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Archive for the ‘Abandoned’ Category

An old GPS system can be a blessing in disguise. For the longest time my buddy Dan’s car was equipped with a navigational system that must have been about ten years old, maybe 15 – you know, from an era when Japan was a magical place with color screen mobile phones, by far the best video games in the world and… well… the first navi systems in regular cars. But what was so great about an ancient GPS device in 2013? Well, pretty much all the abandoned places we visited together were still in the system as active locations, making it very easy to find them. But one day last summer it got even better! Dan and I were cruising through the countryside, when I saw the name of a ski resort appearing on the screen – a ski resort I had never heard of, neither as active nor as abandoned. So we went on a little detour…

… and the resort turned out to be abandoned. By the looks of it pretty much around the same time Dan’s GPS was installed, maybe even before that. Located at a half-overgrown side-road in the middle of nowhere and covered by the most blurry satellite shot on online maps you can imagine, this rather small ski slope is close to impossible to find; unless you know where it is or you have a GPS system so old that it’s still marked there. (It isn’t on GoogleMaps…)

Sadly this also means that I know nothing about the Kyoto Ski Resort, which is obviously a shortened name to protect its exact location. Absolutely nothing. Not when it was opened, not when it was closed, and of course I can only assume the reasons why it was shut down, which are probably the same everywhere. Not enough snow, not enough customers, outdated equipment, short piste.

Exploring an abandoned ski resort in summer is a bit strange as a location like that looks out of place at that time of the year, but if you are (un)lucky like I was, it still can make a good story.
At the bottom of the slope were two wooden buildings, a restaurant and what looked like a gear rental / general shop. From there we walked up the mountain to a smaller restaurant / snack bar in questionable condition; the wooden beams outside were crumbling away and we had to be very careful where we stepped. After passing some shacks in extremely poor condition, used as restrooms and storages, I reached the now rusty ski lift.
I took some photos up there, minding my own business, when I was hit in the head what felt like a golf ball or a tennis ball, right after I heard something buzzing. This surprising event caused me to make a noise that can be described as “less than manly”, but hey, despite my explorations in the middle of nowhere I actually like nature tamed or grilled, not kamikaze attack me. Anyway, my less than manly outcry caused Dan to laugh his ass off, which was kind of good as we actually had lost sight of each other. Minutes later Dan’s head popped up behind one of the shacks, still laughing. And while he came closer, all of a sudden I heard that buzzing noise again, followed by Dan yelling “SUZUMEBACHI!!!” – and him running down the slope as if the devil himself was after him! Not so funny all of a sudden, if they are after you… (Just in case you don’t know: suzumebachi, also known as Japanese Giant Hornets or just Killer Hornets, are gigantic hornets with a body length of about 50 millimeters, a stinger of 6 millimeters and a wingspan of about 75 millimeters; they kill 40 people in average every year in Japan, especially in the countryside.)
I followed my fellow explorer down the hill for a while, but I hadn’t taken a video yet – so I went back up to the abandoned ski lift, where the suzumebachi probably had their nest. Aware of the dangerous situation I started the video right away and did the usual tour…
Urban exploration is not a fun thing to do in Japan during summer – not only are there giant killer hornets, there are also huge spiders and pretty big snakes as well as all kinds of non-venomous critters. From June till September the whole country‘s wildlife is buzzing and it seems like all of those buzzers are eager to have a look at you when you visit their habitats; and some like to have a bite! So after the suzumebachi incident we had a quick look at the restaurant at the lower end of the slope; a wooden building in dilapidated state, the floor arching and a HUGE old suzumebachi nest right under the ceiling. And then we left. There was not much to see anyway – and everything was in rather bad condition.

Overall the Kyoto Ski Resort was a neat original find. Nothing you would rent a car for and spend a day on finding / exploring, but it did a good job as a bonus between two locations we were eager to see.

