Archive for the ‘Abandoned’ Category

The Izu Sports World (or officially „Izu Nagaoka Sports World“) was a huge vacation destination (480000㎡ including vast parking lots!) for sporty people in the northern part of the Izu Peninsula – the main attractions were several pools with gigantic water slides, but the resort also featured tennis courts, a gym, and a golf course as well as a hot spring and several restaurants. Opened in July of 1988 it was a prime example for Japan’s gigantomaniac real estate bubble, especially since Izu Sports World went bankrupt less than five years later in February 1993, accumulating almost 10 billion Yen in debt – back then and nowadays more or less 80 million USD. In the early 2000s it became one of the most famous abandoned places in all of Japan and the urbex world was shocked when it was demolished in 2010 – right around the time I planned to visit it.

About three years later I first found out about the Izu Water Park, kind of a smaller version of Izu Sports World on the same peninsula – but unlike in the case of the big cousin, Izu Water Park is a fake name, so it took me another 20 months to find its exact location as the darn thing popped up only twice on Japanese blogs so far (to the best of my knowledge). So almost 5 years after Izu Nagaoka Sports World was gone, I finally went to explore an aquatic theme park on the Izu Peninsula… not the real deal, but as good as it gets these days.
Spring is the most beautiful time of the year in Japan as it combines rising temperatures on sunny days with the awakening flora and fauna that makes explorations in summer and autumn so difficult when in full bloom. Despite Mother Nature still more or less dormant in late February, it took me a while to enter the IWP, because after years of abandonment the surrounding vegetation was thick enough to keep (some) unwanted visitors out. The entrance building, locked at the front, was open from the back, but didn’t have much to offer, except old equipment and some lockers. The main building in the center was only partly accessible – some storage rooms and the toilets, but it also featured a now locked restaurant / kiosk to supply guests with food and drinks. The water park itself was tiny in comparison to Izu Sports World, covering maybe 2000 square meters (no vast parking lot, no accommodations!), but it still consisted of two levels: three sets of two water slides ending in a lower pool plus an oval pool on the upper level, about one quarter with very shallow water for toddlers, the rest probably deeper. How deep? I have no idea as the “water” was pretty much a green mess.
So, why did the Izu Water Park go bankrupt? Probably because the Japanese outdoor water fun seasons are generally extremely short, despite the long, hot, humid summers that follow already warm springs. The temperatures in my hometown are about 5°C lower than those in Osaka, yet the local public bath back home is open from May till September, making the best of the situation by using solar power to heat the water when it’s too cold outside for the sun to do the job without support. In Japan on the other hand, at least on the main islands, you go swimming in July and August. Already 30 degrees for weeks in June? Nobody will open the water park. Still 35 degrees in September? Empty beaches, even at locally famous party spots like Suma Beach near Kobe – buzzing for two months like a Mediterranean island or a spring break location. Why is the season so short? Because it is that way. Shoga-friggin-nai – deal with it! :)

Exploring the Izu Water Park was a great experience, though I have to admit that is was smaller and less… impressive… than I hoped it would be; sometimes size matters, especially in the case of water parks! Thinking of it, even the one that it is part of *Nara Dreamland* might be bigger – but it’s also photographed to death, while the Izu Water Park is virtually unknown. I had only seen a dozen photos beforehand, so my image of the park was quite different from reality. As a result this was urban exploration at its core. Finding the place, finding a way in and out, finding good angles for photos, finding ways into the buildings without damaging anything… all while avoiding being seen by people from the outside; an almost constant stream of cars and some pedestrians made this quite a challenge. It was a very rewarding exploration on many different levels though, one I wanted to tell you about for several months now, but I thought I should wait for a proper occasion – the beginning of outdoor bathing season tomorrow, July 1st!

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The Internationale Baumaschinenfabrik AG (IBAG, „International Construction Machinery Inc.“) in Neustadt, Germany, was a large manufacturer of building site equipment – from rock crushers over transit-truck mixers to revolving tower cranes, the IBAG built it all… until 1997, then they went bankrupt.

