*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 nk8513’s blog, you can find his collection of old photos and leaflets *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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