Nothing like an original find that actually is still there upon arrival – one of those wonderful experiences I had a while ago, when I went to the countryside with my exploration buddies Dan and Kyoto to check out what looked like an abandoned school or farm on GoogleMaps…

As you probably know by now, Japan is riddled with abandoned places. There are so many of them, that you can use the satellite view of GoogleMaps to find them, if you are patient enough and know what to look for. A couple of years ago I found a complex of buildings that looked like a farm or a school – it turned out that it kinda was both.
Even if you visited Japan as a tourist before, you’ve probably never heard of the JA Group, the Japan Agricultural Cooperatives. But when you live here and are a regular customer at normal supermarkets (not just kombini) as well as a frequent traveler to the countryside, you see the JA Group logo everywhere, almost as often as vending machines…
Originally a government controlled entity during World War 2 (to collect, store and distribute produce during those tough times…), the JA Group turned into a powerful farm lobby with almost 700 local co-ops all over Japan – and that’s why you see their logo everywhere, because those cooperatives must own thousands of processing, storage and administrative buildings; especially in the countryside, where logos stick out much more than in the ad covered concrete jungles. Also, Japanese people are proud of local products and happily buy stuff from other regions, so a lot of boxes of fruits and vegetables at supermarkets feature the JA Group logo and not some “Product of randomcountry” sticker – even if that means that certain fruits and vegetables are seasonal and not available all year round, like in other industrialized countries. (That’s why Japanese people are so excited about their four seasons – it’s not just the weather, many countries have four seasons, but it’s also about seasonal food and seasonal festivals; even seasonal clothing seem to excite some people, especially women…)
Anyway, if an organization has hundreds of locations, it’s likely that some of them will get closed sooner or later – which in Japan usually means: They become abandoned. Like the large facility complex I spotted on GoogleMaps. We parked a couple of hundred meters away and snuck in via the back, which was wide open. A gas station was the first thing we saw. A promising start as it turned out that the first building had been a car repair and testing center. Unfortunately mostly gutted as most of the machinery and tools had been removed – either when the facility closed or by metal thieves, which are very, very common in Japan. Best case scenario: They just pried a door open and stole the ACs without anybody knowing / realizing. Worst case: They stole all electronics, ripped the ceilings and some walls apart to get access to cables and pipes, local youths with more energy than smarts do the rest… Which apparently was the case here, because the main building was in rather bad condition. It once featured a cafeteria, classrooms and even a small onsen part in a separate location up a slope, but overall it was only mildly interesting – the most interesting area of the abandoned JA Group Educational Center was definitely the garage building. Nevertheless it was an exciting exploration, original finds always are. Add a nice spring day and good friends to the mix, then all I need is a decent meal for lunch afterwards and I’m having the time of my life! Oh, and this article comes with a rather long walkthrough video, 12 minutes, so don’t miss it!

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Urban exploration is a pretty complex hobby on many levels – and one rather unpredictable factor are demolitions; let’s have a closer look!

When you flick through a few spectacular photos on your phone while waiting for the bus or having lunch with a friend, urbex probably looks like such a wonderful and easy thing to do. And while a lot of abandoned places are quite overrun by now, especially in Central Europe, there are a lot of factors that can be a nuisance. Some are avoidable, some aren’t. Long hours, unreliable people, bad weather, security and alarms, costs (exploring can cost between nothing (walking distance and not figuring in time and photo equipment) and several hundred USD per location!), inaccessibility, traffic / travel time, demolitions. It happened more than once that several factors came together to ruin a day completely – when you traveled 1000 kilometers and your local exploration partner cancels the evening before with no good reason, so you have to get up the next morning at like 5:15 a.m. to go by public transportation in snowy -5°C weather to a location that turns out to be demolished (with no alternative to go to, because the next location is only 20 kilometers away, but not accessible by bus or train), you really question what you are doing and if playing video games on a large screen in a warm room with hot food and cold drinks wouldn’t be a good alternative to spend your precious spare time…
But usually one or two bad factors are enough to ruin your day when doing urban exploration. Demolitions are probably not much of a problem for people who are based in areas where urbex is rather popular, because word about demolitions tends to travel fast from the time preparations on location start. A rather large percentage of the places I check out these days though are virtually unknown to the urbex community; they popped up on Japanese blogs once or twice, are shown to me by friends… or they are original finds from a large variety of sources. About 10% of the 70 to 80 locations I check out per year in average have been demolished, rather more recently due to the rising amount of pachinko parlors and country clubs I try to explore – and I need to check out more than one location per week in average because of… well… obvious reasons.
Usually I don’t even take pictures of demolished places, because most of the time there is little more left than an empty lot, but on a few occasions I took some – especially when the demolition was basically done, but there was still heavy machinery around.

