The morning after exploring the abandoned *Western Village*, I woke up physically and mentally drained like hardly ever before. All I wanted to do is getting home, so I skipped breakfast and the first location I considered exploring that day. Feeling slightly better on the two or three trains I had to take towards Tokyo, I decided to stop at a small station with a large shopping mall. Two fences later I found myself in the semi-basement of an abandoned psychiatric hospital, taking pictures of metal-grilled solitary cells – by far the most nerve-wrecking solo exploration I’ve done so far!
Insane, crazy, bonkers, lunatic, nuts. It was really stupid to explore the Japanese Mental Hospital all by myself, especially since pretty much everything that could go wrong, went wrong – yet I got away with it…
I wasn’t up to a good start when I woke up with a cramp in my right leg, only to realize that I had a serious headache, too. The previous day had taken its toll as I totally forgot to eat or drink between breakfast at 7.30 a.m. and dinner at 8.30 p.m. – not a problem 10 years ago, but I am no spring chicken anymore. The first location I planned to explore required a 12 kilometer roundtrip walk, so I scrapped the idea quickly as I didn’t even feel like walking from the bed to the bathroom in a really tiny hotel room. My secondary target that day was an abandoned hospital in Saitama, kind of on the way home and much closer to Osaka than my then current location in Tochigi’s capital. So I did some last minute research plus some paperwork and headed south 1.5 hours later. While I had no urge in the morning to ever take a single photo again, that feeling was gone around noon as my shutter finger was itching again. I wasn’t as super excited as I usually am, but at least I didn’t feel like turning inside out anymore – and the weather was really nice!
To my surprise the small station I arrived at was super busy, and so was the large supermarket / shopping mall right across the street. I had a general idea where to look for the mental hospital, so I walked right into a developing area that now more or less surrounded the former asylum – you could say that I entered the psychiatric ward. Most plots already had houses on, their inhabitants busy with cleaning and bringing out trash. Great. Exactly what I needed. Soon the old hospital stood out like a sore thumb and visible from quite a distance as it was two floors taller than the surrounding residential area. It was fenced off by a typical Japanese construction fence – the one consisting of connecting metal plates, about 30 centimeters wide and 2.5 meters tall. Faaaaaan-tastic. But it got better. Between the road I was on and said site fence was an elevated barbed wire fence, rusty as if it was made to spread tetanus. In-between was a grassy area… mown, which means that somebody still took care of the premises. Ding-ding-ding! We have a winner – full-blown urbex nightmare. Or so I thought, because I actually found a small hole in the outer fence where I was able to squeeze my bag and tripod through, followed by a bigger hole some 40 meters down the road where I could enter – I already had figured out how to get past the inner fence, but of course the outer opening was in the opposite direction of the inner opening. So I put my equipment through the outer fence and turned around to make my way to the Florian sized access point, when I looked directly at a woman living two doors down another road. Darn! So I walked towards her, trying to start a conversation, but she just closed the veranda door and disappeared. Damn, damn, damn! I was too close to give up, so I hurried down the first road, got past the outer fence, ran back on the inside, grabbed my equipment and… ROAR, another neighbor started his car! Seriously?! I didn’t even take the time to look up, headed towards the inner fence and went all in. Literally and figuratively.
The Japanese Mental Hospital turned out to be some kind of whitewashed concrete building, 95% boarded up or blocked by rusty grilles. For obvious reasons super nervous I first had a quick look at the semi-basement in the back, from the outside of course – separated from the real world only by a solid metal fence I could hear neighbors, the kids of neighbors, and of course the dogs of neighbors… as if they were right next to me. I assumed I would have 20 minutes max until a ballsy neighbor, security or police would show up to politely ask me to leave / threaten me with the police / arrest me, so I quickly looked for a way in.
The first option wasn’t really one – the smelly, dark boiler room of the semi-basement, but I wasn’t ready for that, not even close. Luckily I found an opening the size of 1/3 of a door, barely enough for a big guy like me, but a great gift given that the rest of the ground floor was shut tight. Seconds later I found myself in front of the reception, the only light coming from the hole in the entrance door. I took a couple of shots and moved on to the staircase, lit from the not nailed-up upper floors. About 20 minutes into my adventure I started to calm down a little bit, which wasn’t exactly easy as I was exploring a friggin mental hospital all by myself! Nevertheless I headed into the dark again, to have a look at the rest of the ground floor. The second of three patient rooms had a special surprise for me – on a rack I found a dozen comic books lined up, accompanied by plushies of Stitch and Sergeant Keroro / Sgt. Frog as well as all kinds of plastic figurines. Japanese urbexers… In other countries people steal and vandalize, in this part of the world they add cutesy stuff. The upper floors turned out to be well-lit and mostly empty – a wheelchair here, some beds there, but nothing too exciting. I kinda liked the massive concrete hallway that exuded strength and hopelessness at the same time. There was only this way to get in or out… and I am sure back in the days it was very well guarded. Upon reaching the top floor with its caged roof I finally felt relieved. I was done taking photos and ten minutes later, after filming the walkthrough, I would be out of there, finally relaxing on my way home. Even the possibility of people waiting outside the fences didn’t scare me much anymore – I had seen everything I wanted to see, took pictures of everything that looked interesting to me. So I took the video and…
… realized that the staircase lead down to the semi-basement; an area. Where it was sparsely lit at best, most areas were actually pitch-black. Where the solitary cells were… with solid metal doors on one side and almost floor to ceiling iron grids on the other. Where the mistreatment most likely happened… to helpless victims, mental patients in need of the care of others. Oh, didn’t I mention why the hospital was closed? Word on the street is that the Japanese Mental Hospital closed in summer of 2001 due to financial fraud and human rights violations against the inpatients! Up to 80 unexplained deaths over the years… Did I really want to go down there?
Of course I didn’t! I was exhausted enough already, I didn’t need that kind of excitement. I am not even into urbex for any kind of excitement, I do it for the tranquil atmosphere and the unique aesthetics most places have… and what’s more unique than a wheelchair in front of the rusty bars of a dimly-lit solitary cell at an abandoned mental hospital, once accused of mistreating patients? Right! Friggin nothing – so down the stairs I went! I hope you’ll enjoy the photos and the video, because I guess I aged about three months spending 20 minutes in the semi-basement… ;)
BTW: Not only is this the 300th article on Abandoned Kansai, today marks the 5th anniversary of the first exploration I ever published. What started as a small blog read by family and friends has turned into a CNN featured resource read in 205 countries and territories. Thanks to everyone for the continuous support!
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