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Archive for the ‘Abandoned’ Category

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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As of a week ago, one of my biggest urbex regrets had been not exploring the abandoned Western Village before its demolition. I found out about this Wild West amusement park many years ago, long before it was picked up by Japanese urbex blogs, but it was far away from Osaka, nestled in the mountains of Tochigi prefecture, giving it a Rocky Mountains-ish vibe. A trip rather time and money consuming, I kept postponing my visit, until I heard in autumn of 2014 that Western Village had joined the long list of famous places demolished last year. Apparently that news was rather exaggerated, as I read by chance last week – heavy machinery had been put into position and a locomotive was removed, but the main park was still there… at least during the Japanese winter break, ending on January 4th 2015. So I did what every upstanding person with regrets would have done: I tossed all concerns about money and time out of the window and headed up to Tochigi to explore Western Village before it was gone for good! (Which is probably, but not necessarily, happening as you read these lines…)

Western Village emerged from a family owned guest ranch with a few horses and a fishing pond called Kinugawa Family Ranch, started in the early 1970s as an additional attraction for visitors of a nearby hot spring – there were metal cups labelled that way all over the premises, most likely around 40 years old and once sold in gift shops. Kenichi and Masayuki Ominami’s uniquely themed leisure park was divided into several zones, the last one added in 1995 for about 25 million USD, featuring a three-floor building with a 1/3 scale replica of Mount Rushmore; the latter earned Western Village a few awards, from the Mount Rushmore Society and Northwest Airlines, making the park’s then-president Kenichi Ominami a honorary governor of South Dakota. Main attractions included said Mount Rushmore, several (now removed) locomotives and cars imported from the United States, and a live Wild West show – minor attractions were an arcade, two haunted houses, and lots of smaller buildings with western content. In addition to that, Western Village was often used as a film set for promotional videos and movies.
From 2003 to 2006 visitors were able to rent Segways, and in its later years of existence the entrance fee was lowered from 2400 to 1500 Yen, but all of that didn’t stop the demise of Western Village. In 2006 the official website announced that the park would be closed from December 6th till late March 2007 (the end of the business year) for maintenance, but the park never opened again as announced in February of 2007. In April 2007 the Sankei Shimbun, one of Japan’s biggest newspapers, reported that the creditor NIS Group filed for foreclosure of land and buildings in the Tokyo District Court in September 2006, deciding that it would be financially impossible to re-open the park. Since then Western Village has fallen into disrepair, suffering from metal thieves and vandalism, despite reports of security on patrol and the Tochigi police training on the premises. In the second half of 2014 Japanese explorers reported that the demolition of Western Village had begun. Usually something like that takes only a few days in Japan, a couple of weeks max, if the crew is small or if ferroconcrete buildings are involved. So everybody believed Western Village was no more and none of the visitors since then cared to debunk the rumors… until last week.

Every year around New Year’s Day Japan shuts down for about a week, coming to a near standstill on January 1st. On that day only basic services like trains, taxis and 24/7 supermarkets are running, even most bank ATMs are shut down – the perfect time to get out of the country or to welcome visitors without having to take sparse paid days off. In my case, my sister was visiting, so I was super busy planning and executing day trips, dinner with friends and stuff. By coincidence I saw a friend posting on Facebook that he just came back from Western Village and that heavy machinery was still in place, idle during winter break. Without time to plan anything, I packed a small bag with some clothes and my camera equipment, actually forgetting my ultra-wide angle lens. On Friday morning I accompanied my sister to the airport for a proper farewell, headed back to Osaka (without stopping at home) and took several trains north – continuing to Western Village on Saturday, spending more than six hours till sunset on the premises.