For about 1.5 decades the 6 hectare large area wasn’t used at all due to inherited waste, rundown structures and the lack of interest of potential investors – a fact that didn’t keep the state from declaring the old machine hall a cultural monument in 2001; which meant that the main structure had to be preserved and couldn’t be demolished. (It was built in 1910 by Wayss and Freytag, a famous German construction company.) From 2005 on the city started to develop a… development plan, deciding how much of the area could be used commercially and how much had to be residential. Since the former IBAG plant was located right next to a commuter train station (Neustadt-Böbig), an investor was found and rehabilitation work / cleaning up started in 2012 – soon after I explored the area with my sister Sabine in a last chance visit.
Due to the (de)construction activity the area was fortified with barbed wire and high fences, reports about security made the rounds, but nevertheless we found a way in. After just minutes on the premises, we just had left a room with a rusty waggon and went into one of a main halls, a young man ran past by us, completely ignoring us, leaving the site as if chased by the devil himself. Quite rattled by the surreal event we followed the guy outside, but weren’t able to catch him – nor was he followed by security, the police or guard dogs. After a few minutes we went back in, passed through another hall and heard noises again… voices… somebody singing… the radio of a security guard? No, somebody was singing live in the hall next to ours; the IBAG Hall, the one under monumental protection. We finished exploring the massive hall we were in (including a wall with a graffiti, collapsed / brought down after the artist was done with his work) and headed over to the IBAG Hall, the name still in large rusty letters above the half-opened roll-up door. The singing voice belonged to a gorgeous blonde of casting show age, but she and her filming companion were about to wrap up and left soon thereafter – once again leaving us alone on the risky premises on a workday afternoon. The IBAG Hall and its extensions to the side were absolutely beautiful, but thanks to large windows and big gates we were exposed almost all the time despite being inside a building. I addition to that we were running late for an appointment, so we wrapped up ourselves and left – if you are interested in the IBAG Hall, you’ll find more interesting shots in the video than in the gallery; sorry about that.
About a year after Sabine and I explored the Internationale Baumaschinenfabrik AG (in the summer of 2012) all the buildings on the premises were demolished, except for the IBAG Hall. Redevelopment of the area began soon after, including a supermarket, a drug store and 130 residential units; split across detached houses, duplex houses and row houses. The first project, the supermarket, was planned to open in summer 2015…
Sadly I didn’t find out much about the IBAG’s pre-bankruptcy history, probably because the company existed before the age of the internet – and while it was a big one with international ties all over the world, it wasn’t a brand of worldwide recognition; especially in its later years.
Exploring the IBAG was quite an unusual experience. Usually I avoid places with construction activities and security, but in this case I was just too curious – and of course the exploration turned out to be as nerve-wrecking and surreal as feared; from the runner just minutes after our arrival to the singing blonde towards the end. Since there are not many huge abandoned industrial sites in Japan, I was happy to finally explore one, though in the end there was not that much to see. Most rooms were already cleared and the two or three buildings we didn’t enter looked extremely dilapidated; potential death traps. But overall it was an interesting exploration – nothing mind-blowing, like the *Abandoned Dynamite Mine*, but still a good exploration…

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Some of the Japanese teenagers tried to flee in panic, others froze like deer in headlight when the beam of my flashlight hit them without a warning – but they all screamed like little girls, proving that a real scare doesn’t need sound or gore, just the right atmosphere and a decent torch with enough lumen. :)

10 days ago I spent another night at Nara Dreamland, for the first time since I was one of the pioneers to do so five years prior. Back in 2010 Nara Dreamland was a rather unknown abandoned amusement park in top condition, with a reputation for tight security – spending the night there meant avoiding security, but also taking photos in darkness and during daylight… a win-win-win situation for the few insiders, barely a handful of people.
A lot has changed since then. Nara Dreamland rose from obscurity to one of the most famous abandoned theme parks in the world, leading websites like GoogleMaps and Wikipedia revealed its exact location thanks to careless users adding the information… and I continued exploring other places. My personal relationship with Nara Dreamland was a bit difficult right from the start anyway, as it gave me a serious headache twice when I was an inexperienced explorer back in late 2009 and early 2010. During my first visit I had to hide while a security guard checked the hotel / administrative building I was in on the main parking lot. Not a pleasant experience. Even worse: two months later I had a very unfortunate run-in with security in the actual park. Ever since I was reluctant to revisit Nara Dreamland, turning down to accompany quite a few friends and fellow explorers. In autumn of 2010 I stayed overnight for said first time, 15 months later I did a day time exploration / engagement shoot with a British couple. And that’s it! The more famous Nara Dreamland became, the less interesting it was to me – but it was easy for me to say as I took pictures and videos long before most people even found out about Dreamland’s existence. After 2011 I checked up on Nara Dreamland about once a year from public roads, but I never entered any building or the premises of the main park again – especially after Japanese explorer friends advised me not to go anymore, mentioning some court case.

