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The Taro Mine is supposed to be one of the most beautiful mines in all of Japan – it certainly is one of the most dangerous…

After *Mike*, *Ben* and I visited the *Matsuo Mine Apartment Buildings* for a second time, we headed for the pacific coast to stay the night for an early start to the Taro Mine. Despite being about 250 kilometers north of the infamous Fukushima Nuclear Power Planet we were still able to see and experience the struggles the area is going through after the tsunami hit in the aftermath of the Tohoku Earthquake 2011. The hotel we stayed at, one of the few in that part of Japan, just opened half a year prior – and when we reached the coastal town of Taro, we realized that barely anything happened to the disaster zone in the past 2.5 years. The local Lawson we stopped at after our exploration is still housed in a container building above sea level and the previously flooded area still has barely any new buildings… (By coincidence there is a German documentary called “Die Helden von Taro” (The Heroes of Taro) about the town and its inhabitants; you can watch it on Youtube if you are interested.)
The Taro Mine itself wasn’t damaged by the tsunami, but I assume the earthquake gave it a good shake, probably causing some of the heavy roof tiles at the sifting plant to come down – another reminder of how you don’t want to be in an abandoned building while a natural disaster strikes!

Like most mines, the Taro Mine has quite a long history. In this case it dates back to 1857 and it was a troubled one from the beginning, when convicted Yokohama smuggler Takashima Kaemon fled to the north and discovered sulfide ore in the mountains. Due to the financial uncertainty of the endeavor, he sold the mine to Iguchi Kenchi – who sold it due to financial difficulties in 1918 to what is now Rasa Industries, after actually closing it temporarily. The company started to invest and began massive examinations in 1919, which resulted in test operations that had to be suspended between 1923 and 1926 due to a depression, probably in the aftermath of the Great Kanto Earthquake. Construction of what is the present day abandoned Taro Mine began in 1933 and officially started operation in 1936 – fully operational for only 8 years, when a fire in the sifting plant rendered it inoperative in April 1944. A year later the Taro Mine started production again, only to be partly destroyed by U.S. air raids, resulting in another year of repairs. Between 1946 and 1971 the mine was fully operational, except for… one year between 1961 and 1962, when the mine was temporarily closed due to… you can guess it… a massive fire!
After being closed for good, Tokyo’s Meisei University took over some of the Taro Mine and the surrounding mining town to create their Taro campus. Today only their Cosmic Ray Laboratory is still in use, the rest of the area is abandoned. Or rather closed, as rumor has it that there is still security showing up once in a while…

What sets the Taro Mine apart from most other mines is the fact that the sifting plant wasn’t demolished – usually only massive concrete walls and pillars are left after a closed mine was stripped of any valuable machines and metals, but in this case the case was still there.
The first two floors were easily accessible and, thanks to the extremely high ceiling, quite impressive. The third floor required some climbing effort via a pile of bricks, which I wasn’t able to do due my minor *knee injury the afternoon before*. From there a rusty and party collapsed metal only staircase lead to the fourth and final floor, which I wasn’t willing to climb even if I would have been able to as it looked like a deathtrap to me.
Instead I found another way outside, where I hiked up a little slope to an exterior part of the third floor, disconnected from the rest of the sifting plant by collapsed metal constructions and intentional architectural decisions – you can see that *in the video*.
The rest of the Taro Mine actually wasn’t that interesting. One of the blue chemical pools the *Osarizawa Mine* is famous for was very active and welcomed us with a little fountain, other pools were more of brownish color and looked far less inviting. The already mentioned cosmic ray laboratory looked and sounded indeed quite active, while a huge four- or five-storey white building with a collapsed roof appeared to be so dilapidated, moldy and rotten that none of us felt the urge to get inside.
Even the 5 colorful two-storey apartment buildings down the road couldn’t get the attention of all three of us. Though there was one set of items in a wooden building we all were fascinated by – what appeared to be an old police helmet and a log with countless handwritten entries. Beautiful artifacts of modern archaeology, probably from an era when the Taro Mine was just a test operation…

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The abandoned Matsuo Mine Apartments – or: How I almost got myself seriously injured… twice!

Urban exploration is a dangerous hobby, I can’t stress it often enough. And I am a really careful explorer, sometimes to the annoyance of my fellow photographers, when I simply refuse to climb certain staircases or cross suspicious bridges. But you can be as cautious as you want to be, there is always a remaining risk that can’t be eliminated.

