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Archive for the ‘Abandoned’ Category

Abandoned furniture stores are quite rare, I’ve actually never heard of one before. Most of the times they are located near shopping malls and either the direct competition takes over and slams their name on it – or some other giant store is happy about aquiring cheap real estate with lots of selling space. Möbel Erbe was different though – and it ended in a fascinating but sad story about greed and incompetence…

First of all, just in case your German is rusty: Möbel means furniture. So Möbel Walther is a furniture store named after the Walther family, Möbel Kraft was named after the Kraft family and Möbel Erbe… right, after the Erbe family.

Until the mid-2000s the Erbe family owned two huge furniture stores, one in Hanau near Frankfurt (more than 50000 square meters, which equals about 538200 square feet) and one in Schkeuditz near Leipzig (about 25k sqm). There might have been a third store, but more likely is that some authors were confused by stores of the same name or by not knowing much about geography.  (E.g. Dölzig is near Schkeuditz, but it’s highly unlikely that Möbel Erbe would have run two stores of that size within five Kilometers of each other.) It was generally tough to find information about the company’s history, specifics about furniture stores are not exactly popular a topic on the internet…
What I was able to find out was that in 2000 Möbel Erbe expanded their original company home with a 5-storey, 30000 sqm building right across the street and connected it with a glass bridge. The so-called “Eurostore” aimed at a younger audience, kind of an IKEA clone. Successfully, according to news reports from 2002, when owner Thomas Erbe was awarded the “OSKAR für den Mittelstand” (OSKAR for Small and Medium Sized-Businesses”) by the Oskar Patzelt Foundation; kind of the Academy Award of enterprises in Germany – which is why the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences sued… and settled out of court after seven years in 2005, with the prize being renamed to “Großer Preis des Mittelstandes” (Grand Prize of Small and Medium Sized-Businesses). Erbe reportedly was chosen from almost 1000 companies after being nominated four times in previous years. Basically a rock-solid company from all I know, with more than 100 Million Euros revenue per year…

In 2005 strange things happened… In February media reported that the furniture store chain “Sconto” was trying to get permission to build another store in Großaurach near Hanau, but residents and politicians there voiced opposition. Sconto belongs to Kurt Krieger, who also owns Möbel Kraft, Möbel Walther as well as Höffner – plus probably some more, but the company structure is complicated and at least one of his daughters, Sonja Krieger, is in the business, too; acting indepedently, of course. Anyway, Sconto in Großaurach near Hanau wasn’t going to happen and so on July 1st Höffner announced the acquisition of Möbel Erbe out of nowhere; Kurt Krieger in control of Hanau, Sonja Krieger in control of Schkeuditz; and Thomas Erbe told a newspaper that he considered himself responsible personally that nobody gets fired.
Three weeks later Sonja Krieger announced that Möbel Erbe in Schkeuditz would be closed due to the store’s catastrophic economical situation she said she wasn’t aware of before… Yeah, right. Daddy’s in the furniture business since 1967 and is #2 right behind IKEA in Germany and they had no clue what they were buying… so they had to close… by the end of August! Right. But it gets worse!
Four weeks after the aquisition of Möbel Erbe in Hanau and just one week after his daughter fired 120 people in Schkeuditz (the Krieger family conglomerate owned two gigantic stores nearby and didn’t offer any of the former Erbe employees jobs there…) Kurt Krieger announced that Möbel Erbe in Hanau would be closed. But he wasn’t in a rush. While his daughter gave her employees only five weeks notice, “Karate Kurti” was nicer and gave them seven weeks… The reasons given? Same as is in Schkeuditz, the catastrophic economical situation of the store. This time 230 employees were fired, despite (or because of…) the fact that the Krieger family owned two other mega stores less than a dozen kilometers away from Möbel Erbe in Hanau, which was closed in mid-September. But it gets worse!
On December 27th a Sconto furniture store opened in Hanau… in the building formerly occupied by the Eurostore. Yes, in the exact same Möbel Erbe extension Kurt Krieger bought along with the main building… and whose employees he fired just four months prior! Oh, BTW, according to media reports Kurt Krieger’s personal fortune is about 600 million Euros…
(This is the story how I pieced it together from about two dozen news reports I found online. If any former employee or other insiders know more about the story please feel free to correct me or add bits and pieces!)

Eight years after the main store was closed, it is still empty and in worse shape than ever. The latest media reports about the completely vandalized building are from 2011, stating that Kurt Krieger suggested several business plans about food retail and electronic stores, all of which were declined by the Hanau city council, which decided in 2005 that they won’t allow any other retail stores on the premises in an attempt to proctect retailers in downtown Hanau from mega stores in the outskirts. So the inevitable happened and airsoft players, graffiti sprayers and vandals took over.