Nevertheless there always was a strong connection between Abandoned Kansai and Nara Dreamland – if for nothing else than internet search engines. For years now hardly a week passed by without people asking me about Nara Dreamland via e-mail or in the comments sections on Abandoned Kansai, *Facebook* or *Youtube* – since I have little time and don’t answer questions about access / security in general, most of those contact attempts remained unanswered, nevertheless some people contacted me again after their visit, a few even sent photos. I also talked to Japanese and Western explorer friends, and they all told me the same thing – tons of graffiti, tons of vandalism… still good, but not nearly as good as on the photos I published so far. At the same time Abandoned Kansai readers kept dropping lines like: „I am surprised that there is no vandalism at Nara Dreamland!“ – definitely a misperception based on the fact that I explored Dreamland in 2009, 2010 and 2011… and never again since then. After 3.5 years of exploring abandoned theme parks all over Japan, it was about time to revisit the one in my backyard, the one that keeps attracting new readers to Abandoned Kansai on a daily basis, the one that got me my first hate mails after I wrote an *April’s Fool* article about it, the one I am most conflicted about as I REALLY love and REALLY hate it – the one, the only… Nara Dreamland.

Early June was probably the perfect time to spend a night at Nara Dreamland. The temperatures were moderate and the sun rose early – less than two weeks later the weather already feels a lot more humid, and soon countless mosquitos will turn Dreamland into Nightmareland, thanks to do dozens of puddles and ponds all over the park.
When, how and where Yuko, Takanobu and I entered Nara Dreamland is something I won’t discuss, but less than ten minutes onto the premises (and before we were even able to take a single photo!) we saw some flickering lights and heard people talking over at the water park. To avoid a night long game of cat and mouse I decided to approach the group for a friendly chat, but as soon as they realized that they were not alone, they scattered into the darkness like a bunch of roaches. Well, at least it wasn’t security!
To get an idea of what had changed in the 3.5 years since my last visit and to show Yuko and Takanobu what to expect in the upcoming couple of hours, we did a quick walkthrough of Nara Dreamland before heading to its main attraction, the wooden Aska rollercoaster. The partly overgrown beast was already barely accessible, but I found a way through the green hell that once was the line up area, up the stairs to the coaster’s track / main platform. Yuko is a professional photographer and quickly set up her first camera for a nightly time-lapse sequence – the moon rising over the main part of Aska. The first time I went to Nara Dreamland at night was the first time I ever took pictures at night, a steep learning experience back then. Since then I occasionally shot in dark rooms, but outdoor night photography was still a challenge. While the three of us took pictures, the clicking sounds of our cameras were the loudest sounds we made. Soon we saw two or three groups of visitors passing by below us – smecking away, and not caring about the wicked world one bit. One of those groups tried to get to higher ground (i.e. our hideout), but they failed miserably in the green hell, allowing us to ignore all of them completely.
From Aska we moved over to the monorail station, only to find the train completely in graffiti. Sadly it was too dark to take a decent picture of it, so we used the elevated level of the platform for more shots of the surroundings.
On our way to the moonlit Sleeping Beauty Castle we heard yet another group of noisy teenagers strolling through the park. Their voices came closer quickly and soon we saw the beams of their flashlights, maybe 30 meters away. They had no idea we were there, because we behaved appropriately in a situation like that – low voices and relying on the light of the waning moon. All of a sudden I felt mischievous, so as soon as group came around the corner I pushed a single button. Some of the Japanese teenagers tried to flee in panic, others froze like deer in headlight when the beam of my flashlight hit them without a warning – but they all screamed like little girls. We quickly made sure to let them know that we were not security and after a few seconds most of them were smiling again, so we had a little chat about us being photographers and them doing… whatever.
Like pretty much every other building in Nara Dreamland, the Sleeping Beauty Castle now had an extra layer of (spray) paint, which was quite disappointing to see. It’s one thing to vandalize Main Street U.S.A., but it’s another to scribble all over the castle – a fugly piece of architectural art in its own way as it was. Well, not all over the castle, but enough to turn it from unintentionally ugly to just nasty ugly. Around the same time we finished shooting the castle, the group of teenagers we just met minutes before returned, proving once again that they were a bunch of immature morons, basically yelling at the top of their lungs while playing hide and seek with a second group. I asked my fellow photographers to tell the buggers to be quiet as the neighbors of Nara Dreamland have a reputation for calling the police when they see or hear people on the premises. The warning helped a little bit, but not really…
Minutes later dawn was breaking, at around 4 a.m. (!), so we moved on to the water park. By the time the sun was rising (before a quarter to 5!) I stood in the water fountain in front of the castle. Surreal. Such a surreal experience. The amazing light, the colors of the castle, the statues, the drained fountain, the total silence… except for yet another group of kids breaking glass and smashing wood in the background somewhere. Bunch of friggin savages in this town! In moments like that one wishes for regular raids and severe punishment of those little bastards! Altogether we saw about 20 people during our visit – all of them Asian (the ones we talked or listened to were all Japanese!), all of them most likely between 16 and 25, 80% guys… not one of them visibly carrying a camera. No vandalism in Japan? Yeah, right! Of course we all have the same right to be at Nara Dreamland (none!), but in my humble opinion it makes a huge difference how you behave. I can guarantee you that Yuko, Takanobu and I took nothing but photos and left nothing but footprints – a lot of other people though seem to vent their frustrations there, giving ALL visitors a bad name. Before I really start to rant, let me give you the Japanese answer to that problem: shoganai, “it can’t be helped” / “there is nothing one can do”. While it’s usually an excuse to avoid a problem by not talking about it any longer, in this case it’s actually the right attitude – Nara Dreamland has reached a point of no return and there is nothing a regular person can do to stop it.
And so our little group of three continued its tour through the park, stopping here and there to take a photo before finally calling it a day… or a night… or a new day. After all, Nara Dreamland still has security. Not only did we saw patched spots of fence, new barbed wire obstacles and warning signs from outside of the park – even inside somebody left “strong worded” notes (as Takanobu worded it), mentioning the police… and if you know anything about Japanese culture and language, you know that you have to be very careful when somebody stops to be extremely polite and threatens you with the authorities…