Upon arrival we had to figure out how to approach the Matsuo Mine Apartments best. Access in general was easy, but there were quite a few “from the road photographers” and the street lead directly to what is left of the mine itself – which is mainly a neutralization and treatment facility, operated by JOGMEC (Japan Oil, Gas and Metals National Corporation).

History of the Matsuo Mine

Okay, let me get the history part out of the way first: In the 1950/60s the Matsuo Mine was the biggest sulfur mine in the Far East, population in the area reached almost 15.000 people – which includes the families of the workers. But mining in the area dates back much longer. Sulfur resources were known as early as 1766 and the existence of a sulfur mine was documented in 1879. Around that time the Meiji government turned Japan from an agricultural state into an industrialized country by spending tons of money on the process and by hiring foreign experts – something I am sure North Korea will do as soon as the Kims are history; they already started in *Rason*. Anyway, after a local man discovered more sulfur in 1882, a small scale trial digging failed in 1888. In 1911 a private investor from Yokohama took over and lead the mine to temporary glory by being responsible for up to 30% of Japan’s sulfur production. Around that time the now iconic Matsuo Mine Apartment Buildings were constructed. 3 standalone blocks plus a conglomerate of 8 connected buildings, all facing west for beautiful sunsets. While none of the apartments had private baths or even showers (which isn’t uncommon in Japan, a lot of small accommodations like minshuku and ryokan are that way till this very day…), they were rather spacious by local standards and featured central heating and private water closets – the mining town was also provided with an elementary and junior high school, a hospital and plenty of space for entertainers to present their shows.
In the 1960s the success collapsed quickly when the oil industry was forced to desulfurize their products – imported sulfur became cheap, too, and there was basically no demand for domestic sulfur ores anymore. In a last effort to lower costs and avoid bankruptcy the Matsuo Mine was converted from underground mining to surface mining, but the plan and with it the mine failed in 1969; all miners were fired and the apartment buildings were (mostly?) abandoned. A new follow-up enterprise was founded right away to mine iron sulfide and to prevent that everybody would lose their jobs permanently, but that company failed, too – in 1972 the Matsuo Mine closed for good.
As you might (or might not) know, you can’t close a mine like a restaurant and just leave it behind. Mines and other industrial enterprises do massive damage to their surroundings, sometimes causing problems for generations to come (as we currently can see in Germany, where politics decided to get rid of all nuclear power plants) – and after the Matsuo Mine closed, it still leaked large volumes of acidic water that was polluting a nearby river. The first reaction was to drop a neutralizing agent directly into the waterway, turning it into a muddy brown mess. Several ministries studied the problem before it was decided in 1976 that a large neutralization and treatment facility would solve the problem. Iwate prefecture and the former MITI (Ministry of International Trade and Industry) constructed the place and handed it over for operation to the MMAJ (Metal Mining Agency of Japan), a predecessor of the already mentioned JOGMEC. Most of the Matsue Mine itself was stripped down and renaturalized in the process – wooden buildings were burned to the ground, the ferro-concrete apartment buildings were left to rot.

Exploring the Matsuo Mine Apartment Buildings

Before *Mike**Ben* and I tackled the 11 apartment blocks, we wanted to get a good look at the complex and found a rather big abandoned building southwest of the main area. 3 floors, open basement, very *Gunkanjima* like style. The outdoor staircase was almost completely crumbled away and the inside saw massive amounts of damage, too – both natural and vandalism. It’s hard to say what the building was exactly, probably offices or more living space; maybe for senior employees, closer to the mine? Each floor consisted of about half a dozen rooms and a communal rest room. In the open basement I found some crates containing core samples from test drillings, so I assume the building wasn’t just another apartment block – the rest of the room was filled with snow BTW. Sadly the quick photos I took there didn’t turn out to be good, but you can see the area in the third video at the end of this article.

Soon after we headed over to the apartment buildings. While people in Osaka enjoyed the two weeks of spring between “winter” and the hot-humid hell they call summer here, parts of Iwate were still covered by snow in early May. The sky was overcast, but every now and then the sun broke through, so I decided to leave my jacket behind and explore in jeans and T-shirt. My standard wear all year long as a surprisingly large number of buildings in Japan are kept at 28 degrees Celsius all year long – in summer by pretending to be eco and only cautiously using AC; in winter by heating full power, completely ignoring the summer slogans about saving energy. Japan going green is just another lie, government PR, pure lip service. (And considering the amount of lip service here, the number of blow jobs is ridiculously low; figuratively speaking.) The advantage of this pre-spring atmosphere: vegetation was still low and only occasionally hindering.

