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The Bahnbetriebswerk Pankow-Heinersdorf (Bahnbetriebswerk = railyard) is right next to the train station of the same name in Germany’s capital Berlin… and probably as famous as the *Spreepark* and the *Iraqi Embassy In The German Democratic Republic* – yeah, I was a lazy explorer last summer, going after the easy names instead of the unique locations like I do here in Japan. But I was kind of in a hurry and to the best of my knowledge, abandoned embassies and railyards are really rare in Japan, so it was a welcome change of aesthetics, though the insane amount of vandalism and other people there pretty much ruined the experience again.

The history of the Bahnbetriebswerk Pankow-Heinersdorf dates back to the year 1893, which makes the area one of the oldest “modern” ruins I ever explored. Back in Prussian times the roundhouse (Rundlokschuppen) at the southern end of the premises was finished – then a high tech building to store and / or repair up to 24 trains at the same time, protected from the weather; thanks to its internal turntable, protected from frost. At that time, new and bigger train models were released much more often than nowadays. Soon the roundhouse became too small, so the Königlich Preußische und Großherzoglich Hessischen Staatseisenbahnen (“Royal Prussian and Grand-Ducal Hessian State Railways”) had to add a semi-oval train repair shop (Lokschuppen) in the northern part of the railyard. The advantage of that building was that it could be expanded according to the needs of new train models, the disadvantage was its outdoor turntable, exposed to the weather all year long and therefore failure-prone.
Both repair shops are still standing today. The roundhouse is actually one of only two left in all of Germany – and under monumental protection, which is probably one of the reasons why the whole area is one big ruin, despite the fact that it was sold by the Deutsche Bahn AG to real estate and furniture mogul Kurt Krieger in 2011, more than ten years after the railyard was closed. Yes, Kurt Krieger – long-time readers of *Abandoned Kansai* might remember that name from an article I wrote 20 months ago, about the abandoned furniture store *Möbel Erbe Hanau*; it’s the very same guy, what a surprise! (Gosh, I love it when separate stories come together like that!)

The Bahnbetriebswerk Pankow-Heinersdorf once covered an area of 250000 square meters (that’s almost 2.7 million square feet!) and gave work to hundreds of people, now that most of the train tracks have been removed, there are only about a dozen rotting buildings in various states of decay left – other buildings and more tracks further south have been demolished around 2006. Over the years, they all have been boarded up and torn apart several times, graffiti everywhere. I spent around two hours at the trainyard and ran into more than a dozen people; urbex for the masses. While I had the newer repair shop in the north for myself, the roundhouse in the south turned out to be a popular spot for photo shootings… and a large group of eight to ten people was just setting up. When they called for a meeting in one of the adjunct rooms, I quickly shot a short video and then got out of there to not further disturb them.
Exploring the Bahnbetriebswerk Pankow-Heinersdorf was interesting, but a little bit underwhelming. I love those huge industrial sites from the Age of Industrialization, especially since they are so hard to find in Japan, but at the same time it was sad to see a rare building under monumental protection just rot away for monetary reasons, vandalized by bored morons – the railyard’s roundhouse is one of only two left in all of Germany, from an era so important for the whole country… for the whole world. It might not have been the most glamorous or the most just era, but it surely was one of the most interesting ones!

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When I first researched abandoned places in Japan back in 2009 the Bungo-Mori Railyard in Kyushu was one of THE locations. Everybody knew it, everybody went there, everybody got in and out with some interesting shots. I on the other hand never was much interested. Kyushu? That was way too far away! I was about to call my blog Abandoned Kansai anyway, because that was the area I planned to explore: Kansai. Well, half a year later I went to Kyushu to see locations like *Gunkanjima* and the *Katashima Training School* – and the term Abandoned Kansai became more of a name of origin. Some people actually address me in e-mails with “Dear Kansai”, which is kinda cute. But I still didn’t go to the Bungo-Mori Railyard, deep in the mountains of Oita prefecture. Even when I stayed a night in Oita city I had other places to explore. It wasn’t until a few weeks ago that I finally had the opportunity to have a look at the Bungo-Mori Railyard… only to find it halfway transformed into a tourist attraction!
Most of the surprisingly small railyard building (opened in 1934 and closed in 1971) close to the Bungo-Mori Station (opened in 1929) was cleaned out, new fences were put up, so were lights to illuminate the building at night. A dozen workers were swarming the area to remove remaining tracks and to build a new road leading up to the railyard that once serviced 21 steam trains. And to make things worse, the sun was standing high in the sky and behind the building. It turned out that in 2009, when I did my research, the railyard finally received some money to be preserved, and in 2012 it was added to some national register for cultural properties – the result of a campaign started by a single train enthusiast in 2001! The now developing memorial park already features photo spots indicated by signs and expects to receive some old steam trains soon.