I have to admit that I went back to Nara Dreamland hesitantly and with mixed emotions… but I am glad that I did, because it gave me a much better grasp of the current situation. A lot has changed there in the past couple of years, but it is one thing to hear about those changes and another thing to see / experience them myself. I go to an average of about 70 locations a year, big and small; exploring some of hours, leaving others after seconds. And in the past almost six years I met about as many people overall at abandoned places in Japan as I did that one night 10 days ago. I wasn’t aware that Nara Dreamland was that popular / well-known. During my first visit most of the damage there was very selective – rather small holes in windows and doors to get access to buildings, panels removed with a screwdriver. Now some buildings look like they were busted open by an explosion, despite the fact that they had already been accessible. In 2009 / 2010 there were hardly any graffiti at Nara Dreamland. Now they are everywhere. Not nice graffiti by aspiring artists, like at the *La Rainbow Hotel*. No, just smearings every vandalizing moron with a spray can do. Thankfully there still is security… and it seems like every once in a while some people get caught. I just hope those people are vandalizing teenagers, not harmless photographers / urban explorers trying to take a few interesting photos. So maybe this is one of the few instances in which a Japanese person in charge actually takes actions and isn’t hiding behind shoganai…

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The Higashi-Izu Isolation Hospital (official name) a.k.a. Smallpox Isolation Ward (made up name) is a real urbex classic in Japan. It has been featured in many books and countless articles, but its days might be numbered – after more than 30 years of decay the mostly wooden complex is on the verge of complete collapse…

