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Archive for the ‘Abandoned’ Category

Spring is the perfect time for hanami haikyo – exploring abandoned places while the plum and cherry blossoms are in full bloom. The window of opportunity every year is small, especially during cold and rainy springs, but this year I was luckily to hit one of those perfect days early in the year…

A few years ago I saw the remains of what appeared to be a playground on some random Japanese blog. Another source called it an abandoned amusement park. And then some photos of a golden Buddha statue appeared. It took me a while to piece all those pieces together – and afterwards I knew as much about that mysterious place as before… plus its exact location on a small mountain in Gifu prefecture; very countryside, and so I explored in Gifu and passed through Gifu several times before I was finally able to visit the Golden Buddha Park myself – most likely not its original name, but the fake names Japanese blogs used make even less sense, so mine is as good as theirs.
In the Japanese countryside GoogleMaps often is little more than a general hint, especially when construction is going on, so Dan, Kyoto, Spencer and I (big group this time!) knew where we had to go, but didn’t exactly know how to get there. After several twists and turns we reached a strange area where about a dozen regular cars were parked on what appeared to be an abandoned road with small abandoned houses – and one active apartment building at the end, much too small to house everybody parking there. We turned back again and parked at pretty much the last available spot, next to a partly collapsed house and an overgrown and dried-out pond. The paved street had turned into a cobblestone road, the condition getting worse and worse, so we decided to walk. Soon even the cobblestones were missing and we hiked up what appeared to be a dirt road getting narrower and narrower, becoming more and more overgrown. But we were on the right track as I remember a mushroom shaped resting area I saw on photos years prior. At that point there was a rift about half a meter deep splitting the road / wide path we were on. A strange place and probably creepy as hell on a foggy day. After a couple of minutes we reached some kind of plateau with a metal beam cage – probably for bird or maybe a small feline predator. There was trash all over the nearby slope and a vandalized bus was rusting away, offering the first good photo opportunity of the day. Opposite of the bus and mostly overgrown were several flights of stairs, some handrails and other concrete leftovers – it seems like there had been a now mostly demolished solid building once, but what it was… your guess is as good as mine. Next to the construction ruin we found a massive flight of stairs leading up the mountain, one huge concrete elephant statue on each side, with the weirdest plastic eyes I have ever seen; also worth mentioning: since the trunk was crumbling away we could see that there was a hose inside, so those statues were probably able to spray water…
On top of the mountain / hill we finally saw the golden Buddha in its white dome, lined with cherry trees. What a sight! But it was also guarded by two statues that probably were supposed to be dogs or lions, but looked more aliens – or alions… The statues with their weird eyes formed an unnerving contrast to the tranquil atmosphere of the Buddha and the countryside beauty. Such a strange place!
Upon closer look the base of the interesting looking concrete construction must have been hollow as we found a door on the back. Since it was locked we rather climbed the socket and had a closer look at the statue. Most of it was actually undamaged, but the gold leaves of lowest part, even in reach of small people, needed some refoiling.
Sadly there we no sign or other hints what this could have been, so after a while we hiked back down the mountain to our car. There we had a closer look at the dried out pond and the neighboring building, probably a conference center or something like that. The front was already collapsed and the interior had seen much better days, too. With that, our motivation to go through another half a dozen abandoned houses dwindled and we decided to call it a day – if Japanese explorers were not able to figure out what this strange setup was, we figured it would be rather unlikely that we will. And it was a good decision, because later that day we found the most amazing *abandoned ski resort* ever. But that’s the story of another time…

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Abandoned ropeway stations are creepy – and usually they are hard to reach. Now deserted *hotels*, *hospitals*, *amusement parks* or *museums* were originally built to attract or at least serve people conveniently. Ropeway stations, at least the upper termini, were constructed as bridge-heads to otherwise inaccessible or at least hard to reach places – like mountain tops.
The Shidaka Ropeway Upper Terminal was one of those stations in the middle of nowhere with no road access. Other than that, little to nothing is known about it. It seems like it was opened and closed along with the now also abandoned Shidaka Lift to connect Beppu with the *Shidaka Utopia* and Lake Shidaka – the ropeway covering the Beppu side, the lift covering the Shidaka side, but nobody seems to know for sure, though 1984 and 1998 are years I’ve heard for opening and closing respectively.