On the one hand, a legendary location like that deserves its own article… though… there was not much left to see. Especially in comparison to the large Railyard Pankow-Heinersdorf I visited past summer in Berlin. I wanted to write about that last location I explored in the capital anyway, so here’s a short article about the tiny tourist railyard in Japan, followed by a longer article about the gigantic railyard in Germany on Tuesday; kind of an appetizer, a snack… another example that everything is smaller in Japan. (Except for the crowds on trains! Gosh, I am getting so tired of the big cities in Japan…)

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The remains of the Nakagawa Brick Factory are a conglomerate of old bakestone buildings dating back to the Meji era (1868-1912), Japan’s questionable return to the global community. As mentioned in several articles before, back then the Imperial government hired hundreds of foreign experts to turn the agricultural society into a modern industrialized country (much like North Korea currently does in Kaesong and Rason). Back then one construction material barely known and used in Japan was bricks – because brick buildings are heavy and vulnerable to earthquakes; which are not a problem in central Europe, where bricks were quite popular. Nevertheless bricks were introduced to Japan, mainly to build previously unknown, modern western buildings like train stations (like the famous one in Tokyo), ballroom buildings, beer breweries, and all kinds of industrial installations, like transformer stations (the one in *Horonai, Hokkaido* comes to mind).

The Nakagawa Brick Factory dates back to the year 1883 when Nakagawa Hisao of the Koto Group founded the factory in Omihachiman, back then famous for trading and pottery. The heart of the factory was a so-called Hoffmann kiln, a huge oven for the perpetual baking of bricks and other pottery, invented by German master builder Friedrich Hoffmann. 14 meters wide, 55 meters long and with a chimney 30 meters tall the kiln at the Nakagawa Brick Factory is the largest of four remaining Hoffmann kilns in Japan – at one point in time there were more than 50… From 1886 on, the factory produced bricks for the Lake Biwa Canal (under construction from 1885 till 1890), which connects Lake Biwa with Kyoto and was essential for the modernization of the former capital – the first public hydroelectric power generator provided electricity for Kyoto’s tram, the canal itself provided tap water, and until the 1940 the canal was important to transport goods; interestingly enough about 10 years ago I wrote a paper at university about “The Modernization of Kyoto in the Meiji Era”, little did I know that one day a kiln providing bricks for the Lake Biwa Canal would be part of my urban explorations…
After the canal was finished, the Koto factory was officially named Nakagawa Brick Factory and continued to produce and sell bricks until 1967, although the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 once again proved that bricks weren’t good construction material for Japan; that and the rising cement industry were the downfall for brick producers.

Today most ways to enter the kiln are blocked by sandbags or wooden planks, but of course you can imagine that there is always somebody to get rid of blockades like that – which doesn’t mean that you are allowed to enter. When *Rory* and I did for the second or third time, a woman called a guy who politely asked us to leave as it was way too dangerous to be in there. So of course we left, especially since we had more than enough time to take photos and a quick video. (Technically the factory isn’t abandoned and belongs to the Township of Red Bricks nursing home close to the kiln.)

Right next to the Hoffmann kiln we found another brick building in terrible condition. With the roof and one of the walls gone, the machine inside was exposed to the elements 24/7 – only people were barred from entering by a solid fence. The huge metal machine, made by Ishikawa Iron Works of Aichi prefecture and rusted beyond repair, once must have been used to form bricks to be burnt in the kiln.
There are other buildings associated with the Nakagawa Brick Factory in Omihachiman, but none of them is in good condition, although the factory was selected to represent the industrial heritage of Japan by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry – much like the *Shime Coal Mine* in Fukuoka, a.k.a. the Anti-Zombie Fortress.