After heading through the indoor hallway connecting four of the buildings and their staircases we found ourselves close to the former central heating plant; at least it looked like you would imagine one. To get there we had to go outside again and across some snow. Now, as I experienced at the *Fuji Foods Bio Center* 1.5 years prior, snow can be tricky if you don’t know what’s under it. Best case scenario: solid ground. Worst case scenario: abyss. Mike was fearlessly going ahead, so Ben and I followed a little bit more careful. We saw holes in the ground every now and then, but the snow-covered area seemed to be safe; except for rendering us borderline snow-blind. After about half an hour we headed back to the apartment buildings and started to explore those. Despite all staircases and adjunct apartments looking similar, there was so much to see, so many places to go to! I barely realized how cold it got when the sun disappeared and it started to rain…
And then it happened: When the three of us wanted to go from a lower apartment building to another one higher up on the slope, we found ourselves in a pretty overgrown area. Fighting through the vegetation would have been a pain thanks to the rain, so I suggested to go up a huge patch of snow that connected both areas. Mike headed first, then Ben, then me. I was kicking into the snow to create little footholds, when all of a sudden my left foot crashed through the snow and I sunk in up to my crotch, the right leg still outside. I felt my left leg dangling in the air when my friends hurried back to help me out of this miserable situation. It turned out that I was maybe 20 centimeters away from solid ground, even if I would have crashed through completely I probably wouldn’t have hurt myself thanks to hiking boots and solid trousers, but for the split second going down and a few seconds of uncertainty, I didn’t know that. In the end I got away with feeling terribly cold for the rest of the day, being partly covered in snow and rained on for about 2 minutes – and so I continued to explore the rest of the apartments. And not just the apartments. There were two kinds of staircases in those buildings – the centered ones with one apartment to the left and another one to the right, and the “stacked” ones, usually with four apartments on each floor; and the latter ones allowed access to the roofs! Some of the roofs were in really bad condition after 45 years of abandoned ones, but then there were those… that were basically deathtraps! The ground was all soft and the concrete was so withered, that the metal shone through; or formed bizarre exposed shapes. The views from the top of the buildings were breathtaking, that’s why the photo gallery isn’t in chronological order, but starts with one of those pictures, but it was also very, very dangerous up there. Especially since the wind picked up and some kind of thunderstorm began to brew around us…
Despite the little mishap this was an awesome exploration, but I am a sucker for that brittle metal and concrete look. I could have spent days there, but sadly the weather was getting worse and worse, so we decided to call it a day at around 5.30 when it was getting too dark inside of buildings to shoot without a tripod – and too nasty outside without weather-proof gear.

Revisiting the Matsuo Mine

Usually it takes me months or even years to revisit locations, but in this case it was less than 24 hours. We were on our way back from the *Osarizawa Mine*, when Ben and Mike realized on the highway that we could be at the Matsuo Mine again for sunset, if we would really hurry – and that’s what Ben did! When we left 23 hours and 45 minutes prior the sky was preparing for the apocalypse, but when we arrived the second time, the sun was just setting; flooding the whole area with beautiful soft light. We took a couple of overview shots from the first building and then headed over to the main complex. Ben and Mike wanted take photos again at the central heating plant, so I decided to explore some apartments I hadn’t seen before. On the way up one of the staircases I realized that one of the flights of stairs had a step missing. A whole friggin concrete step! Usually that would be a sign for me not to continue, but it was one of the staircases leading to a roof, so I made a big step, skipping some stair treads. (It’s not all bad being a big guy!) The further I went up, the worse the condition of the staircase became – basically rubble everywhere! I looked up the last flight of stairs and into the open when I realized that this one had three steps missing in a row. Like I said, I am not much of a risk taker, so this was the end for me – not knowing whether or not the steps before or after were safe, I decided to turn around and regretfully leave the roof behind and face the missing step below again.
And then it happened: It was on the second to last flight of stairs of this staircase, the one above the missing step one, when both my feet lost their grip at the same time due to the rubble and debris everywhere. I fell on my ass and started to slide down, but luckily the concrete below was solid and I stopped after two or three steps – one flight later, at the one with the missing step, the situation might have been different. Learning from the rather bad clothing decision a day prior, I was wearing my leather jacket, which prevented serious excoriations and maybe even worse. In the end I must have twisted my knee a little bit as it started to hurt later that day at certain angles, but overall I was very luckily again. My two fellow explorers heard my accident over at another building and started to worry when I apparently didn’t answer for a minute or so (I actually didn’t hear them right away being surround by concrete), but of course I made sure to let them know right away that I was a little bit shaken, but physically fine.
When I left the building I realized that the memory card of my camera was full – and since I left my backpack with the spare cards in the car (traded it for the jacket…) the afternoon was over for me… until I realized that I could delete some old photos! But the sun was setting quickly anyway and I had enough of rushing things, so I basically called it a day and made my way back outside, watching the sun setting behind the open-face mine.
The 45 minutes of the second day obviously were a lot less successful than what I did on day 1, nevertheless it was a good experience overall. On the way out I took a photo of the only chair I remember seeing in the building, probably the most famous abandoned wooden chair in all of Japan – and I saw another example of Japanese insulation. Insulation is a very big problem in Japan till this very day as even modern buildings barely use it, because Japanese construction is about price, not about being lasting long… or energy efficient (lip service!). If you heat or cool your apartment here it takes about 30 seconds to go back to outside temperature after you turn off the AC. On the first day I took a picture of straw ropes wrapped around the piping, then covered by plastic to insulate, this time it was a mix of bamboo sticks and plaster covered by plastic. Those are the little things I really love about urban exploration. I never thought about piping insulation at Japanese mining apartments, yet I found out about it just by paying attention to details. It actually makes me want to research the topic on the internet now. I wonder if I will be able to find out more – or if crumbling giants like the Matsuo Mine Apartment Buildings are the only way to gather (admittedly rather useless) knowledge like that…
Oh, and in case you wonder why I wrote so much about my two small accidents: Because they happened – and because urban exploration is friggin dangerous, even when you don’t expect it to be!