After exploring the already mentioned Shidaka Utopia on a wonderful yet hot spring day in 2012, I tightened my hiking boots and made my way up the mountain to have a look at the upper terminus of the Shidaka Ropeway (not to be confused with the still active Beppu Ropeway leading up Mount Tsurumi, which is still a popular tourist attraction). The unnecessarily long path I took lead me along a steep slope up and down the mountain for a few hundred meters in height difference, and finally reaching the upper terminus of the Shidaka Lift felt like heaven. Hiking on unpopulated routes all by yourself is always a risk, even more so in Japan with its nasty wildlife in late spring, summer and early autumn, so knowing that I was on the right track was a big relief. I took a break and some photos up there before looking for the old path that was connecting the lift with the ropeway station. Stones on the ground were a good indication, but after a couple of meters the way was completely overgrown, so I had to fight through thick vegetation… until I finally reached the ropeway station a few minutes later, all sweaty and scratched up.
The view from the station down at Beppu Bay was absolutely gorgeous and well worth the strenuous hike. To my surprise the cables connecting the upper and the lower terminus were still there, a gondola crashed into one of the two holding bays. At the same time the station was in rather bad condition after almost 15 years without any maintenance, a rusty metal and brittle concrete construction, built on a steep slope – me being all by myself I was very careful watching my steps.
After about 45 minutes it was already time to leave as I had to catch a bus back to the city and didn’t know exactly how long the lower terminus of the Shidaka Lift would keep me busy; a story for later this year. While the Shidaka Ropeway Upper Terminus wasn’t a huge and spectacular location, it was a very fulfilling one. Finding out about it and locating it wasn’t easy, getting up that mountain much less so. As much as I like explorations with friends by car, they are quite a different experience than going to the middle of nowhere all by yourself. So when I took a final look down at Beppu, it felt like an achievement, something that I really earned…

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I love maps! I always loved *maps*. When I was a little kid, my grandma taught me the names of every capital in Europe, and my desk pad was a world map. To me, GoogleMaps is the best thing since sliced bread. Whether I need a quick two-minute break or have to kill a rainy day on the weekends, GM is one of my favorite websites of all time, especially since I picked up urban exploration as a hobby. Sometimes I just browse through Japan via the satellite view… and actually find abandoned places, like an abandoned ropeway station I yet have to write about, or the *Abandoned Poultry Farm* I mistook for the *Red Factory*. About two years ago I saw a red roofed building in almost Y shape that caught my eyes – and on Street View the entrance looked abandoned, yet in decent condition…

Well, it turned out that my first exploration in Yamanashi prefecture was a total dud and that the entrance was pretty much the only thing about the Sun Park Hotel Naito that was in decent condition. When my buddy Dan opened the door to the hotel’s bar (the front entrance consisted of massive automatic glass doors that wouldn’t move a millimeter…), I instantly knew that we were up for a disappointment – the smell of rotting carpets, wallpapers and all kinds of other materials was heavy in the air. While the abandoned bar still had a certain 1980s TV show retro charme, the rest of the hotel kept me wondering what the heck I was doing there.
We reached the reception area through a small hallway and went on a short walkthrough of the ground floor (or first floor, as it is called in Japan) – restaurant, kitchen, employee rooms / toilets, offices. The smell was bad and the air probably wasn’t healthy, but it got worse after climbing the sketchy main staircase to the second and third floors. The hallways were completely trashed, everything was rotting, except for the ripped-out yellow insulation that smelled like urine. What a disgusting, miserable place; and the rain outside didn’t help to lighten up the atmosphere. Since the third floor was less vandalized at least some of the rooms were accessible, though none of them contained anything out of the ordinary. The really kitschy telephones were kind of interesting, but that’s pretty much it. My favorite item though was a pillow in the hallway, rotting, partly overgrown by moss. It reminded me of the fading stack of tatami mats at the *Bio Center* in Hokkaido, still one of my favorite photos.
Well, not all abandoned places can be surprise super hits – and the Sun Park Hotel Naito definitely wasn’t a hit. It was just another abandoned countryside hotel, and those are a dime a dozen all over Japan. Luckily every once in a while a few of those mystery hotels turn out to be great finds, so you can look forward to some amazingly unique abandoned hotels on Abandoned Kansai in the future; and… well… some crappy ones, too…

