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Archive for October, 2011

The first time I heard about the abandoned deportation prison Birkhausen in the forest near Zweibrücken-Ixhausen, within a stone’s throw from The Style Outlets mall and Zweibrücken Airport, I got really excited. Abandoned prisons are rare… but an abandoned deportation prison? I’ve never heard of a place like that before! Even better: Zweibrücken was in rather close proximity of where I was staying during my yearly vacation to Germany, so I could easily get there by car in about 90 minutes – after I had to wait about 8 month to visit family and friends back home gain…
I met my old friend Gil at a high school reunion and we talked about urbex – he just failed entering an abandoned mill (the huge, early industrial kind from the late 19th century) due to lots of nosy neighbors and the place being boarded up, so I suggested to go on an urbex trip together. I guess it’s no suprise we decided to break into the prison! (And by “break in” I mean “enter through an open door or window” – I’ve never broke or even destroyed anything to access an urbex location and I never will! Vandalism isn’t my thing…)
The history of the prison in Birkhausen was short: The premises were used for decades to house a day-parole building with a market garden and a tree nursery (as a branch of the correctional facility Zweibrücken) before the buildings were converted into a deportation prison in 1996. About 900 people obliged to leave Germany passed through the facilty each year before it was closed in 2005 – from now on Ingelheim was the only deportation prison in Rhineland-Palatinate (no, dear Star Wars fans, not Palpatine…). Instead of demolishing the prison the Justice Department decided to keep it, considering plans to turn it into a prison for senior citizens.
When Gil and I walked along a forest road a truck with an empty construction waste container passed us by – and our hearts sank. A couple of minutes later we had certainty that the prison was in the process of being demolished. We approached the (de)contruction workers and they waved us through to their foremen. As always in situations like that honesty is the way to go, so I explained them what I am doing as a hobby and that I came to take pictures of the prison. The guys were really nice, but blocked right from the beginning – no photos, not without permission from the authorities; which would take way too long even if we could get it since they were about to finish they job by the end of the week. I asked them why the prison was taken down and they told us that geocachers were swarming the place ever since a cache was hidden there (later I found out the cache had almost 1400 logs on geocaching.com alone!) – all of a sudden the prison was kind of famous and irresponsible people brought their whole families, not even thinking about the dangers a place like that would hold. So the State decided to tear it down. So I explained that I have nothing to do with geocaching – urban exploration is about taking nothing but pictures and leaving nothing but footprints, about keeping places secret (unless they were demolished or turned into tourist attractions…). My reason to come here was to take some nice photos to keep the memory about the place alive. The older guy started thinking and said that he wanted to take pictures himself, but never had the chance since they were so fast tearing everything down – so he asked his younger colleague to stay with us while we took some quick shots to prove that the place was gone and to spread the word about it; but no pictures of people or equipment! Gil and I happily agreed and had about five minutes to take some quick shots. All of a sudden the foremen’s boss showed up, so the two guys gave us a sign and we took our equipment to head towards the exit – quickly greeting the boss while hurrying away…
Leaving the deportation prison I was devastated at first. Such a great location gone because it grew to popular – not even amongst urban explorers, but amongst geocachers! Such a shame… (To be fair: Another reason to demolish the place might have been the serious amount of vandalism – and on 2009-08-24 there was a case of arson that burned down half a building. Where those vandals came from? I have no idea, but the cache called Alcatraz was hidden back in 2006…) At least Gil and I were able to take some photos due to our successful conversation with the demolition squad – unique pictures I might add since altogether it took them about 3 weeks to get rid of the whole facility and I don’t think they gave permission to photographers before…