It was a rather short exploration and doing research for this article actually took much longer than exploring the Hoffmann kiln in Omihachiman, nevertheless it was an interesting place to see. Like I mentioned earlier, I studied Japanese history when I was young, but in this case I even wrote about a canal built with bricks that were made at this very kiln almost 130 years prior – and that’s why I love urban exploration so much. Because even not so spectacular places can provide you with a unique experience, that connects you with history in a way books or movies never can…

BTW: These days the city of Omihachiman is famous all over Japan thanks to a local bakery named “Club Harie”, which, by common opinion, makes the best Baumkuchen in the whole country – and therefore in all of the world. As you may or may not know, Baumkuchen (tree cake) is of German origin… and so the beautiful old city of Omihachiman is fuelled by German engineering and inventions for more than 130 years now.

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Japan never fails to surprise me. Five and a half years into urban exploration I have been to some amazing abandoned hospitals, pretty much all of them either rather empty (like the *Sankei Hospital* in Hokkaido, damaged by a volcano eruption) or rather old; like the then mind-blowing and now vandalized *Tokushima Countryside Clinic*. One thing though I never expected was to explore an abandoned modern hospital with all furnishings and fittings, fully stocked with medicine and everything you need to diagnose and treat patients – somebody would at least sell the valuable machines and dispose leftover medicine, right?
Well… Have you ever seen an abandoned MRI scanner? :)

When you live in a Japanese conurbation life tends to be comfortable and you have access to whatever you need in walking distance – public transportation is barely ever more than 10 minutes away, convenience stores where you can do banking, send parcels, and buy food 24/7 are usually located within five minutes. And of course there are all kinds of doctors that treat everything from minor ailments to deadly diseases (within the limits of their abilities…). When you live in the countryside on the other hand, Japan can become very rural with only a few buses per day and the next supermarket being many kilometers away. With regular hospitals usually being located only in bigger towns, medical care in the countryside can become dire – of all things in areas where it is needed most, as younger people tend to move to large cities, leaving the elderly behind. On the other hand, senior citizens, especially in Japan, tend to have a lot of money… and that’s why medical cooperatives were started. The Wakayama Hospital actually was the result of one of those cooperatives in 1987. Of the estimated 45.000 people in the area, about 6.000 joined the cooperative, each contributing at least 5.000 Yen. That quarter of a million USD was only the beginning, of course, as building, equipping and running a hospital costs much more than that. Luckily some of the cooperative’s members were really into the idea of having a cooperative hospital, and by 2007 the average investment per active member (about 400) was an impressive 3 million Yen – or 25.000 USD. And so the cooperative constructed a 4-storey building with several elevators and all kinds of medical devices you can imagine. The Wakayama Hospital was not only equipped with the latest SPECT, MRI and CT machines – they basically had everything from room filling scanners over ultrasound machines and a dentist chair to plastic syringes and rubber bands. It operated departments such as cardiology, surgery, respiratory diseases, and internal medicine.
For 15 years life was good for the 14 doctors and the dozens of nurses and other staff. In 2000 the hospital billed 2 billion Yen (about 16.5 Million USD) to patients and insurance companies, everything was peachy. From 2002 on though the medical service fees, paid to hospitals and other medical institutions under the medical insurance system, was lowered three times and the hospital’s income fell to 1.3 billion Yen – and with that the number of doctors went down to six. The hospital was in danger of falling into serious debt, so the board of directors decided in June 2007 to close the Wakayama Hospital by the end of the month. A screeching halt and a total disaster for those elderly investors, who not only lost their hard earned money from one moment to the next, but also their neighborhood medical facility. Inpatients were either discharged or transferred to other hospitals in the area, outpatients were confronted with waiting times of up to three hours at nearby hospitals. One of the remaining six doctors at the time of the Wakayama Hospital’s closing stayed behind and opened a small clinic on the premises, together with three nurses – a fraction of the former capacity and a fraction of what was actually needed in the area. The sponsors of the now closed hospital accused the former board of directors of negligence, that they had been out of touch with the community and didn’t know what was really needed – so they went to trial, but apparently nothing came out of it. In the end the hospital was just shut down, fully equipped and squeaky clean.