There is a lot of wrong information out there about this Japanese Isolation Hospital. First of all – it was neither a ward, nor was it exclusively for smallpox patients. Like the official name implies, it was a standalone hospital for several diseases that needed patients to be isolated. And though the hospital looks really, really old, it began operation in 1958 / 1959, reportedly first as a regular clinic and from 1959 on as an isolation hospital.
Why somebody came up with the name Smallpox Isolation Ward is beyond me, because in the 1950s smallpox was already more or less under control. During World War II the infamous Japanese biological warfare *Unit 731*, feared for their experiments on living humans (including vivisections), researched production of biological weapons based on the smallpox virus, but discarded the idea due to the wide-scale ability of a vaccine – and if a vaccine was available during war times, it surely was 20 years later. While I am sure a few smallpox cases were hospitalized at the Higashi-Izu Isolation Hospital, most of the inpatients actually suffered from tuberculosis, which was a much bigger problem, especially in Japan. (If you missed it, check out my exploration of the *Tuberculosis Hospital For Children*, closed in 1992.)
The isolation hospital basically is the brainchild of two towns on the Izu Peninsula just south of Mount Fuji, Higashi-Izu and Inatori. In the late 1950s they were about to merge and both interested in an isolation hospital (which seems a bit odd to me, but that’s how the story goes), so they decided to put together the money they’ll save from the merger and just go for it. It opened for public in 1958 and turned into an experimental isolation hospital the following year.
The hospital complex consisted of several buildings, separating just infected patients from those showing symptoms or worse… Yes, people died there, a fact that didn’t add to the fun of exploring the really desolate buildings. To enter the hospital, you had to pass through a disinfection area and change all the clothes you were wearing, though nothing of that was apparent during my exploration – the decay of the complex had already been progressed too far and I only saw the lower two of three levels. (Not floors, levels – single storey buildings on a slope.) The town-run hospital was treating patients with operations and medication until 1978, when an earthquake hit the nearby Izu Oshima Island and caused massive damages on the Izu peninsula, too – most likely including the *Red Bridge*. It seems like the hospital technically received some funds till 1982, but effectively stopped operation in 1979 as the earthquake destroyed the road along the coast and caused a nearby tunnel to collapse. With that, access to the hospital was rather difficult as the powers that be decided to dig a new tunnel and build a new road instead of repairing the old existing ones. Additional damage was cause reportedly in 1984, when a typhoon cause a mudslide, but after more than 30 years there weren’t any signs of that visible anymore.

Upon arrival in the area, my buddy Julien and I checked out the now overgrown earthquake damaged road and tunnel. Not much to see, an abandoned tunnel with a “skylight” and tons of dirt. We found a parking spot along the super busy new main road and walked a few hundred meters back towards the new tunnel. Quite a risky endeavor, because in Japan pedestrians and cars are not meant to co-exist outside of towns. Even in the countryside most roads connecting settlements with each other are wide enough for a car, but don’t have much green or even a separate lane for pedestrians and / or bikes. Walking along those roads can be incredibly dangerous! But after a few minutes we reached our destination and walked down a few manmade steps on the slope in surprisingly good condition. I actually didn’t realize upon arrival that the first building was completely clad in bamboo strips, originally not much more than a big office room, probably for non-medical personnel to avoid sending them through the disinfection area.
Exploring the abandoned Higashi-Izu Isolation Hospital was actually quite underwhelming. I’ve seen rundown buildings like that plenty of time and usually ignore them – what made this one different was its history. And some amazing scenes, like rusty metal bedframes covered with straw. Gosh, I really hope that this was staged and that the real patients didn’t have to spend their last days like that. Most of the complex was fading away – the wooden floor was gone, walls were missing, staircases collapsed. It was late in the afternoon on a sunny day, but the fact that the hospital was in a tiny valley opening to the east while the sun was setting in the west didn’t help. It was getting darker quickly and the combination of fading light and known background story made this one quite an eerie exploration.

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“Japan has four seasons, you must know, which is unique!”
Without warning you just got hit over the head with an example of nihonjinron, “theories about the Japanese” – a conglomerate of BS rooted so deeply in Japanese society that most people in the land of the rising sun don’t even realize how stupid the majority of those theories are… and yet they are a popular conversation topic; especially when somebody tries to impress you with how unique Japan is. Not only are there plenty of other countries with four seasons, Japan stretches across several climate zones from the Kuril Islands to close to Taiwan, and therefore the weather differs drastically depending on where in Japan you reside. In my personal experience, living for more than eight years in Kansai, Japan has only two seasons – “nightmarish hot and humid” and “kind of bearable”. The beginning and the end of “kind of bearable” are marked by two periods of about 15 days each, which are really lovely… other countries would call them spring and autumn, but in my book those phases are way too short to be called seasons! (Hey, the Japanese have nihonjinron and I have my own set of theories about this country!)
Anyway, for about one month per year it’s actually really nice outside – then the sun feels like a warm hug instead of a laser beam trying to kill you, and people are having lots of BBQs. Those four to five weeks are also the best time to hike… and one of my favorite hikes is up Mount Atago in the outskirts of Kyoto.

