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Archive for December, 2011

Exploring the Tsuchikura Mine (a.k.a. the Pawnbroker Mine) caused quite a bit of trouble. Unlike most of my other explorations it is not easily accessible by public transportation and therefore a challenge in general. As described last time I met with my urbex buddies Andrew and Damon to drive to the Tsuchikura Mine in the Shiga mountainside. After we were distracted by the *K-1 Pachinko Parlor* we finally made our way to the east. At Lake Biwa the weather was already rather cold and it snowed a little bit, but the streets were just wet, that’s it. The country road leading to the mountain though was soon covered with the white slippery beauty and each tunnel we went through seemed to add 5 centimeters of snow to the fields and forests we were passing. When we finally reached the old side road to the mine we had to abort our approach: The street was completely covered by snow, at least 50 cm were piling up and looking down the way ahead of us it looked like it was getting worse – we had to wait till spring.
4 months later, April. Japan’s cherry blossoms were in full bloom when Damon, Andrew and I decided to try the Tsuchikura Mine again. With the snow (mostly) gone access was as easy as it could be. No fences, no barbed wire, no secret entrances – no wonder the place is one of the haikyo favorites everybody seems to know about.
The Tsuchikura Mine was opened in 1907 (Meiji 40) by a company called Tanaka Mining and produced mainly copper and iron sulfide as well as some gold and silver and small amounts of lead. In 1934 (Showa 9) the Nitchitsu Mining Corporation bought and modernized the mine, but a series of accidents caused by heavy snowfalls in the area (no kidding, huh?) cost quite few lives:
1934: 4
1936: 6
1939: 10
1940: 10
In 1942 most of the mine was moved two kilometers to the south, to the present location, where a sifting plant with a capacity of 100 tons per month was built. In 1957 the sifting plant was expanded to 200 tons per month, but around six years later the plant stopped to be profitable due to cheap ore from overseas when trade liberations kicked in – the unexpectedly low quality of the ore at the new deposit didn’t help either and so the mine closed in 1965.
At its zenith about 1,500 people worked at the Tsuchikura Mine, sadly there is nothing left of the mining town surrounding it. All there is to see today is a couple of concrete constructions on a steep slope and a roofless house towards the top of it – probably the previously mentioned sifting plant, once wainscoted by wooden buildings. (If you are interested in some old photos please *click here* – the text there is in Japanese as this is the first time somebody writes a bit more about the Tsuchikura Mine in English on the internet.)
Exploring the abandoned leftovers of the Tsuchikura Mine was pretty easy thanks to its popularity. The place consisted of several “floors” with concrete fluid reservoirs and brackets for conveyer belts which looked a bit like Stonehenge. Since quite a lot of people seek to get up there nice explorers installed ladders and lots of ropes. People in decent shape and free from giddiness should have no problems to make it up the slope and enjoy a nice view down on the remains and the rather narrow valley. In comparison to the *White Stone Mine* and even the *Iimori Mine* the Tsuchikura Mine was rather boring, but it offered some nice angles and interesting views to take pictures of – and if you are lucky you will meet a photographer and their cosplay models… (Abandoned mines are popular amongst certain niche photographers. You know, production value!)
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Pretty much a year ago, a couple of weeks after we explored the *Love Hotel Gion* and the *Biwako Tower & Igosu 108* together, I met up again with my haikyo buddies Andrew and Damon. Our goal was a mine in the mountains on the border between Shiga and Gifu, but we got distracted pretty quickly.
Andrew was driving along the highway when Damon spotted a big red building that looked abandoned. We turned around only to find out that the place was not only abandoned, but a pachinko parlor. 2 months prior, while on the road with Jordy, I was able to explore an example of this oh so typically Japanese kind of entertainment location in Shikoku called *Big Mountain Pachinko Parlor* – this time we stumbled across the abandoned K-1 Pachinko Parlor.