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I love abandoned amusement parks. Who doesn’t? There is nothing like a deserted merry-go-round, a brittle jungle gym or a rusty Ferris wheel with flaking paint.
Japan’s most famous rusty Ferris wheel with flaking paint is the very iconic one at the Kejonuma Leisure Land – a lot of urbex photographers actually give the impression that there is nothing else left of Kejonuma Leisure Land, yet there is so much more to see!
When *Mike* suggested the *road trip to Tohoku* a while ago, I realized that the leisure land would be on our way north, and a perfect opportunity to break up the long drive on the first day. Luckily both Mike and *Ben* agreed – and so we reached our first location after about 6 hours on the road…

Kejonuma Leisure Land was opened in 1979 as Kejonuma Hojou Land (writer’s note: hojou means recreation) and had up to 200.000 visitors per year, which is quite an impressive number for a not so densely populated area like Tohoku. It seems like KLL was a pay as you go amusement park, featuring not only the rather famous Ferris wheel, but in addition to that a lot more attractions, like a go-kart track, a merry-go-round, “coffee cups”, trampolines, a huge jungle gym, a driving range, a six hole golf course, an indoor gateball venue and a Fuji Heavy Industries FA-200 airplane on a hydraulics stand! It even offered three different kinds of accommodations in form of a campsite, about a dozen small huts and a hotel – plus a small amphitheater for concerts and probably theater productions.
In 2000 the park was closed, but somewhat maintained, as the owner still kept an interest in his property. In fact he started to drill for hot water in 2003 and actually succeeded, paving the way for an onsen hotel or even resort. I found a flyer for a Kejonuma Park Hotel, which mentions the golf facilities and the hot springs, but none of the amusement park rides, so there is a good chance that the hotel was expanded and open for business for quite a few years after the theme park closed. (On advertising bags that still mention the KLL, the hotel was called Kejonuma Tourist Hotel…)
Although technically not abandoned, Kejonuma Leisure Land is mostly overgrown now and partly inaccessible depending on the season. Despite that, the owner of the land and everything on it is known for granting access permission to photographers and film crews, with the result that KLL is on national TV every once in a while. If you enter the premises without said permission though… be prepared to face the consequences!