While a good portion of *Nara Dreamland* was just false front, Western Village was actually a full-blown Wild West town. All buildings were accessible, all of them had a purpose. The fully stocked arcade was surprisingly big and featured a custom made animatronic shooting game as well as classic video games like Space Harrier, Alpine Racer and Crazy Taxi. Two gigantic restaurants were able to feed hundreds of customers at the same time, not to mention the saloon next to the gift shop. There was a fake hotel, a barber, a bank, a black smith, and a sheriff office; interestingly enough the fake looking church was real, imported from California. Several attractions costing extra money included a haunted house, the now almost empty Mystery Shock with its messed up floors and walls, a shooting game featuring futuristic looking guns (long before Cowboys & Aliens!) and a photographer’s shop, where you could dress up in cliché outfits. Some of those buildings were “inhabited” by animatronic characters like a clerk, a bartender and a Pony Express employee, giving the now abandoned park a really spooky Westworld vibe, especially since most of those animatronics were built to match the likenesses of movie icons. (The older among us remember Michael Crichton’s movie with Yul Brunner and James Brolin, the younger will get a star-packed HBO version produced by J.J. Abrams and Jonathan Nolan soon.)
Western Village has suffered quite a bit from vandalism and natural decay over the last couple of years. Animatronics and mannequins have been moved all over the park, so were clothes from the photographer’s shop and several single items. Some people clearly had fun positioning large teddy bears (from an exhibition at the Mount Rushmore building) behind partly smashed doors and lurking creepily through windows. The auditorium at the foot of Mount Rushmore was rather overgrown even in winter, and the veranda of the hotel was on the brink of collapse – but overall Western Village was still in decent condition, considering that it consists largely of wood and is one of the most popular *haikyo* in all of Japan. It’s totally beyond me that *Nara Dreamland* is super popular and Western Village is completely overlooked; the latter one is actually in much better condition (well, probably because of it…). Sure, it lacks the rollercoasters, but it’s stuffed with tons of interesting items and animatronics. It’s a lot easier to access and has a unique subject matter, especially considering its location… Japan. Overall a fantastic exploration – and I really hope that somebody will hold back the heavy machines for a while, so more people will be able to explore Western Village!

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How to enter Spreepark?

That never really was a question. I knew I would find my way into Germany’s most famous abandoned theme park, though I wasn’t sure if I really wanted to. When I first saw the sad leftovers of what once was Spreepark im Plänterwald on a sunny early Monday afternoon my heart sank a bit – all the horror stories about vandalism at famous abandoned places in Europe seemed to have come true at first sight, even from the outside. I just had arrived in Berlin to abysmal weather forecasts (rain, rain, rain and… rain), so I headed there immediately after I dropped some luggage at my freshly booked hotel – a mild disaster in comparison to what I am used to living in Japan. In Japan you go to the clearly labelled tourist information and you name your budget and the part of the city you are interested in. At Tegel Airport I first had to ask somebody if there was a tourist information at all and the first reaction I got there upon voicing my general request was „We charge three Euros for a hotel reservation!“ – I guess it’s needless to say that it’s a free of charge service in Japan. After not being asked, I tried to state my budget and the area of the city I was interested in, to which I had to deal with a rather rude „First I have to find out what’s available!“ Jawohl, mein Fräulein! Of course the hotel she found was 50% above my budget, which provoked her to the following snarky comment: „You can go to the city center and try to find a cheaper hotel on your own!“ After booking, the tourist information “lady” tried to send me on my way with the hotel’s address printed on top of a legal document 5 pages long, but without a map or information about how to get to the damn city center. Gosh, you gotta love Berlin… (It turned out that the hotel was not only over the price I had in mind, but it was also overpriced. Breakfast was 10 EUR extra per day, WiFi in the room an additional 5 EUR, the room had no fridge or complimentary toiletries like a toothbrush, and the bed was about half as wide of what I am used to from Japan – where I pay about half as much per night, but including all of the above!) If you think I sometimes rant too much about Japan, don’t get me started about Germany! ;)