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The Radio Relay Site Langerkopf is a relic of the Cold War and one of the urbex highlights of my summer trip to Germany in 2013. Sometimes referred to as CRC Langerkopf (CRC = Control and Reporting Center), this former US communications installation looks like a mix of summer camp and high security prison. It is named after the highest point of the Mosisberg (Mount Mosis?), called Langer Kopf (long head).
The history of the Langerkopf site dates back to the 1950s and 60s. Back then the base was indeed a Control and Reporting Center, manned by the 603rd AC&W Sq (603rd Aircraft Control and Warning Squardron) and featuring a radar unit called “Surveillance Radar” just outside of the current premises. In the late 60s the station was remodeled and taken over by the Det 4, 2134th Comm Sqnd (Detachment 4, 2134th Communications Squadron) of the USAFE contingent in the area, to function as a microwave radio relay hub for the European Telefone System called AUTOVON as well as for the radio data transmission system AUTOSYN. From the 1980s on the station was operated remotely before it was shut down and partly demolished in 2007.
In late 2011 a couple of scenes for the German mystery thriller “Lost Place” (the rather ridiculous “German” term for an abandoned location… amongst both geocachers and urban explorers) was shot at the Langerkopf site. I would sum up the story for you, but the flick ended up with a 5.2 rating on imdb.com, so I guess it’s safe to say that nobody gives a damn anyway.
Also on the premises and still in use till this very day is a tiny unmanned, but definitely secured station of the AFCENT CIP 67 system (Allied Forces Central Europe Communication Improvement Program 1967).
Sadly I couldn’t find a more detailed history of the Radio Relay Site Langerkopf – and even the little I found I had to compile from half a dozen sources, both English and German. It also looks like that the whole area was locked up after my visit, with official tours now organized by BUND / AK Denkmalschutz, IG Area One and VEWA.

Despite being (in)famous for its foggy weather, my friend Catherine and I arrived in Palatine and at the Langer Kopf during the most beautiful sunshine possible. While recent photos show the heavy gate shut tight, it was wide open when we carefully approached the former military base. The massive concrete walls behind the barbed wire NATO fence were impressive to a degree that we both felt a bit intimidated. We expected a run-down collection of shacks somewhere in the woods – not a high security prison that could hold the Joker! We passed another gate to get closer, only to find all the doors of the installation busted wide open, the interior smashed to pieces; graffiti everywhere. Outside, below the radio relay tower, some kind of generator. Heading further east we passed what once must have been some kind of security checkpoint with what looked like embrasures. The building there, yellow and in good condition from the outside, turned out to be a gym on the upper and an administrative building on the lower floor – severely damaged on the inside by arson, but at least not completely burned out like the next building.

Back outside and the smell of burning still in my nose, I headed over to the AFCENT CIP 67 station – barbed wire fence, use of firearms warning, really nothing to see.
Well, nothing except for the back part of the Langerkopf Radio Relay Site. Which looked pretty much exactly what I had expected in the first place: severely vandalized, decaying buildings from the 1960s, 70s and maybe 80s. The first one to the right must have been the barracks for the personnel (basically gutted now), followed by some light shacks beyond repair, mainly consisting of brittle wood and thin metal. To the left another building that looked decent from the outside, but was severely damaged inside – while about every second abandoned place in Japan shows signs of airsoft players, Europeans prefer paintball; you can imagine the results… and if you can’t, just have a look at the photo gallery below!
At the farthest end of the base, close to the barbed wire fence, we explored a one room building with turquoise pipes and storage tanks, probably the (backup) power supply of the station. Not only did we not expect to see that lovely color at a highly secured military base – we also didn’t expect to find a July 1991 copy of Model Railroader! If you left yours there, you might be happy to hear that it’s still waiting to be picked up…

The Langerkopf Communication Station was close to what I would call a perfect exploration. In the middle of nowhere, open, unique, in decent condition overall (or at least in interesting condition), just the right size, beyond my expectations, fantastic weather, lovely company. In a perfect world the place would have been barely touched, but considering reality, this was pretty much as good as it gets. Good times – especially after exploring the *Hochspeyer Munitions Storage* earlier that day! :)

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Finding abandoned places is 95% hard work in the form of long hours doing research – and 5% luck; unless you count the limitless amount of dilapidated and rather uninteresting shacks you pass by driving around the Japanese countryside. Then the ratio is probably more like 50/50…
The Wakayama Beach Hotel was one of those 5% lucky finds. An amazing find actually, and it became my favorite abandoned hotel instantly. In spring of 2012 I was on a day trip with a friend of mine from Germany, Dom, when we saw this rather big hotel somewhere along the nearly endless coast of Wakayama prefecture. Abandoned or not? That’s always the exciting question after discoveries like that. The front of the hotel looked like it was just closed for lunch break, but something was strange about the building; for example the fact that hotels usually don’t close for lunch. They are either open or not. So I decided to have a closer look at the back of the hotel, where we ran into a woman walking her dog – since all of us were still on public ground, more or less, we exchanged greetings and went separate ways. From the back Dom and I were able to have a look at the heating room through an open window and at a small greenhouse-like garden over a wall – both looked like they had been abandoned years ago. A pristine, but shut down hotel building on the one hand, an unkempt garden on the other. This was a strange case. At the back of the hotel was also a scary spiral staircase, not really up to modern security standards. Luckily it was Dom’s first urbex experience, as noobs tend to be braver – or they are scared to pieces, but it turned out that Dom belonged to the first group. Before I could even think about it, he went to the closest emergency exit door, grabbed the handle, turned it and… opened the door! I wasn’t surprised that emergency doors were unlocked, I just didn’t expect that they could be opened from the outside…