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A lot of Japanese people are very proud of their country’s distinctive four seasons – summer, autumn, winter and spring. Yet a lot of them mention a fifth season, which explains why they are not very proud of their math skills… rainy season. Rainy season is a period that lasts for about two to four weeks, usually starting in early or mid-June, turning most of Japan (especially Honshu, Shikoku and Kyushu) into a humid hellhole for about three months. Personally I don’t think Japan has four seasons as it stretches too much for a general statement like that. Okinawa definitely doesn’t have a winter, and in my personal experience, Osaka has only two seasons: “Kind of nice” and “unbearably hot and humid”.
The period of rather intense rain began early this year, in the first week of June, starting to turn Osaka into a sticky place where you don’t want to wear any long clothes or do anything that requires even the slightest effort. Luckily my friends Dan and Kyoko weren’t eager to stay in Osaka either, so I planned a nice little weekend trip to Shikoku… which I had to re-plan after the weather forecast changed – Chubu instead! (Chubu is one of eight major regions in Japan, basically the central part of the main island Honshu between Nagoya and Mount Fuji)

Three days later I found myself sweating like pig hiking up a mountain in Shizuoka prefecture. A couple of minutes prior we passed through a small village on the slope, located in the middle of nowhere, where only one old lady was living, at least part time – she and her husband were tea farmers, but he passed away a few years ago, so she takes care of what is left; everybody else had died or moved away many years before…
We escaped Osaka’s rain and humidity, but central Japan’s countryside was surprisingly warm for early July. The hiking trail us three were on connected the hamlet with its school, closed in the late 70s and officially abandoned in the early 90s. Why it wasn’t built directly next to the settlement is beyond me, but farm land was probably more valuable than the place for an elementary school; and so the kids had to hike up that mountain every day, an elevation gain of almost 100 meters! Even after 30 years the path was clearly visible, yet partly overgrown and covered by several layers of foliage, making it a rather slippery climb these days. I was taking another break enjoying the beautiful surrounding and silence, when I heard Dan from above: “The school is up here!”

A few minutes later I saw the school near the top of the mountain myself – a surprisingly big wooden building with a living quarter annex; probably for a teacher or two to live in. The main building consisted of two classrooms and an office (all wooden floors), plus a tatami room right next to the office. Outside was a small playground with a slide and leftovers of some swings and a soccer goal. And there was a shrine with a wooden building, empty according to the old lady…
What made the Shizuoka Countryside School quite special was its authenticity. While a lot of “abandoned” schools in Japan are still maintained by the local community (like the *Kyoto Countryside School*), it was pretty clear that this wasn’t the case here – yet there were barely any signs of vandalism, with small exceptions like the pink painted nipples of the female gypsum bust or the smashed wooden metronome. There were signs of visitors though – not only did I find a Sony lens cap in the grass, you could see that certain items were staged for photos and that some explorers crashed through the wooden floors when they were not cautious enough. Most of the rooms had plenty of interesting items left behind, like a chair and table combination, a table tennis plate, books, posters, chalk, and whatever you think should be at an abandoned countryside school – considering that it was basically a two room school I think it was rather well equipped and I really loved some of the tacky items, like the National manufactured red record player. The icing on cake, of course, was the location itself. Near the top of a mountain, with a shrine next to it, on a lovely late spring / early summer day… quite magical. Sadly I had to share one of the rooms with a suzumebachi a.k.a. Giant Asian Hornet. There are a lot of them at abandoned places these days and usually I avoid them, but in this case that would have meant not taking pictures of one third of the school. Half the time it was trying to leave through a window and failed, half the time it was flying around the room, causing me to hastily leave. After a few rounds of hide and seek I got most of the shots I wanted to take and called it a day.

