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Archive for April, 2011

After visiting the Sky Rest New Muroto in the southern part of Shikoku Jordy and I got back on the road to find an abandoned school in the middle of nowhere about 50 kilometers away. While the most popular way of finding places to explore seems to be (mostly useless) books like Nippon No Haikyo and doing research on the internet the most effective way to do it actually is to rent a car and hit the road. In our case we stumbled across two amazing abandoned places (or haikyo (廃墟), ruins, as they are known in Japan) on our way to the school: an abandoned hotel and an abandoned Pachinko parlor in amazing condition.
After about half an hour on the road I saw a huge sign advertising a hotel – and the sign looked like it wasn’t taken care of for at least a decade. I told Jordy about it and we decided to turn around. Driving up a hill for only a short distance there it was, the shangri-la (yes, lower case spelling…). Very unspectacular from the outside Jordy cracked some jokes about how the place doesn’t live up to its name, but we were disabused soon…
With the front desk gone and the kid’s play area and gift shop almost empty, the shangri-la became interesting when I entered the office behind the front desk. Amongst the mess of documents and office items like ink cartridges scattered all over the floor I found a photo album with wedding pictures. Was the shangri-la maybe more than it appeared from the outside? It was. Right around the corner was a rental counter for towels and other bathing equipment and from there I could already see the indoor water park – huge by Japanese standards, well below average being used to European facilities like that. Nevertheless fascinating, especially since the pool was quite complex with several small water slides and a bridge across to where I assume once a bar was.
The rest of the ground floor was occupied by a kitchen, another bar and a small recreational area outside. The hotel part of the shangri-la was on the second floor. All rooms were empty by the time of my visit, but one of them was labeled “CHAPEL”, so I guess it’s easy to say that the shangri-la was a wedding hotel.
No Japanese hotel is complete without two shared baths (one for men, one for women) and the ones here were quite nice, including a rather spacious sauna considering the size of the shangri-la.
Jordy and I weren’t the first visitors to the shangri-la in the 10 years since it was closed (judging by the ad for a marathon in November of 2000), but to my surprise I’ve never seen it on the internet before. There was a bit of chaos here and there, but almost none of the typical signs of vandalism ruining the more famous… ruins. No arson, hardly any smashed interior, no broken windows – hardly any mold, well-lit, secluded. A truly great place to explore!

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Last week I got an e-mail from Antenne Bayern, Germany’s most popular private radio station, asking for permission to publish some of my Chernobyl pictures on their homepage. After some fruitful negotiations we agreed on eleven pictures and I wrote some captions for them – the rest, including the captions to my Youtube videos, was written by the staff at Antenne Bayern. Please *click here* to have a look at the picture series (the site is in German only).

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The Sky Rest New Muroto (スカイレストニュー室戸) is a prime example of an abandoned place that suffered severly from too much attention – and by too much attention I mean the book “Nippon No Haikyo” (ニッポンの廃墟), which is pretty useless by now since it became victim of its own popularity. Unlike most books about abandoned places Nippon No Haikyo includes maps. Some of them are completely useless, but others are almost as detailed as if it was a GoogleMaps link. Why is the book useless? Because most of the described locations are demolished by now due to the attention the book drew to the respective places from August 2007 on – *Koga Family Land* for example was abandoned for more than 20 years until it was demolished in December of 2008, same for Nagoya Toyo Ball, Nihon Cement Mojiko and the Inagawa Trap Shooting. Other places once easily accessible were boarded up (Hototogisu Ryokan) or severely vandalized (like the ghost town *Mukainokura*).
The Sky Rest New Muroto is one of those places that suffered a lot of damage over the past four years. If you are lucky you can find pictures taken before Nippon No Haikyo was published and see a very unique building with lots of intact (rusty and dusty) interior, but since even blogs about food and flowers posted the exact location on maps (something that 95% of urbex blogs would never do!) the Sky Rest became a ravaged shadow of itself. Pretty much all of the interior was ripped out and shredded to pieces – all that’s left is the impressive concrete structure and piles of scrap everywhere. In addition to that the lighting conditions on the day of the shooting were terrible, so especially the early outdoor pictures turned out to be actually pretty horrible – I apologize for that! (I publish them anyways to give you a better impression of the unique architecture; the building looks like a fortress with three canon towers on top. The video coming with this article isn’t outstanding either, but I present it for the same reason, although I never intended to publish it, like all the other videos I took. But some of them, especially the one taken at the *Shime Coal Mine*, turned out to be quite popular…)
Now surrounded by antennas submitting television and communication signals the Sky Rest still towers Cape Muroto and offers a gorgeous view in all directions. Sadly there is barely anything known about the place – old pictures confirm what you can assume from the name, that the Sky Rest once was a restaurant for people enjoying the stunningly beautiful nature of Cape Muroto. In addition to that some pictures show remains of rusty and broken arcade machines, although they must have been very old given the fact that the Sky Rest was closed in 1978…