One of the most frustrating cases of demolition I’ve experienced was large hotel complex in the middle of nowhere. A solo exploration by public transportation, it took me about an hour just to figure out how / when to take a bus to the closest stop. Of course I planned to spend the whole day there, especially since there was nothing else around. When I saw that the name of the place was removed from the entrance sign at the side road leading up to the resort my heart sank – but I followed it up anyway only to find a rather large container building of a construction crew behind a corner. Maybe they weren’t done yet? I continued to rush up the road to a large construction fence, slipped through and finally gained certainty that the whole resort was gone – and that I lost a potentially amazing location, a day of exploration and a couple of hundred bucks on train tickets.
Not much different was (not) exploring an abandoned outdoor history museum in Kyushu – just add some drizzle. It was the first and only location of the day, basically a small wooden town with all kinds of shops and workshops. I arrived there alone after spending hours on public transportation and walking, and had a very bad feeling when I couldn’t see any buildings between the trees, but heard some heavy machinery. It turned out that a last container was filled with debris – everything else had been gone over the previous weeks…
Also pretty heartbreaking was the failed attempt to explore an abandoned spa hotel that featured some amazing indoor / outdoor waterslides. It was the first location of a weekend trip with my friends Dan and Kyoko… and all we got to see were a couple of dozers, cars, a container, some flat land, and lots of trash. I guess it’s no surprise that this is another solar farm now.

The last few of months have been rather frustrating to me when it comes to urbex – 40 minutes, one location, a revisit… in four months! That’s all. For various reasons, mostly the weather. First rainy season, then an unbearable Japanese summer… and now that autumn finally has arrived, we are heading from one friggin typhoon to the next here in Kansai. So why not sharing the frustration by revisiting some good old stingers? Just three examples, but three quite memorable ones.
If you think this article sucks – imagine how I felt living through those costly disappointments… Next week will be better, I promise. I have a nicely decayed original find lined up that’s worth finally being published! 🙂

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Exploring abandoned places is always dangerous for one reason or another – but this partly collapsed wooden school looked like it could bury visitors at any moment…
Back in the days when I was exploring all by myself or on occasion with other guys with more time than responsibilities, I was a sunshine explorer and only went out there at certain times of the year and when the weather forecast was good – rain on Saturday? Let’s postpone by a day or a week… Unfortunately those days are long in the past. More recently I explore when I can while I can – previously I had the luxury to only plan trips of 3 days or more a month or two ahead of time, now this goes even for day trips. And when it rains, it rains. Shoga-fucking-nai.

Almost two years ago I arrived at the Deathtrap School with a couple of friends just when it started to drizzle. At first sight there was just another rundown wooden school, barely visible from the street as it was partly overgrown even in late spring. The ground was a weird mix of undergrowth and rocks, slippery thanks to the drizzle. By the time I finally got to the remaining building I was cold, wet (drizzle turned to rain… umbrellas were of no use due all the uncontrolled growth), and slightly annoyed by the overall situation. The Deathtrap School was a wooden 2-storey facility, mostly empty, the floors on the ground level either gone or severely damaged, the further end already partly collapsed. I did a counterclockwise tour, took some photos and was mainly busy not to get hurt. Outdoor shots were close to impossible thanks to the rain and the flourishing vegetation. Back at the entrance I had to make a decision: Call it quits or walk up the wooden, already partly collapsed staircase? After hesitating for a while I finally made my way towards the upper floor, staying away from the outside wall where the wood was definitely in worse condition. I almost made it to the final steps when I saw that the floor in front of me was missing for about a meter or so – and the wall to the right had seen better days, too. It looked like a giant cut through there with a sword several meters long. I took a few photos up there and went down again as I didn’t want to risk falling about three meters to my death… or the comminuted fracture of my legs. This school truly was a deathtrap and I am glad that we got out before it collapsed on us! (And since you probably wonder: If you visit the Deathtrap School now you’d probably name it Pancake School – not because you learn there how to make flapjacks, but because the school is flat like one; it didn’t stand a chance against the snow last winter…)

I think I’ll remember the Deathtrap School for two things – for being one of the most miserable explorations ever… and for taking some really cool photos there. Especially the end of the wooden staircase was a fantastic place to take photos, though unfortunately it was also the end of my progress there as I didn’t dare to climb through the window to the left or do something crazy like jumping across the gap in front of me. *I’ve been to dozens of abandoned schools in the past decade*, and while this exploration was far from enjoyable, it was also one of the most memorable ones…

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Hidden behind tall walls and covered by a thick layer of snow, this abandoned wooden countryside clinic revealed its treasures only slowly…