Seconds later Dom and I were inside the Wakayama Beach Hotel, bright light shining through windows to the left, a rather dark hallway with guest rooms to the right. Since I didn’t have a flashlight with me, the choice was easy: we headed left first. Another turn to the left and I knew we hit the jackpot as we entered an entertainment room with dried out plants – as well as two billiard tables, a table tennis plate, some toy vending machines and half a dozen video game arcade machines. This was so awesome and I was 99% sure that the place was abandoned, until… I heard a strange BANG! A friggin cat outside was hitting her damn tail against the window, almost giving me a heart attack.
From the entertainment room I headed over to the public baths. Both the male as well as the female versions were in almost spotless condition – sweep through and replace the dried out plants with fresh ones and you would be good to go. Same with the rooms along the dark hallway. A couple of minutes of dusting and voila, you’d be able to welcome guests again. Since I didn’t bring a flashlight I was unable to take photos in most of the rooms as it was too dark for my camera to focus – and the videos turned out to be dark and grainy and a bit blurry, too; sorry for that, but it might help you understand how I felt wandering through this spooky, unknown territory. As exciting as it is to make an original find, it’s also nerve-wrecking as you don’t know anything about the place – the layout, the security status, the biohazard lab in the basement… And the next shock followed soon, when I realized that the red emergency light near the fire hydrant in the hallway was still burning! One element of a building being abandoned is that nobody feels responsible for paying the electricity bill – and when nobody pays the electricity bill, usually the power gets cut. But according to several calendars in the kitchen and other places, the hotel wasn’t used anymore for at least three years… yet there was still power, at least for the HAL-like lights.
That in mind Dom and I went downstairs to the ground floor, with its lobby, a bar stuck in the 70s and a gift shop – and an irregular sound in the background, as if two pieces of wood were hit against each other. It was spooky, especially when I saw a cat running across the room and down the small staircase to the basement. I totally fell in love with the bar area, so I took a couple of photos there, but that clicking wooden sound started to drive me nuts!

When Dom and I finally left the Wakayama Beach Hotel we had spent more than two hours there, constantly changing our minds whether this place was really abandoned or just closed – which didn’t really matter in the end, as urban exploration is one big grey area in that regard anyway; the hotel was definitely out of use for several years. (*Nara Dreamland* and tons of famous “abandoned” places all over the world still have security, which makes them “not abandoned” by definition; if they were, nobody would pay for security…)
Over the past four and a half years I’ve been to several abandoned hotels in really good condition, but what made the Wakayama Beach Hotel so special was its amazing 70s style lobby, the beautiful shared baths and of course the entertainment room with the arcade machines – the whole hotel had this exciting vibe of several past decades, but in almost new condition, as if it was time-warped to 2012; with its own power source for the HAL lights…

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An abandoned combat theater, double fence with watchtowers, a dozen covered bunkers and a really creepy dead animal – the Aschaffenburg Local Training Area (ALTA / Truppenübungsplatz Aschaffenburg) delivered much more than I was hoping for…
Whenever I am on vacation in Germany, I throw in a couple of urbex days. And since those days usually involve several hours of driving and walking, it’s a good way to reconnect with people I haven’t seen all year, to get some alone time and adventure without too many distractions. One of my favorite urbex partners back home is my sister Sabine, especially when exploring abandoned military bases as she is ex-Luftwaffe (German Air Force) herself.