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Bathing is a very important aspect of Japanese culture, deeply rooted in centuries-old traditions. Although most apartments and houses have their own baths nowadays (unlike 30 years ago), public bath houses are still popular even in residential areas of big Japanese cities. Onsen and sentō are gender-separated places of tranquility where people enjoy a relaxing hot bath (usually around 40°C) after a hard day of work or an intense workout. Onsen towns in the middle of nowhere are popular vacation destinations for the Japanese domestic tourism and a must see / do for many foreign visitors.
Waterparks with slides and wave pools on the other hand are not nearly as popular in Japan as they are in the States or Europe. Most of the time they are considered one amongst many attractions of amusement parks (like at Nara Dreamland) – and indoor waterparks are even more rare.
From what I was able to find out the Tokushima Countryside Healthspa (お水荘ヘルスピア), an indoor water park with some hotel rooms, was opened in 1975 (under a different name) to complement a countryside farm, attracting visitors with millions of flowers. It was renovated and expanded in 1994 to be re-opened under its current name – making dance shows and karaoke new selling points. Due to its remote location (35 minutes by bus from the next train station) and the economic crisis the number of guests decreased while the debt piled up to 800 million Yen – and lowering the entry fee from reasonable 1700 Yen per day (10 a.m. to 10 p.m.) with special promotions (Ladies Day on Thursdays for 850 Yen and Friends Day on Fridays for 1000 Yen) didn’t help either – at the end they reportedly sold tickets for as low as 100 Yen… So in 2002, after 27 years, the lights went out at Tokushima Countryside Healthspa.
I have to admit: I love indoor waterparks. It’s one of the few leisure activities I really miss living in Japan. Back home in Germany you can find quite a few abandoned public swimming pools, indoor and outdoor, but no abandoned waterparks. So I enjoyed every minute of the two hours I spent there. The hotel part was quite vandalized and rather boring, so I left it rather quickly to go over to the swimming pools and the waterslide. On the way I passed a kitchen and some functional rooms. In two of them quite a few goods and training equipment were lined up, here and there I found price tags scattered all over the place – it seems like the owner tried to sell as much as possible before closing for good. The now empty main pool looked pretty much like a rather local indoor water park in Germany and I loved how red and green leafed plants were growing inside; if there ever was a zombie attack you know where to go to if the Shime Coal Mine is already occupied – if you know what I mean…
The outside waterslide at the bold cliff looked absolutely amazing, the weather just contributing to the atmosphere, so please have a look at the videos, too. Next to the waterslide was a staircase leading down to a pool, now filled with moldy brackish water, two dead greenish doves lying at the pool edge. Again, amazing atmosphere – kinda spooky, but not dangerous at all; neither physically nor in the form of security or other “guests” thanks to the remote location.
Like pretty much all of the previous and upcoming locations of my Haikyo Road Trip To Shikoku the Tokushima Countryside Healthspa was a unique, relaxed and fascinating place to explore. Shikoku, an urbex heaven!

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