Just getting out of Osaka for another two days was a blessing, exploring an abandoned countryside school in good condition and being able to share that with friends… priceless!

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The Taro Mine is supposed to be one of the most beautiful mines in all of Japan – it certainly is one of the most dangerous…

After *Mike*, *Ben* and I visited the *Matsuo Mine Apartment Buildings* for a second time, we headed for the pacific coast to stay the night for an early start to the Taro Mine. Despite being about 250 kilometers north of the infamous Fukushima Nuclear Power Planet we were still able to see and experience the struggles the area is going through after the tsunami hit in the aftermath of the Tohoku Earthquake 2011. The hotel we stayed at, one of the few in that part of Japan, just opened half a year prior – and when we reached the coastal town of Taro, we realized that barely anything happened to the disaster zone in the past 2.5 years. The local Lawson we stopped at after our exploration is still housed in a container building above sea level and the previously flooded area still has barely any new buildings… (By coincidence there is a German documentary called “Die Helden von Taro” (The Heroes of Taro) about the town and its inhabitants; you can watch it on Youtube if you are interested.)
The Taro Mine itself wasn’t damaged by the tsunami, but I assume the earthquake gave it a good shake, probably causing some of the heavy roof tiles at the sifting plant to come down – another reminder of how you don’t want to be in an abandoned building while a natural disaster strikes!

Like most mines, the Taro Mine has quite a long history. In this case it dates back to 1857 and it was a troubled one from the beginning, when convicted Yokohama smuggler Takashima Kaemon fled to the north and discovered sulfide ore in the mountains. Due to the financial uncertainty of the endeavor, he sold the mine to Iguchi Kenchi – who sold it due to financial difficulties in 1918 to what is now Rasa Industries, after actually closing it temporarily. The company started to invest and began massive examinations in 1919, which resulted in test operations that had to be suspended between 1923 and 1926 due to a depression, probably in the aftermath of the Great Kanto Earthquake. Construction of what is the present day abandoned Taro Mine began in 1933 and officially started operation in 1936 – fully operational for only 8 years, when a fire in the sifting plant rendered it inoperative in April 1944. A year later the Taro Mine started production again, only to be partly destroyed by U.S. air raids, resulting in another year of repairs. Between 1946 and 1971 the mine was fully operational, except for… one year between 1961 and 1962, when the mine was temporarily closed due to… you can guess it… a massive fire!
After being closed for good, Tokyo’s Meisei University took over some of the Taro Mine and the surrounding mining town to create their Taro campus. Today only their Cosmic Ray Laboratory is still in use, the rest of the area is abandoned. Or rather closed, as rumor has it that there is still security showing up once in a while…

What sets the Taro Mine apart from most other mines is the fact that the sifting plant wasn’t demolished – usually only massive concrete walls and pillars are left after a closed mine was stripped of any valuable machines and metals, but in this case the case was still there.
The first two floors were easily accessible and, thanks to the extremely high ceiling, quite impressive. The third floor required some climbing effort via a pile of bricks, which I wasn’t able to do due my minor *knee injury the afternoon before*. From there a rusty and party collapsed metal only staircase lead to the fourth and final floor, which I wasn’t willing to climb even if I would have been able to as it looked like a deathtrap to me.
Instead I found another way outside, where I hiked up a little slope to an exterior part of the third floor, disconnected from the rest of the sifting plant by collapsed metal constructions and intentional architectural decisions – you can see that *in the video*.
The rest of the Taro Mine actually wasn’t that interesting. One of the blue chemical pools the *Osarizawa Mine* is famous for was very active and welcomed us with a little fountain, other pools were more of brownish color and looked far less inviting. The already mentioned cosmic ray laboratory looked and sounded indeed quite active, while a huge four- or five-storey white building with a collapsed roof appeared to be so dilapidated, moldy and rotten that none of us felt the urge to get inside.
Even the 5 colorful two-storey apartment buildings down the road couldn’t get the attention of all three of us. Though there was one set of items in a wooden building we all were fascinated by – what appeared to be an old police helmet and a log with countless handwritten entries. Beautiful artifacts of modern archaeology, probably from an era when the Taro Mine was just a test operation…