Interestingly enough I had never heard of the abandoned Möbel Erbe Furniture Store before, despite its quite exposed location – it was actually my sister who spotted it from the car when we were on our way to some closed / abandoned military bases in Hanau, including the *Pioneer Kaserne* I wrote about a couple of weeks ago. For some reason the place doesn’t seem to be very popular with German urban explorers… but I actually enjoyed it. Sure, there was not much to see and the huge storage in the back was partly demolished already, but if you had a closer look you could find some interesting things, like the almost completely broken window front or a couple of items like old order forms and left-behind 5.25” floppy disks. Möbel Erbe probably would have been a disappointment if it was supposed to be the exploration highlight of the day, but as an original find it was a perfect snack on the way to other locations…

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Festivalgate was a post real estate bubble amusement park in the city center of Osaka, just down the street of the famous Tennoji Zoo and right next to a transportation hub combining two railway lines at Shin-Imamiya Station with the tramway stop Minamikasumicho and the subway station Dobutsuen-mae (literally “in front of the animal park”) on the city’s main line Midosuji – although “amusement park” doesn’t really nail it, since the park part was missing. Festival Gate was more like an amusement building with all kinds of arcades, shops, a cinema, restaurants and a rollercoaster on eight floors with a total floor space of more than 5700 m². Though located in a densely populated area with perfect connection to public transportation Festivalgate offered parking space for 380 cars and 120 bikes. Nevertheless it failed twice within 10 years…

I guess the planning of Festivalgate started during the bubble (1986-1991), when the Osaka Municipal Transportation Bureau got rid of the Tennoji Streetcar Garage (大阪市電天王寺車庫). The then leveled lot was split into two parts, A and B – A was the location of the now demolished Festivalgate, on lot B the still operative Spa World was built (a spa wonderland with saunas, waterslides, a gym and themed areas from all around the world). For that the city founded a joint venture with the Mitsubishi UFJ Trust and Banking Corporation and the Chuo Mitsui Trust and Banking Co. (two of Japan’s biggest companies) to raise 50 billion Yen, back then about 290 million Euro / 350 million US$, nowadays 400 million Euro / 532 million US$ (not adjusted for inflation).

Festivalgate opened together with Spa World on July 18th 1997 with an underwater / Atlantis theme – little did they know that they would drown in debt soon…

The opening hours were rather long – 10:00 to 20:00 for stores, 10:00 to 22:00 for amusement facilities, 10:00 to 23:00 for eateries. To give Festivalgate a financial identity you were able to buy discount tickets at vending machines; for 1000 Yen you received a 1100 Yen card, for 3000 Yen you got a 3400 Yen card and for 5000 Yen you were able to enjoy 5800 Yen worth of fun. This was what the floor plan looked liked:
B1 – Underground walkway to Shin-Imamiya Station and Dobutsuen-mae Station.
1F – Miracle Gate: Entrance and main floor.
2F – Plaza Festa: Eateries and shopping.
3F – Festival Pier: Eateries and shopping with a West Coast theme.
4F – Oriental Festa: Eateries and shopping with a Marco Polo theme.
5F – Festa Mosque: Eateries and shopping with a Bazaar theme.
6F – Festa Lab: Arcade game zone (Sega World) with a Jules Verne theme.
7F – Cine Festival: Cinema complex with 4 screens for up to 600 guests total.
8F – View Festa: Restaurant area with a stunning view.

Since Festival was considered an amusement park (no entrance fee though!), of course there were pay as you go attractions scattered all over the floors 2 to 6 – for example 2F had the Mermaid Carousel, 3F had the entrance the parachute tower “Tower of Teos”, 4F had a cat petting zoo and a Chinese Ghost house, 5F had a kid’s land, an airgun museum and the entrance for the iconic rollercoaster and 6F was full of arcade machines run by Sega.