Ben, Mike and I arrived at Kejonuma Leisure Land at around 3 o’clock in the afternoon on a mostly sunny day – and it was just beautiful to shoot. Like I said, most urban explorers associate “Ferris wheel” when thinking of KLL, but the place has so much more to offer – especially the derailed mini train named Fairyland Pegasas (sic!) kept me coming back time and again. The Ferris wheel itself totally lived up to its reputation and I could have easily spent an hour just shooting that one attraction. But the clock of course kept on ticking and there was plenty to see. My favorite discovery I made on the metal steps of the rusty trampoline framework – a lizard enjoying the afternoon sun. It even didn’t mind that I took a couple of photos…
From the amusement park area we moved up to a dozen small abandoned huts with blue roofs and from there to the driving range. I never played golf, so I was surprised to see the dozens of tee machines with Taito labels, “heso roboα“ (へそロボα). If you are into video games, you might remember Taito for classics like Space Invaders, Jungle Hunt or Bubble Bobble. It turns out that the company started in 1953, producing vending machines and jukeboxes, yet neither the English nor the Japanese Wikipedia page mentions golf equipment; nevertheless the heso robo (heso = navel or center) seems to be a staple at Japanese driving ranges.
The rest of the exploration was a little bit rushed again – the sun was setting and we were running out of light. Plane outside, through the auditorium, a quick look at the very tempting looking Kejonuma Park Hotel before heading back to the main area for a quick walkthrough video and some final photos.

When adding the Kejonuma Leisure Land to our itinerary I had quite high expectations, but I didn’t expect the close to perfect exploration I actually experienced. *Nara Dreamland’s* little cousin turned out to be everything I was hoping for, plus a little extra. A safe outdoor exploration of an abandoned amusement park on a lovely spring day with a beautiful sunset… that’s as good as it gets!

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I love unique abandoned places. Deserted *hotels* and *schools* you can find by the dozen in Japan, even desolate *amusement parks* are plenty all over the country; though their number is decreasing. But when I explored this cinema / theater / community center somewhere in the mountains of *Tohoku* I instantly fell in love with it.

From the outside the building didn’t look like much, a greyish boarded-up construction the size of a barn with a simple sign in Japanese above the locked entrance: 講堂, auditorium. Before I could even look for another way inside, *Ben* and *Michael* already grinned at me through a window. One hop later I stood on a brittle wooden floor with a few holes where previous explorers crashed through with one foot. Looking for nails I figured out where the supporting beams were and took a couple of photos in the room I was in before going to the main storage in the back. There was a plethora of items scattered on the ground and an old bike standing in the middle of the room. The most interesting objects though were a can of Tyrolean Cheese and another one labelled “QBBチーズ“, QBB Cheese. Austrian cheese and Australian cheese. I wonder whether whoever bought them did it on purpose or not. I understand the Austrian cheese, but Australia never stroke me for being famous for its milk products.

From the back I went through another brittle side room to the main auditorium, where several rows of rusty seats offered space for about 150 people. Sadly it was overcast outside, which made it hard to take pictures without a tripod in the main room – and even worse in the basically pitch-black movie projector room accessible via a small staircase near the main entrance, past the swing doors. Luckily I brought a tripod, but the process was still rather time consuming, especially upstairs in tiny room the with two big “Sun Arc” arc lamp projectors. (I strongly recommend watching the video at the end of this article, it will give you a much better impression of the place than the photos I took!)

It were objects like those projectors, like the cheese cans, like the bike, that made this abandoned auditorium so interesting. Probably my favorite item in the building (aside from the spectacular looking cinema projectors) was a small piece of paper, pinned to the wood next to the stage. It was a 5 point checklist to make sure that the fire extinguisher was okay – and it had seven handwritten, dated remarks on it; the last one from August 7th 1967, Showa 42 by Japanese count. But there was more to discover. Old stuff you don’t get to see much these days, like an all kanji bathroom sign and the concrete urinal at the men’s restroom; that must have been a challenge to clean. Probably with the powdered soap we found a can / box of on a table in the auditorium’s back.

I think I could have stayed at least another 30 minutes at this truly amazing building, probably 30 minutes in the dark room upstairs alone. Sadly we had to move on, but I am really happy that I had the opportunity to explore this wonderful place!

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Abandoned or not abandoned, that’s the question more often than not in Japan – and sometimes the answer is “both”, like in the case of the Osarizawa Mine…

Now famous for its abandoned ice blue chemical pools, the Osarizawa Mine’s history spans more than 1300 years, dating back to the year 708, when mining began as a family business. Back then mining for gold began in small tunnels with children as young as five years old. Over the years the mine became bigger and bigger, especially after copper ore was found. The business began to explode, literally and figuratively, when the use of Gunpowder was introduced in 1865. In 1893 Mitsubishi took over and massively modernized the Osarizawa Mine, introducing a telephone system in 1894 and a hydroelectric power station in 1896. At the beginning of the 20th century the mine became essential for Japan’s expansion and war efforts – up to 4500 employees worked around the clock in shifts and carved up to 100.000 tons of copper ore per month from the mountain; the total tunnel length reached 700 kilometers around that time. Soon after the war the Osarizawa Mine became unprofitable; refinement stopped in 1966 and in 1978 the mine was closed altogether. But only temporarily!
Only four years later, in 1982, Osarizawa reopened as a tourist mine called “Mine Land Osarizawa” – complete with a museum, eateries and a gift shop. In 2008, the 1300th anniversary of the mine, the complex was renamed “Historic Site Osarizawa Mine” and continued to be a successful tourist attraction in the northern part of Akita prefecture.