While entering Big Mountain was a piece of cake it took us a while longer to enter K-1, but after a couple of minutes we found a way in. Against all odds and to our total surprise K-1 was in similar good shape as Big Mountain. Usually abandoned pachinko parlors are boarded up and / or looted and / or vandalized. K-1 showed some signs of all three factors, but none of them to a point where it hurt the atmosphere severely. When I wrote about Big Mountain I wrote quite a bit about pachinko in Japan in general (and its importance for North Korea), so if you are interested in that kind of background information then *please look here*.
While Jordy and I were in quite a hurry and squeezed Big Mountain between the hotel *shangri-la* and the *F# Elementary School* Andrew, Damon and I were able to took our time – this time we were even able to explore the upper floor Jordy and I missed in Tokushima. Coming up the stairs I found something that made me laugh out loud: Next to a page from a Japanese porn magazine lied a gripper – you gotta love the local humor! (Or was it North Korean humor? Who knows…)
The first room we entered upstairs was the main office / surveillance room. Three big monitors once hooked up to security cameras were still in place, and so was the big safe. Business cards, prizes, furniture and other stuff were scattered all over the floor, making the room quite a mess. The kitchen across the hallway on the other side was in pretty immaculate condition and looked like it was just left the other day. I’m not exactly sure when the K-1 Pachinko Parlor was closed, but judging by the calendars and train schedules on the walls it must have been around summer 2003. (Outside on the building was still a big sign from a real estate company trying to sell the thing – if you want me to make contact for you let me know!)
The hallway itself was pretty cluttered, too. We found some pretty big shoes and lots of porn, magazines as well as videos, in one of cabinets. What is it with porn in abandoned buildings? There seems to be a mysterious connection…
Most of the other rooms on the upper floor were actually living rooms / bed rooms. Some of them looked like they were ready to use, others not so much. One of them was stuffed with countless pachinko machines and spare parts. Also worth mentioning was the relaxing area out on the flat roof. There we found a couch, a table and a TV outside. Since it was snowing I’m sure all items were useless at that point, but I could clearly imagine some exhausted pachinko parlor employees far away from home sitting outside after a tough day of work, chilling with a chilled beer, enjoying their off-hours on a nice spring or autumn evening; you know, living the life!
Before we left heading for the mine we explored a small building across the parking lot of the K-1 Pachinko Parlor. In my article about Big Mountain I explained how the pachinko balls people win are exchanged for prizes since gambling is rather strictly regulated in Japan. Those prizes usually are getting off at “pawn shops” near the pachinko parlor – and the building on the parking lot most likely was one of those pawn shops. It was accessible, but completely gutted and therefore totally unspectacular. Nevertheless it was nice to have seen one of those shops, just to make the experience complete…

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*Nara Dreamland* is the current haikyo hot spot in Kansai, maybe in all of Japan. But the area including Osaka, Nara, Kyoto and Kobe is also the home of a classic urbex location: the Maya Tourist Hotel. (A.k.a. Maya Kanko Hotel, Mayakan, Mount Maya Hotel, Mount Maya Onsen Hotel, and Gunkan Hotel – Battleship Hotel / Warship Hotel; similar to *Gunkanjima*, the now also abandoned Battleship Island off the coast of Nagasaki.)
Mount Maya is one of the highest peaks of the Rokko Mountain Range that spreads from the west end of Kobe to Takarazuka (near Osaka) and is one of the most popular recreational areas in Kansai. In 646 the Tenjo-ji (忉利天上寺), a Buddhist temple, was founded near the top of the mountain at the behest of Emperor Kotoku. During the 8th century a monk named Kobo brought a statue from China to the temple – a depiction of Maya, Buddha’s mother; and that’s how the Mount Maya got its name. (The original temple was burned to the ground by a pyromaniac in 1975. The remains are still a popular destination for hikers, although the temple was reestablished further north and at a higher place.)