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The abandoned Matsuo Mine Apartments – or: How I almost got myself seriously injured… twice!

Urban exploration is a dangerous hobby, I can’t stress it often enough. And I am a really careful explorer, sometimes to the annoyance of my fellow photographers, when I simply refuse to climb certain staircases or cross suspicious bridges. But you can be as cautious as you want to be, there is always a remaining risk that can’t be eliminated.

Upon arrival we had to figure out how to approach the Matsuo Mine Apartments best. Access in general was easy, but there were quite a few “from the road photographers” and the street lead directly to what is left of the mine itself – which is mainly a neutralization and treatment facility, operated by JOGMEC (Japan Oil, Gas and Metals National Corporation).

History of the Matsuo Mine

Okay, let me get the history part out of the way first: In the 1950/60s the Matsuo Mine was the biggest sulfur mine in the Far East, population in the area reached almost 15.000 people – which includes the families of the workers. But mining in the area dates back much longer. Sulfur resources were known as early as 1766 and the existence of a sulfur mine was documented in 1879. Around that time the Meiji government turned Japan from an agricultural state into an industrialized country by spending tons of money on the process and by hiring foreign experts – something I am sure North Korea will do as soon as the Kims are history; they already started in *Rason*. Anyway, after a local man discovered more sulfur in 1882, a small scale trial digging failed in 1888. In 1911 a private investor from Yokohama took over and lead the mine to temporary glory by being responsible for up to 30% of Japan’s sulfur production. Around that time the now iconic Matsuo Mine Apartment Buildings were constructed. 3 standalone blocks plus a conglomerate of 8 connected buildings, all facing west for beautiful sunsets. While none of the apartments had private baths or even showers (which isn’t uncommon in Japan, a lot of small accommodations like minshuku and ryokan are that way till this very day…), they were rather spacious by local standards and featured central heating and private water closets – the mining town was also provided with an elementary and junior high school, a hospital and plenty of space for entertainers to present their shows.
In the 1960s the success collapsed quickly when the oil industry was forced to desulfurize their products – imported sulfur became cheap, too, and there was basically no demand for domestic sulfur ores anymore. In a last effort to lower costs and avoid bankruptcy the Matsuo Mine was converted from underground mining to surface mining, but the plan and with it the mine failed in 1969; all miners were fired and the apartment buildings were (mostly?) abandoned. A new follow-up enterprise was founded right away to mine iron sulfide and to prevent that everybody would lose their jobs permanently, but that company failed, too – in 1972 the Matsuo Mine closed for good.
As you might (or might not) know, you can’t close a mine like a restaurant and just leave it behind. Mines and other industrial enterprises do massive damage to their surroundings, sometimes causing problems for generations to come (as we currently can see in Germany, where politics decided to get rid of all nuclear power plants) – and after the Matsuo Mine closed, it still leaked large volumes of acidic water that was polluting a nearby river. The first reaction was to drop a neutralizing agent directly into the waterway, turning it into a muddy brown mess. Several ministries studied the problem before it was decided in 1976 that a large neutralization and treatment facility would solve the problem. Iwate prefecture and the former MITI (Ministry of International Trade and Industry) constructed the place and handed it over for operation to the MMAJ (Metal Mining Agency of Japan), a predecessor of the already mentioned JOGMEC. Most of the Matsue Mine itself was stripped down and renaturalized in the process – wooden buildings were burned to the ground, the ferro-concrete apartment buildings were left to rot.