Mount Atago Cable Car Revisited
Before I picked up urban exploration as a hobby, I enjoyed hiking a lot – and so it was no surprise that my first exploration ever in November of 2009 was the *Mount Atago Cable Car*, basically combining *haikyo* and hiking. Almost a year later, in October 2010, I went back as I really wanted to see the cable car station in full green, also taking advantage of the beautiful weather during that time. Walking along the abandoned track was still tiring, but the steep climb around the collapsed tunnel #5 was a lot easier then, because somebody strained new ropes. On my third visit in total I took some time to have a closer look at some of the bridges leading up the mountain, and I have to say that they were in pretty bad shape after almost 70 years of abandonment. I got that feeling walking along the uneven and sometimes dangerously eroded track, but having a look from below didn’t exactly make me feel more comfortable. One of the bridges had already collapsed in parts and I guess more damage by natural decay follow since then – especially at those parts not protected by trees and therefore at the mercy of wind, rain and snow.
The still existing cable car station at the top didn’t change a lot in those 11 months, although the weather (and maybe some people who couldn’t leave their hands off the concrete pillars) contributed to the progressing decay there. This time I shot most of the station with my ultra-wide angle lens I didn’t have last time, which allowed me to explore the place with a different set of eyes.
Going to the Mount Atago Cable Car again wasn’t spectacular, but I didn’t expect it to be any other way – it was a nice autumn hike with some wonderful views and a trip down memory lane, a perfect way to start a day at Mount Atago.

Mount Atago Hotel Revisited
What a surprise: The ruins of the *Mount Atago Hotel* were still just a stone’s throw away from the Mount Atago Cable Car – and again nothing had changed, except for the lens on my camera. The mosaic at the entrance seemed to be a bit more loose than during my first visit… and the pile of broken dishes in the back was more spread out, partly covered by freshly cut trees. Woodworkers in action, I guess…

Ryokan Mizuguchi
At first I wondered if I should write about the Ryokan Mizuguchi at all, as there was little to nothing of it left – but then I came up with this 4 in 1 idea, and now I am really happy that I took some photos back in 2010. While the Mount Atago Hotel and the Mount Atago Cable Car are all over the internet, barely anybody bothers with this couple of concrete walls a few hundred meters away from the hotel, towards the famous Mount Atago Shrine. I saw the remains last time I went up the mountain, but since I was tired and running out of time then, I didn’t have a closer look. During this visit I was more relaxed and took a few rather vacuous pictures… until I found a bottle that caught my eyes. What really intrigued me about it was the fact that it had a metal cap that looked like it was never off. An old unopened bottle at the top of a mountain isn’t something you find every day! If it ever had a label, of course it was long gone, but on the lower end of the bottle the glass had some kanji – later I found out that the company (日本麦酒鉱泉株式会社 – something like “Japanese Beer Mineral Spring Company”) only existed from 1922 till 1933, before becoming part of Mitsuya Foods – nowadays famous in Japan under the name Asahi and for brands like Mitsuya Cider, Bireley and Wonda (coffee). Since the hotel and the cable car both opened in 1929, it’s rather likely that this water hole went into business around the same time, which means that the bottle I had in my hands was up there for about 80 years, manufactured at a time when my grandmother went to elementary school or middle school.
The few Japanese pages on the internet covering the Mizuguchi Ryokan speculate that the place must have been made of wood with only the cellar being cast of cement. There are no pictures, no blueprints and hardly any information in general, and therefore I can only assume that the place closed down together with the hotel and the cable car in 1944. So while the pictures still might not be that spectacular, it was just an awesome feeling to hold that bottle in my hand – and I hope somebody will have a similar experience when the bottle is 90 or 100 years old…