The Maya Tourist Hotel is located halfway up the mountain and in walking distance of the original Tenjo-ji. It should be obvious how the place got its name… Something I still haven’t figured out is why it took me almost a year to go to the Maya Hotel and another 17 months to write about it, although the hotel is basically in my backyard, just a couple of minutes down the rail on a single line (yes, no need to switch trains!).
Going to the Maya Hotel was actually my first exploration I haven’t done by myself or with a friend, but with a fellow urban explorer: Michael Gakuran. Mike was passing through the area on his way back home from a summer trip to the Seto Inland Sea and asked if I was interested in a joint adventure – and since he runs one of few blogs I actually read it was a pleasure to say yes. Michael likes his abandoned places rather high profile (who can blame him for that?) and so we pretty quickly narrowed it down to the Maya Hotel. The downside of that location: It’s right next to an active cable car station whose employees have a reputation for calling the police if they see trespassers on their way to or on the premises of the Maya Hotel (you have a beautiful view at the roof of the hotel from the cable car station). Since Mike and I are both rather dedicated explorers we decided to tackle the place hardcore style: During my research about the place I found out that there was a steep closed hiking trail up the mountain that leads there without getting close to the cable car station. To be able to take some photos on the rooftop we met at a Hankyu line station before 5.30 in the morning, hiked about 400 meters up the insanely steep, spider web covered abandoned hiking trail to finally reach the hotel; drenched in sweat and out of breath. Osaka / Kobe summers are everything but nice, the temperature barely ever falls below 30 degrees Celsius (even at night!) and the humidity is breathtaking. Especially in the morning, especially hiking up a forest trail, especially close to an abandoned and rotting hotel. Getting up Mount Maya that morning was my worst hiking experience without getting in physical danger and the third worst overall. Oh, and did I mention that I’m not a fan of alarm clocks at 4.30 in the morning? They tend to make me grumpy…
Luckily the anticipation of exploring a legendary abandoned building dominated over my morning grouchiness and so Michael and I reached the Maya Hotel in good spirits. Until we reached the entrance. Which was recently boarded up and ripped apart again. Carefully we got closer, gigantic flying insects the size of table tennis balls buzzing around and landing on us. Footsteps inside. 100%! What should we do? Getting inside? Waiting to be eaten alive by the insects? After a short deliberation we decided it would be better to take our chances with whoever was inside than with the nasty beasts outside, so we passed through the cracked open plywood and entered undaunted by death – only to find out that the footstep noises were created by dripping water. Of course we weren’t convinced right away, but after 5 minutes… well, 10 – okay, after 15 minutes we were confident that we were alone in the big hotel.
The history of the Maya Hotel started in 1929. Four years after the Maya Cable Car (officially Maya Cable Line (摩耶ケーブル線, Maya Kēburu-sen) began to transport tourists to the foot of Tenjo-ji the same company decided it would be a good idea to have a hotel up there – so they built it right next to the upper terminus. Construction began on May 15th 1929 and the Maya Tourist Hotel opened after a record time of just 6 months on November 16th. 15 years later, late in World War 2 on February 11th 1944, the Maya Cable Car was shut down as a non-essential line and the next year the hotel was forced to close, too. I’m not sure though if it was before or after the damages through air raids occurred – on top of Mount Maya were anti-aircraft guns installed and I guess taking them out damaged the hotel. Shortly after the war plans to turn the hotel into an officer’s club for the U.S. Forces fell through. In 1960 the cable car company decided to sell the severely damaged hotel and the new owner began renovations on September 1st. On August 28th 1961 the once so luxurious lodging was renovated to shine in new splendor – with parts from the French luxury ocean liner “SS Île de France” which was disassembled in the spring of 1959 in Osaka. But the grand re-opening wasn’t followed by a streak of good luck and so the Maya Tourist Hotel was forced to close its doors again in 1967, this time after suffering severe damages from a typhoon and a resulting mudslide. A final and finally rather long-term future began in 1974 when the place was re-opened again as the “Maya Student Center”. But the student center was closed in 1994 and the destiny of the Maya Hotel was sealed on January 17th 1995 when it suffered severe damage from the Great Hanshin Earthquake that killed almost 6.500 people – in the aftermath the construction was boarded up and fenced off, and its rise to become one of the most famous abandoned places (haikyo) in Japan began.
