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Archive for the ‘Abandoned’ Category

Japan and Germany are both famous for their castles – the ones in Japan are either tourist attractions or (in very rare cases) abandoned. In Germany there is a third kind, the ones that were turned into accommodations. Youth hostels, hotels or private homes; usually located in a very beautiful landscape on top of a mountain. To the best of my knowledge all “castle hotels” in Japan are hotels NEAR famous castles, not former castles themselves. Until a few years ago there was one sort-of exception, a huge hotel that kind of looked like a pre-modern fortress, but was a post-war concrete construction – similar to the tourist trap called Osaka Castle… ;)
Then the Great Tohoku Earthquake a.k.a. 3/11 hit the northern half of Japan in 2011, and while the hotel was spared the flood, it suffered some damages from the earthquake and its aftershocks. Even worse: tourists avoided the area between Tokyo and Hokkaido like the plague… or an earthquake-ridden nuclear wasteland… and so the Japanese Castle Hotel had to close its doors.
In 2013 I saw a video on Youtube (now offline…), taken at the then closed / abandoned hotel – everything was in almost pristine condition, I couldn’t believe my eyes. It looked like the best abandoned hotel ever! I had to find it somehow, yet I failed for months. In early 2014 I was talking with my urbex buddy Rory about (finding) new locations and I sent him a link to the then still working video. A few days later he got back to me: his wife watched the video, too, and based on that she not only found the hotel’s location, but its Twitter account and blog, too. In moments like that I wish my Japanese was better…
Almost a year had gone by since I first watched the (edited) walkthrough, but I still considered it one of the most amazing and rarest abandoned places in Japan – so I got a plane ticket to the north and headed there a couple of months later. Upon arrival at the hotel disappointment set in quickly: it wasn’t abandoned… not even closed – it was under renovation! This was only the third time I’ve heard that a once abandoned place was under renovation. The first was a windmill restaurant, the second a regular hotel. Now this…

But well, what can you do – you gotta roll with the punches. My two fellow explorers though seemed to be of different opinion. Judging by their faces, they would have called it a day and went straight to dinner instead, but I took a plane to explore this very location… and an open door and the noise of construction work in the background wouldn’t prevent me from doing so!
We carefully progressed through the building, trying to avoid making any noise, but sooner or later the inevitable happened – we ran into a construction worker. Luckily my friends agreed to my strategy, so instead of trying to bolt, we approached the guy and explained to him what we were doing. He clearly thought we were crazy, but didn’t mind that we were hanging around taking photos… and from that point on it was easy going.
Now you might ask yourself the question whether or not exploring a hotel under renovation belongs on a blog about urban exploration. Personally I prefer 100% abandoned places, but that’s the ideal. Most of the interesting locations, especially in Europe and the States, are patrolled by security, so technically they are not abandoned either; and who could imagine urbex in Japan without *Nara Dreamland*? So this was kind of a special exploration and very interesting in its own way, as the renovation work wasn’t limited to roofing and a new layer of paint for the building. While some of the rooms were in surprisingly bad condition considering that only three years had passed since 3/11, others just had been renovated, still looking and smelling brand-new. That before / after experience is almost as rare as castle shaped hotels in Japan… and I truly enjoyed it, almost as much as the gorgeous weather and the beautiful architecture, including shots of the damaged roof with its shachihoko, a Japanese folklore creature with the head of a tiger and the body of a carp.
Sadly once again time was of the essence, so in the end I had to squeeze an exploration that should have taken at least three hours into less than one – nevertheless I am happy that I was able to see the Japanese Castle Hotel at the beginning of its renovation. I have to admit that it was not as spectacular as I hoped it would be (not nearly as impressive as the *Hachijo Royal Hotel*!), but it still was one of those unique places you long to see as an urban explorer, as there are hundreds of other abandoned hotels all over the country – but none of them looks like a Japanese castle…