At the beginning Festivalgate was a huge success – in the first year (1997/98) 8.31 million visitors had a look, but in the following year the Asian Financial Crisis hit Japan and numbers dropped significantly. Four years later, which is one year after Universal Studios Japan opened in the south of Osaka, Festivalgate had only 3 million visitors – none of which paid an entrance fee… Shops and restaurants started to drop out and the downwards spiral could not be stopped – in January of 2004 the banks withdrew from the project, driving the Festival Gate Corporation into bankruptcy and leaving the city of Osaka with 20 billion Yen of debt. Orix, a financial service provider most famous for owning and sponsoring the baseball team Orix Buffaloes, stepped up in 2005, but dropped out when it became clear that Festivalgate was a bottomless pit. In January of 2007 the city of Osaka concluded that Festivalgate would cost 200 million Yen per year for maintenance and decided to get over with this unfortunate and highly unprofitable project – the remaining businesses were given notice and Festivalgate closed officially July 31st of the same year. After some back and forth with potential Korean investors the Japanese entertainment giant Maruhan (bets, pachinko parlors) bought Festivalgate in a third auction on January 30th 2009 with a winning bid of 1.4 billion Yen, announcing reconstruction plans soon after. The demolition of Festivalgate began in 2010 and it turned out to be a surprisingly time-consuming process given that Japanese wrecking crews usually are faster than a bunch of piranhas dealing with a chicken…
When I first went to Festivalgate on November 3rd 2010 there was little to nothing to explore, although it seems like the building was still accessible from 2007 till 2009, despite all shops and restaurants being closed. Demolition had already begun, but at least the underground passage and the entrance area on 1F was still accessible with signs announcing that this would change December 17th. Active Japanese construction sites usually are fortified – solid high fences all around, guards in front of every exit, sometimes with small lightsabers to stop pedestrians when vehicles are getting in or out. The Festivalgate deconstruction site was no exception. All potential entrances (including windows) were locked solidly, security was patrolling (probably to keep homeless people away since Festivalgate was in an area that has a rather bad reputation… by Japanese standards), fences were even higher than usual – 3.5 to 4 meters, not the normal 2.5 meters high ones. But not high enough to block the view from the elevated Osaka Loop Line! So I took a couple of photos… and again when I was visiting a friend for a Christmas party later that year. And again whenever I passed by – which wasn’t that often, but still enough to give you a general idea how things progressed. To my surprise it took more than two years to get rid of the ill-fortuned Festivalgate. Good for me (and you) as this article was only possible thanks to that… BTW: Sorry for the quality of the photos – they are not artistic at all, shot from crowded, moving trains, but I think they nevertheless are interesting.

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“How do you find all those abandoned places?”

Hardly any other question I hear more often than the above one, maybe with the exception of “Which is your favorite abandoned place?”. Finding abandoned places… it’s easier than you might think – and harder at the same time. Of all the 300 explorations I did (more or less), about half a dozen locations were shown to me; voluntarily, I don’t recall ever asking anybody any specifics. Which also means that I found 98% of the places I explored either by chance (driving around in a car or spotting them from a train) or by doing research – reading other people’s blogs, looking for hints like location names, parts of location names, city names, prefecture names… or paying close attention to photos. Yes, I actually identified abandoned places by looking at mountains, coastal lines or other buildings in the background. Once I thought I found the location of an abandoned cable car, but I was wrong… instead I found an abandoned ropeway virtually unknown to the internet – the cable car I identified half a year later, about 300 kilometers away from where I first thought it would be. If you are lucky you can find urbex maps by less caring explorers, but they tend to be unreliable… and most of the locations revealed on those maps are rather well-known anyway. The real gems are hidden – and it’s even more satisfying finding them than just choosing one from a catalogue!
The Japanese Countryside University is one of those places, a mesmerizing complex of rather new yet partly overgrown buildings; at least according to my internet source. I saw it once on a Japanese blog and never again since. The J-blog dropped a couple of hints, like an abbreviated version of the university’s name, a road number and the fact that there was a train station next to the road – nevertheless it took me several hours to find the exact location, because it turned out that the university still exists and that the abandoned campus was a couple of dozen kilometers out of town… but with a train station along the same road as the main campus. No word about that fact in the article, of course! In the end it took me half a day of research in Japanese and the help of a friend (thanks again, Mayu!) to finally pin down the exact location. I felt like Sherlock Holmes himself when I confirmed the overgrown campus on GoogleMaps… and even better when I finally went there more than a year later. I found that place – and I was about to explore it…

Over the course of the past four years I learned two important things about urbex:
1.) Never enter right away, you might find an easier back entrance!
2.) Don’t sneak around like a thief in the night – approach people unless they wear a uniform!

Arriving at the Japanese Countryside University my heart sank a little bit. The entrance gate had nasty spikes and the road was surprisingly busy, even on a weekend day. So I followed guideline #1 and started to circle the place, only to find an entrance to a big parking lot in the back, where I could not have been seen or heard; or so I thought. Some of the buildings were in amazing condition, despite the fact that the university was closed in 2006. While I was still wondering about that fact I saw two cars parked near the entrance of what appeared to be the main building. Darn! So I got closer and while I was walking between two buildings I saw an older dude kneeling on the ground of floor 1.5 – instincts kicked in and I made my way back to where I entered, without being seen. Then I remembered guideline #2, so I went back, waved (this time the guy saw me…) and entered the building. Living in an English speaking bubble my Japanese is rather basic, so I scraped together a couple of long forgotten phrases and approached the guy – who’s English was about as good as my Japanese. I asked him what this building was and he told me what I already knew. Then I told him that I like old buildings and asked him if it was okay to take some photos. At first I thought he was strictly against it, but then he took me up to the sixth floor of this brand-new looking building from the year 1986 where I was presented with a gorgeous view over the whole campus – sadly I wasn’t able to take some good photos through the windows, but my new friend left me alone and walked down the stairs, so I could take some photos and videos of the building, a former library, at my own speed.
Back at the 1.5th floor we had another quick chat. It turned out that my new friend was a 75-year-old former art teacher and some of the university buildings were in the process of being converted into… some kind of art project; the exact details were lost in translation.
I went on to take some photos outside – and having been been treated with such generosity and kindness I didn’t even consider entering the areas that were roped-off. So I took some more photos and shot a walkthrough from now almost completely overgrown dormitory to the main area.
That’s when I realized that my artist friend was gone… and my urbex instincts kicked in. The ropes. *What was behind those ropes? Well, that’s a story for another time…*