Well, there I was, finally, at the Spreepark, just 15 minutes on foot away from the S-Bahn station Plänterwald, named after the city forest of the same name. The park opened in 1969 as the only amusement park in the German Democratic Republic a.k.a. East Germany. Called Kulturpark Plänterwald (cultural park Plänterwald) back then, it was privatized and renamed in 1991, one year after Germany’s reunification. Originally a pay as you go amusement park, the concept was changed in 90s as the Spreepark Berlin GmbH under owner Norbert Witte added more and more attractions – nevertheless visitor numbers dropped from 1.5 million per year to 400.000 per year, followed by the bankruptcy of the GmbH in 2001. In early 2002, Witte, his family and some employees made authorities believe that they would ship 6 attractions to repair, instead they sent them to Lima, Peru, where they opened a new theme park called Lunapark – later Witte and his son were convicted for trying to smuggle 167 kilograms of drugs upon returning back to Germany. The gutted park itself closed for the public in 2002 and became a famous spot for urban explorers, despite round the clock security. Taking advantage of that huge interest, a company offered official photo tours from August 2009 on, a café called Mythos opened in April 2011 on the weekends and from Mai 2011 on the park’s train Santa Fe Express became its first official active attraction again – and Spreepark turned into a zombie amusement park; looking (and probably smelling) dead, but being somewhat alive…
In early 2014 the city took over and I was told that for the first time in 12 years there were neither security nor official tours – and by coincidence I went to Berlin anyway, so I had a look myself. Remains of the park can be found as far as 500 meters away from the entrance, where I saw a huge ad box for the park, promoting raffles for free tickets. From there a path lead through the forest to the main entrance, damaged lamp posts from the GDR era on both sides of the way. Upon arrival the first thing I saw was a parked car right inside the gates, so I assumed somebody was on the premises, which made me have a look around first. A couple of minutes later I found several spots to enter Spreepark comfortably, but at the same time the sun was gone and it began to rain… heavily… at least for a while – the forecast was right after all. I took shelter in a little hut right next to the Spree and when the sun came out again I continued to circle Spreepark in full, amazed that the fence had more holes than Swiss cheese! On the way I saw several vandalized signs, a vandalized wooden kiosk and a locked up, fenced off and slightly vandalized restaurant for day-trippers called “Zum Eierhäuschen” (The Egg House), dating back to the 19th century and made famous by Theodor Fontane’s novel Der Stechlin.
Upon getting closer to the main entrance again, I finally saw the park’s landmark, a Ferris wheel 45 meters high – and to my surprise it was moving! I took a quick video, when I saw some people inside of the park, walking towards one of the gates… Half a dozen left, one stayed behind, so I talked to the guy and asked him when the next tour would start – it turned out that he wasn’t a tour guide, but security. Damn! He also told me that he kicks everybody out straight away and calls the police when he sees somebody twice – and that I was notice. Damn! And the Ferris wheel wasn’t running, it was moved by the wind… damn! Not my day…
Well, after a dozen years of vandalism and removing attraction, Spreepark was a rundown piece of crap anyway – and after 5 years of official tours and thousands of people entering illegally, there was no way I could have taken a photo inside you haven’t seen a million times on the internet anyway. So I decided to stay outside, taking some pictures from there – not spectacular ones, but new ones, stuff you probably haven’t seen yet; and to enjoy the atmosphere there for another hour or two. Minutes later I talked to a group of British students on a school trip to Berlin, who were eager to enter, but couldn’t decide whether or not to risk it. Then I went back to the Ferris wheel to have another look, when all of a sudden I saw a guy inside running like crazy, followed by a police car outside. The guy was able to hide and the police car left without catching him, but to me this was great – I am not used to that doing urbex in Japan, it’s a lot more mellow here! I headed back to the main entrance, when I saw two young women inside, just carelessly walking around, obviously not the slightest worried about security or the police – an attitude I saw repeatedly on two more locations the following day; people in Berlin don’t seem to have a sense of guilt whatsoever, their level of entitlement was amazing to see – though I guess some of them get crushed at the police station… :) Despite that, I still had no urge to get inside and take some photos – again, there was close to nothing for me to gain. One big element of urbex is risk assessment. Spreepark is photographed to death and I have been to much better abandoned amusement parks in the past. *Nara Dreamland* for example – I was willing to take the risk to go there five years ago, when it was virtually unknown. Now it’s a vandalized piece of garbage much like Spreepark, and I pity the fools who nowadays risk getting caught by security and the Japanese police. At the same time I don’t mind taking a risk if it’s worth it – just three days ago I explored an abandoned capsule hotel right across the street from a police station, because it’s a unique location and I was able to take some amazing photos that no one has ever taken before; *click here for a first impression on Facebook*.
Anyway, I sat down on a bench, looking through the photos on my camera, when I was approached by an older man. We talked for a while and it turned out that he lived in the area for like 40 years and knew all about the park and its history, not happy with the current situation. He confirmed that the Ferris wheel hasn’t been used in a while and that it is actually very dangerous to get close to it as the authorities are worried that the whole thing might fall over as the foundations are completely rotten and a very strong wind could bring it down.