That’s how I found it a few weeks ago in April of 2015. Most calendars on the walls still showed June 2007, but one or two of them were from 2009 – I guess that’s when the remaining doctor and his three nurses finally gave up. About six years after its complete abandonment nobody seemed to care about the Wakayama Hospital anymore – access points were plenty, not only on the ground floor, but on upper levels, too; accessible via outdoor staircases. Since the Wakayama Hospital wasn’t just a cube shaped building with four outer walls, it started to accumulate pools of water on its several flat roofs. One of them was actually used by birds for a swim. Which was lovely to see, but there was a huge downside to it: Despite being a solid concrete building, the roofs started to leak… and the ground floor (1F in Japan) started to become really nasty in some areas – not just water on the ground inside, but the wallpapers were rotting off, so was the damaged ceiling cladding. After a thorough look on every floor to make sure that the building was structurally still sound, I decided to explore it from top to bottom. That turned out to be an excellent decision as even the upper floors were super interesting and showed only few signs of vandalism. The heavy machinery though was on the ground floor, so I saved the best for last – and the worst.
The best, because it was just mind-blowing to see what kind of items were left behind. Why would anybody abandon an MRI machine? And how could it sit there for six years without being harmed by anybody? It basically looked brand-new, probably as good as it did when last used in 2007. Unbelievable!
The worst, because for the most part the ground floor was either nasty or dark… or both. Mold everywhere, water standing in some rooms, rotting cladding, vandals blocked certain areas, and at least half a dozen emptied fire-extinguishers. Despite me taking pictures as quickly as possible and breathing through a folded towel I had on me, I could feel how my breathing started to clog up, a chemical taste in my mouth. I would have loved to take more photos of the ground floor, but considering the health risks I was exposed to, I stayed as long as I could justify it to myself, and probably longer than most people would have.

“What’s your favorite abandoned place in Japan?” is a question I get asked quite often. Well, I guess the answer depends a bit on my mood, but I can assure you that this is my favorite abandoned place I have written about. Like I said at the beginning of this article, I would have never expected to ever explore a fully equipped modern hospital that is truly abandoned. Sure, sometimes you see half empty closed hospitals that are in a transition phase, explored by infiltrators – but a truly abandoned hospital with that many machines, that much equipment? What an amazing find… with such a sad story!
I really hope you enjoyed reading about the Wakayama Hospital as much as I enjoyed exploring it. And while the photos give a good impression about what the upper floors looked like, you really might want to watch the video I took on the ground floor (1F)… and then head over to the *Tokushima Countryside Clinic* to see what old Japanese hospitals looked like, the kind that were housed in wooden mansions.

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“Don’t play with your food!”
I wonder if any Japanese mom ever said that to their child before they went swimming at the Dolphin Lair, a now abandoned dolphinarium that apparently allowed its guests to take a dip with the world’s most popular aquatic mammals.

Japan is constantly under fire for how some members of its society treat dolphins and whales – whether it’s hunting the cetaceans or keeping them captive. I actually doubt that the majority of Japanese support the practices of those few, most people are just indifferent and don’t care enough to demand change. Hardly anybody eats whale or dolphin on a regular basis, but when the international community demands changes, a lot of people feel threatened by possible foreign influence, leaving them stranded in some area that can be summed up like this: “I don’t care, but I’ll be damned if somebody else tells me to give up what some of my fellow countrymen consider tradition!” You know, like having an assault rifle at home to protect your 32 inch TV…
As for the “keeping dolphins captive” part, Japan doesn’t differ much from the rest of the world – except that theirs are probably smaller. Not the dolphins, the dolphinariums; which in general have a bad reputation everywhere, even the big ones, the ones everyone knows… and they survive financially, because people still go there – which means that enough people think that keeping dolphins (or other animals) captive is a good idea. If people would stop going to zoos and dolphinariums, the problem would solve itself, except for maybe some few private or state zoos.