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Nara Dreamland (NDL) has been a constant companion ever since I picked up urbex as a hobby in late 2009. Exploring this gigantic and barely touched abandoned amusement park I had the best of times, I had the worst of times, I definitely started with no wisdom and was quite foolish when entering on a Saturday morning, because I didn’t belief in the security guard there as it was indeed the epoch of incredulity, later I saw Nara Dreamland in the season of light and in the season of darkness, though spring didn’t bring hope and there was as much despair in winter as there was ecstasy.
After I explored Nara Dreamland *overnight for seven hours* in early autumn of 2010 I decided that I would retire the place, never going back there again. Half a year prior to that visit I ran into a security guard on the premises, so I had to come back to settle the matter properly; but after my nighttime adventure, I had seen almost all of the park, so I didn’t feel I had to prove anything anymore – neither to myself nor to anybody else. Till this very day, three years later, I turn(ed) down every requests from friends and strangers to go to Nara Dreamland. Except for that one time…

Oliver from the UK dropped me a couple of lines with “a slightly unusual request” in mid-October of 2011, pretty much a year after what I thought was my final exploration of Nara Dreamland. He was about to get married in Osaka to his fellow Briton Ava and asked very politely if there was a way to include Nara Dreamland somehow. Since smuggling in a whole wedding party was way too risky, the three of us decided to go to the publicly accesible *Eastern Parking Lot* to take some wedding photos and then decide spontaneously what to do next. Of course things didn’t go as planned…

Oliver and Ava just finished changing into their amazing tweed kimonos (no kidding!) when we had an encounter with some locals and decided that we might be better off shooting inside NDL that day. Since climbing barb-wired fences is not a thing you want to do tweed-clad or wearing a kimono (let alone both!) my new friends had to change back, enter the park and put on their unique apparel again. While Ava and Oliver were dressing up in the abandoned Cinderella castle, I took the opportunity to take some daytime photos and videos of areas I actually missed the previous time – only to find out that the soon to be newlyweds realized in my absence that tweed kimonos are not exactly practical in case security shows up and we had to hop it. None of us was looking for trouble, so we decided to just take some light-hearted photos of the engaged couple in normal clothing. On the wooden Aska rollercoaster, the fake Mainstreet USA and some other places all over the park. What a fun and unique way to spend time at an abandoned amusement park!

In addition to some wonderful photos of Ava and Oliver I took tons of pictures of Nara Dreamland as well as half a dozen videos. In the future I will post an additional three or four articles based on this one visit, but for now I hope you will enjoy this never before seen footage – and if you are reading Abandoned Kansai for less than two years I strongly recommend checking out the *Nara Dreamland Special* with links to all previous NDL articles, including some of the most interesting photos I have ever taken!

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All of the photos I publish with articles on Abandoned Kansai are without any form of enhancing post-production – I don’t even crop them; they either look good or they don’t. Every once in a while I like to play with an HDR tool or two. I wouldn’t call those photos enhanced or improved, I would barely call them photos anymore. That’s why I created a sub-page for them in the background. Today I added ten more of those little artworks to that page. *Please click here to have a look!*

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The zombie apocalypse, no doubt, will start in Japan – some claim it actually already began; and if you’ve ever been in a train with salarymen you cannot help but wonder. Nevertheless zombies were the last thing on my mind when I first visited the *Shime Coal Mine* with my buddy Enric in March of 2010, a mere 4 month after I started doing urban exploration in Japan. Despite being a noob back then I realized quickly that the concrete construction was beautiful, but inaccessible, at least during daytime. The mine shaft entry was fenced off and the area was freshly converted into a sports center, with a new community building, playground and fields for soccer, baseball and other sports. I took a couple of quick photos and a short video before we left for *Gunkanjima*, now known as Skyfall Island thanks to the latest James Bond movie, without thinking much about the Shime Coal Mine. Until… it came back, but not to haunt us.

The Anti-Zombie Fortress meme started on April 1st 2011 (no joke!) when somebody on reddit by the nickname of Mitsjol posted a photo of the winding tower of the Shime Coal Mine, mentioning that it would make an awesome fortification against zombies. Back then zombies were the latest upcoming hot thing, so the board sucked up the idea like the previous trendy monster sucks blood. People were longing for more information and I have to thank the user bakerybob for linking to Abandoned Kansai – when the meme picked up speed in the following days my small and otherwise pretty much overlooked article about the Shime Coal Mine took off, too.
Since then I passed through Fukuoka several times, to visit *Ikeshima* and *Navelland*, but I never had the opportunity to have a look at the location that turned out to be my first 10k+ views article. Last weekend was different though. I hadn’t been on a rushed and packed urbex trip for a change, but on a short vacation to the south of Japan. So I took a couple of hours of my day in Fukuoka and went back to have a look at the now famous mine shaft.

