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Archive for the ‘Abandoned’ Category

I love unique abandoned places. Deserted *hotels* and *schools* you can find by the dozen in Japan, even desolate *amusement parks* are plenty all over the country; though their number is decreasing. But when I explored this cinema / theater / community center somewhere in the mountains of *Tohoku* I instantly fell in love with it.

From the outside the building didn’t look like much, a greyish boarded-up construction the size of a barn with a simple sign in Japanese above the locked entrance: 講堂, auditorium. Before I could even look for another way inside, *Ben* and *Michael* already grinned at me through a window. One hop later I stood on a brittle wooden floor with a few holes where previous explorers crashed through with one foot. Looking for nails I figured out where the supporting beams were and took a couple of photos in the room I was in before going to the main storage in the back. There was a plethora of items scattered on the ground and an old bike standing in the middle of the room. The most interesting objects though were a can of Tyrolean Cheese and another one labelled “QBBチーズ“, QBB Cheese. Austrian cheese and Australian cheese. I wonder whether whoever bought them did it on purpose or not. I understand the Austrian cheese, but Australia never stroke me for being famous for its milk products.

From the back I went through another brittle side room to the main auditorium, where several rows of rusty seats offered space for about 150 people. Sadly it was overcast outside, which made it hard to take pictures without a tripod in the main room – and even worse in the basically pitch-black movie projector room accessible via a small staircase near the main entrance, past the swing doors. Luckily I brought a tripod, but the process was still rather time consuming, especially upstairs in tiny room the with two big “Sun Arc” arc lamp projectors. (I strongly recommend watching the video at the end of this article, it will give you a much better impression of the place than the photos I took!)

It were objects like those projectors, like the cheese cans, like the bike, that made this abandoned auditorium so interesting. Probably my favorite item in the building (aside from the spectacular looking cinema projectors) was a small piece of paper, pinned to the wood next to the stage. It was a 5 point checklist to make sure that the fire extinguisher was okay – and it had seven handwritten, dated remarks on it; the last one from August 7th 1967, Showa 42 by Japanese count. But there was more to discover. Old stuff you don’t get to see much these days, like an all kanji bathroom sign and the concrete urinal at the men’s restroom; that must have been a challenge to clean. Probably with the powdered soap we found a can / box of on a table in the auditorium’s back.

I think I could have stayed at least another 30 minutes at this truly amazing building, probably 30 minutes in the dark room upstairs alone. Sadly we had to move on, but I am really happy that I had the opportunity to explore this wonderful place!

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Abandoned or not abandoned, that’s the question more often than not in Japan – and sometimes the answer is “both”, like in the case of the Osarizawa Mine…

Now famous for its abandoned ice blue chemical pools, the Osarizawa Mine’s history spans more than 1300 years, dating back to the year 708, when mining began as a family business. Back then mining for gold began in small tunnels with children as young as five years old. Over the years the mine became bigger and bigger, especially after copper ore was found. The business began to explode, literally and figuratively, when the use of Gunpowder was introduced in 1865. In 1893 Mitsubishi took over and massively modernized the Osarizawa Mine, introducing a telephone system in 1894 and a hydroelectric power station in 1896. At the beginning of the 20th century the mine became essential for Japan’s expansion and war efforts – up to 4500 employees worked around the clock in shifts and carved up to 100.000 tons of copper ore per month from the mountain; the total tunnel length reached 700 kilometers around that time. Soon after the war the Osarizawa Mine became unprofitable; refinement stopped in 1966 and in 1978 the mine was closed altogether. But only temporarily!
Only four years later, in 1982, Osarizawa reopened as a tourist mine called “Mine Land Osarizawa” – complete with a museum, eateries and a gift shop. In 2008, the 1300th anniversary of the mine, the complex was renamed “Historic Site Osarizawa Mine” and continued to be a successful tourist attraction in the northern part of Akita prefecture.