When *Ben*, *Mike* and I first arrived there, we had a quick look at the lowest level of the mine, past a Japanese only “Do not enter” sign, where we found some buildings still in use, but also some massive abandoned concrete structures – a few of them already collapsed. 15 minutes later we were back in the car, looking for the already mentioned ice blue chemical pools… and instead found the also mentioned tourist attraction Historic Site Osarizawa Mine. Thinking that we could learn something about the mine and its layout we put down 1000 Yen and joined the (Japanese only) tour – which was quite interesting, but didn’t reveal anything about the layout. Hungry afterwards we enjoyed a tonkatsu burger with edible gold flakes at a reasonable 580 Yen; luckily even a bad burger is still good food…
Minutes later I spotted the pools and a passing group of people from the parking lot, so we jumped into the car and headed there. If a regular tourist group could ignore the “Do not enter” signs, so could we! Nevertheless worried that we could be stopped by one of the many employees of the historic site at any second, we quickly headed over to the pools and started shooting, but nobody cared about what we were doing. Every once in a while some random tourist at the parking lot had an eye on us, but that was it – so we headed further up the mountain. Sadly most of the interesting buildings in that area were demolished, so there was actually not that much to see and in the end the Osarizawa Mine turned out to be the least interesting one of the three big *Tohoku* mines. At least for us three sneaking people. Because since none of us had a look at the *official website* before the trip, I only found out minutes ago that there was not only a mining tunnel tour, but also a guided outdoor tour – we probably wouldn’t have gotten as close to the pools as we did, but we most likely would have seen more of the mine’s remains in other areas. Like the tourist group I saw leaving the premises. Instead we headed off after seeing the pools from above.

Overall visiting the Osarizawa Mine was an interesting experience, but also an unfulfilling and kind of rushed one. The chemical pools definitely were a highlight, the gold flake burger was a curiosity (so was the “Do not enter” sign in a pile of snow at the parking lot!), and the fact that all three of us bought Osarizawa Mine branded souvenirs was downright bizarre! If you are ever in the area, I recommend to have a look and spend 2000 Yen on both guided tours – it might spare you the feeling of slight disappointment I have right now…

And finally a fun fact at the end: There is actually a secondary mineral called Osarizawaite, IMA approved in 1961! It has rhombohedral crystals, a greenish yellow color and the chemical formula PbCuAl2(SO4)2(OH)6.

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If you are a regular reader of Abandoned Kansai, then you know that sometimes it takes me years to write articles about locations I explored – and I apologize for that! Today I’ll try to change it up again and write about my trip to Tohoku before it even ends; “Instant Article”, so to say.

Currently I am sitting on a Nozomi Shinkansen from Tokyo to Osaka, and what better way to use those quiet moments than to reflect a little bit on the past five days? (Sleep! But who needs that?) I also realized that I haven’t written yet an article for this week’s update, and since the photos of this trip are basically all I have with me currently… here we go! :)

It’s been a while that my old *haikyo* buddy *Michael* and I went urbexing in *Hokkaido* together, 1.5 years to be specific, and we were talking about going on the road again for quite some time now. Since we are both living busy lifes in Japan, it was a matter of coordinating and allocating days – and the period of choice became the second half of Golden Week, the most miserable travel period in Japan as even the laziest couch potatoe decides to help clogging up trains and highways, if for no other reason than because everybody else is doing it. As for where were to go: Michael suggested Tohoku, to which I hesitantly agreed – since Tohoku is a pain to get to from Kansai, I basically only knew the most famous urbex locations there, and I was aware that there was a lot of driving involved. Michael was so, too – one of many reasons to bring his friend *Ben* on board, another interesting fella from the UK, who was a great addition to our former team of two!