As expected the situation hasn’t changed much. In the past 3.5 years a couple of local Japanese explorers were brave enough to sneak into the winding tower at night, taking some unique shots, but when I arrived around noon on a national holiday the same thing would have gotten me arrested in no time – the place was buzzing thanks to what appeared to be a soccer tournament for kids. Hundreds of children and the same amount of adults were enjoying the Respect-For-The-Aged Day, so I basically did what I did years before: I spent 15 minutes taking photos and a video – and then I left… not for Gunkanjima, but for a small bakery 2.5 kilometers down the road.

The Konditorei RothenBurg, undoubtably named after the stunningly beautiful German city of Rothenburg ob der Tauber, differs from your average local cake shop in two ways:
1.) It doesn’t suck up to the French (as 80% of the bakeries and pâtisseries in Japan do…), but chose a German setting with the same (or at least similar) concept, including German cook books in the store.
2.) It sells urbex cookies, which most likely makes it unique in all of Japan, probably in the world.

About a year ago I saw a small story about RothenBurg on a Japanese blog, not only mentioning but showing a cookie designed after the winding tower of the Shime coal mine. I knew I had to go there the next time I was in Fukuoka… and I did. (Thanks to my buddy Gen for making sure that the bakery was open for business on this national holiday!) Upon arrival I was a bit disappointed. RothenBurg was a really small store deep in the suburbs of Fukuoka – and apparently the cookie information was outdated. But then I saw two of them lying on a white plate, about 4 by 6 centimeters, 252 Yen each. Of course I bought both of them; one for Gen and one to try myself. Upon closer look it turned out that the small package contained two cookies, a brown one above a black one. Luckily the cookies were not just a novelty item, they actually tasted good. If you are a true urbex fan visiting Fukuoka, you have to go there and try them yourself! I added the location of RothenBurg to my *GoogleMap of Touristy and Demolished Haikyo*, but here is the address, too: ローテンブルグ, 福岡県糟屋郡志免町別府120-18, telephone 092-936-0009.

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Schools are probably the most common abandoned places in Japan. Rare in populated areas, they can be found by the dozen in the countryside. In all of Japan there must be hundreds, nevertheless I only wrote about two of them so far (the *F# Elementary School* and the *North Korean School in Gifu*). The main reason for that is that until last year I did almost all of my explorations by using public transportation – and the vast majority of those abandoned schools are in the middle of nowhere, often part of (almost) deserted villages. By now I’ve been to about eight or ten *haikyo* schools (a.k.a. haikou), though most of them were either boarded up, under security supervision or in really bad condition.
The Kyoto Countryside School on the other hand turned out to be a hidden gem – and to keep it that way I gave it this rather generic name…

When my buddy Dan and I drove up to the Kyoto Countryside School in a stunningly beautiful picture book village in the middle of the mountains I kind of had a bad feeling. The school itself was in rather good condition and the grass in front of it was about 10 to 15 centimeters high – higher than usual, but not “abandoned for 20 years” high; implying that somebody was still taking care of the school and its side-buildings. But we were lucky… While the front entrance and all the windows were locked, the back entrance was open; and so was the kitchen building.
Sadly I don’t know much about the history of the school, only that it was closed 22 years prior to our visit – which was hard to believe as pretty much all rooms, despite being almost empty, looked like they were just closed for the summer. I am actually pretty sure that the school building is still used every once in a while, probably for some village celebrations or stuff like that.
Visiting the Kyoto Countryside School was part of a one day urbex trip in July; something I tend to avoid, because Japanese summers are nasty – hot, humid and full of insects as well as other animals you don’t want to run into. Luckily the school was in almost pristine condition, one of the cleanest places I have ever explored; bug free! But it was a typical summer day, just past high noon, and being in the mountains helped surprisingly little.
A sweaty, yet interesting exploration – opening that door was like stepping into the past, and in that regard it reminded me of the *Old Higashi-Aoyama Station* I wrote about last week. Most rooms were empty, except for the secretariat… and things on the walls. Photos, relics of art classes, info posters, mirrors. One room has a handwritten banner, showing Japanese number units. 10.000 = man, 100.000.000 = oku, and so on. The longest number was a 1 with 88 zeros, 4 kanji reading muryoutaisuu – I’m pretty sure 99.999% of the Japanese population haven’t heard of that number. But finds like that made this exploration so much fun. If you just looked through the windows you probably would have thought “Boooooring!”, but once inside the place revealed dozens of little things that caught me eye; my favorite part being the gorgeous wooden hallway, perfectly lit at that time of the day.
Surprisingly interesting was the most western part of the building, separated by a now locked door, but accessible from the outside: a small storage room full of left behind school books and the school’s toilet – with song sheets above the tiny pissoirs and old electric wiring along the wooden ceiling, probably added years after the school was built…

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“Why?”