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Writing an urbex blog is a double-edged sword – on one side I would like to present every single location in the best light and with the most information possible, on the other side I am aware that this kind of exposure may attract people that don’t treat those deserted places with the same respect as I do. A year or two ago I saw that wonderful abandoned school on a Japanese blog and I was especially captivated by its amazing anatomic model of a human body. It was tall, it was detailed, it was clean; everything you could hope for as an urban explorer. The school was virtually unknown to the internet, but the author used its real name – not caring about the school’s future or thinking that the tiny village could not be found anyway; it took me about five minutes to locate it, even with basic Japanese skills. In January I finally had the chance to explore the school, eager to take photos of the anatomic model… but it was gone, somebody stole it and left the box behind as if to mock later visitors like me. If you ever wondered why I sometimes use fake names for locations or don’t reply to “Hey dude, where exactly is XYZ?” messages via e-mail or *Facebook* – that’s the reason! And now let me show you the remains of the Stolen Anatomic Model School…

When I told my regular explorer friend Dan about that amazing school somewhere in the mountains I was super excited… and a bit nervous, as it would take us several hours to get there. On day trips I usually avoid locations that are further than 2.5 hours away from Osaka, just because driving there and back takes so much time of the day – and the school was well outside that perimeter, especially in case of heavy traffic. So Dan, his girlfriend Kyoko and I met just around sunrise and headed for the countryside. What started as an overcast day turned into a sunny one on a surprisingly warm winter day.
Walking up to the school in a small and sleepy yet picturesque mountain village, we were relieved to see that the slightly out of sight school was still in good condition, unlocked and without any “Do not enter!” signs. Nothing like sunny days and close to 0 risk of getting into trouble… :)
We first entered the main building, another example of a gorgeous wooden school right out of an anime series or a manga. One of the rooms was used as a storage for those huge plywood signs Japanese politicians stick their election posters to, other rooms were stuffed with school furniture, handwritten slogans, posters and all kind of equipment you would expect to find in an old Japanese school. A good start, but unspectacular.
We left through an open side entrance, right next to a spot where the floor caved in and a former classroom started to rot – that’s why you always close doors and windows you open as an explorer! Giving the forces of nature easy access to abandoned buildings can contribute as much to their demise as active acts of vandalism.
The next building, connected by a short roofed walkway, basically consisted of only two rooms, but those two rooms made this abandoned school so wonderful! One room was full of musical instruments (pianos, keyboards, xylophones, accordions), speakers and lines of a stave on the green blackboard – the other room was the science room with countless models, samples and instruments to teach physics, chemistry, and biology. There I was hoping to find the anatomic model of a human body, but it was gone, only parts of the box left behind. Disappointing, but not a complete catastrophe since I have previously taken picture of similar models, for example at the *Blizzard School* and at the *Landslide School*. Luckily there were so many other things to see and to take pictures of that I quickly forgot about that one missing item – especially after Dan and Kyoko told me that there was more to explore!
The gymnasium was in much better condition than the main part of the school, with the exception of the storage area. Nevertheless the floor felt a lot more unstable. I guess the wooden ground got a bit loose during countless changes of seasons. The auditorium / sports hall was easily the most beautiful I have ever seen at an abandoned Japanese school – and some of the extra rooms behind the stage and near the entrance told their own stories silently. One of them was actually kind of a memorial for a guy from that village who cycled around the world and brought back several gifts, at the same time it explained the history of the school; dating back to the 19th century and revealing that the building we first entered had to be reconstructed after a fire during World War 2.

Overall the Stolen Anatomic Model School was an amazing exploration and the continuation of documenting nearly untouched abandoned Japanese schools, a series that started with the *Kyoto Countryside School* about 1.5 years ago.