The Aschaffenburg Local Training Area dates back to the Kingdom of Bavaria, which bought 32 ha of land in the south of Aschaffenburg in 1912/13. After being used as a parade ground and farm land, the Wehrmacht took over in 1936 to supply training ground for some newly constructed barracks in Aschaffenburg. In the last weeks of WW2 the US Army made use of the area as an encampment with a field hospital.
From 1946 on part of the area was used by locals as farm land, while the US Army expanded and modernized the training ground by building new facilities like shooting ranges for pistols, machine guns and bazookas, a tank training area (including new roads for heavy Abrams tanks!), a helicopter pad, several bivouac areas, and many more. “Highlight” till this very day was a Special Ammunition Site for MGM-52 Lance missiles – including nuclear warheads, which explains the double fence and the watch towers we found in the center of the area in the middle of the woods. (Greetings to the 1st Bn 80th Field Artillery Regiment (1974-1987) and the 3rd Bn 12th Field Artillery Regiment (1987-1991), who took care of those deadly and always controversial babies…) In addition to the 2 FAMs all kinds of units stationed in Babenhausen, *Darmstadt*, *Hanau* and Würzburg used the ALTA for their training purposes.
The deactivation of the MGM-52s marked the beginning of the end of the Aschaffenburg Local Training Area. In 2007, after several years of indecisiveness on the part of the US Army, the whole area was given back to the original owners, resulting in 337 ha for the city of Aschaffenburg and 240 ha for the Federal Republic of Germany. Since an ornithological mapping was executed in 1992, it was pretty clear from the beginning what should become of the former military area – a nature sanctuary. Now, half a decade later, 237 ha are designated as a preserve area and open to the public, despite the fact that a lot of the former military installations haven’t been demolished yet.
Sabine and I parked our car at the edge of the wood and the first thing we saw was a huge old sign with the general layout of the former training area. We followed a road and quickly found an abandoned yet unspectacular building with metal-grilled windows to the left… and a combat theater to the right, just across the street. Despite mostly gutted too, the combat theater was quite an interesting place to explore. Since I’ve never done even basic military training myself, I’ve never been to a place like that, but judging by the layout and the things left behind, Sabine was convinced that it was a AGSHP (Ausbildungsgerät Schießsimulator Handwaffen/Panzerabwehrhandwaffen – something like “Training Unit Shooting Simulator Small Arms/Antitank Small Arms”), built by Thales Defence Deutschland GmbH. I uploaded a walking tour of the whole building to Youtube and you can watch it at the end of the article after the photos.
Definitely the highlight of the ALTA was the storage area of the MGM-52 missiles and warheads. When I wrote about the *Hochspeyer Munitions Storage* (where also nuclear warheads were stored at one point in time), a commenter mentioned that the typical structure of two fences and watchtowers were already gone – well, that structure was clearly intact in Aschaffenburg. More or less. The gates of the fences looked like Bender Rodriguez had a go with them… and the watchtower wasn’t in good shape either, but even amateurs could see that they hadn’t been storing vegetables behind those barb-wired fortifications! Most of the ammunition bunkers were open at the time of our visit, but they were also smaller and in worse condition than their counterparts in Hochspeyer. While the Hochspeyer ones were all cleaned out, a surprised was waiting for me in the unmaintained forest depths of Aschaffenburg. Over the years I’ve encountered my share of living and dead animals while exploring abandoned place, but the creature I found in one of the dim bunkers looked really creepy – most likely a mummified cat, judging by the size of it. Not exactly a pleasant sight!

Despite being easily accessible and extremely popular amongst runners, Nordic Walkers, bikers as well as dogs and their owners, the Aschaffenburg Local Training Area doesn’t seem to have many friends amongst the German urbex community. Maybe it’s because Bavaria has a reputation of being difficult for urban explorers (fewer locations, stricter police), maybe it’s because Aschaffenburg is a little bit off the beaten tracks. Whatever it is, I enjoyed the little trip to Franconia as I was finally able to see a few things with my own eyes I only knew from pictures in books before – like a combat theater and the double fence with watchtowers structure…

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Usually I stay away from exploring regular Japanese houses. It happened way too often that I thought “Oh, this house / apartment building looks abandoned!” and upon closer look it actually was not. Japan has an unbelievable amount of rundown yet inhabited buildings, especially in the countryside and the outskirts of bigger cities – and I don’t want to get in trouble!

