Japan never fails to surprise me. Five and a half years into urban exploration I have been to some amazing abandoned hospitals, pretty much all of them either rather empty (like the *Sankei Hospital* in Hokkaido, damaged by a volcano eruption) or rather old; like the then mind-blowing and now vandalized *Tokushima Countryside Clinic*. One thing though I never expected was to explore an abandoned modern hospital with all furnishings and fittings, fully stocked with medicine and everything you need to diagnose and treat patients – somebody would at least sell the valuable machines and dispose leftover medicine, right?
Well… Have you ever seen an abandoned MRI scanner? :)
When you live in a Japanese conurbation life tends to be comfortable and you have access to whatever you need in walking distance – public transportation is barely ever more than 10 minutes away, convenience stores where you can do banking, send parcels, and buy food 24/7 are usually located within five minutes. And of course there are all kinds of doctors that treat everything from minor ailments to deadly diseases (within the limits of their abilities…). When you live in the countryside on the other hand, Japan can become very rural with only a few buses per day and the next supermarket being many kilometers away. With regular hospitals usually being located only in bigger towns, medical care in the countryside can become dire – of all things in areas where it is needed most, as younger people tend to move to large cities, leaving the elderly behind. On the other hand, senior citizens, especially in Japan, tend to have a lot of money… and that’s why medical cooperatives were started. The Wakayama Hospital actually was the result of one of those cooperatives in 1987. Of the estimated 45.000 people in the area, about 6.000 joined the cooperative, each contributing at least 5.000 Yen. That quarter of a million USD was only the beginning, of course, as building, equipping and running a hospital costs much more than that. Luckily some of the cooperative’s members were really into the idea of having a cooperative hospital, and by 2007 the average investment per active member (about 400) was an impressive 3 million Yen – or 25.000 USD. And so the cooperative constructed a 4-storey building with several elevators and all kinds of medical devices you can imagine. The Wakayama Hospital was not only equipped with the latest SPECT, MRI and CT machines – they basically had everything from room filling scanners over ultrasound machines and a dentist chair to plastic syringes and rubber bands. It operated departments such as cardiology, surgery, respiratory diseases, and internal medicine.
For 15 years life was good for the 14 doctors and the dozens of nurses and other staff. In 2000 the hospital billed 2 billion Yen (about 16.5 Million USD) to patients and insurance companies, everything was peachy. From 2002 on though the medical service fees, paid to hospitals and other medical institutions under the medical insurance system, was lowered three times and the hospital’s income fell to 1.3 billion Yen – and with that the number of doctors went down to six. The hospital was in danger of falling into serious debt, so the board of directors decided in June 2007 to close the Wakayama Hospital by the end of the month. A screeching halt and a total disaster for those elderly investors, who not only lost their hard earned money from one moment to the next, but also their neighborhood medical facility. Inpatients were either discharged or transferred to other hospitals in the area, outpatients were confronted with waiting times of up to three hours at nearby hospitals. One of the remaining six doctors at the time of the Wakayama Hospital’s closing stayed behind and opened a small clinic on the premises, together with three nurses – a fraction of the former capacity and a fraction of what was actually needed in the area. The sponsors of the now closed hospital accused the former board of directors of negligence, that they had been out of touch with the community and didn’t know what was really needed – so they went to trial, but apparently nothing came out of it. In the end the hospital was just shut down, fully equipped and squeaky clean.
That’s how I found it a few weeks ago in April of 2015. Most calendars on the walls still showed June 2007, but one or two of them were from 2009 – I guess that’s when the remaining doctor and his three nurses finally gave up. About six years after its complete abandonment nobody seemed to care about the Wakayama Hospital anymore – access points were plenty, not only on the ground floor, but on upper levels, too; accessible via outdoor staircases. Since the Wakayama Hospital wasn’t just a cube shaped building with four outer walls, it started to accumulate pools of water on its several flat roofs. One of them was actually used by birds for a swim. Which was lovely to see, but there was a huge downside to it: Despite being a solid concrete building, the roofs started to leak… and the ground floor (1F in Japan) started to become really nasty in some areas – not just water on the ground inside, but the wallpapers were rotting off, so was the damaged ceiling cladding. After a thorough look on every floor to make sure that the building was structurally still sound, I decided to explore it from top to bottom. That turned out to be an excellent decision as even the upper floors were super interesting and showed only few signs of vandalism. The heavy machinery though was on the ground floor, so I saved the best for last – and the worst.
The best, because it was just mind-blowing to see what kind of items were left behind. Why would anybody abandon an MRI machine? And how could it sit there for six years without being harmed by anybody? It basically looked brand-new, probably as good as it did when last used in 2007. Unbelievable!
The worst, because for the most part the ground floor was either nasty or dark… or both. Mold everywhere, water standing in some rooms, rotting cladding, vandals blocked certain areas, and at least half a dozen emptied fire-extinguishers. Despite me taking pictures as quickly as possible and breathing through a folded towel I had on me, I could feel how my breathing started to clog up, a chemical taste in my mouth. I would have loved to take more photos of the ground floor, but considering the health risks I was exposed to, I stayed as long as I could justify it to myself, and probably longer than most people would have.
“What’s your favorite abandoned place in Japan?” is a question I get asked quite often. Well, I guess the answer depends a bit on my mood, but I can assure you that this is my favorite abandoned place I have written about. Like I said at the beginning of this article, I would have never expected to ever explore a fully equipped modern hospital that is truly abandoned. Sure, sometimes you see half empty closed hospitals that are in a transition phase, explored by infiltrators – but a truly abandoned hospital with that many machines, that much equipment? What an amazing find… with such a sad story!
I really hope you enjoyed reading about the Wakayama Hospital as much as I enjoyed exploring it. And while the photos give a good impression about what the upper floors looked like, you really might want to watch the video I took on the ground floor (1F)… and then head over to the *Tokushima Countryside Clinic* to see what old Japanese hospitals looked like, the kind that were housed in wooden mansions.
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