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Abandoned embassies are not exactly common finds in the urbex world, yet the deserted embassy of Iraq in Berlin has become kind of a tourist attraction, mentioned in several guides to Germany’s capital. For seasoned urban explorers like myself quite a weird experience…
The area around the Tschaikowskistraße (German for Tchaikovsky Street) in Niederschönhausen is dominated by mansions with large gardens, built about 100 years ago; the road itself leading up directly to Schönhausen Palace, a baroque palace dating back to a villa originally built more than 350 years ago. One exception is a small offspring of the Tschaikowskistraße, including the infamous number 51 – home to the former Iraqi Embassy in the German Democratic Republic a.k.a. East Germany. The area consists of half a dozen buildings constructed in 1974 by the Kombinat Ingenieurhochbau Berlin. The GDR was (in)famous for their huge plattenbau style architecture, simple designs built with prefabricated concrete slabs – and the new houses in the Tschaikowskistraße were no exception. Well, they were smaller and modified (inside walls were brick-built!) to suit the purposes of their new inhabitants: the ambassadors from France, Italy, Australia, Poland… and Iraq. After the collapse of East Germany those countries needed only one embassy in the now reunited Berlin, so they gave up the so called “Diplomatenviertel von Pankow” (Diplomats’ Neighborhood of Pankow), named after borough Niederschönhausen is located in. While the other nations packed their stuff, left and gave back the premises they were located on… the Iraqis just left. Background is a paralyzing mix of the complicated legal circumstance (there are different versions of who owns the land, the building and the usage rights) and a total lack of interest in resolving the situation; apparently neither Germany nor the Iraq are lifting a finger when it comes to Tschaikowskistraße 51. And so the building just stands there from early 1991 on – when the diplomats left due to the Gulf War and accusations that the embassy had been used as a weapons and explosives storage. As time went on more and more people had a look at the deserted embassy, then people started to take “souvenirs” – framed photos of Saddam Hussein, visas, documents, books, even parts of the interior furnishing. At the same time people started to vandalize the building; smashing windows, graffiti, arson. Then the press picked up the topic and in 2003 even the New York Times ran a piece about it. With no security, no police patrolling and nobody really caring about the building, dozens of regular Berlin tourist from all over the world show up there every day with a taken-for-grantedness bordering arrogance – something I wasn’t aware of when I finally reached the embassy; and a state of mind I am not used to as a seasoned urban explorer treating both the locations I visit as well as fellow explorers with all due respect.

The first thing I realized upon arrival at the former Iraqi Embassy In The German Democratic Republic was the fact that the surrounding buildings were occupied by a company called AiF Projekt GmbH, with no hint what this company was doing. The partly boarded-up embassy was located maybe 5 meters away from the street on the 5000 square meters big property – the only apparent way in and out a slightly opened lattice gate. Unaware of the complex ownership situation and the touristy reputation of this clearly rundown building, I tried to evaluate whether or not it was worth taking the risk of entering straight away in broad daylight, when a retiree walking his dog came up to me. We were having quite a nice conversation in which he was telling me all about the history of the embassy and the similar buildings right across the street, about his life in the GDR and how the powers that be couldn’t care less about the condition of the embassy, when all of a sudden a woman in her late 40s, early 50s interrupted. With an obnoxious voice and an even more obnoxious arrogant attitude she questioned basically everything the man said, because she read about the place in a tourist guide and did some research of her own – basically calling the poor old man a liar and storyteller. The poor fella really took it to heart, getting red in the face, starting to shake involuntarily… and then he left, but not after voicing that he wished the place was gone and that he would love to call the police 20 times a day. Which I totally understood, because I have to admit that I hardly ever met an argumentative person like that in my whole life, especially not since I moved to Japan where a dis(s)cussion like that is completely unheard-of.
Slightly worried whether or not that nice old man would call the police from pure spite and hatred for that strange woman, I entered the embassy through an open door – only to realize that the place was a mess, one of the most rundown and vandalized locations I have ever explored, a real piece of trash. The architecture and the style of the building was like nothing I would ever be able to see while exploring in Japan, so I got my camera ready and started to take some photos, when I ran into that middle-aged woman from before again, outside on a balcony. I cut the conversation short as she was desperate to get my confirmation about how she was right, not just with the arguments she had, but with the way she presented them. So I basically fled to the upper floor… where I ran into three guys of questionable looks – halfway between squatters and drug addicts. What the heck was going on here? They approached me in English and we had two minutes of meaningless small talk. Luckily they weren’t squatting druggies, just British tourists; though one of them way clearly drunk and most likely high! Down at the ground floor again, I stepped into main hallway, when I saw a teenage girl coming down the staircase while another middle aged woman (wearing a too tight skirt and flip-flops!) was blaring “See, now they are creeping from their holes!” at us in German as if we were a bunch of cockroaches, before leaving with her Cartman looking son. Seriously, WTF? There was an endless coming and going of random people, something I’ve never seen before – I easily met more people at the former Iraqi Embassy In The German Democratic Republic in the hour I spent there than in five years of serious urban exploration in Japan! I wasn’t even able to shoot a decent video without anybody yelling or walking through background; Christian Bale most likely would have gone nuts! After an attempt or two I approached the latest group of urbex tourists, a handful of French twens, and told them that I intended to shoot a video that could end up on Youtube… and they were like “Yeah, we don’t mind being seen or heard in it, just go ahead!” – I still tried to avoid people, but you will see / hear some of them in the clip at the end of this article.