When *Rory* and I drove through the countryside on one of our exploration trips, my fellow explorer tried to point my attention to a slightly dilapidated concrete building to the left – and even without looking at it I dismissed the idea, because “there are cars parked”. Well, last time I saw the building half a year prior there were cars parked, but this time I jumped the gun. Rory was indeed right: the cars were gone, leaving behind a building that looked abandoned… and so we stopped.
Still not 100% convinced that the building was really abandoned I left the lead to Rory and had a look at the surroundings – a couple of storage shacks inhabited by half a dozen cats, some garden plots with Napa cabbage (the key ingredient of kimchi…), a few open windows; no real proof that this simple, ugly building was really abandoned. Access of course was easy – two staircases in the back lead to four floors with two apartments each. (The video shows one staircase, the photos I selected are from apartments on both staircases.)
While all apartments basically had the same layout, their interior was like a box of chocolates – we never knew what we were gonna get! Some apartments looked like you could move it in right away if you had low standards, others were completely moldy and a serious health hazard, while the third kind was covered by spider webs. Some were packed with brand-new boxed items, the strangest being the ones labelled “Glycerin Enema Mune 60”, others were filled with all kinds of trashed. Some showed signs of families with children, others most likely were bachelor pads. In one apartment was a calendar – showing last month’s date; which would explain why there were cars parks at the building half a year prior to our visit.
Since the apartment building was just outside of a small town, Rory and I went for a walk after we were done exploring. It was getting dark anyway, so we thought it would be nice to enjoy a countryside sunset. Countryside people in Japan tend to be much friendlier than city folks according to my experience, so it didn’t surprise me at all when a local woman started a conversation with Rory when he took a picture of a cat with an improvised Elizabethan collar – and she confirmed that the apartment building was abandoned just two months prior to our visit after it fell into disrepair.

When approaching and exploring the apartment building I didn’t think it was a good idea being there, but in retrospect it was quite an interesting experience. I still wouldn’t drive hours to get there, but it wasn’t a bad location as far as original finds go!

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When I started this cute little blog almost four years ago I thought its name would say it all: Abandoned Kansai. Abandoned places in Kansai, nothing else. Soon I went to Chubu, then Kyushu – later to Shikoku, Chugoku, Okinawa and Hokkaido. I still manage to stay away from wacky Japanese stuff that make other blogs so popular, but I started to stray with Chernobyl and then this year with North Korea – the “urbex only” blog turned into a “dark tourism” blog, which isn’t a bad thing at all.

Given that I am located in Japan, I did my first “foreign” exploration in the summer of 2010, much to my own surprise not in my home country Germany, but in the lovely Grand Duchy of Luxembourg. Back then Abandoned Kansai was a really small blog with about 2000 views per month (which is less than now per day in average!), urbex in general was a lot less popular, and even most of my friends weren’t interested in what I was doing… except for my old neighborhood friend Alexandra, one of the most amazing people I know. (When I visit family and friends now, three years later, I go on explorations with half a dozen different people…)
Alexandra and I planned to go to Luxembourg the day after I returned from *Pripyat and Chernobyl* – and upon departure I felt sick like hardly ever before. I’ll spare you the details, but even a single sip of water rushed through my body at the speed of light, finding exits I didn’t know existed! It was too short notice to cancel, especially since there was no alternative date available, so we went anyway – and my first German exploration partner was absolutely lovely about it. Goal of our day trip: Esch-sur-Alzette, all over Europe known for two abandoned places called Terres Rouge and Centrale Thermique. (In case you wonder: Luxembourg is trilingual – French, German and Luxembourgish.)
Upon arrival Alexandra and I realized that the area wasn’t that abandoned, so we parked at one of the many active companies still around. Right to our left we found a gorgeous red brick building, so we decided to have a closer look. With most of its windows and concrete guttering smashed to pieces, this former production facility was clearly abandoned. I took a couple of photos from the outside and through the broken windows, when Alexandra grabbed a door handle and asked “Why don’t we go inside?” – I hadn’t even seen that entrance and was so happy she took over and kept this exploration going! Mostly empty inside, there were just a few hints what the building was used for. There were tons of switches and plugs, the halls were equipped with cranes, circuit schedules indicated the former installation of baths for tech stuff. Some equipment was labelled “Klöckner Moeller”, though I still wasn’t sure until last week whether the place was run by that company or just used their equipment – my guess was that it indeed was a subsidiary of Klöckner-Moeller as the company is known to have had subsidiaries in several countries. Founded by an engineer named Franz Klöckner 1899 in Cologne, Germany, the company started to produce electrical switching apparati. In 1911 Hein Moeller joined the company and after proofing himself for more than 30 years it was renamed Klöckner-Moeller in 1942. Renamed Moeller GmbH in 1999 the business was bought by the Eaton Corporation in 2008 and again renamed to Eaton Industries GmbH in 2010. Guess what! I was wrong.
Upon having a closer look at the photographical evidence while writing this article I am pretty sure that the factory building in Esch-sur-Alzette actually belonged to a company called Ateliers Francois Frieseisen, still in business just a couple of kilometers away from their previous location under its shortened name Ateliers Frieseisen after being “revived” by Roger Serafini in 2007. Founded by Francois Frieseisen in 1970 the Ateliers Frieseisen was and is a metalworking company – and therefore in need of Klöckner-Moeller equipment. While the company’s website is available in French only, the equipment in the now abandoned workshop was bilingual, French and German. Well, most of it either in French or in German, which kind of implies that the building had different owners over the course of time; not really a surprise given its assumed age of about 100 years plus / minus a couple of decades.
To reach certain areas of the factory building we had to leave and enter again through a huge door on the other side, where we ran into some fellow photographers. After a quick converstion lead by Alexandra (who is fluent in French, while I chose Latin back in 6th grade with a lot less success) we explored the rest of the building before we finally moved on to the gigantic thermal power plant widely known under the simple French term Centrale Thermique…