More than once I asked myself that question when getting up way too early on a Saturday morning to head out to an abandoned place I have barely information on, once in a while not even the exact location. On some days it’s even a “WHY?!” – especially when it’s cold outside and I have to go all by myself. But then I grab my equipment packed the evening before and head out to the middle of nowhere, using up to four railway companies on a trip that takes up to four hours… each way.
The Old Higashi-Aoyama Station was my goal on one of those “WHY?!” days. A 2.5 hour long trip on three different lines to the Mie countryside, plus a 5 km hike in the mountains to the final destination. None of my friends wanted to come along, but at least the weather forecast was decent – sunny 12 degrees in the middle of December, not too bad while Europe was covered in snow. GoogleMaps, back in 2010 my most reliable haikyo partner, was rather useless in this case since my place of interest was really off the beaten tracks…

Opened on December 20th 1930 the Old Higashi-Aoyama Station was already in the middle of nowhere in 1971, when it hit the news big time. Located in a beautiful valley between two pretty long one track tunnels, it must have been extremely popular amongst day-trip hikers. Probably only with hikers, as there is or was no bigger town or even village in reasonable walking distance; and there are no hints of parking lots close to the station.
One track tunnels always involve the danger of train accidents and one of those sealed the destiny of the Old Higashi-Aoyama Station: On October 25th 1971 at around 4 p.m. an express train to Nagoya collided with a limited express going to Namba / Kyoto (I guess it was supposed to be separated later along the track…). 25 fatalities, 218 wounded, cause: human error.
To avoid an accident like that could ever happen again, Kintetsu, the company owning the line and its stations, planned a huge new two-track tunnel, avoiding the Old Higashi-Aoyama Station and the valley it was located in, building the current Higashi-Aoyama Station a few kilometers away. On November 22nd 1975 the new station was opened, while in the following months the railroad tracks of the old line were stripped down and all buildings except the platforms as well as the tunnels were demolished.

At first sight, after huffing and puffing up a steep forgotten road that once must have been used to transport supplies to (build) the station, the Old Higashi-Aoyama Station was a big disappointment. Although I hadn’t seen anything but seven years old photos of two abandoned train station platforms on a hiking blog, I was kind of hoping for something more. I took a couple of quick pictures of what I had already seen on the internet, looking for more signs of the past.
Luckily the disappointment disappeared in no time as I quickly found a side-track and then something that must have been a kiosk four decades ago – including a fridge and several empty glass bottles of “Morinaga Twist”, a soda I’ve never heard of before, and other drinks. That’s when the mental cinema screen started to work again. Left of the kiosk I found a shrine, so overgrown that I wasn’t able to see it from the platforms. To the right was a concrete flight of stairs leading up the mountain – I guess that was the starting point for the hikers once buying Morinaga Twist. What could it have been like to follow that trail 40 years ago? I tried to get a taste by climbing the stairs, only to find a reminder of how dangerous even the most harmless *haikyo* can be when having bad luck – a huge rock, at least 60 cm in diameter was “blocking” the stairs; some things can just hit you without a warning… I went around the boulder and climbed the mountain for about 15 minutes, concrete step after concrete step. Up there I found the typical leftovers of what must have been another kiosk when the train station was still down in the valley – lots of corrugated iron, some broken bottles and dented pots as well as a rusty gas canister.
This discovery just fueled my imagination, so I followed what I assumed once was the hiking trail, now covered by leaves. After about another 10 minutes I reached the top of the mountain and there I found more leftovers from hikers passing by decades ago – bottles and cans once holding tea, juice and sodas. A couple of meters along the ridge I startled up a bigger specimen of the local wildlife (I guess it was a deer), so I decided to turn around and go back down to the station for a couple of more photos, still wondering what it would have been like to be an autumn hiker 60, 70 years ago. At that point I was actually happy being alone on that exploration, because I didn’t have to talk to anybody and could fully enjoy the atmosphere of this wonderful location on that amazing late autumn day. Eight hours prior I asked myself “WHY?!” – leaving the Old Higashi-Aoyama Station behind, I knew why…

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The Hochspeyer Munitions Storage (HMS, a.k.a. Ammunition Storage Annex Hochspeyer) was one of the most fascinating and mysterious military installations I visited during my trip to Germany in the summer of 2013. I actually wanted to visit the place two years prior right after exploring of what was left of *Sembach Air Base*, but sadly we ran out of time back then after my buddy Gil and I were surprised by a cloudburst…