“Interesting” is the kindest word I was able come up with to describe my experiences in Berlin… in general. Back in the early / mid-90s the Iraqi Embassy must have been one of the most exciting abandoned places in the whole world – untouched, full of items left behind, 20 years of intense history. Now it’s an involuntary tourist attraction, vandalized and overrun, from urban exploration as far away as infiltration. What a shame…

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Abandoned looking houses are everywhere in the Japanese countryside – but just because they look abandoned, doesn’t mean that they are abandoned. Better safe than sorry, so if deserted private homes are your thing, I recommend visiting one of hundreds derelict villages in Japan… like the Yamanashi Ghost Town!
Some of my urbex friends love abandoned houses. I usually don’t. Exploring them, there is a certain amount of voyeurism involved, far beyond the usual level, as those places are a lot more personal than shared spaces like hotels, amusement parks or hospitals. Most of the time interesting items are in drawers, behind closed doors… and I don’t like to go through other people’s things, that’s when urbex becomes borderline burglarizing to me, even if you don’t break something getting in and don’t take something on the way out. There also is an uncomfortable sadness to them – the people there left their houses, probably family homes for generations, and they often left personal things behind; letters, photos, diaries, …

My buddy *Hamish* and I were actually looking for an abandoned school when we found this little ghost town in the mountains of Yamanashi prefecture, off the beaten tracks and barely connected to Japan’s regular road system, given the condition of some stretches. At the same time we were very sure that the area was really abandoned, which made it easier to enter some buildings without knocking first. Most houses / huts were in rather bad condition, but two or three of them looked like there still might have been living somebody; but just from the outside. All buildings seemed to have many visitors before, including some who enjoyed going through stuff, which was scattered all over the floors. An abandoned hairdryer here, some old soda / juice cans there. The biggest surprise probably was a wooden box in a barn, once containing rindless cheddar cheese from Australia, a country not exactly famous for dairy exports. I also loved the last building we explored – the pink main door lead to a stinky hallway full of garbage, but when we entered through the living room, we gained access to an amazingly lit part of the house with lots of decay and animal feces; very challenging to shoot due the difficult natural light though.

Overall the Yamanashi Ghost Town wasn’t a terribly exciting location with spectacular views or items, but much like it’s rather famous counterpart *Mukainokura* it offered another glimpse into the past – items of daily use, how houses were built in Japan 50, 60, 70, 80 years ago… the hardships of making a living in the mountains. One impressive proof of that I found when I made a last attempt finding the previously mentioned school – instead I came across a series of hand-built levelled fields on a slope next to a river, probably the main source of fruits and vegetables for a whole village most likely abandoned in the 1970s…

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Almost completely demolished, yet exploration fun for more than two hours – this Sumitomo Osaka Cement Factory delivered one last time!

Sumitomo is one of the oldest companies in all of Japan, tracing their roots back to Masatomo Sumitomo, who gave up his life as a Buddhist priest to become a businessman at age 45 in 1630. Starting with a shop selling books and medicine in Kyoto, he later became closely associated with copper – his brother-in-law Riemon Soga had learned from Europeans how to separate silver from unrefined copper in the late 16th century… and when Soga’s first son Tomomochi married one of Sumitomo’s daughters, the business expanded to Osaka under the Sumitomo name. In the following centuries the company diversified and became one of Japan’s four big conglomerates called zaibatsu; along with Mitsui, Mitsubishi and the now dissolved Yasuda.
After ignoring the cement market for decades, Sumitomo got into the business in the early 60s, when the demand for coal plummeted and the subsidiary Sumitomo Coal Mining was looking for new opportunities. In 1962 Sumitomo invested in one of Japan’s most successful cement producers, Iwaki Cement, and basically took them over in 1963. The new company soon opened / acquired more plants and in 1994 merged with competitor Osaka Cement to form the Sumitomo Osaka Cement Co., Ltd – one of their plants was in Shiga prefecture and ran from 1952 till 2003; shortly afterwards the demolition of the factory and partly new use of the premises began.