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Merry XXX-Mas everyone!

The Love Hotel tinna is one of those locations that are giving me a headache. On the one hand I am happy about every exploration, on the other hand… this was barely an exploration and I have hardly enough material for an article. About 20 months ago I was walking along a countryside road on the way to an abandoned place I was looking forward to explore, when I came across the tinna Love Hotel by chance. Not sure how the rest of the day would turn out I passed without a closer look, but considered having one on the way back. If it wouldn’t have been for the ropes blocking off the car entrance I probably wouldn’t have even realized that the place was abandoned or at least closed.

Two hours later I was on my way back to the train station – and since I wasn’t in a hurry I indeed had a closer look. Entering the premises and getting out of sight was quick and easy, the ropes were more or less symbolic. Luckily the sensors at the entrance must have been for triggering lights back in the days, because they surely didn’t cause an alarm to go off.
The back of the love hotel looked a little more abandoned, but just barely. Each room came with a separate garage – you drove in and shut the plastic curtain to get your car some privacy. The room rates (rest / stay) were written at signs next to the doors – which were all locked. That fact makes this article even duller, especially since I don’t know anything about the history of the Love Hotel tinna. I guess it was abandoned just weeks or a few months prior to my visit, but it’s hard to tell for sure. On the other hand: a lot of westerners don’t know much about love hotel, so here you can finally see some exterior shots. For interior shots you might want to have a look at the two articles about love hotels I published in 2011 and 2012. The one about the *Love Hotel Gion* is all about love hotels in general and how big the business is (a whopping 50 billion $-US!), the one about the *Furuichi Love Hotel* is more about dating in Japan and why some Japanese women were once called “Leftover Christmas Cake”…

And that’s it for this week – Merry XXX-Mas!

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Tottori is famous for its sand dunes, vast natural parks and pear omiyage – not for urban exploration. Located in the Chugoku region at the Sea of Japan (a.k.a. Korea East Sea and Japanese Sea) and therefore at the northern coast of Japan, Tottori is a little bit off the beaten tracks – most tourists travelling south of Tokyo continue via Kyoto, Osaka and Kobe to Himeji, Hiroshima and Kyushu along the Seto Inland Sea. Only a handful of Western tourists switch to one of the express trains from Kansai to Tottori (city), the capital of Tottori (prefecture) – there is no Shinkansen service as a northern line connecting Osaka and Shimonoseki via Tottori and Matsue was proposed in 1973 and then shelved indefinitely. The least populous of Japan’s prefectures (3.5 million inhabitants, less than the city Yokohama) is generally rather rural and agriculture is the most important economical factor – pears, scallions, yams and watermelons from Tottori are famous in all of Japan.

One thing Tottori is not famous for is urban exploration. Nevertheless I had plans to go to Tottori for almost a year, but for some reason I never followed through. The places I wanted to visit there were not that spectacular, the weather wasn’t consistent for a whole weekend, the season wasn’t right or I simply had other plans. In spring of 2012 everything came together finally, so I hopped on the first of eight special direct trains to Tottori and enjoyed the 2.5 hour long ride through the stunning Chugoku Mountains. After finding and checking into a hotel I did some haikyo hiking to another location and finally arrived at the gorgeous Tottori Sand Dunes in the late afternoon – running out of time, as so often.
The Sand Dune Palace turned out to be quite a rundown building secured by rusty barbed wire, only worth taking pictures of thanks to its relative fame and the round viewing platform which gave this old rest house (built in 1965) a little bit of an edge by making it more round… The salty sea air was gnawing through anything metal, especially lamp posts and handrails. All the bells and whistles, like door handles and lamps looked so 60s that it almost hurt the eyes. Really nothing special, so I headed over to the dunes to find my way to the beach in order to take some sunset photos. On the way back, late into dusk, I made another quick stop to take a couple of night shots, but then I had to leave to catch the last bus back to the city – it was an exhausting day and sadly not everything lived up to my expectations; for example the Sand Dune Palace – the pear sweets on the other hand were divine and if you ever go to Tottori, make sure to try the “nashi usagi” (literally “pear rabbits”, mochi filled with pear jam).