You can barely throw a stone in the Japanese countryside without hitting an abandoned house. They are everywhere – and most of them are boring and in horrible condition.  At first sight the Showa Era Countryside Clinic was not much different (the Showa era area the years between 1926 and1989). It looked like a decently sized two building property in… well… average at best condition. A thick layer of snow implied that we were the first visitors in weeks, maybe even years. At first sight or on GoogleMaps there was absolutely nothing special about those premises. Arriving at the clinic, we weren’t even sure if there was anything left. According to a friend’s research one of the buildings had been used as a doctor’s office in the past – but that doesn’t mean anything, especially nowadays, when buildings are refurbished or demolished in no time. My two friends I was exploring with that day checked out the structure in front of us, I went to the right, found a door and opened it; looked like a normal room, I guess I picked the mansion part. Shortly thereafter one of my friends passed by me and actually went inside – jackpot! It turned out that my building actually was the clinic and that the door I opened was just to a regular room in the clinic building. So I went inside, too, and took some photos as well as a video, converted to black and white monochrome for this article. Before I switched buildings with the third friend I went through a small opening in a broken door and up a wooden ladder to the attic of the clinic after I was assured it was worth the hassle – as it turned out the floor there was little more than wooden boards, slightly brittle after decades of neglect. After taking photos of the abandoned experiment, which looked like straight out of a 1930s Frankenstein movie, at one end of the attic I made my way back to the ladder and felt how the floor caved in with a cracking noise, so I quickly took off the pressure of my foot before I crashed through. I consider it a small miracle that I was able to get down again before I damaged the building (any further) or hurt myself – wooden attics really aren’t my kind of environment… Speaking of damages: The living space in the main building wasn’t exactly confidence-inspiring, so I stayed at the entrance / kitchen area and took a few photos there. It wasn’t until I got home and had a closer look at the photos that I realized how much the walls were really bending! Japan – a polite country through and through… (The building is actually a death trap and can collapse at any time; it probably will within the next couple of years, depending on the amount of snow that will pile up on top of the roof.)

Exploring the Showa Era Countryside Clinic was an amazing experience. Not only because it was yet another time capsule in overall good condition, but because one of the friends I was with found it due to own research and they trusted us enough to take us with them to check it out – so I can almost guarantee you that some of the photos you see here were the first ones ever taken at that place. And there were things I had never seen before, like the strange apparatus in the attic or the large wood and marble contraption that looked like it was used for treatments involving electricity, which was developed about 200 years ago and was quite popular at the beginning of the 20th century. Those are the kinds of objects you’ll probably won’t even find in museums. Seeing them just standing around there is… well worth all the effort to explore at this level.
The pictures of the first abandoned old clinic I explored, the now vandalized *Tokushima Countryside Clinic*, I published originally in converted monochrome photos and a while later in color. Since this clinic reminded me very much of that exploration almost eight years ago (just with much better friends…), I will publish this set both ways in one gallery – first black and white monochrome, then color (otherwise unedited though, as always). Feel free to let me know which you like better!

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Abandoned hotels barely ever excite me anymore – this one was different though. This one was an original find!

The Rokkosan Hotel, named after the gorgeous Rokko mountain range that stretches from Tarumi (west of Kobe) 56 kilometers in northeastern direction all the way to Takarazuka (fun fact: There is no Mount Rokko, all the peaks have different names!), is one of the most famous pre-war hotels in all of Japan and has an almost 90 year long history that started in the late 1920s, when the stretch between Mount Maya and Ashiya (home to the most expensive apartments in all of Kansai!) was developed as a nearby recreational area. Designed by local architect Masaharu Furuzuka and opened in 1929 as an annex to the equally famous Takarazuka Hotel, the Rokkosan Hotel was served by the Rokko Ropeway (right across the street) from 1931 till 1944, when the latter one was closed to get metal for the last desperate war efforts. (*I explored the abandoned remains of the Rokko Ropeway back in 2010.*) After World War 2 the Rokko Mountains experienced another boom period and the 2-storey wood-frame hotel with its 25 rooms was expanded by a new and modern main building with 45 rooms. In 2007 the Rokkosan Hotel was awarded “Heritage of Industrial Modernization” status and in November of 2015 is was announced that the original and smaller part of the hotel would be closed a month later as the building didn’t meet the updated earthquake resistance standards. Half a year later yours truly showed up to explore a third building on the premises. Bored out of my mind one day I used the satellite view of GoogleMaps to look for abandoned buildings… and I had a hunch about that one – luckily I was right, though I am still not exactly sure what the building was, except that it belonged to the Rokkosan Hotel as you can see written on several signs in the photos. And to bring the story of the Rokkosan Hotel to an end: When the older building was closed in 2015, business continued in the newer building. In 2016 the complex was sold to a car importer in Osaka who closed the last remaining operating building at the end of 2017 to start renovation and the construction of a new annex, both to be (re-)opened in 2019, 90 years after the Rokkosan Hotel first opened.
Now to the abandoned part of the Rokkosan Hotel I explored in 2016 – and I swear, I saw it by chance on GoogleMaps, marked it, checked it out some time later with my buddy Andrew; boom, jackpot! Never saw it on the internet before, never since then. It’s not visible from the street and the front is basically overgrown, though we could hear people talk all the time thanks to its proximity to the main building. Not only were we lucky that I found the building, we were also lucky that a door on the back was unlocked, so we entered, like so many other hotels, through the kitchen. From there the entrance area and the dining room were easily accessible. Due to the layout of the building without a formal front desk, I assume that it was either a low cost hostel type expansion of the main building – or maybe an accommodation for employees. From the looks of it, the building hasn’t been used for at least a decade or two; the vegetation in front was wild and blocked a lot of light. Oh, and the floor… Darn, it wasn’t in good condition anymore. The dining room floor was bending and the hallway next to it was so dark and soft that I decided to look for another way around. Fortunately the building featured two rather solid staircases, one on each end, so the second floor was easily accessible even for a tall heavyweight like I. Unfortunately the kitchen and the dining room were by far the most interesting part, the rest was just a rundown old accommodation, slightly trashed.

