in school and on TV. Most people know about the proud events and people of the past – Arminius defeating the Romans, Charlemagne unifying Europe, Ludwig van Beethoven becoming one of the greatest composers of all time, the German Revolution of 1848, … there are too many to name. But people also learn about the darkest time of German history – the years 1933 to 1945; those 12 and a half years out of thousands of years of German history actually make up for about a third of the school’s history classes, most of the rest being used to educate students to be good democrats: the ancient Greeks, the Age of Enlightenment, the French Revolution and similar events are all taught with a purpose.
After studying Japanese history and living in Japan for a couple of years it strikes me that Japanese schools handle history a bit differently. It’s all about the proud samurai past, World War II takes up only a couple of pages in history school books, downplaying events like those in Nanking 1937 by calling them incidents – while the rest of the world uses terms like “massacre” or “rape”. Popular places to remember World War II in Japan nowadays are Hiroshima and the Yasukuni Shrine… remembering losses Japan had to suffer, not so much remembering the misery Japan spread all over Asia from 1931 to 1945.
Until a couple of years ago there was another rather huge memorial accessible to the public: The Young People’s Plaza (若人の広場), dedicated to the young people who lost their lives in World War II. Designed by the famous architect Kenzo Tange in 1966 and opened in 1967 this impressive monument with an appendant museum is towering 25 meters high over the once so strategically important straight between Shikoku and Awaji Island. In 1995 the Young People’s Plaza was closed down due to dwindling visitor numbers and irreparable damage caused by the Great Hanshin Earthquake earlier that year. An important part of the centerpiece, an eternal flame placed right at the concrete sculpture once protecting it, was removed since then.
The museum, beautifully embedded into the breathtaking landscape and located on the way to the monument, was once filled with items left behind by the students who went to war, countless pictures and information boards telling their stories. It seems like the museum was boarded up in 1995, but as with all locations like that you will always have people trying to make their way in. Worried about the exhibits all 2000 items of historical value were donated to the Kyoto Museum for World Peace, which is part of the Ritsumeikan University, in 2004. Nowadays the museum is almost completely empty and a rather spooky place…

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The information I had about the first destination of my little road trip with Jordy was little – but at least I knew what it was beforehand and I’ve seen a picture. The second destination was just a grey building on a map. No picture, no information about it, not even the certainty that it was really abandoned. But it was on our way to some other locations, so we thought it couldn’t hurt to have a quick look. The quick look turned into a 2 hour long shooting of a hotel once called “Jumbo Club Awaji Island” (ジャンボクラブ淡路島). I tried to do some research on the place after I came back, but I couldn’t find anything (neither with the Romaji nor with the Japanese name), so I have no problems calling the hotel by its real name. If the calendar hanging in the kitchen is any indication on when the hotel was abandoned then it’s save to say that it happened in 1996 – just before the internet boom.
Once boarded up and fenced off the Jumbo Club hotel now is an easy walk in location if you don’t get spotted by neighbours and close-by companies. Nevertheless we didn’t rush into the place but approached it carefully since there was an intense stench clearly noticeable from the outside. We entered cautiously and Jordy, who foolishly spearheaded the exploration with audacity, froze in shock right after he entered the lobby – never before was a harmless poster of a beautiful woman more scary. But that didn’t slow down his drive at all and just minutes later he found the reason for the stench – it seems like the Jumbo Club Awaji Island is now very popular amongst cats, one panicking in the first room he tried to enter. Jordy closed the door to let the fury furry fella calm down and we explored the rest of the building. Which wasn’t nearly as exciting as those first few minutes…
The Jumbo Club Awaji Island turned out to be a normal tourist hotel with Japanese style rooms, Western style restrooms and some nice public bathrooms with a great view. Although the holes in the barricades outside made us expect a totally trashed place the hotel was in fact barely touched. An emptied fire-extinguisher here and some… no, actually no “some” – pretty much all the other damage could have been a result of 15 years of natural decay. All the rooms I’ve entered looked extremely clean, as if you could move in right away – except for the two or three that were inhabited by some birds for a while and therefore were covered with feces. The main kitchen on the first floor didn’t make a trustworthy impression, but who wants to clean up after the last dinner when nobody will ever use the kitchen again anyways? Other than that there was no vandalism: No trashed rooms, no ripped out fixtures, no signs of arson, no broken china scattered all over the place.
Overall the Jumbo Club hotel was an unspectacular but pleasant surprise. I’ve never been to an abandoned hotel in that remarkable condition and the beautiful weather outside made it a relaxed exploration. Oh, and just in case you wonder: Before we left Jordy opened the door of the first room again, but the cat already found its way out…

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