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The Abandoned German Villa I explored more than two years ago – a place so mysterious that it doesn’t even have an “official” name in the German urban exploration and geocaching communities. Some explorers call it Villa Zimmermann (“villa carpenter”), others Villa Waldeslust (“villa forestlust”, kind of analog to the word wanderlust…) or Villa Kinderheim (“villa children’s home”) – probably due to the fact nobody seems to know much about the villa’s history, except that it first was a mansion, then a brothel and finally a children’s home. Or at least that’s what one person said and the rest just runs with it, because I’ve never seen any proof or even a timeline to support that claim. The geocachers of course use a fourth name including the village the villa is in – which basically gives away its location even without exact coordinates as that village has like three different streets… Or better: they used, past tense, as the cache is archived now – probably because it attracted too many cachers and therefore too much attention. Luckily I did some research two years ago, and to quote a geocaching visitor from back then: “Today we were the fourth group to log this cache!” The fourth group in one day! Wow… The *Deportation Prison Birkhausen* comes to mind.

Exploring the Abandoned German Villa was an interesting experience as it looked so familiar and strange at the same time. Familiar, because I grew up in Germany with houses like that. Strange, because I picked up urban exploration as a hobby while in Japan – and locations like that of course are hard to find in the Far East.
Surrounded by massive walls and fences it was easy to see that the villa once must have been the mansion of a very rich family – probably built in the 1920s plus / minus a decade. The main gate, protecting a private road of about 150 or 200 meters leading up to the main building, was completely overgrown, so my old high school friend Torsten and I had to find another way in, which was surprisingly easy, despite the lush vegetation. Once on the premises we didn’t have to worry about getting spotted by anybody as pretty much everything there was overgrown.
The first area we explored was a really old garage / storage building – a paradise for spiders and bugs; nothing nasty though, because we are talking about urbex in Germany. Nature loves Germany! Back in the days this building must have been state of the art, with the ground being tiled and the walls being plastered. We continued along the private road for a couple of last meters, ignored the villa to the left and had a look at the barn, clearly modernized just years before the whole thing was abandoned. The lower part, most likely stables for rabbits and probably something like donkeys, looked a lot like the garage we just left, the upper part on the other hand was a rather nice wooden construction with only few signs of decay. In the forest behind the barn we found a small brick-built shack with a couple of old stuff inside – a perfect setup for a stunning nativity play.
Back on the other side Torsten and I first explored an annex of the villa, including a small basement too dark to take photos at without a tripod, but the heating system there revealed that it was installed in 2001 and last serviced in 2003. I was especially fascinated by the three generations of electricity switches right next to each. Sights like that make me love urban exploration so much! On the other hand the place saw quite a bit of vandalism and everything was dirty and full of spider webs. The sweet is never as sweet without the sour.
The main building, the Abandoned German Villa, was where we went next. Three floors plus an attic, solid stone, but clearly modernized every once in a while; for example using double-glazed windows. Sadly there was more vandalism than interior, nevertheless it was really interesting to explore the layout of the villa, seeing signs for its use as a private home, a brothel and a boarding house. I am sure when first occupied the villa was just gorgeous, with lots of space for a big family, especially considering how most people lived in the early 20th century. In the basements we found signs of a cheesy bar area, probably installed in the 1960s/70s during the mansion’s brothel days. In the attic and on the upper floor were signs of the last residents – a John Sinclair magazine (popular German pulp fiction with more than 2200 issues since 1973… and still counting!), amateur art, letters written in careless handwriting.
Torsten and I were already on our way out when we discovered another overgrown building the size of a single family home a little bit to the side. It took some effort to get past the blackberry bushes, but like at the dirty annex two hours prior, the sweet is never as sweet without the sour. The interior of the building was mostly empty and quite moldy, but it was all about the details again. For example neither of us dared to go down to the basement, just based on the smell coming up and the mushrooms growing on the stairs. Personally I loved the stickers on the walls and the doors, clearly from the 80s, with subjects like theme parks, clothing and electronics (Eifelpark – Der größte Wild- und Erlebnispark der Eifel / Eifelpark – The biggest wildlife and adventure park in the Eifel). Easy to miss details included the locks on the outside face of the room doors. If the villa and its surrounding buildings were really used as a boarding school, I guess some of the residents were locked in as punishment or security measures. My favorite detail of them all though was the wallpapers in a room on the ground floor. Not because they were mostly gone, but because there were several layers of them… and upon closer look one of those layers were actually newspapers glued to the wall! Old newspapers, in fact. A piece on the ground had written “February 23rd 1929” on it. A small readable article was about an 18-year-old student in Berlin, who was a member of the right-wing organization “Der Stahlhelm” and shot during a brawl with communists – “slyly”, according to the piece, so it probably was a right-wing newspaper.
Despite quite a bit of vandalism the Abandoned German Villa was a wonderful place to explore – little details were everywhere to be found, most of them revealed more about the location’s history. It wasn’t a spectacular exploration like the *Nakagusuku Hotel Ruin*, but the countless details totally made up for it. It took me a while to write about the villa, but it’s still one of my favorite explorations in Germany! (Next time with a tripod though, because even on a sunny day the place is gloomy like hell…)