When *Ben*, *Mike* and I first arrived there, we had a quick look at the lowest level of the mine, past a Japanese only “Do not enter” sign, where we found some buildings still in use, but also some massive abandoned concrete structures – a few of them already collapsed. 15 minutes later we were back in the car, looking for the already mentioned ice blue chemical pools… and instead found the also mentioned tourist attraction Historic Site Osarizawa Mine. Thinking that we could learn something about the mine and its layout we put down 1000 Yen and joined the (Japanese only) tour – which was quite interesting, but didn’t reveal anything about the layout. Hungry afterwards we enjoyed a tonkatsu burger with edible gold flakes at a reasonable 580 Yen; luckily even a bad burger is still good food…
Minutes later I spotted the pools and a passing group of people from the parking lot, so we jumped into the car and headed there. If a regular tourist group could ignore the “Do not enter” signs, so could we! Nevertheless worried that we could be stopped by one of the many employees of the historic site at any second, we quickly headed over to the pools and started shooting, but nobody cared about what we were doing. Every once in a while some random tourist at the parking lot had an eye on us, but that was it – so we headed further up the mountain. Sadly most of the interesting buildings in that area were demolished, so there was actually not that much to see and in the end the Osarizawa Mine turned out to be the least interesting one of the three big *Tohoku* mines. At least for us three sneaking people. Because since none of us had a look at the *official website* before the trip, I only found out minutes ago that there was not only a mining tunnel tour, but also a guided outdoor tour – we probably wouldn’t have gotten as close to the pools as we did, but we most likely would have seen more of the mine’s remains in other areas. Like the tourist group I saw leaving the premises. Instead we headed off after seeing the pools from above.

Overall visiting the Osarizawa Mine was an interesting experience, but also an unfulfilling and kind of rushed one. The chemical pools definitely were a highlight, the gold flake burger was a curiosity (so was the “Do not enter” sign in a pile of snow at the parking lot!), and the fact that all three of us bought Osarizawa Mine branded souvenirs was downright bizarre! If you are ever in the area, I recommend to have a look and spend 2000 Yen on both guided tours – it might spare you the feeling of slight disappointment I have right now…

And finally a fun fact at the end: There is actually a secondary mineral called Osarizawaite, IMA approved in 1961! It has rhombohedral crystals, a greenish yellow color and the chemical formula PbCuAl2(SO4)2(OH)6.

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If you are a regular reader of Abandoned Kansai, then you know that sometimes it takes me years to write articles about locations I explored – and I apologize for that! Today I’ll try to change it up again and write about my trip to Tohoku before it even ends; “Instant Article”, so to say.

Currently I am sitting on a Nozomi Shinkansen from Tokyo to Osaka, and what better way to use those quiet moments than to reflect a little bit on the past five days? (Sleep! But who needs that?) I also realized that I haven’t written yet an article for this week’s update, and since the photos of this trip are basically all I have with me currently… here we go! :)

It’s been a while that my old *haikyo* buddy *Michael* and I went urbexing in *Hokkaido* together, 1.5 years to be specific, and we were talking about going on the road again for quite some time now. Since we are both living busy lifes in Japan, it was a matter of coordinating and allocating days – and the period of choice became the second half of Golden Week, the most miserable travel period in Japan as even the laziest couch potatoe decides to help clogging up trains and highways, if for no other reason than because everybody else is doing it. As for where were to go: Michael suggested Tohoku, to which I hesitantly agreed – since Tohoku is a pain to get to from Kansai, I basically only knew the most famous urbex locations there, and I was aware that there was a lot of driving involved. Michael was so, too – one of many reasons to bring his friend *Ben* on board, another interesting fella from the UK, who was a great addition to our former team of two!

The plan was to visit Kejonuma Leisure Land and the Wagakawa Water Power Plant on the way north, where we wanted to explore the three big Tohoku mines Matsuo, Osarizawa and Taro – plus some minor places along the way. While the Leisure Land was nothing but amazing, the water power plant turned out to be a colossal waste of time; to get inside you have to cross one of two nearby rivers on foot, which can be done rather easily in late summer… but not in spring, when the melting waters of the surrounding mountains rush through. The three mines on the other hand were extremely interesting and quite different from each other. Each one of them deserves at least an own article, maybe even more. Sadly most of the additional side locations were cut for different reasons, except for the Naganeyama Ski Jump, for which my fellow explorers didn’t even want to leave the car, and a locked up school in Fukushima prefecture. What made this trip real special though, was the fact that we were able to visit one of the few remaining open sex museums in Japan, which was quite an interesting experience after exploring two abandoned ones in the *south* and in the *north* of Japan.