Wow, this visit really had it all – security, police, neighbors, wannabe explorers, risk takers; and me enjoying the atmosphere.
About four weeks later Spreepark made national news when four men started two fires that destroyed parts of the park. The city’s reaction? Increased security, a new fence all around the park… and new photo tours, probably starting in 2015.

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Winter is coming! Not to Osaka, but to the Kansai region in general, as there is no real winter in Osaka. Sure, the locals start freezing the moment the temperatures fall below the 28° Celsius they set their ACs to in summer (which means that some of them go from cooling straight to heating, because nobody deserves to live in inhumane 26° weather!), but if you are from a place that actually has four seasons, you will quickly realize that Osaka doesn’t really have a winter. Temperatures barely ever fall below 0° Celsius and in the past eight years it only snowed two times hard enough for the white beauty to stick on the ground… for a few hours, never for longer. It also explains why certain types of women turn into walking urinary tract infections – if you wear belts all year long and call them dresses, then for a couple of weeks a year you have to suffer through your inability to wear proper autumn clothes… (Being male I am not complaining, I am just tired of the stupidity. The principle of cause and effect doesn’t seem to be a strength of the average ditz…)
On the other hand, Osaka is in day trip range of mountainous prefectures. Hyogo, Kyoto, Shiga, Fukui, Gifu, Mie, Nara and Wakayama all get their share of snow from as early as December on. And just because you have sunny 10°C in Osaka doesn’t mean that the weather is the same just an hour’s drive or two later. When I was planning to visit a school with *Michael Gakuran* I was aware of that fact and looked up the forecast for the target area – temperatures near freezing point, low chance of snow. Considering how unreliable the Japanese weather forecast is I expected nothing bad and off we went…
A few hours later we reached an elevation of just 600 meters… when it started to snow. Just a few flakes at first, but by the time we reached 800 meters we found ourselves in a full-blown snow storm, the white beauty definitely sticking to the ground! For the next few hours the weather changed constantly between early darkness caused by blizzard like snow falls and blue sunny skies at temperatures between -3° and +2°C. The problem in our case – what I call the Blizzard School wasn’t at 800 meters, it was significantly lower, deeper in the cool mountains. So we had to descend a few hundred meters in altitude on a typical Japanese mountain road. Snowy, sometimes barely as wide as the car (our rental car equipped with summer tires, occasionally sliding a couple of centimeters!), made of concrete (not asphalt!), sometimes cracked or damaged by falling rocks and small landslides, with steep slopes to at least one side where only tall trees would keep us from falling fifty or a hundred meters to our certain deaths. Driving at an estimated speed of 5 kilometers per hour we finally reached the Blizzard School after a painfully long drive – and Michael didn’t hesitate to admit that he is worried about driving back on that narrow, mostly snowy road (on some stretches the thick forest protected the road from getting snowed in). Well, we were halfway down the mountain, we could as well stay and have a look at the school after driving there for hours! And of course we did, everything else would have been a waste, but we agreed to leave well before sunset in case we would have to walk to a village along the way to ask for help.