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Liebe “Spiegel Online”-Leser,
herzlich willkommen auf Abandoned Kansai! Wie Sie womöglich schon festgestellt haben, liegt dieser Blog derzeit nur auf Englisch vor – die Navigation sollte dennoch einfach sein, da es sich um einen WordPress-Standardblog handelt. Falls Sie dennoch Fragen haben, hinterlassen Sie bitte einen Kommentar oder schreiben Sie mir eine E-Mail. Wie es der Zufall will, behandelt der diesem Eintrag folgende Blogartikel ebenfalls das Nara Dreamland und enthält drei recht interessante Videos, die ich dort aufgenommen habe. Wenn sich der Artikel auf Spiegel Online entsprechender Beliebtheit erfreut, werde ich dort bei Interesse über weitere Erkundungen berichten oder gar eine deutsche Fassung dieses Blogs in Betracht ziehen – bis dahin viel Vergnügen hier!

Dear English speaking readers,
Today I published an article in German about Nara Dreamland called “Traumland im Dornröschenschlaf” on Spiegel Online, one of the biggest and most respected German news portals with more than 135 million visits and more than 757 million page impressions in September 2011. Since the article there linked to this blog I made an exception and welcomed readers in my native tongue in case they are not able to understand English. If you wanna check out the article please *click here*, but if you have read all the Nara Dreamland related articles on this blog there’s nothing new for you, even if you understand German. The next exploration article will follow later this week or early next week – as always in English only (for now).

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# What is Nara Dreamland?
- Nara Dreamland is an abandoned amusement park in Nara, Japan. It was closed in 2006 and abandoned without getting demolished – which makes it quite a unique urbex location since all the roller coasters, merry-go-rounds, souvenir shops, arcades and other attractions are still there. (Although it’s up for discussion if the place is really abandoned. It’s closed, that’s for sure, but the owner of the park obviously still cares about it to some degree…)

# Where is Nara Dreamland?
- That’s the kind of questions I usually don’t answer. But since NDL has entries in four language versions of Wikipedia, three of them giving away the exact location of Nara Dreamland, I can as well link to *my own map at GoogleMaps*. The address was / is:
Nara Dreamland
1900 Horen-cho
630-8113 Nara
But just because you know where it is I wouldn’t recommend going there. You might wanna read the next question(s) before rushing out…

# Does Nara Dreamland have security?
- YES! Some people got lucky and didn’t run into security at Nara Dreamland, I got away with plugged feathers – others got roasted and served to the police. The whole park is surrounded by fences, most parts with spikes and / or barbed wire. Warning signs once asked people to call the police if they see somebody suspicious, now the latest signs I saw announced a fine of 100.000 Yen, about 950 Euros / 1300 Dollars! Furthermore there were reports that the guy patrolling there tries to blame caught trespassers for vandalism to get more money out of them. And vandalism becomes more and more of a problem…

# Is there any vandalism at Nara Dreamland?
- Sadly yes. Lots of it. When I explored Nara Dreamland for the first time in December of 2009 there were barely any signs of vandalism. Almost two years later there are graffiti at the former pachinko parlor at the Eastern Parking Lot. The Parking Garage’s staircase is completely sealed now and the Hotel is boarded up again. Inside the park you can see how people smashed the control station of a merry-go-round – the fire extinguisher still on top of broken glass. The Main Street USA clone with all the souvenir shops has barely any undamaged windows and several doors were kicked in, even of buildings that were clearly just a false front. It’s actually pretty sad how fast the place goes down the drain.

# I’ve heard Nara Dreamland is a rip-off of Disneyland in Anaheim. Is that true?
- Definitely. Disneyland was opened in 1955, Nara Dreamland followed in 1961. You have copies of the Sleeping Beauty Castle, Adventureland, Main Street USA, Autopia, Skyway, Tea Party Cup Ride, Submarine Voyage, Flying Saucers, the monorail, the fire station, a pirate ship, double decker omnibusses, vintage cars, and a train station (called DreamStation). Even the entrance looked the same! Of course the layout of the park was very similar – aerial shots make them look like twins. And of course there is the story of Kunizo Matsuo, the man behind Nara Dreamland.

