Japan is a mountainous nation, so it’s no surprise that there are ropeways and cable cars all over the country; except for Okinawa and most of the smaller islands. By the Japanese use of the English terms, a cable car (ケーブルカー) is a funicular / cable railway, while a ropeway (ロープウェイ) can be an aerial tramway, a gondola lift, a ropeway conveyor or even a funitel or a Funifor; ski lifts are a category of their own. I am not sure when the first ropeway opened in Japan (probably in the early or mid-1920s), but some of them were already closed and demolished in the 1930s as non-essential lines to use their metal in Japan’s war efforts at the time. (Fun fact: The oldest surviving aerial tramway in Japan is the Yoshino Ropeway here in Kansai, especially popular in early to mid-April as it is located right next to Japan’s most famous cherry blossom spot. Built in 1928 and opened in March of 1929, the Yoshino Ropeway is not just a sightseeing line, but used by locals for regular commute.)
Exactly three years ago I went on a first urbex day trip with my now regular fellow explorers Dan and Kyoko – first stop: the lower terminus of the Yubara Onsen Ropeway (YOR). Opened in 1975 to connect the spa village Yubara Onsen (known for having one of the few mixed baths in Japan, as most of public baths here are gender separated) with a prefectural park at the top of Yubara Dam, the ropeway must have been a total financial flop as it closed just six years later in 1981. The YOR was built by Anzen Sakudo, currently known as Ansaku, the leading ropeway designer and constructor in Japan with more than 60 ropeways and 250 ski lifts built in its almost 100 year long history. A ride on the Yubara Onsen Ropeway was a little more than one kilometer long and took about seven minutes, running once every 15 minutes with a capacity of 40 guests on each gondola. (Prices and opening hours can be seen at the end of the first video and the beginning of the second video.)
After more than 30 years of abandonment the YOR was in really bad condition and probably had more visitors than in the six years of being in business.
The road leading up to the lower terminus was mostly overgrown and quite slippery, the building itself somewhat of a death trap. All three floors were pretty much rotten and vandalized, the interior being exposed to the weather for three decades.
The first floor had several offices and we were able to find items like a Morinaga ice cream cooler and a Thermos bottle. The second floor was home to the ticket gate and a shop, while the platform of the ropeway was on the third floor. The gondola and rope leading up the mountain were long gone, but the pillars in the forest were still visibly standing there. Through the control room we were able to enter the machinery room, all well-lit since there were hardly any signs of a roof. This behind the scenes area was super interesting, but probably dangerous as hell – and of course nobody was foolish enough to use the spiral metal staircase leading three stories down. The concrete public staircase was somewhat dodgy, but the metal one in the back looked like certain death.
After shooting the walkthrough video on the way to the ground floor (accidentally split in half…), I found an open door at the back of the building, leading to the same lower part of the machinery room as the rusty spiral metal staircase. Not much to see there other than concrete and more rusty metal, including some ropes on the group.
On the one hand the Yubara Onsen Ropeway was a horribly run-down and dangerous piece of garbage, on the other hand it had that amazing amount of decay you barely see these days as hardly any building gets the opportunity to rot for that long. And while this is not the most beautiful set of photos I have ever taken, it still contains some really lovely shots; for example of that rusty control box or the white hardhat. This was the first intact ropeway station I ever explored, so it will always be a special one for me, but since then I’ve seen better ones – some I have yet to write about, but a good example would be the *Shidaka Ropeway, Upper Terminus*.
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