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Archive for the ‘Wakayama’ Category

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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After *a surprisingly successful recent exploration in China* it’s about time to write about a surprisingly unsuccessful exploration in Japan I did 3.5 years ago.
On a nice spring day I made my way to Wakayama prefecture to check out the Kuratani Onsen, which had a reputation for being one of the most beautiful abandoned onsen in all of Japan. The next train station was about 1.5 hours away, but I didn’t mind the walk towards one of Wakayama’s gorgeous mountain ranges. Along the way I saw a small abandoned house, emptied, windows smashed – rather uninteresting, despite me being rather inexperienced back then. Probably somebody’s weekend home in the 1990s.

A few minutes later I finally reached the Kuratani Onsen… and I was shocked by its condition. Parts of the building complex were collapsed, probably under the weight of snow in the winter – the downside of unmaintained wooden buildings, gorgeous as they usually are. The rest was trashed beyond believe. But not just vandalized, filled with trash up to my knees in parts. It’s generally amazing how much garbage you find in remote areas in Japan as waste disposal can be quite expensive in the land of the rising sun. But what kind of person would drive to an abandoned building and get rid of their trash there?
Not only was the whole place nasty because of it, the trash also attracted all kinds of animals – spiders, flies, bugs; probably some rodents, too. This was probably the most disgusting abandoned place I’ve ever visited – and since it was before my “jeans and hiking boots even in summer when doing urbex” habit, I didn’t even try to make my way across all that garbage. Instead I took a path on the right side of the building to make it to the upper floor, smashed to pieces and probably not safe either… The metal entrance part was already too rusty for me to trust it on a solo exploration. And so I left with a couple of crappy photos after about half an hour. Not my shortest exploration ever (that title still belongs to the more or less failed *Sekigahara Menard Land* snow expedition earlier the same year), but probably one of the most disappointing ones.
And that’s pretty much it… One man’s trash is another man’s treasure, so I hope you were not too disappointed by this week’s article (though I wouldn’t blame you, but not all of my explorations are spectacular, so sometimes I have to write about duds, too) – but if you were, you might consider *liking Abandoned Kansai on Facebook*. Especially in weeks with an unspectacular location I upload some exclusive preview material there – the photos scheduled for later this week will show you some amazing locations that I’m sure you will like as much as I do!

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After about a dozen *haikyo* trips all on my own I took a dear friend and colleague to the Iimori Mine in Wakayama. Doing urban exploration on your own or going with somebody are completely different experiences with both advantages and disadvantages, so I was a bit sceptical at first – but now I have to admit that I prefer to go with company. Especially since Enric and I complement each other very well.

When we arrived at the Iimori Mine we were surprised to see that our destination was located in a beautiful mountainous area with lots of orange groves. Yes, orange groves. In the middle of the mountains. In Japan. In December! Stunned by the gorgeous nature we walked around for a while exploring the groves and looking for alternative ways to get to the mine: The straightforward entrance was blocked by a company and closed off by a barbwire fence to a water canal – at least we thought so…

We went up a hill and after an adventurous climb along a steep slope we made it to the second highest level of the mine ruins. There it turned out how good it is to have a partner who complements you. While I’m more of a planner who hasn’t climbed over a fence or even wall in about 20 years, Enric was totally fearless finding a way through the forest up the hill. I guided Enric to the mine, he guided me in.
If you like taking pictures of rust and concrete Iimori Mine is the place to go! The amount of great subjects is almost endless and shooting took us quite a while. On the way back we had to get further up again and that’s how we made it to the top part which offered a stunning view down the valley. By that time it was already afternoon and since the sun goes down rather early in Japan we decided to call it a day.

But the fence bothered me… Since we only reached the upper parts of the mine I wanted to have at least a quick look at the barbed wire fence – which turned out to be a good idea since the fence not only had a gate without barbwire, but it ended 30cm before it reached the water canal – so you can easily walk around it! Another example of great Japanese planning… For once not being afflicted by it, we took our chances and entered the lower part of the mine although the sun was already setting.

While the upper part was all about concrete and rust, the lower part was more about concrete and jungle. The vegetation there was pretty thick even in the middle of winter and at a certain point I had to give up to advance further – partly because of the climbers and trees, partly because it was actually getting dark.

When I looked for historical information about the Iimori Mine on the internet I was disappointed to find barely anything. No longer texts, no pictures. All I know is that it was an iron sulphide mine opened in 1878, bought by Furukawa Mining in 1918 and closed down in 1970.

Overall the Iimori Mine is a great urbex destination. Beautiful location, completely different looks depending on the way you approach it and an endless amount of pictures to be taken. On the downside there are no real buildings left – just a wild construction of concrete, metal / rust and (partly burned) wood. (Even vandals spare the place since there is barely anything left to be destroyed without a serious amount of dynamite.)
In case you are an urbex newbie going on your own, I would recommend to gain some experience first – the Iimori Mine is a dangerous place and should be approached with respect. Especially in summer, when it seems to be infested with snakes…

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