Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for May, 2011

I have to admit: After almost five years working for a big company in Japan my view on the country and its people changed quite a bit. Foreigners visiting Japan as tourists and exchange students tend to have a very romanticized image of Japan, even more extreme in the case of people longing to visit Japan for the first time. Actually working in Japan is a totally different thing as the usual struggles at work get multiplied by cultural differences and, yes, sometimes xenophobia – and if you work in an industry that locks you up in rooms without daylight with a lot of “characters” for the major part of the week you tend to generalize certain things. Which is really bad – and the main reason I like to get outside on the weekends and travel to other parts of the Japan to get in contact with people that have nothing to do with my line of work…
After finding the shangri-la and the Big Mountain Pachinko Parlor on our way from the Sky Rest New Muroto to our next haikyo we finally entered the mountainous part of Shikoku. The roads were getting smaller and the weather got worse. When we reached the area we suspected the F# Elementary School was (we only had vague hints…) it was pouring and the road was so narrow it was only wide enough for one car, villages so small they were not more but an accumulation of a few buildings. And none of them looked like a school. We were driving up and down a road and its backstreets while the time was ticking away – in only a few hours we had to return the car…
Doing urban exploration you don’t want to attract a lot of attention as you never know what people might think of you and your undertaking. After about half an hour we decided we had nothing to lose and when we saw a guy from a well-known telecommunications company having a break in his car Jordy insisted asking him about the school. The guy knew where the school was and told us that it was abandoned in the 1960s, but that it was under construction now. Just down the road, we couldn’t miss it (well, we did before…). Very nice guy – and we were so happy that we finally got some directions. We followed the road for about five minutes, parked our car and then something happened I never thought would happen, especially after being surrounded by dopey and to some extent ignorant people for the bigger part of the year: The guy showed up, not only making sure that we found the school, but also talking to the construction workers, telling them the same story we told him (that we were photographers from France and Germany taking pictures of abandoned places), allowing us to enter the school and taking pictures for as long as we wanted. There it was, the personification of the positive image most people have of Japan – and it blew me away. To all the expats in Japan getting frustrated, and I know there are a lot: Go on weekend trips, re-connect with the Japan you once loved so much. Working crazy hours and having only a few paid days off a year it’s easy and dangerous to generalize, especially when gathering with other foreigners who are frustrated, too…
That being said I can finally write a few words about the school itself, although I know barely anything about it. Closed in the 1960s this wooden construction was withstanding decay for several decades until somebody decided not to tear it down, but to renovate it. Construction started about a month prior to our visit (= end of October 2010) and was supposed to finish March 10th 2011. Luckily they spent most of the time building ramps for trucks and machinery as well as taking care of a side building, so the main building of the school was barely touched – giving us the opportunity to take unique pictures as I’m sure the building looks completely different now…
The F# Elementary School was a typical Japanese school of its time: A rather narrow wooden building with a long hallway, classrooms (and other rooms) only to one side. While we entered through a side entrance the main entrance with some lockers and paintings created by students was located in the middle of the building – restrooms being outside on the back side of the school. Most of the rooms were empty, but others were full of all kinds of items: furniture, educational materials, pianos. Yes, pianos. Like the Middle School #3 in Pripyat this school was also stuffed with pianos – I saw at least half a dozen. Another kind of item I didn’t expect were a couple of sewing machines made by Brother, nowadays more famous for printers than for their original core business.
Since this was my first (and so far only) abandoned Japanese school it was an amazing experience to explore it – especially since it was about to be reconstructed and even more so given the story leading to the exploration. The perfect final location of my (first) Haikyo Trip To Shikoku!

Read Full Post »

While I am happily taking credit for finding the hotel shangri-la it was thanks to Jordy that we entered the Big Mountain (or Big Mountein… as they misspelled their own name occasionally) pachinko parlor. We were on the road again to finally get to that abandoned school in the middle of the mountains when Jordy saw the said abandoned place of amusement. We turned around, parked the car and actually found an easy way in.
There are plenty of abandoned pachinko parlors in Japan, it’s maybe the most common kind of haikyo overall. But usually they are either boarded up or completely gutted. The Big Mountain on the other hand was in pretty decent shape. Most of the machines were opened, but only a few were missing. Since new pachinko parlors are opened all the time a lot of the equipment gets recycled, but in this case most of it was still there (machines, stools, balls, containers for the balls, signs, …) and in decent condition – especially considering that the most recent calendar sheets we found were from 1996.
Since gambling is strictly controlled by the Japanese state there are only a few possibilities to actually win money – with lotteries and betting. Playing pachinko (パチンコ) you can only win prizes by exchanging the pachinko balls you’ve won for prizes worth less than 10.000 Yen each (82 Euros / 117 Dollars). Popular items are perfumes, expensive lighters and tiny gold bars. Conveniently most pachinko parlors have a “pawn shop” close-by where you can get rid of your prizes; of course 10 to 30% under value! 16 million Japanese play pachinko on a regular basis, about 34.000 play for a living – yes, professional pachinko players…
What most people don’t know, especially in the West, is that the majority of pachinko parlors in Japan are run by the so-called Zainichi Koreans, the biggest ethnic minority in Japan. Of the estimated 16.000 parlors about 50% are run by South Koreans, 30 to 40% by *North Koreans* and the rest by Chinese and Japanese; most of the latter ones associated with the Yakuza, the “Japanese Mafia”. The parlors run by North Koreans usually are under the control of the Chongryon (Ch’ongryŏn / 총련 / 總聯 / 朝鮮総連), the “General Association of Korean Residents in Japan” which has close ties to North Korea. According to an article in the Japan Times up to 200 billion Yen a year are flowing to North Korea that way – currently that’s about 1.7 billion Euros or 2.4 billion Dollars…
Sadly we were running out of time and we still wanted to go to that school, so Jordy and I left the Big Mountain Pachinko Parlor after about 30 minutes. We even forgot to go upstairs, where you usually can find a couple of sleeping rooms, a kitchen, and a security room with surveillance monitors and a safe. Luckily I explored another pachinko parlor a few months later, this time in Shiga – but that’s a story for another time…

Read Full Post »

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 3,794 other followers