The Blizzard School turned out to be an excellent exploration, partly because of the circumstances. Of course we were excited that we made there despite the horrible weather condition, but the snow outside and the cold temperatures everywhere just added to the atmosphere of being a student here 30, 40, 50 years ago; when 3 months of winter in the mountains was a reality for a dozen students or two.
Like quite a few abandoned Japanese schools, the Blizzard School wasn’t located in a village, but between two hamlets; which was good for us as we didn’t have to worry about neighbors showing up. Despite being a rather small school with only six rooms, including the inaccessible nursing room (or nurse’s room?), it took us almost four hours (!) to explore and shoot the place as the wooden structure was stuffed with all kinds of items: sports gear, tools, books, a taxidermy caiman, chemistry lesson equipment, an almost full-sized anatomical model of the human body, a globe, an overhead projector, a piano AND an organ, several TVs, an old daylight slide and strip film projector – and the list could go on and on and on. I’ve been to my share of schools this year, but hardly any of them came even close to what was left behind at the Blizzard School. And taking photos there wasn’t an easy process – partly because some of the floor was damaged, partly because the light inside the school changed on a regular basis due to the weather conditions outside; which brought back memories of the amazing *Tenkaen, a Chinese themed park in Hokkaido*.
There is not much known about the history of the school, but given that its schedule said Showa 62 (1987) and the calendar in the kitchen ended in March / April 1988, it is pretty safe to say that the Blizzard School was closed at the end of the school year 1987/8 – new Japanese school years start in April.
Still in decent condition, it’s only a matter of time until the Blizzard School will be gone. Built below the mountain road on a small (most likely manmade) flat area, the former schoolyard already suffered from a landslide ripping a hole into the ground. There were actually some small living quarters beneath the kitchen and the organ room of the school, probably for the head teacher; directly at the slope, so a disaster is just a matter of time; whether it’ll be a landslide starting there or a landslide rushing through from above, the school collapsing from the weight of heavy snowfalls or just from mold damages – danger lurks everywhere. I’d actually be surprised if I would come back in 10 years and the school would still be there.
This theoretical visit would take place in summer though as going down that crazy snowy road once was enough for me. Luckily we didn’t have to leave the valley by driving up a mountain again – after following the road we came on for about another 45 minutes the valley opened up and released us to a wide, paved and snow free National Route… the wonderful feeling of bringing another set of urbex photos back to safety!

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The skiing season in Japan started just recently – time to present one of three rather big abandoned ski resorts I visited this year!

Opened in December of 1990 (according to a commemorative stone attached to the spotless bright white building with its turquoise window frames) the Gunma Ski Resort was partly shut down in 2004 and closed in early 2006 – during those years, parts of the property were turned into a soccer camp (in addition to the regular camping site from June till October).
Originally the resort offered four courses for beginners and advanced skiers. A 100 meter long Family Hill, a 1800 meter long Easy Rider Path, a 1000 meter long Challenger Path and a 6000 meter long Heli Ski Course – yeah, those were the good old days of the Japanese asset price bubble; only the best was good enough! Four lifts (and at least one helicopter…) transported guests up the mountain, the main one with a capacity of 2400 passengers per hour. The lifts were 3800 Yen per day (or 300 Yen per ride), the helicopter charged 7000 Yen per person and ride. The rental shop was equipped with 500 sets of skis and 150 snowboards, charging 3000 Yen or 4000 Yen per day respectively – skiwear rental was an additional 3000 Yen.
Interestingly enough the resort didn’t feature any private hotel rooms – just a few large bunk bed halls called Rest Rooms, charging 2000 Yen per night and small bed; at first I thought they were for children napping, but it seems like they were for all skiing guests small enough to fit, available from 9 p.m. till 10 a.m.
At the base lodge there were two restaurants on the second floor. The buffet style Grille Buffalo and the cafeteria style Café U.S.A – yes, no third dot! Strangely enough the latter one sold predominantly stuff like ramen, udon and soba. Both restaurants had separate kitchens that were connected in the back… and both restaurants suffered quite a bit from vandalism and airsoft matches.