Just a couple of weeks ago I came back with my friend Catherine. The Palatine area is perfect to combine long walks with urban exploration, so I chose the forests around K-Town (commonly known as Kaiserslautern) for a little catch up trip. The first location we went to turned out to be proof of Germany’s interesting energy policy and a terrible disaster for fans of abandoned military bases as it was converted into a gigantic solar farm; the next one, Hochspeyer Munitions Storage, on the other hand was kind of a jackpot.
We entered the premises via a road blocked by two concrete barriers – no cars allowed, only bikes and pedestrians. We actually didn’t see a single “Don’t trespass!” or “Trespassers will be shot!” sign, so we felt very comfortable there, despite the fact that there was not much to see at first. Just a single green building, the interior smashed to pieces, and a big asphalted area with only basic foundations left – probably a motor pool half a century ago. Heck, even the fence was mostly gone, with only a couple of concrete posts left. Although I did quite a bit of research on the Hochspeyer Munitions Storage I am still not sure whether or not this area was officially part of it – if it was, it was mostly demolished and abandoned decades ago. But the HMS dates back to the 1960s, so it’s rather likely that both area saw activity at the same time back in the days. And while one part was left deserted, the other got modernized again and again…
Deeper into the forest Catherine and I found a locked gate, part of a really tall barbed-wire fence with a series of lamp posts every 25 meters set 5 meters behind the fence. Despite its location in the middle of the woods this area was carefully deforested and secured – trespassers could be seen easily from large distances. Abandoned or not, the people who planned this area knew what they were doing, eager to keep people out. Everything there was in great condition at first sight: the fence, the gate, the locks, the lamp posts, the security perimeter… only some open doors at a building in the distance indicated that the area really might have been abandoned. So we looked for a way in and indeed found one.
We quickly approached the green building, eager not to be seen from people on or off the premises – with Ramstein Air Base not being far away we saw plenty of stuff flying across our heads. The flat part consisted of a machinery room, restrooms and a couple of office / conference rooms, the rather high part seemed to have been a storage and / garage, probably to de/load vehicles. SIgns were either in English or bilingual, English and German. The most interesting one was just airbrushed onto the wall:
Explosive Limits
1.1  5,000  lbs
1.2  5,000  lbs
1.3  10,000  lbs
1.4  Physical Capacity
Personnel Limits
2 Supervisors
5 Workers
2 Casuals
Okay… this definitely wasn’t the average administrative building you see when entering abandoned military bases, this was serious stuff! And everything looked pretty new, aside from some vandalism. Was this area really abandoned?

Catherine and I continued to explore the area. Next we found the former main gate with the gatehouse. One window open, others smashed – raw violence, because those windows were made from bulletproof glass. Again, serious stuff. When I opened a small door on the back I could feel that it was really heavy, despite the fact that it opened smoothly. The interior of the building was mostly gone, but you could see that once it must have been stuffed with tons of electronic devices. Probably not too long ago, given that you could basically start to reuse the building after a couple of hours of repairs. Nothing too serious, but probably costly.

I have to admit that I felt a bit more more uneasy inside the fenced area than outside in the 60s foundation area, and that didn’t change when finally reached the bunker area, tire tracks still on the ground, low vegetation, filled water reservoirs after a hot summer, the pool liner still in great condition. This site was definitely closed, but was it really abandoned? That thought resounded my mind like spoken words in the open bunkers. The acoustics there were fantastic, especially since I am so used to shut bunkers, sitting there inaccessibly everywhere in forests all over German. Finally being able to enter some of them was amazing, one of those minor urbex highlights you stumble across every once in a while. As was a nearby tool shack, where the silhouettes of the equipment were painted onto the wall, so even Private Paula would know where to put things back. Another minor highlight was that one bunker that was built differently in many ways and had a gigantic safe built in, installed by Garny – founded 200 years ago in 1813. (This was a newer model, of course…)

Usually it takes me months, sometimes even years, to write about my explorations, but the Hochspeyer Munitions Storage was a truly exciting exploration, one that made me write this article while I was still in Germany, taking an afternoon of doing research about what the place really was.
Sadly not much is known about the Hochspeyer Munitions Storage. At first I thought it was related to the *Sembach Air Base* I mentioned earlier, which it probably was at one point, but since the airfield there was closed it seems like the HMS was part of the famous Ramstein Air Base; some guy in a German internet forum claimed at one point it was a sub-camp of the USAF Depot Morbach-Wenigerath, now known as Energiepark Morbach (energy park Morbach).
The few facts are that the HMS was 88 acres big (about 356000 square meters), had 30 bunkers, was part of the USAFE (United States Air Forces in Europe), that the road there was built in 1957 thanks to a Captain Joseph T. Sampson – and that it was closed in 2007 as part of “Air Force Smart Operations for the 21 Century” (AFSO21) to save a couple of bucks. In early 2007 Ramstein’s 435th Munitions Squadron started transporting material from Hochspeyer to their main base, the last truck leaving on October 12th of the same year. Apparantly most of it were BLU-109 bombs, nasty buggers that are used against HDBTs (Hard and Deep Buried Targets) and can break through 1.8 meters of ferroconcrete before exploding. Which explains the setup of the facility – it’s the kind of technology you don’t want to have fallen into wrong hands… and the kind of technology local civilians shouldn’t know about.
The rest is vague. Some people claim that the area was returned to Germany, others say that it is still under the control of the USAFE. (Since there were no warning signs in German I assume the area still belongs to the US. In cases like that the Bundesanstalt für Immobilienaufgaben (BIMA, Institute for Federal Real Estate) usually takes over – and they are pretty good at putting up signs. Making good use of the area? Not so much. Putting up signs? Hell yeah!) Some people claim the premises are abandoned, others say that they are still used for emergency drills and patrolled by security – or in this case rather security police.