# Can you tell me more about the history of Nara Dreamland?
- Sure. After World War II Japan’s industry was booming. People worked hard and needed some places to relax. The United States were not only occupiers, but also the helping hands for the reconstruction of the country – and the new role models. In the second half of the 1950s a Japanese businessman called Kunizu Matsuo, president of the Matsuo Entertainment Company, visited the States and the brand-new amusement park Disneyland in Anaheim near Los Angeles – and was quite impressed. Something like that would be perfect for Japan, he decided. He became a mediator for the Japanese Dream Sightseeing Company (JDSC) and had direct contact with Walt Disney. The plan was to bring Disneyland to Japan – not to Tokyo, but to the old capital Nara (710 – 794), the cradle of Japanese culture. Matsuo also was in direct contact with Disney’s engineers to create the Japanese version of Disneyland. But Nara Disneyland never came true. Towards the end of the construction phase JDSC and Disney couldn’t agree on license fees for all the famous Disney characters like Mickey Mouse, Pluto, Donald Duck and Goofy – so the Japanese side created their own mascots and abandoned the idea of Nara Disneyland. I have no idea how JDSC and Disney settled in the end (I’m sure JDSC had to pay quite a bit of money for Disney’s “help” even without getting the permission to use Cinderella & Co.), but while Nara Dreamland opened in 1961 it took Disney another 20 years to finally open Tokyo Disneyland on April 15th of 1983. Coincidentally (?) this year marked the beginning of the downfall for Nara Dreamland – the number of visitors began to decrease and JDSC including Nara Dreamland was bought by the supermarket chain Daiei in 1993. Eight years later, in 2001, Universal Studios Japan (USJ) opened in Osaka, just about 40 kilometers away. USJ annihilated Nara Dreamland and the once so glamorous place was forced to shut its doors on August 31st of 2006.

# What were the names of the mascots at Nara Dreamland? And are there famous non-Disney characters present at Nara Dreamland?
I’m sorry, but I have no idea about the mascots. All I know is that there are two of them, a male one and a female one. I don’t even know if they had names…
As for other characters: There are no specially themed rides, but Anpanman is pretty visible at Nara Dreamland. (In case you don’t know Anpanman: He’s the most popular fictional character amongst Japanese age 0 – 12 for 10 consecutive years. Anpanman was created by Takashi Yanase in 1968 as a manga character, but spread to other media quickly (including movies, animated shorts, a TV show and dozens of video games). Nowadays Anpanman is everywhere – imagine Hello Kitty, but popular with girls and boys…)

# Why was Nara Dreamland closed?
- A declining amount of visitors for many, many years – and most of all Universal Studios Japan. By the time USJ opened in 2001 Nara Dreamland already was a rundown theme park decades after its prime. Universal Studios Japan on the other hand was brand-new and high-tech, probably the most modern amusement park of its time. Tokyo Disneyland started the struggle (yes, even though 400km away TDL was direct competition for NDL!) and Universal Studios knocked it down – Nara Dreamland didn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell… (Surprisingly enough *Expoland* in Osaka wasn’t affected that much by USJ and closed mainly because of bad press after a 19 year old university student from Shiga prefecture died on a roller coaster in 2007 – and Hirakata Park (also known as HiraPa – ひらかたパーク / ひらパー) between Osaka and Kyoto still doesn’t show any signs of giving up…)
At the height of its success Nara Dreamland welcomed 1.6 million visitors per year, when it closed the number was as low as 400k. Universal Studios Japan on the other hand had 11 million visitors (!) in its first year of operation…

# What was Nara Dreamland’s main attraction?
- Nara Dreamland’s main attraction was (and still is!) the Aska roller coaster (木製コースターASKA, Mokusei kōsutā ASKA), a wooden coaster built by Intamin and opened in 1998. The track was 1081 meters long and reached a height of 30 meters. The trains consisted of seven waggons for four guests each (two rows with two seats). They reached a speed of 80 km/h (almost 50 mp/h) and accelerated with up to 2.8g. Aska is named after Asuka, a city close to Nara – from 538 to 710 it was the capital of Yamato, one of the earliest states on Japanese ground, and the location of many imperial palaces as well as important temples and shrines, some of them still in existence today.
I took a video walking along parts of the abandoned Aska roller coaster – you can check it out on *Youtube*.