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Abandoned Japanese towns must be the most common type of *haikyo*. For decades people have been moving from the countryside to the cities… and the trend continues: Almost 70% of Japan’s population live on 3.3% of the land – it’s a mountainous country, and the further you drive into the valleys, the more half-abandoned villages you’ll see; some are deserted completely, especially those so remote that they are almost completely cut off from the outside world in winter. (And that’s the main reason why ghost towns don’t show up at urbex blogs so much – only a few, like *Mukainokura*, are easily accessible; for most of them you need to have a car or a motorcycle…)

Across one of those hamlets my buddy *Rory* and I stumbled on our way to an off the beaten tracks location somewhere in the mountains of the Shiga / Mie / Gifu triangle. We thought it would be a good idea taking a direct way along a narrow one lane road stretching up and down several mountains instead of using the ridiculously expensive highways in Japan. It was a sunny day in March not only in Osaka (where there is no winter…), but also in Shiga. So we drove up one mountain in beautiful weather and started to descent on the other side… when all of a sudden we saw snow on the side of the road. We descended further and further, snow slowly creeping closer until we started driving on it. When we saw said hamlet, we made a quick stop to take a picture or two and continued driving… until we hit a dead end. The snow was getting too high and there was no way we were able to continue. So we turned around – and got stuck in the snow right in the middle of the hamlet (GoggleMaps doesn’t have a name for it, so I just simply call it Japanese Ghost Town). So I got out of the car and started pushing, successfully. Until we got stuck again a couple of hundred meters down the road, up the mountain. This time I needed the help of some boards that were conveniently placed right next to the road (coincidence?), but to both of our great relief we got grip right away and returned to the weather divide, this time without further incidents. Down the mountain on the Shiga side we found out that the only regular road nearby was still closed for winter, so we made our way back to Osaka as we were running out of time anyway.
Half a year later, November 2013, on our way to the remote haikyo Rory and I wanted to explore in spring – this time the first location of the day, not the third. Beaten by that darn valley six months prior and dangerously close to winter we decided to give the narrow mountain road another try. When we reached the hamlet this time there was no snow in sight, so we got out of the car and considered the place an original find. What started as “a quick look” turned into an hour long full exploration of about a dozen houses, most of them partly collapsed. All the buildings were Japanese style, which means mostly wood, so even the rather undamaged buildings were quite brittle once we found a way inside (without using force, of course) – half a dozen more winters with heavy snow and they will be flattened, too. To make the houses more stable and more durable, some outside walls were clad with thin metal plates. One of the houses still had an active digital (!) wattmeter above the entrance door and where we parked the car we found a laminated sheet of paper with information about an on demand taxi as a replacement for a regular bus service. My favorite item though was an abandoned bike, clearly an older model, maybe from the 50s or 60s. A really lovely piece of rust!

After we left the hamlet, we continued beyond the point where were forced to turn around half a year prior – and then we got lost in the mountains and reached dead ends… several times… losing massive amounts of time. The car’s navi more or less useless, we finally found a real road that lead us back to civilization, so we headed for the main road that was closed in March because of snow. This time we passed this point, too, only to get stopped in front of a tunnel – mudslides had severely damaged the road on the other side more than a year prior, so the tunnel was closed indefinitely, yet the road was open for hikers to reach a popular trailhead in spring, summer and autumn.
Running out of time again, Rory and I made our way back to Osaka, hoping to reach Location X on a third attempt. Or by finally trying a different route…

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