The Dolphin Lair was a small dolphinarium along the coast of the Seto Inland Sea in central Japan. The regular entrance fee was 500 Yen for age 3 till elementary school (usually around age 12), 800 Yen for everyone older than that (currently 100 Yen are about 0.80 EUR or 0.85 USD). A 20 minute long “Petting Course” was 2.500 / 3.000 Yen, the 40 minute long “Swimming Course” cost 6.000 Yen for kids who were at least in third grade of elementary school and 8.000 Yen for everyone past elementary school. Dolphin Lair also offered a “Diving Course” for 11.000 Yen, though I am not sure if that involved the dolphins, too.
7 years after being closed in 2008, Dolphin Lair was a surreal sight. Located next to a small marina, the area was more roped-off than fenced-off, the pools mostly below ground, reaching a height of maybe 1.5 meters, to the right a café towering over everything. While the metal parts looked like abandoned decades ago, the wall paintjob was still in amazing condition – most buildings locked, the café probably in use during the summers. At first I had a really hard time connecting with the place, it just looked so… random. Thanks to the setting sun the light was gorgeous, but hardly anything caught my eyes. Exploring a tiny storage at least provided me with some items to take pictures of – swim fins, rubber boots, a stuffed dolphin; not to be confused with a taxidermy dolphin! Outside again I switched to my ultra-wide angle lens and all of a sudden the Dolphin Lair looked much more interesting to me – still not a place I would want to spend a whole afternoon, but enough to take a whole set of decent photos.
Sadly there is not much known about the history of the Dolphin Lair. According to a headstone on the premises a dolphin called Sakura died there on January 25th 2003 – and according to the Phinventory there were four more living there: Hikaru, Kuru, Mahina, and Sola. What happened to them after the dolphinarium closed? Nobody seems to know. But if you know Japan, then you know that the next restaurant is always just a short walk away…

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2014 was the year of the abandoned schools in the Japanese urbex world – probably because endless lists of closed schools appeared on the Japanese version of Wikipedia, and countless bloggers (not necessarily urban explorers!) all over the country headed to the rural areas to check them out. As a result of that, more “abandoned” schools than ever before popped up on Japanese blogs and even mainstream media – the main problem with that: most of these explorers didn’t make a difference between closed and abandoned schools. Sometimes because it is hard to tell whether a place is closed or abandoned, but most of the time out of pure laziness or to get a name and some photos out there. Personally I am still not sure about the *Blizzard School*, while I am convinced that the *Shizuoka Countryside School* was abandoned and the *Kyoto Countryside School* was still maintained by locals – closed, but accessible through open or at least unlocked doors. All schools I will dedicate full articles on Abandoned Kansai were either really abandoned or at least closed and unlocked. The ones that were actively used as community centers, completely boarded up or maintained and locked I might mention in entries as disappointing examples, but they won’t get their own articles.

When Dan, Kyoko and I walked up to the Atoyama Elementary School about a year ago, we expected it to be completely abandoned – instead we found the lawn freshly mowed and some doors covered with weathered and falling off “Do not enter!” signs in Japanese. While I was silently praying that I hadn’t fallen for another one of those useless “four outdoor shots make an article” bloggers, we circled the school and found several unlocked ways inside. Bingo!
It turned out that the Atoyama Elementary School had a long history. Founded in 1875 as a temple school, it became a state school just two years later. In 1948 a new school building was constructed – 1 floor, 3 class rooms, teacher housing. Seven years later a second floor was added, and with it a new hallway, an auditorium and several more classrooms. In 1968, 20 years after its construction and almost a century after its founding, the Atoyama Elementary School was closed; and clearly maintained by the locals, probably partly used, for example the auditorium for sports and other events.
We found the Atoyama Elementary School in overall amazing condition. The weathered wooden outside with the two construction phases gave it an interesting piecemeal look, the maintained inside beamed us back 40 years. I felt a bit uneasy as the wooden floors made squeaking sounds at almost every step, but luckily I didn’t cause any damage to the brittle boards. The reward for our brave curiosity was yet another unique decades old Japanese school. The layout was different than anything I had seen before, the interior was different, the equipment was different – surprises behind every corner. A piano, a scale, concrete urinals, old tools, the kitchen on the lowest floor and the crooked wooden staircase leading there… awesome, just awesome!
What a way to start a weekend of explorations! Sadly the rest of the day turned out to be kind of a disaster, but all of that was forgotten when we found the *Shizuoka Countryside School* the next morning…