Overall the Gunma Ski Resort was still in surprisingly good condition at the time of my visit, considering that it was closed and subsequently abandoned almost a decade ago.
The main floor with the ski rental, ski school and gift shop suffered from some severe vandalism as windows and doors were smashed (I guess it didn’t look *haikyo* enough to some people…), things were thrown around and stolen, mold started to take over one room or the other. At the end of one hallway there was the wooden silhouette of a person against a window, in a position that clearly indicated “dead” – and if you had a closer look at the window you could see a bullet hole there. Spooky!
The restaurant floor was nice overall – some minor vandalism, especially in the kitchens, countless airsoft bullets and a few barricades. Unspectacular (my personal favorite: the cracked open tea machine), but nice. The rest room floor suffered again from a couple of broken windows, resulting in slightly moldy sheets, walls and carpets. Personally I would have preferred to see it in spotless condition, but I guess you could say that the green banana has ripened, if vandalism is what you are looking for in abandoned places. Luckily the elevator control room on the roof gave me what I wanted as it was basically pristine. But the general rule of thumb was: the closer you got to the entrance, the more noticeable the stench of mold and spilled gasoline became. Actually to a point that I was worried about potential health issues, that’s why I didn’t film the lowest floor when I did the video tour at the end of the exploration. I only had a quick look, following my fellow explorer friend *Hamish* – and actually something good came out of it. In one of the office rooms, Hamish heard kind of a rattling metal noise, coming from a trash can under a window. It turned out that a rodent caused it, desperately trying to escape the fatal trap – another rodent already dead next to it. They must have fallen from a window sill, unlikely as it seemed, because that was the only way to get even close to the opening of the trash can. Strange little fella, like a mouse, but with a much longer nose – please have a look at the last video, maybe you can identify it? Of course we did the right thing, so Hamish carried the trash can outside and toppled it over to free the little fella. After the *hedgehog at the abandoned shipyard* the second animal life I was part of saving this year. “Abandoned Kansai – exploring since 2009, saving lives since 2014!”

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The Japanese love fishing – not just whales and dolphins, but in general. When I grew up, I saw short bits on TV about swimming pool like fishing ponds in Tokyo, right next to trains rattling by. Now that I live in Japan, I see anglers at almost all bodies of water, especially in the countryside – even in the mountains at 600 or 700 meters of elevation.
Karuizawa is a small town of about 18,000 people in Nagano prefecture, just two hours outside of Tokyo by car; or half that time when using a Shinkansen super express train. While never hosting Olympic games by itself, Karuizawa was host to the equestrian events of the 1964 Tokyo Summer Olympics and to the curling events of the 1998 Nagano Winter Olympics, making it the only place in the world hosting events for both Summer and Winter Olympics. But even without this little know fun fact Karuizawa is a really lovely town on the base of the active complex volcano Mount Asama, mostly consisting of small houses on surprisingly large parcels of land, surrounding a gorgeous small city center with lots of German, French and British influence; if there ever will be a Japanese remake of Groundhog Day, it should be filmed in Karuizawa!
Attracting predominantly Japanese tourists from Tokyo trying to escape the dreadful summer heat or looking for some skiing fun in winter, Karuizawa offers all kinds of outdoor activities.