Exploring the Matsuo Mine Apartment Buildings

Before *Mike**Ben* and I tackled the 11 apartment blocks, we wanted to get a good look at the complex and found a rather big abandoned building southwest of the main area. 3 floors, open basement, very *Gunkanjima* like style. The outdoor staircase was almost completely crumbled away and the inside saw massive amounts of damage, too – both natural and vandalism. It’s hard to say what the building was exactly, probably offices or more living space; maybe for senior employees, closer to the mine? Each floor consisted of about half a dozen rooms and a communal rest room. In the open basement I found some crates containing core samples from test drillings, so I assume the building wasn’t just another apartment block – the rest of the room was filled with snow BTW. Sadly the quick photos I took there didn’t turn out to be good, but you can see the area in the third video at the end of this article.

Soon after we headed over to the apartment buildings. While people in Osaka enjoyed the two weeks of spring between “winter” and the hot-humid hell they call summer here, parts of Iwate were still covered by snow in early May. The sky was overcast, but every now and then the sun broke through, so I decided to leave my jacket behind and explore in jeans and T-shirt. My standard wear all year long as a surprisingly large number of buildings in Japan are kept at 28 degrees Celsius all year long – in summer by pretending to be eco and only cautiously using AC; in winter by heating full power, completely ignoring the summer slogans about saving energy. Japan going green is just another lie, government PR, pure lip service. (And considering the amount of lip service here, the number of blow jobs is ridiculously low; figuratively speaking.) The advantage of this pre-spring atmosphere: vegetation was still low and only occasionally hindering.

After heading through the indoor hallway connecting four of the buildings and their staircases we found ourselves close to the former central heating plant; at least it looked like you would imagine one. To get there we had to go outside again and across some snow. Now, as I experienced at the *Fuji Foods Bio Center* 1.5 years prior, snow can be tricky if you don’t know what’s under it. Best case scenario: solid ground. Worst case scenario: abyss. Mike was fearlessly going ahead, so Ben and I followed a little bit more careful. We saw holes in the ground every now and then, but the snow-covered area seemed to be safe; except for rendering us borderline snow-blind. After about half an hour we headed back to the apartment buildings and started to explore those. Despite all staircases and adjunct apartments looking similar, there was so much to see, so many places to go to! I barely realized how cold it got when the sun disappeared and it started to rain…
And then it happened: When the three of us wanted to go from a lower apartment building to another one higher up on the slope, we found ourselves in a pretty overgrown area. Fighting through the vegetation would have been a pain thanks to the rain, so I suggested to go up a huge patch of snow that connected both areas. Mike headed first, then Ben, then me. I was kicking into the snow to create little footholds, when all of a sudden my left foot crashed through the snow and I sunk in up to my crotch, the right leg still outside. I felt my left leg dangling in the air when my friends hurried back to help me out of this miserable situation. It turned out that I was maybe 20 centimeters away from solid ground, even if I would have crashed through completely I probably wouldn’t have hurt myself thanks to hiking boots and solid trousers, but for the split second going down and a few seconds of uncertainty, I didn’t know that. In the end I got away with feeling terribly cold for the rest of the day, being partly covered in snow and rained on for about 2 minutes – and so I continued to explore the rest of the apartments. And not just the apartments. There were two kinds of staircases in those buildings – the centered ones with one apartment to the left and another one to the right, and the “stacked” ones, usually with four apartments on each floor; and the latter ones allowed access to the roofs! Some of the roofs were in really bad condition after 45 years of abandoned ones, but then there were those… that were basically deathtraps! The ground was all soft and the concrete was so withered, that the metal shone through; or formed bizarre exposed shapes. The views from the top of the buildings were breathtaking, that’s why the photo gallery isn’t in chronological order, but starts with one of those pictures, but it was also very, very dangerous up there. Especially since the wind picked up and some kind of thunderstorm began to brew around us…
Despite the little mishap this was an awesome exploration, but I am a sucker for that brittle metal and concrete look. I could have spent days there, but sadly the weather was getting worse and worse, so we decided to call it a day at around 5.30 when it was getting too dark inside of buildings to shoot without a tripod – and too nasty outside without weather-proof gear.