Was the third building of the Rokkosan Hotel a spectacular exploration? No. But I loved every second of it – because I found it. Other explorers I admire don’t go after the famous locations everybody can google in five minutes, they find places themselves and show me something I’ve never seen before. The only thing better, much better, than seeing an abandoned place for the first time on photos is seeing it for the first time yourself. True exploration, not knowing what’s behind the next corner, behind the next door, behind the next curtain. So whenever I am able to explore an original find I am having the time of my life, even if it’s just an average abandoned hotel – but things you’ll see in the gallery below you’ll probably never see anywhere else; not in the past, maybe not even in the future. It’s an original find – and as much as I hate to reveal locations, I’m proud to say: You saw it here first, on Abandoned Kansai!

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Military explorations are always some of the most uncomfortable ones as you never know how abandoned or risky they really are – and what the consequences will be if getting caught…
Luckily exploring this abandoned shooting range near Dudenhofen in Germany was a rather relaxed operation. After spending a couple of hours at the pretty impressive *German Countryside Retirement Home*, my sister Sabine and I went to a small town outside of Speyer to have a look at a rather little known location similar to the *Military Shooting Range Neustadt*, which we explored three years prior. The front entrance featured a massive locked gate with large warning signs (Military Area! No trespassing! Contraventions will be prosecuted!), but it didn’t take us too long to find a rather easy way in. Interestingly enough the first things we found weren’t signs of a military installation, but dozens of boxes for beekeeping, probably put there by an amateur apiarist… and countless bees flying around. A blast from the past, because while I was studying Japanese history, I had to get credits outside my main subject, too – so I participated in a hands-on class about bees and beekeeping taught by the biology department; four hours every two weeks, one of the most amazing experiences of my university days! Unfortunately the abandoned shooting range itself wasn’t that impressive – a couple of concrete arches, partly wooden clad. No big bunker or a large bullet trap. Nevertheless a nice little outdoor exploration on a sunny summer day. Perfect as a filler in a busy week like this…

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Some of you might have heard about Typhoon #21 a.k.a. Jebi – the fourth natural disaster to hit Kansai in little more than three months; not including the usual summer heat and humidity that tend to make this time of the year a real nuisance, also much worse than in the past few years. Jebi came with a paid day off for me as JR (Japan Railways) announced on Monday that they planned to shut down all services at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, which made it more than likely that other train companies / modes of transportation would follow. Unfortunately this day off also came with a more than ten hour long daytime blackout – no AC, no water, no internet. As a result I wasn’t able to write an article this week… and the work that didn’t get done I have to catch up with. Will there be an article this week? I can’t say for sure yet. Maybe tomorrow, maybe on Friday – maybe I’ll have to skip it and return to the regular schedule next Tuesday.
Other than being uncomfortable for eleven hours I luckily wasn’t affected very much by Jebi, but according to the latest media reports nine people lost their lives – my condolences to their families and friends.
Also: Hey, America! Stop sitting on your thumbs and finally put some real effort into getting Puerto Rico back on its feet! Japan is a filthy rich country and most of the damages done yesterday won’t last more than a couple of days, but come on guys… it’s been almost a year since Hurricane Maria!
(Oh, and whoever at The Economist thought that Osaka is the third most livable city in the world… think again!)