A fishing park just outside of Karuizawa offered retreats for companies, universities and youth groups; adding tennis courts, a gateball court and a community center with pool billiard and karaoke to the list of recreational activities. Not much of it is left these days – a couple of rotting buildings as well as some left behind items.
What elevated this exploration and made it quite memorable was another encounter with wildlife; a fox this time, to be more specific. My exploration buddy Hamish and I were just entering the lower level of a barn like structure (see photo…) when we heard animal footsteps from the floor above. We took a couple of photos of the missing floor and the building in general when out of nowhere a fox came running down the broken wooden stairs and right at us. Not knowing what to do we just looked at each other, when the fox all of a sudden realized that he was not alone. In a 1960s cartoon like move he made a full break, turned around, sped up again and tried to escape through a window next to the flight of stairs… BOOM! The window was closed. Another try. Boom. And up the stairs he went, apparantly uninjured. Bursting into laughs about what just happened we continued to shoot for a while, when Hamish went out to the open again – seconds later the fox appeared, much more careful this time, seeing me and retreating again; it seems like he had been looking through a glass door and thought we left when he saw my buddy. Afterwards we left for good and never saw each other again… happy that it was such a shy creature and not some rabies ridden calf mangler!

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Japanese love their onsen hotels, accommodations with natural hot springs – they are popular all over the country and of course Hachijojima was no exception… until this hotel had to close for a quite bizarre reason!

I’ve written about Japanese bathing culture on Abandoned Kansai several times before, for example in my article about the *Meihan Spa Land* – usually not in a very flattering way as my first and for years last visit wasn’t a very pleasant one. The day that changed everything was April 28th 2014, when I first visited the abandoned Hachijo Spa Hotel… and then Mirahashi No Yu in the tiny village of Sueyoshi. Both visits I enjoyed surprisingly much in hindsight, despite or maybe because of my low expectations in both cases.

I wasn’t off to a good start when I got off the bus pretty much right next to a *koban*, one of those small neighborhood police stations you can find everywhere in Japan. It wasn’t so much that the first thing I saw was a koban – it was the sign in the window stating “on patrol” that worried me a little bit. But hey, what can you do? The show must go on… and it did. Walking up and down several different roads on Hachijojima’s steep slopes in search of the Hachijo Spa Hotel I got lost several times (GoogleMaps being rather useless in that specific area due to many additional roads big and small) – and when I finally found my way… I got passed by that friggin police car maybe 200 meters away from the hotel! Despite being a big tall foreigner far away from anything even remotely touristy, the cops ignored me, but of course my confidence was ruined when I finally arrived at the wooden fence that separated me from the abandoned hotel; even more so when I realized that said fence featured a brand-new chain and lock, which meant that someone checked on the place at least every once in a while and was invested enough to invest in basic security equipment like that.
Obviously I finally made it in somehow, otherwise there wouldn’t be any photos at the end of the article, but my first impressions of the Hachijo Spa Hotel confirmed the concerns I had before my visit – that it would be another rotten, rotting piece of moldy trash that was really boring and exhausting to explore. Even the gorgeous view from the lobby and the small arcade right next to it couldn’t cheer me up; not really a surprise after I explored the amazing *Arcade Machine Hotel* the day before. I tried to lighten up a bit, so I used the big mirror pillars in the lobby for some more creative photos before I headed outside and down the slope, where I found another part of the hotel as well as several tiny apartment buildings. While the latter were locked up, the hotel building hosted a big dining room, but everything was moldy and rotting, so I left after a few quick shots – the whole building was one big decaying health risk. Outside most of the roads and trails leading to more small buildings were overgrown, everything made of metal was rusting at a mind-blowing speed. I almost had given up when I saw steps leading underground somewhere, so I grabbed my flashlight to make up for the rather cowardly start.
To my surprise this rather short tunnel was the access point to one of the hotel’s pools / spa areas – and it was gorgeous! Back in the days it was an indoor area, but like I said, metal was rusting quickly and anything made of glass had been broken a long time ago, so this area surrounded by thick vegetation was its own little rundown paradise and definitely the highlight of the Hachijo Spa Hotel!
Which reminds me, I never mentioned why this hot spring hotel had to close its doors. Guess! Okay, you don’t have to guess. You would have been wrong anyway if you would have said “lack of customers”. The main reason this hot spring hotel had to close was… because the hot spring dried out!
No hot spring, no hot spring hotel…

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