The plan was to visit Kejonuma Leisure Land and the Wagakawa Water Power Plant on the way north, where we wanted to explore the three big Tohoku mines Matsuo, Osarizawa and Taro – plus some minor places along the way. While the Leisure Land was nothing but amazing, the water power plant turned out to be a colossal waste of time; to get inside you have to cross one of two nearby rivers on foot, which can be done rather easily in late summer… but not in spring, when the melting waters of the surrounding mountains rush through. The three mines on the other hand were extremely interesting and quite different from each other. Each one of them deserves at least an own article, maybe even more. Sadly most of the additional side locations were cut for different reasons, except for the Naganeyama Ski Jump, for which my fellow explorers didn’t even want to leave the car, and a locked up school in Fukushima prefecture. What made this trip real special though, was the fact that we were able to visit one of the few remaining open sex museums in Japan, which was quite an interesting experience after exploring two abandoned ones in the *south* and in the *north* of Japan.

Living in Osaka and being spoiled by the incredibly high level of food quality there (Osaka is usually referred to as Japan’s kitchen, while Kansai in general is considered Japan’s birthplace) I was surprised to experience that the Tohoku area doesn’t even come close to that. While I only had less than five bad meals in more than seven years living in Kansai, I don’t think I had a really good one during the whole trip; except maybe lunch near the sex museum, which is in Tochigi prefecture and threrfore not Tohoku anymore. At the Osarizawa Mine, mostly a tourist attraction now, I had a tonkatsu burger (deep fried pork chop burger) with gold leaves… and even that was barely eatable despite the allmighty „even a bad burger is still good food“ rule. Most restaurants on the way though were serious disappointments.

Overall it was an exhausting trip with up to 7 hours of driving per day (altogether Mike and Ben drove 1946 kilometers, most of it on days 1 and 4, when we were getting to and from Tohoku) and less than 6 hours of sleep per night in average; which isn’t that bad, but not enough when doing a dangerous hobby like urban exploration. Although we were very careful, all three of us had more or less minor accidents – luckily we all got away again without any serious damage. (Except the one to the wallet, as everything gets super expensive in Japan during Golden Week…)

Sadly I won’t be able to publish these lines from the Shinkansen, so there will be a gap of at least about an hour between me writing and you reading this article, but I hope you’ll enjoy this quick write-up nevertheless. In the upcoming weeks I’ll publish half a dozen more detailed articles about this road trip – and I am sure some of them will blow your mind! I saw only a handful locations in the past five days, but almost all of them were spectacular must sees. Here’s an alphabetical list, followed by some photos:
Abandoned Japanese Cinema
Kejonuma Leisure Land
Kinugawa Onsen Sex Museum
Kuimaru Elementary School
Matsuo Mine
Naganeyama Ski Jump
Osarizawa Mine
Taro Mine
Wagakawa Water Power Plant

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Urbex is quite an unpredictable hobby, especially in Japan, where wrecking crews can demolish buildings in no time; abandoned or not. (It actually happened once that I went on vacation and when I came back a building in the neighborhood was turned into an asphalted parking lot…) But demolition is not the only enemy urbexers have. Sometimes you go to a place and you think you know exactly where it is, but it turns out that your research wasn’t good enough. Luckily that never happen to me, but I’ve been on trips with fellow explorers who carried wrongly marked maps – and in that case is can be enough to be off by a street or two and you will never find what you are looking for (it almost happened to me when looking for the *Amano Clinic*, a frustrating and time-consuming experience!). Sometimes buildings have been boarded-up and are therefore inaccessible now, on other occasions they are still locked and electronically secured, which explains why your source only had outside photos. Every once in a while you run into nosy neighbors who keep a close eye on you, and sometimes places are so trashed that it’s not worth having a closer look. The latest trend, at least in Germany, is turning abandoned military bases into solar parks – they get rid of the remaining buildings and use the vast areas of concrete and asphalt to set up some green energy. With no good videos and barely a handful of photos, those locations are not worth an own article, but as compilations they should be entertaining enough to carry this blog for a week. Welcome to the first issue of “Worst Of” – 14 disappointing locations on 6 exploration days!

