Asahi beer is popular all over the world, the Asahi Shimbun is a famous Japanese newspaper and Asahi TV is a somewhat known TV station – but the Asahi Sports Center nobody seems to know. Or seemed to know at the time my buddy Dan and I explored the place in October 2012. (If you google the term you will find tons of fitness clubs in Germany and Japan, despite the fact that I use the real name of the place here.)
Japanese summers are hot, humid, full of insects… and they drag on forever, especially in the Kansai region. While back home in Germany friends and family start to complain about grey days and having to wear windbreakers, I spend most late autumn days wearing T-shirts – and risking sunburns. Last year October was no different when Dan and I were approaching the Asahi Sports Center somewhere in the Japanese mountains. Despite wearing a T-shirt I was sweating like a hog, the vegetation still lush, green and thick. Before going to the sports center I only had seen a handful of bad photos on a Japanese blog, the satellite view on GoogleMaps basically useless due to its blurriness. With only a vague idea of what to expect the sheer size of the Asahi Sports Center took us by surprise, making it an all-time favorite at the time of its exploration.
After paying some serious amount of money for highway fees and driving for half an hour through tiniest towns and past forgotten fields we finally reached the Asahi Sports Center – being kilometers away from the next living soul we just parked the car in front of the first building we saw and headed in. It seemed like this was some kind of service center / administrative building. The kitchen on the ground floor was half unrigged, half ripped apart, the restrooms were dark and gloomy, vandalism everywhere; not exactly a warm welcome. The first floor, too, had not been spared by vandals and mould, but at least there we found some flyers and posters including maps, giving us an idea how big the sports center really was – the answer: about 450 by 200 meters. Pretty friggin big!
Two things on the map caught our eyes immediately: the huge swimming pool and the tennis courts. To our misfortune the combination of a drawn map (including artistic freedom…) and rampant nature didn’t make it easy to navigate, so it took a while until we found our way south via several flights of steps and an overpass – across a now completely overgrown kart track!
It was actually this outdoor area that made the Asahi Sports Center so spectacular. The service center was vandalized, but the sports area was just abandoned and overgrown. This part looked like people just didn’t show up anymore and nature took over again – natural decay at its best.
You should think that an abandoned tennis court wouldn’t be very interesting. The ones I saw on *Okunoshima* and near an abandoned retirement home in Germany (yet to come…) were actually quite dull places, but these courts here… amazing! They were located down a slope, lower than the visitor center, and the fences were almost completely overgrown, while the courts including the nets were… well… withered and rusted, but overall in decent condition. Somebody dragged the rusty umpire chairs away, but other than that everything looked eerily normal. The atmosphere was just wonderful, with the sun shining and birds singing; a perfect place to go to for reading a book without getting disturbed.
The huge pool west of the tennis courts was even spookier, thanks to a couple of little buildings surrounding the place, most vandalized and / or overgrown. A perfect place to shoot a horror movie on a grey hazy day… The dark green water looked like you could dump a body there without it ever being seen again once it sank down half a meter or so – a strong contrast to the white painted edge surrounding the creatively shaped pool. Just in sight of the pool we found about half a dozen wooden huts the sports center called Swiss Chalets. (The first video shows a walking tour of both the chalets and the pool.)
Shimmering through the profuse vegetation were some metal constructions, most likely part of the amusement park like rides visible on the posters and tickets at the visitor center. Sadly there was no way to get through, the undergrowth was just still too thick.
Dan and I went back up to the main road and followed it for a while. There we found another set of bungalows and some other buildings. Sadly they were completely vandalized and I had no motivation to take any photos there after enjoying the gorgeous sports area – but I kept the video camera rolling while I was going through the buildings for the first time. Usually I do the walking tours after I have seen everything, so this is a rare opportunity to explore live with me. To see what I saw when I actually saw it for the first time. After about 3 hours on the premises I didn’t expect any trouble anymore, exploring a building for the first time nevertheless is an exciting experience, even if the building is far from being spectacular!
In the neighborhood we also found the so-called convention center – basically a party space with an open fireplace on the ground floor and some rooms with tons of bunk beds upstairs. The Christmas party photos I found at the visitor center were clearly taken here.
Last but not least we followed a road down the mountain to what once was the goal of a summer ski slope – but this area was also completely overgrown, making it rather likely that I will revisit the sports center again one winter; before it starts to snow, but after the vegetation is weakened…