Revisiting the Matsuo Mine

Usually it takes me months or even years to revisit locations, but in this case it was less than 24 hours. We were on our way back from the *Osarizawa Mine*, when Ben and Mike realized on the highway that we could be at the Matsuo Mine again for sunset, if we would really hurry – and that’s what Ben did! When we left 23 hours and 45 minutes prior the sky was preparing for the apocalypse, but when we arrived the second time, the sun was just setting; flooding the whole area with beautiful soft light. We took a couple of overview shots from the first building and then headed over to the main complex. Ben and Mike wanted take photos again at the central heating plant, so I decided to explore some apartments I hadn’t seen before. On the way up one of the staircases I realized that one of the flights of stairs had a step missing. A whole friggin concrete step! Usually that would be a sign for me not to continue, but it was one of the staircases leading to a roof, so I made a big step, skipping some stair treads. (It’s not all bad being a big guy!) The further I went up, the worse the condition of the staircase became – basically rubble everywhere! I looked up the last flight of stairs and into the open when I realized that this one had three steps missing in a row. Like I said, I am not much of a risk taker, so this was the end for me – not knowing whether or not the steps before or after were safe, I decided to turn around and regretfully leave the roof behind and face the missing step below again.
And then it happened: It was on the second to last flight of stairs of this staircase, the one above the missing step one, when both my feet lost their grip at the same time due to the rubble and debris everywhere. I fell on my ass and started to slide down, but luckily the concrete below was solid and I stopped after two or three steps – one flight later, at the one with the missing step, the situation might have been different. Learning from the rather bad clothing decision a day prior, I was wearing my leather jacket, which prevented serious excoriations and maybe even worse. In the end I must have twisted my knee a little bit as it started to hurt later that day at certain angles, but overall I was very luckily again. My two fellow explorers heard my accident over at another building and started to worry when I apparently didn’t answer for a minute or so (I actually didn’t hear them right away being surround by concrete), but of course I made sure to let them know right away that I was a little bit shaken, but physically fine.
When I left the building I realized that the memory card of my camera was full – and since I left my backpack with the spare cards in the car (traded it for the jacket…) the afternoon was over for me… until I realized that I could delete some old photos! But the sun was setting quickly anyway and I had enough of rushing things, so I basically called it a day and made my way back outside, watching the sun setting behind the open-face mine.
The 45 minutes of the second day obviously were a lot less successful than what I did on day 1, nevertheless it was a good experience overall. On the way out I took a photo of the only chair I remember seeing in the building, probably the most famous abandoned wooden chair in all of Japan – and I saw another example of Japanese insulation. Insulation is a very big problem in Japan till this very day as even modern buildings barely use it, because Japanese construction is about price, not about being lasting long… or energy efficient (lip service!). If you heat or cool your apartment here it takes about 30 seconds to go back to outside temperature after you turn off the AC. On the first day I took a picture of straw ropes wrapped around the piping, then covered by plastic to insulate, this time it was a mix of bamboo sticks and plaster covered by plastic. Those are the little things I really love about urban exploration. I never thought about piping insulation at Japanese mining apartments, yet I found out about it just by paying attention to details. It actually makes me want to research the topic on the internet now. I wonder if I will be able to find out more – or if crumbling giants like the Matsuo Mine Apartment Buildings are the only way to gather (admittedly rather useless) knowledge like that…
Oh, and in case you wonder why I wrote so much about my two small accidents: Because they happened – and because urban exploration is friggin dangerous, even when you don’t expect it to be!