Living in Osaka and being spoiled by the incredibly high level of food quality there (Osaka is usually referred to as Japan’s kitchen, while Kansai in general is considered Japan’s birthplace) I was surprised to experience that the Tohoku area doesn’t even come close to that. While I only had less than five bad meals in more than seven years living in Kansai, I don’t think I had a really good one during the whole trip; except maybe lunch near the sex museum, which is in Tochigi prefecture and threrfore not Tohoku anymore. At the Osarizawa Mine, mostly a tourist attraction now, I had a tonkatsu burger (deep fried pork chop burger) with gold leaves… and even that was barely eatable despite the allmighty „even a bad burger is still good food“ rule. Most restaurants on the way though were serious disappointments.

Overall it was an exhausting trip with up to 7 hours of driving per day (altogether Mike and Ben drove 1946 kilometers, most of it on days 1 and 4, when we were getting to and from Tohoku) and less than 6 hours of sleep per night in average; which isn’t that bad, but not enough when doing a dangerous hobby like urban exploration. Although we were very careful, all three of us had more or less minor accidents – luckily we all got away again without any serious damage. (Except the one to the wallet, as everything gets super expensive in Japan during Golden Week…)

Sadly I won’t be able to publish these lines from the Shinkansen, so there will be a gap of at least about an hour between me writing and you reading this article, but I hope you’ll enjoy this quick write-up nevertheless. In the upcoming weeks I’ll publish half a dozen more detailed articles about this road trip – and I am sure some of them will blow your mind! I saw only a handful locations in the past five days, but almost all of them were spectacular must sees. Here’s an alphabetical list, followed by some photos:
Abandoned Japanese Cinema
Kejonuma Leisure Land
Kinugawa Onsen Sex Museum
Kuimaru Elementary School
Matsuo Mine
Naganeyama Ski Jump
Osarizawa Mine
Taro Mine
Wagakawa Water Power Plant

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Urbex is quite an unpredictable hobby, especially in Japan, where wrecking crews can demolish buildings in no time; abandoned or not. (It actually happened once that I went on vacation and when I came back a building in the neighborhood was turned into an asphalted parking lot…) But demolition is not the only enemy urbexers have. Sometimes you go to a place and you think you know exactly where it is, but it turns out that your research wasn’t good enough. Luckily that never happen to me, but I’ve been on trips with fellow explorers who carried wrongly marked maps – and in that case is can be enough to be off by a street or two and you will never find what you are looking for (it almost happened to me when looking for the *Amano Clinic*, a frustrating and time-consuming experience!). Sometimes buildings have been boarded-up and are therefore inaccessible now, on other occasions they are still locked and electronically secured, which explains why your source only had outside photos. Every once in a while you run into nosy neighbors who keep a close eye on you, and sometimes places are so trashed that it’s not worth having a closer look. The latest trend, at least in Germany, is turning abandoned military bases into solar parks – they get rid of the remaining buildings and use the vast areas of concrete and asphalt to set up some green energy. With no good videos and barely a handful of photos, those locations are not worth an own article, but as compilations they should be entertaining enough to carry this blog for a week. Welcome to the first issue of “Worst Of” – 14 disappointing locations on 6 exploration days!