# Was it expensive to visit Nara Dreamland?
- The signs at the abandoned Nara Dreamland indicate that it was a pay-as-you-go amusement park (as was Disneyland when it opened in 1955!) – which means that you had to pay a low entrance fee, but then additionally for every single ride. So basically it was up to you how much you spent there. Sadly I never paid much attention to the prices, so let me have a look at some photos and see what I can come up with… Parking was 200 Yen for bikes, 1.200 Yen for cars and 2.000 Yen for busses. Bobsleigh (ボブスレー), the steel roller coaster modeled after Disney’s Matterhorn Bobsleds, was 600 Yen and a haunted witch cave put a hole of 300 Yen in your pocket. As for food: A beer was 500 Yen, chuhai was 400 Yen, takoyaki were 300 Yen, yakisoba was 400 Yen and the Family BBQ Set was 3.200 Yen. I don’t know how much the entrance fee was, but if you get caught by security now it costs you a whopping 100.000 Yen!

# I’ve heard there is a Yokohama Dreamland. Is it related?
- Well, there was a Yokohama Dreamland – it operated from October 1st 1964 to February 17th 2002 and closed, not really surprisingly, because of financial issues. It was located in the Totsuka ward of Yokohama. Unlike Nara Dreamland it was completely demolished – and replaced by a prison. And to finally answer the question: Yes, it was the sister park of Nara Dreamland with a similar layout, similar attractions and the same branding.

# Is there an official homepage?
- There was: http://www.nara-dreamland.co.jp/ (I didn’t make it clickable as it doesn’t work anymore anyways – save your time…)
You can find a copy *here*. (2003, Japanese only)

# How often have you been to Nara Dreamland?
- Never when it was still open and 5 times since it was closed.

# Do you have any plans to go back?
- Concrete, solid plans? No. Security there is the main reason for me not to go anymore. I know people visited the place without getting caught, but I made my own experiences and they were not all pleasant…

# Have you written more articles about Nara Dreamland than the one I’ve just read?
- Well, I summed up my experiences in the *Nara Dreamland Special*, but the articles I wrote about Nara Dreamland are in chronological order:
Getting Caught By Security
Nara Dreamland
Eastern Parking Lot And Parking Garage
Nara Dreamland Hotel
Nara Dreamland Revisited – Nighttime
Nara Dreamland Revisited – Daytime
Nara Dreamland – Nara Snowland
Nara Dreamland – Third Time Lucky

If you are less into facts about Nara Dreamland and you rather want to more about what it’s like to explore this abandoned theme park I recommend reading the articles I’ve just mentioned.

# Do you have material for more articles about Nara Dreamland?
- Yes! As of October 2013 I have material for about half a dozen articles, including some very unique photos…

# Is there a place even creepier than Nara Dreamland?
Yes! It’s a half-abandoned amusement park called *People’s Park* – thanks to the constant music in the background and its nude statues it’s creepy as heck!

If you have any unanswered questions about Nara Dreamland please let me know – I might update this posting every once in while. A lot of the information given here was only available in Japanese so far, some stuff I came up with by actually going to NDL – so if you use material for your own articles please be so kind and mention / link to this FAQ. Thanks a lot!
All of the following photos were taken in 2009 and 2010, most of them previously unpublished. The photos I took this year will be published in two separate articles at some point in the future.
(If you don’t want to miss the latest article you can *like Abandoned Kansai on Facebook* and *follow this blog on Twitter* – and of course there is the *video channel on Youtube*…)