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I love abandoned amusement parks. Who doesn’t? There is nothing like a deserted merry-go-round, a brittle jungle gym or a rusty Ferris wheel with flaking paint.
Japan’s most famous rusty Ferris wheel with flaking paint is the very iconic one at the Kejonuma Leisure Land – a lot of urbex photographers actually give the impression that there is nothing else left of Kejonuma Leisure Land, yet there is so much more to see!
When *Mike* suggested the *road trip to Tohoku* a while ago, I realized that the leisure land would be on our way north, and a perfect opportunity to break up the long drive on the first day. Luckily both Mike and *Ben* agreed – and so we reached our first location after about 6 hours on the road…

Kejonuma Leisure Land was opened in 1979 as Kejonuma Hojou Land (writer’s note: hojou means recreation) and had up to 200.000 visitors per year, which is quite an impressive number for a not so densely populated area like Tohoku. It seems like KLL was a pay as you go amusement park, featuring not only the rather famous Ferris wheel, but in addition to that a lot more attractions, like a go-kart track, a merry-go-round, “coffee cups”, trampolines, a huge jungle gym, a driving range, a six hole golf course, an indoor gateball venue and a Fuji Heavy Industries FA-200 airplane on a hydraulics stand! It even offered three different kinds of accommodations in form of a campsite, about a dozen small huts and a hotel – plus a small amphitheater for concerts and probably theater productions.
In 2000 the park was closed, but somewhat maintained, as the owner still kept an interest in his property. In fact he started to drill for hot water in 2003 and actually succeeded, paving the way for an onsen hotel or even resort. I found a flyer for a Kejonuma Park Hotel, which mentions the golf facilities and the hot springs, but none of the amusement park rides, so there is a good chance that the hotel was expanded and open for business for quite a few years after the theme park closed. (On advertising bags that still mention the KLL, the hotel was called Kejonuma Tourist Hotel…)
Although technically not abandoned, Kejonuma Leisure Land is mostly overgrown now and partly inaccessible depending on the season. Despite that, the owner of the land and everything on it is known for granting access permission to photographers and film crews, with the result that KLL is on national TV every once in a while. If you enter the premises without said permission though… be prepared to face the consequences!

Ben, Mike and I arrived at Kejonuma Leisure Land at around 3 o’clock in the afternoon on a mostly sunny day – and it was just beautiful to shoot. Like I said, most urban explorers associate “Ferris wheel” when thinking of KLL, but the place has so much more to offer – especially the derailed mini train named Fairyland Pegasas (sic!) kept me coming back time and again. The Ferris wheel itself totally lived up to its reputation and I could have easily spent an hour just shooting that one attraction. But the clock of course kept on ticking and there was plenty to see. My favorite discovery I made on the metal steps of the rusty trampoline framework – a lizard enjoying the afternoon sun. It even didn’t mind that I took a couple of photos…
From the amusement park area we moved up to a dozen small abandoned huts with blue roofs and from there to the driving range. I never played golf, so I was surprised to see the dozens of tee machines with Taito labels, “heso roboα“ (へそロボα). If you are into video games, you might remember Taito for classics like Space Invaders, Jungle Hunt or Bubble Bobble. It turns out that the company started in 1953, producing vending machines and jukeboxes, yet neither the English nor the Japanese Wikipedia page mentions golf equipment; nevertheless the heso robo (heso = navel or center) seems to be a staple at Japanese driving ranges.
The rest of the exploration was a little bit rushed again – the sun was setting and we were running out of light. Plane outside, through the auditorium, a quick look at the very tempting looking Kejonuma Park Hotel before heading back to the main area for a quick walkthrough video and some final photos.

When adding the Kejonuma Leisure Land to our itinerary I had quite high expectations, but I didn’t expect the close to perfect exploration I actually experienced. *Nara Dreamland’s* little cousin turned out to be everything I was hoping for, plus a little extra. A safe outdoor exploration of an abandoned amusement park on a lovely spring day with a beautiful sunset… that’s as good as it gets!

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