When my buddy Marvin came to visit from Berlin, it was pretty clear that we wouldn’t meet at a cute little café to spend 12 bucks on a piece of cake and a cup of coffee – instead we took the opportunity for a ride to the Shiga countryside on a lovely September Sunday; one of the first bearable days after a long, hot and humid summer. The Sumitomo Osaka Cement Factory was the second location of the day as its current condition was pretty much unknown to us, the area a blurry spot on GoogleMaps. All I knew was that demolition had started years ago and that there was at least one new company on the former factory ground. We approached from the south and it turned out that the area was a lot bigger than I expected – easily 400 by 800 meters, including the active looking part, most of it (sight) protected by partly overgrown fences; some fitted with barbed wire, some just plain fences of various kinds. When we found a section that looked like a possible entrance, Marvin was eager to get in, but I had a bad feeling and wasn’t ready to finish scouting yet; good decision as the area behind that fence was accessible from other places and still in use. About 15 minutes later I finally gave in at a gate we were able to pass easily. I still wasn’t fully convinced that it was a good idea, but most urbex noobs have an untainted enthusiasm that is infectious. We explored the former back of the now mostly demolished cement plant and actually found an open gate with no “Do not enter! / No Trespassing!” signs, which calmed me down noticeably. Still in the upper back part, all of a sudden I heard a heavy truck approaching – it turned out that they still loaded rocks on trucks there, they just stopped the production of cement. So Marvin and headed for cover and were just able to duck down before the truck rushed through. Phew, close call!
To avoid further run-ins with heavy trucks we headed down the slope to the concrete remains of the former cement factory, away from the main road crossing the vast premises. Technically there wasn’t much to see – one or two rusty machines here, some rusty packing devices there; but the atmosphere was just amazing. Very post-apocalyptic, like straight out of a Terminator or Mad Mad movie, the scorching sun on the almost clear sky physically supporting the feeling. Who would have thought that shooting a 90% demolished factory could be that much fun? There is just something about gigantic ferroconcrete structures I can’t get enough of…
Yet the most interesting part was actually a Hitachi transformer station, partly stripped, but still equipped with some switchboxes and all kinds of steampunk looking metal and ceramics parts. Sadly there were mosquitos everywhere, eating us alive and rendering some photos unusable.

Despite the fact that most of the plant was gone already, this was an amazing exploration – especially since at the time I didn’t know what kind of industrial complex the Sumitomo Osaka Cement Factory had been. I knew it under the name “Sumitomo Plant”, so it could have been anything. Just by looking at the remains and the surroundings, we figured out that it must have been a cement factory; later research at home confirmed our assumptions and revealed a lot more about the plant and its history. Good times!

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The Fuji 5 Lakes area consists of Lake Yamanaka, Lake Kawaguchi, Lake Sai, Lake Shoji, and Lake Motosu – forming an arch around the northern part of Mount Fuji in Yamanashi prefecture. Famous for hiking, mountain climbing, sailing, fishing, the Aokigahara Suicide Forest, Fujikyu Highland and local udon noodles, this recreational area two hours outside of Tokyo attracts about nine million visitors per year… and many of them enjoy a soak at an onsen in the evening. Of course not all of those public baths can be successful – bad for the owners, good for explorers like me and readers like you…
The Fuji Five Lakes Onsen is a surprisingly rare location and apparently virtually unknown to the Japanese urbex scene. It’s actually easier to find information about the time when it was open for business than about its current abandoned state; hence the rather vague fake name for it. The place was actually not just a day trip spa (charging 300 Yen for the time between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m.), it was also a ryokan, a Japanese inn for overnight guests. Located next to a river in a tiny mountain town, the Fuji Five Lakes Onsen turned out to be a hidden wooden gem, a glimpse at Japan’s simple past that is disappearing quickly.

