“How do you find all those abandoned places?”
Hardly any other question I hear more often than the above one, maybe with the exception of “Which is your favorite abandoned place?”. Finding abandoned places… it’s easier than you might think – and harder at the same time. Of all the 300 explorations I did (more or less), about half a dozen locations were shown to me; voluntarily, I don’t recall ever asking anybody any specifics. Which also means that I found 98% of the places I explored either by chance (driving around in a car or spotting them from a train) or by doing research – reading other people’s blogs, looking for hints like location names, parts of location names, city names, prefecture names… or paying close attention to photos. Yes, I actually identified abandoned places by looking at mountains, coastal lines or other buildings in the background. Once I thought I found the location of an abandoned cable car, but I was wrong… instead I found an abandoned ropeway virtually unknown to the internet – the cable car I identified half a year later, about 300 kilometers away from where I first thought it would be. If you are lucky you can find urbex maps by less caring explorers, but they tend to be unreliable… and most of the locations revealed on those maps are rather well-known anyway. The real gems are hidden – and it’s even more satisfying finding them than just choosing one from a catalogue!
The Japanese Countryside University is one of those places, a mesmerizing complex of rather new yet partly overgrown buildings; at least according to my internet source. I saw it once on a Japanese blog and never again since. The J-blog dropped a couple of hints, like an abbreviated version of the university’s name, a road number and the fact that there was a train station next to the road – nevertheless it took me several hours to find the exact location, because it turned out that the university still exists and that the abandoned campus was a couple of dozen kilometers out of town… but with a train station along the same road as the main campus. No word about that fact in the article, of course! In the end it took me half a day of research in Japanese and the help of a friend (thanks again, Mayu!) to finally pin down the exact location. I felt like Sherlock Holmes himself when I confirmed the overgrown campus on GoogleMaps… and even better when I finally went there more than a year later. I found that place – and I was about to explore it…
Over the course of the past four years I learned two important things about urbex:
1.) Never enter right away, you might find an easier back entrance!
2.) Don’t sneak around like a thief in the night – approach people unless they wear a uniform!
Arriving at the Japanese Countryside University my heart sank a little bit. The entrance gate had nasty spikes and the road was surprisingly busy, even on a weekend day. So I followed guideline #1 and started to circle the place, only to find an entrance to a big parking lot in the back, where I could not have been seen or heard; or so I thought. Some of the buildings were in amazing condition, despite the fact that the university was closed in 2006. While I was still wondering about that fact I saw two cars parked near the entrance of what appeared to be the main building. Darn! So I got closer and while I was walking between two buildings I saw an older dude kneeling on the ground of floor 1.5 – instincts kicked in and I made my way back to where I entered, without being seen. Then I remembered guideline #2, so I went back, waved (this time the guy saw me…) and entered the building. Living in an English speaking bubble my Japanese is rather basic, so I scraped together a couple of long forgotten phrases and approached the guy – who’s English was about as good as my Japanese. I asked him what this building was and he told me what I already knew. Then I told him that I like old buildings and asked him if it was okay to take some photos. At first I thought he was strictly against it, but then he took me up to the sixth floor of this brand-new looking building from the year 1986 where I was presented with a gorgeous view over the whole campus – sadly I wasn’t able to take some good photos through the windows, but my new friend left me alone and walked down the stairs, so I could take some photos and videos of the building, a former library, at my own speed.
Back at the 1.5th floor we had another quick chat. It turned out that my new friend was a 75-year-old former art teacher and some of the university buildings were in the process of being converted into… some kind of art project; the exact details were lost in translation.
I went on to take some photos outside – and having been been treated with such generosity and kindness I didn’t even consider entering the areas that were roped-off. So I took some more photos and shot a walkthrough from now almost completely overgrown dormitory to the main area.
That’s when I realized that my artist friend was gone… and my urbex instincts kicked in. The ropes. *What was behind those ropes? Well, that’s a story for another time…*