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Ever since I visited the abandoned Ishikiri Shrine in Himeji I am asking myself which kind of places are really worth writing about. I’ve been to demolished places places before and after – but are they really worth writing about? How about historical places like castles or forts – especially when used as tourist spots? I wish all places could be as exciting and stunning as *Nara Dreamland*, *Gunkanjima* and *Pripyat*, but let’s be honest: most of them are not. (And Gunkanjima and Pripyat actually became tourist spots…) Interestingly enough the Ishikiri Shrine wasn’t the worst place I’ve visited; not even close. I guess it just sparked those thoughts as I grew up in Germany in an area where you have abandoned castles and really old churches every couple of kilometers. Heck, I once went kayaking on the river Neckar (near Heidelberg) and at one point I was able to see three abandoned castle ruins at the same time!
And what castles are for Germany shrines are for Japan – times 10. Or 100. Maybe 1000. They are everywhere. You can barely throw a stone without hitting one (not that I’ve tried… I guess nobody would appreciate that kind of behavior!). At first visitors to Japan are all excited. “How beautiful – and look, there’s another one!” – but after a while this wears off, even for the tourists. Living in Japan for five years I barely notice shrines and temples anymore, unless they are famous tourist attractions – or abandoned. The Ishikiri Shrine in Himeji (not to be confused with the rather famous Ishikiri Shrine in Osaka!) is one of the few abandoned ones. About a third up a small mountain with the former priest’s house right at the bottom the shrine entrance is beautiful – a stone torii at the edge of a bamboo forest, offering much welcomes shade in the summer hear. The main part of the Ishikiri Shrine consists of a now empty building, probably once used for storage, and the shrine itself as well as another small building. Sadly I have no idea about the history of the Ishikiri Shrine – even the few Japanese blogs that write about it only speculate, for example that it was built about 60 years ago and might have been an offshoot of the Osaka shrine of the same name. The place actually got so popular that somebody screwed tight the door of the shrine building with two wooden beams and put up a sign asking people not to break in. The priest’s house at the foot of the mountain was in such bad shape and in July of 2010 already so much overgrown that I only took some outside shots and didn’t even enter – I guess I’m not that much into private houses… especially when people are always near praying at / taking care of another shrine that is not abandoned.
The Ishikiri Shrine is far from being a haikyo highlight, but it was nevertheless a nice little summer hike in the outskirts of Himeji. Furthermore abandoned shrines are rather rare since there are (almost) always some locals taking care of even the smallest places of prayers. Too bad I wasn’t able to find out more about the shrine’s past…

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I can’t even remember how I found out about the Karadate Golf Center in Himeji. In late 2009 / early 2010 I did quite a bit of research about abandoned places in Japan and I guess one of the leads I had was that one. I just remember that I didn’t even found pictures, just a Japanese list of (operating) driving ranges – and that one of them had a footnote that it was closed / demolished. When I went to an abandoned shrine in Himeji in July of 2010 I went to the Karadate Golf Center, too, since it was only a few kilometers away from the shrine.
Located on top of a small mountain close to Mount Shosha (a filming location of “The Last Samurai” with Tom Cruise and Ken Watanabe) the Karadate Golf Center offered a stunning view on Himeji and the Seto Inland Sea, but due to its rather remote location (a couple of hundred meters away from the next houses at the end of a now too abandoned winding road) I guess it wasn’t a financial success – and the competition for driving ranges is tough in Japan! At the time I went there GoogleMaps still showed the driving range and a small building in satellite mode, but now these remains are only visible when switching to map mode. When I went there I found the golf center gone, with only a few signs left that it has ever been there: A fence, some bricks on the ground, a water tower, a lamp post… The driving range itself was almost completely overgrown, only two baskets sitting on the ground in the northern part. Unless you have a faible for old lamps the Karadate Golf Center is a demolished and hence uninteresting haikyo. But of course I had to see it for myself… And the view there was really nice!

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