At 7,000 to 10,000 Yen per person and night the FFLO wasn’t exactly a cheap place to stay at, especially considering that it closed about 10 years ago. I am sure back then it was easily possible to get a more luxurious accommodation for a lower price – but probably with a lot less character. The main building of the Fuji Five Lakes Onsen was a narrow, but rather long wooden construction – followed by small apartments in the backyard along the river. After ten years of abandonment rather wobbly and squeaky, the main hallway wasn’t for the faint of heart, especially with road construction going on right outside. If we were able to hear them scavenge the street, they were able to hear almost any noise we made. Luckily they weren’t aware of *Hamish* and I being there, so they didn’t pay attention; a huge advantage on our side and a late reward for us approaching the Fuji Five Lakes Onsen carefully, avoiding any noises getting in.
The tricky part was the upper floor with its tatami party room. Regular readers know what kind of place I mean – the big one with the stage and the karaoke machine and stuff like that. What was so tricky about it? Well, the upper part was actually on road level, so the construction workers were able to look inside through some of the windows… if they would have paid attention, which they didn’t. Good for me, as the party room held some interesting items to take pictures of, including some 60s or 70s music devices and a Konami Hyper Shot controller for use with the smash hit Hyper Sports.
Down on the main floor again I took some photos of the pretty run down onsen part, the gender-separated shared bath. Surprisingly small, it must have offered a nice view on the river a few decades prior. Now the huge windows were mostly overgrown from the outside and vandalized by penis graffiti from the inside – the whole room felt rather cold and inhospitable on this beautiful autumn day.
The half a dozen guest “houses” in the back looked a bit like an afterthought and some were already in quite questionable condition. The eclectic conglomerate was big enough for about 30 people, with each hut hosting a family or a carload full of friends. Been there, done that… and the light was disappearing quickly.
What made the Fuji Five Lakes Onsen such a memorable exploration was the simplicity of the place. No shiny modern kitchen, no ten-storey concrete building, no spa area the size of a football field, no arcade, no elevators – just plain wooden buildings, a handful of guest apartments and an almost underwhelming shared bath. The most modern item probably was that controller for said Konami game, every other item there most likely was from the 70s, 60s or even 50s.
The last couple of places I presented on *Abandoned Kansai* were not very Japanese at first sight, especially locations like the *Western Village* or the *Hachijo Royal Hotel*… but the Fuji Five Lakes Onsen is as Japanese as it gets!

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The morning after exploring the abandoned *Western Village*, I woke up physically and mentally drained like hardly ever before. All I wanted to do is getting home, so I skipped breakfast and the first location I considered exploring that day. Feeling slightly better on the two or three trains I had to take towards Tokyo, I decided to stop at a small station with a large shopping mall. Two fences later I found myself in the semi-basement of an abandoned psychiatric hospital, taking pictures of metal-grilled solitary cells – by far the most nerve-wrecking solo exploration I’ve done so far!