Whatever is true, I am happy that I was able to explore the Hochspeyer Munitions Storage without causing trouble for me and my companion. It was a very memorable experience and I did as much research as possible afterwards, but if you know more about the place, having worked there or being a (hobby) historian, please feel free to add facts and anecdotes in the comments section!

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June is probably the worst month to spend in Japan. While the temperatures are still at a bearable level (25 to 30 degrees Celsius / about 75 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit) the humidity goes crazy thanks to the rainy season. Six weeks of rain, probably on five days a week. Not fun when you like to spend your time outdoors.
Four weeks into the 2012 rainy season the weather forecast announced a whole weekend without rain and I got excited. Finally some urbex again, even an overnight trip for two days. Of course on Friday the forecast changed from two days of sun to sunny on Saturday and rainy on Sunday, but one day of exploration is better than none, so decided to finally visit the “Red Factory”, a favorite of Japanese blogs in the first half of 2012. It was in day trip range, but nevertheless a pain in the ass to get to due to its remote location. The closest train station was about 11 kilometers away, with buses running twice a day on weekends, at 12.30 p.m. and 5 p.m., going back to the station at 7.30 a.m. and 1.30 p.m. – which meant a pretty long walk on the way back…

At least I was able to sleep in on Saturday, only to find the weather wasn’t sunny at all. Not even cloudy. It was overcast, pretty much the worst weather for photography. June in Japan…

3 hours later (2 hours on several trains, then half an hour waiting for another 30 minutes on a bus) I finally reached the Red Factory on this hot and humid, but not sunny, Saturday – and I was a bit disappointed, to say the least. The place was not nearly as big and not nearly as red as I imagined it to be (I picked the “most red” photos for this article…). And the road there was impassable for cars due to a retractable road block I hadn’t seen on any photo before. The first factory building, empty on old Japanese blog entries, usually not to be seen on newer ones (a fact I didn’t realize during my research, of course) was filled with all kinds of canisters, tools and cars with white and yellow license plates – which means privately, not commercially, used vehicles. It looked like somebody started to use the factory as storage buildings. Great… infiltration, not exploration.
Cautiously I continued to walk up the mountain. Next building – a brand-new midget tractor. All the other buildings were pretty much broom-clean. Not exactly what I expected. And what about the partly overgrown house on the other side of the small river running through the factory area? Hastily I quickened my pace to reach the top of the factory area, not sure anymore if it was still abandoned. 50 meters of elevation gain later I reached the end of the factory area. Nobody there, so at least I was sure no human surprises were waiting for me in the back. An animal surprise was there though. A dead animal. Well, more than dead – the skeleton of a deer, most likely a Sika Deer or Japanese Deer, cervus nippon nippon. At least a dozen Japanese urban explorers went to the Red Factory that year and none did care to mention that the place was in use and that parts of a deer skeleton were lying in front of one of the buildings. What the heck…?!

From that point on the exploration was pretty much easy going. Of course I was still worried that somebody would show up, but I was way too busy to avoid spiders, snakes and other animals in the buzzing summer season.

Sadly there is not much I can tell you about the history of the Red Factory. In Japanese it is usually called the Red Ochre Factory, so given the looks of the factory it’s safe to say that the facility was used to produce red ochre from yellow ochre. Captain Obvious strikes again!

Aaaand… that’s pretty much it. Unspectacular exploration, getting there and back took much longer and was much more of an effort than actually exploring the Red Factory. A bit disappointing since I had great expectations, but after sitting at home for several weeks due to the weather it was a welcome change… (The walk back though wasn’t fun at all. Jeans, hiking boots, full camera equipment on an extremely humid day along a river – 11 kilometers in under two hours or I would have missed the train, running every 60 to 90 minutes.)

(If you don’t want to miss the latest article you can *follow Abandoned Kansai on Twitter* and *like this blog on Facebook* – and of course there is the *video channel on Youtube*…)

I planned to publish a video with this article, but Youtube seems to be a bit bitchy again on this computer – I will upload it most likely on August 26th.

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