Mount Atago Ski Resort
The fourth and final stop of my haikyo hiking at Mount Atago was the Mount Atago Ski Resort; one of the reasons the hotel and the cable car were built in the first place. Located about 45 minutes away from the hotel, the Mount Atago Ski Resort would be almost impossible to find nowadays, if it wasn’t for a few signs that were put up in 2006 and that direct hikers to the middle of nowhere – although I doubt many people will walk 190 meters up an earth wall and along an overgrown plain. While the area with its gentle slopes looked perfectly suited for a ski area targeting beginners, there were barely any hints left that the place once was populated by hundreds of sport freaks. You really have to explore thoroughly to find signs like red plastic posts, concrete sockets, scattered china and even some solid ramune glass bottles (ramune is a Japanese lemonade – the opening gets blocked by a marble when you drink, making it extremely popular amongst kids). Construction of the ski resort began in 1928 and like the hotel and the cable car, it opened in 1929 and closed in 1944, when the latter was demolished for scrap in a last futile attempt to support Japan’s war efforts.
On my way back to the Mount Atago Shrine I found some collapsed shacks and a Komatsu D205 bulldozer, though I can’t say for sure if they were in any way related to the ski resort.

The Ruins Of Mount Atago might not be the most spectacular ones in Japan, but if you enjoy hiking and are interested in (pre-)WW2 history, this is the place to visit in Kansai on a sunny spring or autumn day. You probably won’t get an adrenalin kick (unless you get lost bypassing the two collapsed tunnels of the cable car track), but you’ll return from the mountain with a deep comforting feeling of accomplishment. (Oh, and don’t be as stupid as I was – bring at least one friend, because the cable car part of the hike really is quite dangerous!)

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3000 Facebook fans! Wow… For many years I totally underestimated social media, so the *Abandoned Kansai FB page* went up 1.5 years after I started writing about deserted places in Japan and the rest of the world – and also long after I started writing about Abandoned Kansai’s most important location: Nara Dreamland. I went there as early as 2009 – not the first person after it was closed, but probably the first regular urban explorer to go there. In the past 5.5 years I wrote more than half a dozen articles about this amazing abandoned theme park and dug up all kinds of information, usually for the first time in English. In October of 2010 I wrote an article about the *Hotel and Administrative Building*… but I didn’t publish the video I shot there. It was taken in December of 2009, during my first visit, and I never intended to publish it – but what the heck, 3000 Facebook fans are a reason to dig deep and celebrate… Enjoy!

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The Aso Kanko Hotel (Aso Sightseeing Hotel) has been an urbex legend for many, many years. Japanese bloggers were excited about its size, its beauty, its famous former guests – and after the abandonment: its security and its function as a movie set. They came up with abbreviated or even fake names to keep it a secret, but of course sooner or later somebody spilled the beans… without mentioning some essential information!

When Kyoko, Dan and I arrived at the Aso Kanko Hotel on a warm spring afternoon, we were in need of a successful exploration. Earlier that day we wanted to explore abandoned onsen hotel with an amazing water park, only to find the demolition crew wrapping up their work – the onsen hotel was gone, but the heavy machinery was still there… Next on the list was the *Bungomori Railyard*, and you know what happened to that one! So after another 90 minutes in the car we finally arrived in the Aso area, famous for its active volcano(s). The road leading up to the Aso Kanko Hotel was in good, but not perfect condition, and soon the distinctive roof was appearing between the treetops. Everything was going according to plan…
… but then the hotel turned out to be not nearly as big as I expected it to be. Not small, but mid-size at best. Long, but narrow; only three storeys tall. And it was vandalized! Not just slightly, but pretty much beyond repair. They shot a movie here? Really? Even though that was ten years prior to our visit, the hotel was in really bad condition. Well, average abandoned hotel condition, the kind I really loathe to explore by now. But given that the first two destinations were total duds, this wasn’t too bad… We quickly scouted the surroundings and found another small, but extremely rundown house plus a couple of rusty shacks, so we headed back to the main building. As you can see in the videos and on the photos, most of the windows and doors were smashed, the whole thing was just wet and rotting and moldy. I am sure both the outdoor and indoor baths for men and women were gorgeous 30 or 40 years ago, but now they were just part of this depressing sight. The rooms were pretty much standard, just some kind of bar next to a huge terrace showed original 70s style. Overall a rather disappointing exploration, but the background story of the hotel is actually quite interesting.