Insane, crazy, bonkers, lunatic, nuts. It was really stupid to explore the Japanese Mental Hospital all by myself, especially since pretty much everything that could go wrong, went wrong – yet I got away with it…
I wasn’t up to a good start when I woke up with a cramp in my right leg, only to realize that I had a serious headache, too. The previous day had taken its toll as I totally forgot to eat or drink between breakfast at 7.30 a.m. and dinner at 8.30 p.m. – not a problem 10 years ago, but I am no spring chicken anymore. The first location I planned to explore required a 12 kilometer roundtrip walk, so I scrapped the idea quickly as I didn’t even feel like walking from the bed to the bathroom in a really tiny hotel room. My secondary target that day was an abandoned hospital in Saitama, kind of on the way home and much closer to Osaka than my then current location in Tochigi’s capital. So I did some last minute research plus some paperwork and headed south 1.5 hours later. While I had no urge in the morning to ever take a single photo again, that feeling was gone around noon as my shutter finger was itching again. I wasn’t as super excited as I usually am, but at least I didn’t feel like turning inside out anymore – and the weather was really nice!
To my surprise the small station I arrived at was super busy, and so was the large supermarket / shopping mall right across the street. I had a general idea where to look for the mental hospital, so I walked right into a developing area that now more or less surrounded the former asylum – you could say that I entered the psychiatric ward. Most plots already had houses on, their inhabitants busy with cleaning and bringing out trash. Great. Exactly what I needed. Soon the old hospital stood out like a sore thumb and visible from quite a distance as it was two floors taller than the surrounding residential area. It was fenced off by a typical Japanese construction fence – the one consisting of connecting metal plates, about 30 centimeters wide and 2.5 meters tall. Faaaaaan-tastic. But it got better. Between the road I was on and said site fence was an elevated barbed wire fence, rusty as if it was made to spread tetanus. In-between was a grassy area… mown, which means that somebody still took care of the premises. Ding-ding-ding! We have a winner – full-blown urbex nightmare. Or so I thought, because I actually found a small hole in the outer fence where I was able to squeeze my bag and tripod through, followed by a bigger hole some 40 meters down the road where I could enter – I already had figured out how to get past the inner fence, but of course the outer opening was in the opposite direction of the inner opening. So I put my equipment through the outer fence and turned around to make my way to the Florian sized access point, when I looked directly at a woman living two doors down another road. Darn! So I walked towards her, trying to start a conversation, but she just closed the veranda door and disappeared. Damn, damn, damn! I was too close to give up, so I hurried down the first road, got past the outer fence, ran back on the inside, grabbed my equipment and… ROAR, another neighbor started his car! Seriously?! I didn’t even take the time to look up, headed towards the inner fence and went all in. Literally and figuratively.
The Japanese Mental Hospital turned out to be some kind of whitewashed concrete building, 95% boarded up or blocked by rusty grilles. For obvious reasons super nervous I first had a quick look at the semi-basement in the back, from the outside of course – separated from the real world only by a solid metal fence I could hear neighbors, the kids of neighbors, and of course the dogs of neighbors… as if they were right next to me. I assumed I would have 20 minutes max until a ballsy neighbor, security or police would show up to politely ask me to leave / threaten me with the police / arrest me, so I quickly looked for a way in.
The first option wasn’t really one – the smelly, dark boiler room of the semi-basement, but I wasn’t ready for that, not even close. Luckily I found an opening the size of 1/3 of a door, barely enough for a big guy like me, but a great gift given that the rest of the ground floor was shut tight. Seconds later I found myself in front of the reception, the only light coming from the hole in the entrance door. I took a couple of shots and moved on to the staircase, lit from the not nailed-up upper floors. About 20 minutes into my adventure I started to calm down a little bit, which wasn’t exactly easy as I was exploring a friggin mental hospital all by myself! Nevertheless I headed into the dark again, to have a look at the rest of the ground floor. The second of three patient rooms had a special surprise for me – on a rack I found a dozen comic books lined up, accompanied by plushies of Stitch and Sergeant Keroro / Sgt. Frog as well as all kinds of plastic figurines. Japanese urbexers… In other countries people steal and vandalize, in this part of the world they add cutesy stuff. The upper floors turned out to be well-lit and mostly empty – a wheelchair here, some beds there, but nothing too exciting. I kinda liked the massive concrete hallway that exuded strength and hopelessness at the same time. There was only this way to get in or out… and I am sure back in the days it was very well guarded. Upon reaching the top floor with its caged roof I finally felt relieved. I was done taking photos and ten minutes later, after filming the walkthrough, I would be out of there, finally relaxing on my way home. Even the possibility of people waiting outside the fences didn’t scare me much anymore – I had seen everything I wanted to see, took pictures of everything that looked interesting to me. So I took the video and…
… realized that the staircase lead down to the semi-basement; an area. Where it was sparsely lit at best, most areas were actually pitch-black. Where the solitary cells were… with solid metal doors on one side and almost floor to ceiling iron grids on the other. Where the mistreatment most likely happened… to helpless victims, mental patients in need of the care of others. Oh, didn’t I mention why the hospital was closed? Word on the street is that the Japanese Mental Hospital closed in summer of 2001 due to financial fraud and human rights violations against the inpatients! Up to 80 unexplained deaths over the years… Did I really want to go down there?
Of course I didn’t! I was exhausted enough already, I didn’t need that kind of excitement. I am not even into urbex for any kind of excitement, I do it for the tranquil atmosphere and the unique aesthetics most places have… and what’s more unique than a wheelchair in front of the rusty bars of a dimly-lit solitary cell at an abandoned mental hospital, once accused of mistreating patients? Right! Friggin nothing – so down the stairs I went! I hope you’ll enjoy the photos and the video, because I guess I aged about three months spending 20 minutes in the semi-basement… ;)

BTW: Not only is this the 300th article on Abandoned Kansai, today marks the 5th anniversary of the first exploration I ever published. What started as a small blog read by family and friends has turned into a CNN featured resource read in 205 countries and territories. Thanks to everyone for the continuous support!

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