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Abandoned accommodations are the biggest group of deserted places in Japan. Hotels, love hotels, ryokan, youth hostels. There must be hundreds of them all over the country – some of them are absolutely amazing, others are the worst moldy, vandalized dumps you can imagine. My first indoor abandoned place I ever explored was a hotel, the *One Dragon Hotel* in the south of Osaka – one of those vandalized dumps, but I didn’t care, because when you start urban exploration, EVERY place is super exciting. After a while though all of them start to look the same, and it takes exceptional examples like the *Hachijo Royal Hotel* or the *Wakayama Beach Hotel* (still only on Abandoned Kansai!) to remind you that some of them are actually pretty amazing. Back in 2011 though I couldn’t even imagine that world-class places like that existed in Japan!
At that point in time, less than two years after I picked up urban exploration as a hobby, I was tired of deserted accommodations… and standing in the backyard parking lot of the Jingoro Hotel, contemplating whether or not I should enter the rather big hotel all by myself after I already crossed two other places off my list that day. On the one hand I was tired, it was afternoon already, and I had to go inside without company – on the other hand: it was right in front of me… and there were some arcade machines in the lobby. Back then I had barely ever seen abandoned arcade machines, so I was really curious. I walked down the staircase to the semi-basement ground floor, the door to the kitchen open wide enough for me to get inside. And I instantly regretted that move as the typical “abandoned Japanese hotel smell” hit me. It’s hard to describe, but if you ever smelled it, you won’t forget it. This very special mix of rotting tatami and moldy wallpaper… Nothing that makes you wanna puke, but it smells nasty and you know that you don’t want to be exposed to it for hours… or even minutes. Since I was already inside the hotel, I had a look around and hoped that the smell wouldn’t be that bad throughout the whole exploration.
As three and a half years have passed since I last saw the Jingoro Hotel, my memories of that exploration are rather fragmented. I remember that it was a nightmare to take photos of the arcade machines in the lobby (Namco’s Final Lap and Jaleco’s Gran Prix Star) as everybody passing by outside was able to look inside through the huge windows, basically ground to ceiling. I also remember that parts of that floor suffered severely from arson (adding a whole new layer to the smell, lucky me!) while other parts looked like on the day the hotel was closed. On the upper floors the hallways and rooms were littered with airgun pellets, but the biggest surprise to me were the amazing shared baths, of course gender separated – back then I hadn’t seen anything like that, especially since both bathing areas featured outdoor bathtubs offering stunning views at the mountain and sea surrounding.
Back down on the main floor though I almost suffered a heart attack. I was hiding from a group of Japanese who were taking a photo outside of the hotel with the beautiful landscape as the background, all facing the hotel except for the photographer. The process took a while and when I was about to relax again, I looked to the left, where all of a sudden this huge western dude wearing a black trench coat appeared out of nowhere. My pulse went from “resting” to “leaving a high speed corkscrew rollercoaster” in the fraction of a second, and for a crippling moment I felt paralyzed – that’s when I realized that I was standing next to a huge mirror covering the whole wall! (And of course then I also remembered seeing the mirror before, reminding myself that it was there so I would not get the shock of my life… obviously I failed.)

Overall the Jingoro Hotel was an average exploration. Some vandalism, some decay, some nice areas, some nasty smells, some positive surprises, some negative surprises. I’ve been to worse places, but also to many that were a lot more interesting – like I said, it’s been three and a half years since I explored the Jingoro Hotel without mentioning it anywhere on Abandoned Kansai, so obviously I wasn’t in a hurry to write about it. Nevertheless I hope you enjoyed the little stories and some of the photos. In the end the package turned out to be much more interesting than I expected… just like the exploration itself.

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