Schools are probably the most common abandoned places in Japan. Rare in populated areas, they can be found by the dozen in the countryside. In all of Japan there must be hundreds, nevertheless I only wrote about two of them so far (the *F# Elementary School* and the *North Korean School in Gifu*). The main reason for that is that until last year I did almost all of my explorations by using public transportation – and the vast majority of those abandoned schools are in the middle of nowhere, often part of (almost) deserted villages. By now I’ve been to about eight or ten *haikyo* schools (a.k.a. haikou), though most of them were either boarded up, under security supervision or in really bad condition.
The Kyoto Countryside School on the other hand turned out to be a hidden gem – and to keep it that way I gave it this rather generic name…
When my buddy Dan and I drove up to the Kyoto Countryside School in a stunningly beautiful picture book village in the middle of the mountains I kind of had a bad feeling. The school itself was in rather good condition and the grass in front of it was about 10 to 15 centimeters high – higher than usual, but not “abandoned for 20 years” high; implying that somebody was still taking care of the school and its side-buildings. But we were lucky… While the front entrance and all the windows were locked, the back entrance was open; and so was the kitchen building.
Sadly I don’t know much about the history of the school, only that it was closed 22 years prior to our visit – which was hard to believe as pretty much all rooms, despite being almost empty, looked like they were just closed for the summer. I am actually pretty sure that the school building is still used every once in a while, probably for some village celebrations or stuff like that.
Visiting the Kyoto Countryside School was part of a one day urbex trip in July; something I tend to avoid, because Japanese summers are nasty – hot, humid and full of insects as well as other animals you don’t want to run into. Luckily the school was in almost pristine condition, one of the cleanest places I have ever explored; bug free! But it was a typical summer day, just past high noon, and being in the mountains helped surprisingly little.
A sweaty, yet interesting exploration – opening that door was like stepping into the past, and in that regard it reminded me of the *Old Higashi-Aoyama Station* I wrote about last week. Most rooms were empty, except for the secretariat… and things on the walls. Photos, relics of art classes, info posters, mirrors. One room has a handwritten banner, showing Japanese number units. 10.000 = man, 100.000.000 = oku, and so on. The longest number was a 1 with 88 zeros, 4 kanji reading muryoutaisuu – I’m pretty sure 99.999% of the Japanese population haven’t heard of that number. But finds like that made this exploration so much fun. If you just looked through the windows you probably would have thought “Boooooring!”, but once inside the place revealed dozens of little things that caught me eye; my favorite part being the gorgeous wooden hallway, perfectly lit at that time of the day.
Surprisingly interesting was the most western part of the building, separated by a now locked door, but accessible from the outside: a small storage room full of left behind school books and the school’s toilet – with song sheets above the tiny pissoirs and old electric wiring along the wooden ceiling, probably added years after the school was built…