The first dud of my trip to Germany in 2013 was the Türkenlouis-Kaserne (a.k.a. Quartier Turkenlouis) in Rastatt. Built by the French occupational forces in the 1950s and left behind in 1999, the barracks weren’t able to find a new owner, so they were demolished in 2011 – I had a hunch that it happened, but I wanted to see for myself and was (not) disappointed.
Just a few kilometers away I had a look at the vandalized entrance of the BWR, Bauknecht Werk Rastatt, founded originally as Waggonfabrik Rastatt (Rastatt Coach Factory) in 1897. The company struggled several times from the 1970s on, was split up and partly closed. Upon my visit, parts of the area were used by the BWR Waggonreparatur GmbH (BWR Wagon Repair Company) – and their employees kept an eye on the abandoned area.
Down the street in walking distance I found a partly collapsed, unnamed factory. Sadly the employees of a neighboring business had a company party on their parking lot…
On the way home I stopped at what supposed to be an abandoned gravel pit, but there were cars parked on the premises and a diving competition at the nearby lake prohibited any reasonable exploration.
But that’s not all! The fifth dud of the day (out of six locations!) was the Special Ammunitions Site Philippsburg, which actually looked quite active – it was probably used for training by the police or other groups. What a frustrating day, especially for my childhood friend Nina, who actually did all the driving. Sorry again, Nina – but that’s urbex sometimes… :(

The next day I was going exploring with my sister Sabine. At the fortified Lampertheim Training Area I took a crappy photo through the fence – and the closed bunkers of the Panzerwald Viernheim were very disappointing in comparison to the awesome *Hochspeyer Munitions Storage*.
The HMS I explored with my friend Catherine and it was in walking distance of another former military base, which is still visible on GoogleMaps, but has been demolished more than a year ago to be replaced with one of said green energy facilities, in this case the Solarpark Metro Tango Ost.
Since my article about the *Cambrai-Fritsch-Kaserne* was a huge success I decided to go back there on a second day of exploration with my sister. We parked in the area and walked for like 10 meters, when a security guard stopped his car right next to us and forbid us to take photos. Straight ahead. No polite small talk, not friendly asking to refrain from taking photos. “I forbid you to take photos!” Well, I’m not a media lawyer, but as far as I know you can take photos on public streets pretty much wherever / whenever you want in Germany – hence Google’s Street View (though some people in Germany had their houses pixeled like Japanese porn, but they were not able to have Google remove the images completely). Since the guy acted like a stubborn a**hole right from the beginning of course I pretended to agree and just waited until he was around the next. He wasn’t even smart enough to come back two minutes later to see if we would really obey his rule. And nothing much had changed anyway, so I took a few snapshots and then we moved on to the Santa Barbara Village down the road and across the street – it was interesting to see though that they tightened security at the CFK instead of turning it into student dormitories, as the original plan was. The St. Barbara Village on the other hand is an example for successful privatization. Once a housing area for the surrounding barracks it is now a neat, quiet residential area and far from being abandoned.

The Old Argonner Barracks in Hanau are currently under redevelopment – the housing area is getting renovated, the former school on the premises is now a special educational center to support kids in the areas learning, language development and physical development, called Elisabeth-Schmitz-Schule. (I took a quick video, but with a different camera, so please excuse the quality…)

The Ray Barracks in Friedberg are famous for one special soldier, Rock and Roll legend Elvis Presley, who was part of the 3rd Armored Division and met his wife Priscilla while being stationed there. The base was closed in 2007 and it seems like not much has happened since then – the grass kept growing and the surrounding fence was airtight, so my buddy Torsten and I left after a couple of minutes, realizing that it was a big mistake to suffer through a painfully long evening rush hour traffic jam…

Last on the list of failures in Germany 2013 was a three location streak with my old friend Gil.
The Quartier Castelnau, a former French military base south of Trier, was under redevelopment in its third year and one big construction site. We found a way onto the premises in a very remote part, but there was not much to see, barely worth spending any time on – so we didn’t and moved on.
The Quartier DeLattre, another French occupational military base, was definitely closed, but not really abandoned either. Parts of it were used by the municipal works, but it didn’t look like there was much activity on the premises. Much more so outside. Lots of kids and walkers, including an old French guy and his wife who wanted to have another look at the place he spent a couple of years at almost half a century prior.
Third and final flop of the day (and the trip) was the so-called Weingeisthaus (Spirit of the Wine House, an old mansion in the middle of a vineyard, famous amongst urban explorers for its beautiful exterior and the dilapidated condition inside. It seemed though that somebody invested quite a bit of time and money to keep intruders out, installing two lines of pretty tight fences. Running out of time that day and respecting the effort, Gil and I took a couple of shots from the distance before leaving.