Since time was of the essence when Michael and I arrived at the more than 80 years old Maya Hotel we went right to the rooftop to take some photos outside before the crew of the cable car station would appear for work. The atmosphere was utterly eerie. Half of the mountain was covered by low hanging clouds, so at first our sight was quite limited while the sun tried to break through. I felt like in the middle of a horror film, but at the same time I knew there was an active cable car station just a stone’s throw away. A weird, slightly surreal situation. The chimney on the top of the roof collapsed a couple of years ago and was lying there like a gigantic crumbling grey cigar. Crushed through a lower roof on the southern side I saw the famous plane tire that once actually stuck in the roof. (Nobody seems to know where the tire is from and when it got onto, or better: into, the roof. It’s the tire of a B-29 Superfortress though – used in WW2 and retired in 1960.) The tranquility of the place was amazing, totally worth getting up at a time people should rather go to bed and climbing up a mountain at the worst time of the year. Sadly we had to hurry since 8 a.m., our personal roof deadline, came closer – the cable car started at 8.30 a.m. and we wanted to be out of sight with a little bit of a buffer. Only minutes after we got back inside of the Maya Tourist Hotel we heard a sound signal from the cable car station.
Exploring the inside of the Maya Hotel was almost as exciting as exploring the outside. Since the place was abandoned almost two decades ago with little renovation in the years before, there were only a few pieces of furniture left, the most striking one a red leather couch clearly not part of the original inventory As far as I know it was part of a video shooting – at least three Japanese bands used the abandoned hotel as a location for their music videos. Not to mention the countless photo shoots. Urbex, fashion, nudes – its stunning architecture made the Maya Hotel one of the most photographed modern ruins in Japan, probably in the world. Luckily most visitors carry a tremendous amount of respect for the place, so vandalism is a surprisingly minor factor. I guess when you deal with the hassle of getting to the Maya Tourist Hotel without being discovered you rather enjoy the breathtaking theater hall, the beautiful dining room and all the big and little surprises waiting for curious and careful explorers. And you have to be careful visiting the Maya Hotel! Water is running down the walls and dripping from the ceilings, broken stuff is lying around everywhere and the floors are severely damaged. Nevertheless the Maya Hotel as a whole is stunningly beautiful, magical, just fascinating. Nowadays most abandoned hotels get trashed before they get the chance to age properly – the Maya Hotel was abandoned several times and the 1920s architecture offers a completely different basis than the usual concrete blocks that look like they were designed by the same architect and interior designer.
Now I have to bring this pretty long article to an end somehow; maybe by linking to two other blogs. Michael’s “The Ethereal Void of the Maya Hotel” can be read by *clicking here*, for old photos and leaflets I strongly recommend nk8513’s blog *here* (it’s in Japanese, but even if you go there just for the picture material you won’t regret it). Well, other than that let me say that this was my last exploration before I got a wide angle lens and a tripod, so the photos are not nearly as spectacular as I hoped they would turn out to be – considering the age of this blog it’s actually quite old material. I hope the three videos will make up for it a little bit… Oh, and thanks for reading till the very end!
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The White Stone Mine (also known as the White Limestone Mine, the Fujiwara Mine, and the Shiraishi Mine – I guess it can be read Shiroishi Mine, too…) is one of the most famous abandoned places / haikyo in Japan. For years people seemed to be quite vague about its location, but ever since GoogleMaps offers high-res satellite photos of the area pretty much everyone can confirm the whereabouts after a bit of research – when I first heard about the White Stone Mine 2 years ago all I saw was a greenish brown mush 4 hours away by train, plus another 70 to 80 minutes by foot. Not worth the hassle, especially since I had many 100% confirmed places rather close-by back then. And I was still an urbex noob after all. In autumn of 2010, almost a year after my discovery, Michael Gakuran told me that he wanted to revisit the mine with some friends of his and asked me if I wanted to tag along (you can read all about his first trip *here*). Michael and I met twice before for some explorations and it was always great fun, so I didn’t hesitate a second to join the small group.