The Aso Kanko Hotel was opened in July of 1939, built with government funds. It made quite a splash those days as it was designed to be a Western style hotel with several features very unusual in Japan at that time, like a revolving door, flushing toilets, a Western style bath and a big dining room with a bar. After World War 2 ended, the Aso Kanko Hotel, much like the gorgeous *Maya Tourist Hotel in Kobe*, was used by the American forces for rest and recuperation – to make the stay even more comfortable for the exhausted soldiers, some billiard tables, a golf course and a trapshooting facility were added.

When the American military occupiers left, the Aso Kanko Hotel was taken over and renovated by a predecessor company of today’s Kyushu Industrial Transportation Holdings Co., Ltd. – a move that lured one of the most controversial people in Japanese history to visit the hotel: Emperor Hirohito.
The elder amongst us might remember the Showa Tenno as an older, tiny man with a friendly attitude towards everything but the Yasukuni Shrine… an image bestowed on him by both the American occupational forces as well as the Japanese Imperial Palace. Yet much like the image we have about the samurai, our impression of Hirohito is mostly wrong – he might have underwent a Damascene conversion after the end of WW2, but up till that point he was responsible for one of the most costly war of aggression in human history, and was only spared being tried as a war criminal due to the forceful powers previously mentioned; especially McArthur, who saved countless high ranking Japanese war criminals for political reasons, including surgeon general Ishii Shiro, one of the worst human beings in history. But don’t let propaganda fool you, Hirohito was actively involved in Japan’s wars during the 1930s and 1940s, even authorizing the production (on *Okunoshima*, now known as Rabbit Island) and use of chemical weapons – unique during WW2! And he at least knew about and condoned the horrors his military spread over Southeast Asia, including the vivisections on humans conducted by Unit 731. Oh, also I am sure you’ve heard stories that many Japanese rather committed suicide than being taken prisoner towards the end of the war – that was based on Imperial orders to civilians (!), released by Hirohito from as early as June 1944 on! Please keep that in mind and stop contributing to the myth that Japan was one of the main victims of WW2… especially later this year at the 70th anniversary of the end of the Pacific War. (Sorry for getting distracted, but Japan’s unwillingness to take responsibility for its actions from the Meiji era till 1945, especially for the last 13 years, makes me sick to the stomach every time the topic comes up. 70 years of history-falsification are enough!)
Okay, so it was back in 1957 when “I honestly had no idea what was going on during my reign…”-san visited the Aso Kanko Hotel with his family… and apparently he liked it so much that he came back twice in the following years, making the hotel one of the most famous ones in all of Japan.
Sadly that didn’t prevent the resort from disastrous events. On July 9th 1964 for example, 3500 square meters of the hotel, including the lobby, went up in flames. Nobody got killed, but an exhibition of paintings by Ebihara Kinosuke became a victim of the fire. Renovations took a whole year, but afterwards the complex of three main buildings and several annexes continued to thrive and quickly became the most popular summer retreat in all of Kumamoto. Three main buildings? Yes, three. It seems like back in the heydays the Aso Kanko Hotel was a much bigger resort than it is a ruin now. Nobody seems to have documented what happened exactly, but as the complex grew older, it became less popular. In December of 1999 it was decided that the AKH would be closed in February 2000… and so it happened. After five years of (undocumented) abandonment, director Shimizu Takashi (inventor of the Ju-on / The Grudge movie series) shot most of his Japanese flick Reincarnation on location. Back then the complex must have been still intact as you can see much more of the Ono Kanko Hotel (as it was called in the movie) than on any urbex photo of the Aso Kanko Hotel. The oldest photos I’ve seen of the abandoned AKH were from 2007 and showed the hotel pretty much in the same state as it is now, so I assume most of the other buildings were demolished shortly after the movie shot wrapped up.
That explains why the Aso Kanko Hotel was much smaller than I expected upon arrival. It also leaves us with the question why Japanese explorers glorified the place so much that they left out the fact that 70 to 80% of the hotel already had been demolished upon their arrival. But then again, if there is one thing you should have taken from this article, it’s that Japan has a long history of idealizing history…

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