The first dud of my trip to Germany in 2013 was the Türkenlouis-Kaserne (a.k.a. Quartier Turkenlouis) in Rastatt. Built by the French occupational forces in the 1950s and left behind in 1999, the barracks weren’t able to find a new owner, so they were demolished in 2011 – I had a hunch that it happened, but I wanted to see for myself and was (not) disappointed.
Just a few kilometers away I had a look at the vandalized entrance of the BWR, Bauknecht Werk Rastatt, founded originally as Waggonfabrik Rastatt (Rastatt Coach Factory) in 1897. The company struggled several times from the 1970s on, was split up and partly closed. Upon my visit, parts of the area were used by the BWR Waggonreparatur GmbH (BWR Wagon Repair Company) – and their employees kept an eye on the abandoned area.
Down the street in walking distance I found a partly collapsed, unnamed factory. Sadly the employees of a neighboring business had a company party on their parking lot…
On the way home I stopped at what supposed to be an abandoned gravel pit, but there were cars parked on the premises and a diving competition at the nearby lake prohibited any reasonable exploration.
But that’s not all! The fifth dud of the day (out of six locations!) was the Special Ammunitions Site Philippsburg, which actually looked quite active – it was probably used for training by the police or other groups. What a frustrating day, especially for my childhood friend Nina, who actually did all the driving. Sorry again, Nina – but that’s urbex sometimes… :(

The next day I was going exploring with my sister Sabine. At the fortified Lampertheim Training Area I took a crappy photo through the fence – and the closed bunkers of the Panzerwald Viernheim were very disappointing in comparison to the awesome *Hochspeyer Munitions Storage*.
The HMS I explored with my friend Catherine and it was in walking distance of another former military base, which is still visible on GoogleMaps, but has been demolished more than a year ago to be replaced with one of said green energy facilities, in this case the Solarpark Metro Tango Ost.
Since my article about the *Cambrai-Fritsch-Kaserne* was a huge success I decided to go back there on a second day of exploration with my sister. We parked in the area and walked for like 10 meters, when a security guard stopped his car right next to us and forbid us to take photos. Straight ahead. No polite small talk, not friendly asking to refrain from taking photos. “I forbid you to take photos!” Well, I’m not a media lawyer, but as far as I know you can take photos on public streets pretty much wherever / whenever you want in Germany – hence Google’s Street View (though some people in Germany had their houses pixeled like Japanese porn, but they were not able to have Google remove the images completely). Since the guy acted like a stubborn a**hole right from the beginning of course I pretended to agree and just waited until he was around the next. He wasn’t even smart enough to come back two minutes later to see if we would really obey his rule. And nothing much had changed anyway, so I took a few snapshots and then we moved on to the Santa Barbara Village down the road and across the street – it was interesting to see though that they tightened security at the CFK instead of turning it into student dormitories, as the original plan was. The St. Barbara Village on the other hand is an example for successful privatization. Once a housing area for the surrounding barracks it is now a neat, quiet residential area and far from being abandoned.

The Old Argonner Barracks in Hanau are currently under redevelopment – the housing area is getting renovated, the former school on the premises is now a special educational center to support kids in the areas learning, language development and physical development, called Elisabeth-Schmitz-Schule. (I took a quick video, but with a different camera, so please excuse the quality…)

The Ray Barracks in Friedberg are famous for one special soldier, Rock and Roll legend Elvis Presley, who was part of the 3rd Armored Division and met his wife Priscilla while being stationed there. The base was closed in 2007 and it seems like not much has happened since then – the grass kept growing and the surrounding fence was airtight, so my buddy Torsten and I left after a couple of minutes, realizing that it was a big mistake to suffer through a painfully long evening rush hour traffic jam…

Last on the list of failures in Germany 2013 was a three location streak with my old friend Gil.
The Quartier Castelnau, a former French military base south of Trier, was under redevelopment in its third year and one big construction site. We found a way onto the premises in a very remote part, but there was not much to see, barely worth spending any time on – so we didn’t and moved on.
The Quartier DeLattre, another French occupational military base, was definitely closed, but not really abandoned either. Parts of it were used by the municipal works, but it didn’t look like there was much activity on the premises. Much more so outside. Lots of kids and walkers, including an old French guy and his wife who wanted to have another look at the place he spent a couple of years at almost half a century prior.
Third and final flop of the day (and the trip) was the so-called Weingeisthaus (Spirit of the Wine House, an old mansion in the middle of a vineyard, famous amongst urban explorers for its beautiful exterior and the dilapidated condition inside. It seemed though that somebody invested quite a bit of time and money to keep intruders out, installing two lines of pretty tight fences. Running out of time that day and respecting the effort, Gil and I took a couple of shots from the distance before leaving.

And that’s it. Lots of short impression, but nothing really spectacular. What do you think I should do with small / failed explorations in the future? Ignore them completely and pretend they never happened, write collections like this one or publish individual small articles, but keep them as the lead for only a day instead of a week?

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