When I started me trip to the middle of nowhere the weather was great – sunny, 15 degrees Celsius, a nice autumn day. When I arrived at the train station to meet Michael and his friends, a couple of stations before the terminal stop, the weather was still nice. Then we drove towards the mountains and all of a sudden the weather turned. Cloudy… grey clouds… When we finally reached the mine at around 12.30 (traffic can be a trial of patience in Japan…) it started to drizzle – of course I didn’t bring an umbrella. But well, after almost 6 hours I was standing in front of the biggest mine I’ve ever been to and I was looking forward to finally take some photos.
The White Stone Mine is gigantic! Close to three dozen buildings spread across an area of about 500 x 100 meters. Despite its size there is not much known about the Shiraishi Mine. It was founded by two brothers in 1921 and mining ended in 1969, supposedly after severe damage from a typhoon; the last office on the premises shut down in 1974. But the White Stone Mine was not only a limestone mine, it was also a huge chemical plant with facilities to extract calcium carbonate – a very important base substance for the paper industry. I guess in Japan calcium carbonate is mostly used for construction materials (especially cement), but also for the purification of iron in a blast furnace (at least when the White Stone Mine was still in business). Japan’s cement industry is actually huge – Japan still is the #5 consumer, #4 producer and #3 exporter of cement in the world. Japan’s coast line is famous for its sheer endless amount of concrete tripods and when you go hiking you can see surprisingly many concrete roads in the middle of nowhere – it seems like politics and the cement industry are heavily intertwined…
Exploring the White Stone Mine was exciting, sadly we were running out of time quickly. The sun goes down early in Japan, especially on a late October day in the mountains, even more so when it’s raining. Michael was a great experienced guide who was able to point out some of the best and the worst spots of the gigantic area quickly. An area I saw maybe 30% of. Although the mine was abandoned about 40 years ago it seems like there’s still somebody taking care of the premises: Michael pointed out differences to what he saw half a year prior (tarps covering wooden buildings here, new “Keep out!” signs there…) Although we kind of rushed through the lower area of the mine it already got dark by the time we reached the big silos up the slope. When we got back to the car it was already pitch-black outside and raining heavily. Nevertheless it was a great trip and totally worth the long train ride. A train ride I have to do again one day to explore the other 70% of that gorgeous mine… To be honest, I think it will take at least a full day to explore the whole area, maybe two or three days to shoot the whole mine properly. I doubt I’ll have time for that, but the White Stone Mine is definitely one of the few places I would really like to revisit! Even for (half) a day…
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Haikyo HDR photos or not… that was a big questions two years ago.
From the start I wanted to keep Abandoned Kansai simple. A blog instead of a homepage, photos directly out of the camera instead of massive post production – resize to 1024*680, URL in the lower right corner. That’s it. No cropping, not filters, no nothing. I actually shoot in JPG, for almost two years not even in the highest resolution. All the photos published on Abandoned Kansai are done that way. After some positive comments I started to take a few photos in NEF, just in case; maybe 2 or 3%, not one of them I ever opened. When I got a tripod, I started to use the bracket function of my D90 at maybe every fifth location – again just in case. After a while I played around with a freeware HDR program, just for fun. While I like the aesthetics of tone-mapped HDR photos I still consider them mostly a gimmick. Nevertheless I decided to publish some of my experiments – below are two samples, *for more haikyo HDR photos please click here*.
(Updates will be announced on *Twitter* and *Facebook*, not on the main page.)

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