And that’s it. Lots of short impression, but nothing really spectacular. What do you think I should do with small / failed explorations in the future? Ignore them completely and pretend they never happened, write collections like this one or publish individual small articles, but keep them as the lead for only a day instead of a week?

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The Jonan Junior High School a.k.a. the White School is one of those abandoned places that are spectacular in very subtle ways.
Japan’s countryside is full of old schools, ranging from barely open for business to closed and preserved to closed and locked up to just abandoned to collapsed. But one thing all of them have in common – they are brown wooden buildings, inside and outside; at best they have a protecting frontage to prevent or at least slow down decay. (*A prime example for such a school you can see here.*)

At first sight the Jonan Junior High School was just one more of those schools somewhere in the Japanese mountains. From the distance it didn’t even look abandoned. Closed at best / worst. But upon closer look it became quickly evident that *Rory* and I found the right place. Fenced off by a rusty barbed wire metal construction, the back of the school revealed a partly collapsed wooden restroom building. After we found a way on the premises we were lucky to find a way in – a couple of boarded-up window were proof that somebody had taken care of the school for a while, and that vandalism is a problem even in countryside towns.
At first the White School is amazing – a large wooden hallway, almost looking endless through an ultra wide-angle lens. Whoever closed the school decided to take out the interior walls that made up the classrooms, so the wooden two-storey building basically consisted of two long hallways, two gigantic rooms with support logs and two staircases, plus smaller rooms on the upper floor. All painted white! But after about 15 minutes of excitement one quickly realizes that there is not much else. A photo on the wall on the lower floor, some rather random items left behind in one of the small rooms on the upper floor, that’s i t. And that’s usually all you get to see when the White School appears on the internet.
Luckily there was more to see. Several more buildings actually, but none of them were painted white, so I guess nobody gives them much attention. First there was the apartment of the caretaker. The kitchen was still in decent condition, but the floor of the living room collapsed and it was rather dark inside. And then there were three smaller school buildings, looking similar from the outside, but brown inside. And indeed, after being flashed by the white empty main building the common brown areas looked rather boring, almost dull.

Nevertheless it was a great experience to finally explore the White School. It came to my attention quite a while ago and due to circumstances out of my control it took me a while to finally have a look myself – and I enjoyed it as it is such a unique place to see. Not worth to spend a day trip on, but perfect when on the way to an even better location, borderline mind-blowing, to be honest… But that’s a story for another time! :)

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Uji is famous for green tea. And of course for the Byodo-in, the Buddhist temple on the 10 Yen coin, as well as for the final chapters of “The Tale of Genji”, one of the most popular pieces of classic Japanese literature. But overall the city is most famous for green tea.

Green tea (ryokucha, 緑茶) has been served and sold in Uji at least since 1160 when the cities’ (and probably the world’s) oldest tea shop opened, Tsuen. About 200 years later the famous shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu promoted the cultivation of green tea in Uji, resulting in what is now known as ujicha (宇治茶) – Uji tea. Located in the most southern part of Kyoto prefecture right next to Nara and Shiga prefectures, Uji still influences tea production across borders – and while most people think that Kyoto city is famous for green tea (thanks to its political significance for centuries and the perfection of tea ceremonies involving powdered green tea, matcha, 抹茶), it is actually the town of Uji that perfected its cultivation. So when you visit the city to have a look at the Byodo-in, you’ll see dozens of tea shops, selling several varieties of green tea and products like castella (a cake of Portuguese origin), manju (Japanese sweets made of flour, rice powder, buckwheat) as well as all kinds of cakes, cookies, puddings, chocolates and ice cream – if you like the taste of green tea, then come to Uji and you’ll feel like being in heaven!
There is hardly a dish in that town that they don’t flavor with matcha… (Even the vending machines in Uji sell 80 – 100% green tea!)

The Spring Tea Shop in Uji is the first and so far only abandoned tea store I found in Japan. Sadly there is little to nothing known about this beautiful straw-thatched little building, which is slowly falling into disrepair after it was vandalized probably for years. I’m not even sure about its name, since zenmai, which I translated as spring, can also be a name or the name of a plant, so maybe a more correct transcription would have been Zenmai Tea Shop or Japanese Royal Fern Tea Shop.
According to a calendar left behind the place was closed in 1999, but who knows who left that calendar behind? And there was not much else there… A couple of plates and cups, some cans… and that’s pretty much it (although trash and a dozen porn DVDs were dumped there probably long after the tea shop was closed and abandoned). The kitchen interior was gone, and so was most of the furniture. It was a small rest house for day-trippers and hikers, enough space for maybe 20 to 30 guests at the same time, with a little pond as a center piece and a rather big garden in the back.

Although there was not much left to see and to take photos of, the place strangely intrigued me. The building itself, despite its bad condition, was still gorgeous and I guess it must have been at least 50 years old, probably much, much older. Sadly my fellow explorer *Rory* and I were running out of time quickly, so the rather blurry photos I took don’t live up to the experience I had at this lovely place, that a lot of you might remind of a Miyazaki anime.

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Farms are probably the last things that come to mind when you think of Japan. Temples, shrines, beautiful landscapes. Neon lights, skyscrapers, robots. But farms? Maybe rice paddies and small wooden barns, where cattle is fed with beer and grain to produce wagyu, Japanese beef. But real farms?
You might be surprised to hear that the Japanese Mountain Farm is a regular on *haikyo* blogs, despite the fact that the location is rather remote, snowed in for several months per year and relatively hard to find. It seems like nobody knows or is willing to share the real name of the place, so even the Japanese blogs call to it “Mountain Farm” or “A Mountain Farm”; the “A” referring to the next bigger city, which is neither very close nor very big…

After spending a beautiful sunshine day exploring (mostly demolished) mines in the Hyogo countryside, the weather more and more turned on my regular urbex buddy Dan and I the closer we got to the Japanese Mountain Farm – the sun started to hide behind clouds and by the time we arrived at the bottom of a mountain road leading up to the farm, the atmosphere was actually pretty spooky. The sky was a greyish mess and the dusk light made it hard to take photos. All day long we were risking a spring sunburn and all of a sudden it felt like we reached the outskirts of Silent Hill. Ten minutes on foot later, after passing some abandoned cars, or at least we hoped they were abandoned, the farm finally appeared behind some trees in front of us. The road under our feet was rather bad and partly overgrown, slightly muddy. There wasn’t any fog, but the area looked like the situation could change any minute. It was already past 5 p.m., so time was of the essence…
To the left we found a few 2-storey dwelling houses, in front of us a rather big metal barn, to the right an overgrown mess, including a severely damaged abandoned white car. Since I wasn’t sure how big the farm really was (blurry satellite photos…) I left Dan behind and followed the road passing the barn. Now there was a forest to my left and several barns and other buildings to the right – this location turned out to be pretty big, maybe 120 meters by 50 meters. In the end the farm’s premises were limited by slopes and the usual waste dump at the furthest point, far beyond where the road ended. I rushed back to buildings and started to take photos inside the barns and stables, most of them being connected and partly overgrown. It was a vast area, yet there was stuff everywhere, including at least one abandoned car, truck and bulldozer. In one of the buildings I found a calendar on the wall, last turned in June of 1998 – and the 15 years of abandonment showed everywhere. Metal was usually rusty, moss and other stuff grew everywhere. Some of the building faced south, over the slope, and they were in rather bad condition. As you can see on the one named after the place, “Japanese Mountain Farm”, there were huge cracks in both some walls and floors. The whole atmosphere was damp…
Running out of light I headed back to the residential area. The buildings there were run-down and moldy, countless visitors before went through all the stuff left behind. The partly locked barns with their abandoned vehicles and animal medicine had been much more interesting elements to offer, so I took a few quick snapshots and started my video tour on the second floor of the main living quarters. Upon my return it was pretty much pointless to try and take more photos inside of buildings, so Dan and I returned to the car and headed back home – leaving the Japanese Mountain Farm and god knows what kind of lurking creatures behind…

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