A blast from the past – another part of the incredibly popular Nara Dreamland hardly anybody cared to look for… the trains!

At the height of its popularity in 2016 the abandoned Nara Dreamland was visited by dozens of people every day, from babies carried by their mothers (all of them foreigners, at least the ones I saw…) to groups of Japanese senior citizens – but hardly anybody really explored that amazing location. Most of those thrill-seeking, bored adventure tourists (including those who call themselves urban explorers) came in through the tunnels underneath the train station, walked past the shops of Fake Street USA to the castle, had a look at the rollercoasters and disappeared again – a few put in some extra effort to check out the water park and / or the rides in the back, but most of them left with a selfie in front of a rollercoaster or the castle to cross off another item on their FOMO hipster list. Hundreds, probably thousands of people came to Nara Dreamland in 2015 and 2016, pretty much everybody saw the train station that dominated the entrance and was even visible from outside the park – yet pictures of the Nara Dreamland trains are super rare, despite the fact that one of the iron horses was waiting for the things to come in an open shed pretty much right next to Aska, the stunning wooden rollercoaster. (The other one was parked on the track in an artificial tunnel in the southeast “corner” of the park, overgrown most of the year…) On the other hand it was probably a blessing for those trains that they only had a handful of visitors in total instead of a handful of visitors per day – they were (mostly) spared the serious amount of vandalism that the monorail and other parts of the park had to suffer through; not to mention all of *Western Village* up in Kanto, which went to hell in a handbasket as soon as it became famous, thanks to a nearby train station and some assholes who can’t behave (pardon my French…).
The pictures in the gallery at the end of this article are mostly of the train in the shed, because it was easy to find, easy to access and easy to take photos of, though it was also next to a surprisingly busy side road and you really couldn’t say if the noise from a scooter was coming from outside or from a security guard on the premises (not counting the one year or so without any security at all, of course – during that time it was pretty clear…).
What happened to the Nara Dreamland trains? I have no idea. The last owner of Nara Dreamland blocked any attempts to make contact, so unless one or both of them show up somewhere in the future (three, if you count the monorail), I guess they’ve been sold for scrap – which would be a shame, because according to the builder’s plate on the train in the shed the locomotive was built by Vulcan Foundry in Newton-le-Willows in 1871. I’m not a train expert, so I have no idea how authentic the train and the worksplate were, but at least there was indeed a Vulcan Foundry Company building steam locomotives in Newton-le-Willows, England, at that time… (According to a Youtube comment by user SJ, who googled the engine gauge “1871 #614 2-4-0, 3’6”, this might have been the first train to ever run in Japan – which makes me hope even more that it was donated to a museum and not scrapped, but Nara Dreamland was bought for profit and I don’t think the new owner cared much about anything… Addendum 2019-02-12: According to Youtube user YannickGB the train at Nara Dreamland most likely was a replica as the original is in the Saitama Railway Museum.)

Hindsight is 20/20 and even I wish I would have spent more time documenting the locomotives of Nara Dreamland, but at least I can say that I’ve seen them both and have been on one of them. Unfortunately the general interest in Nara Dreamland died as quickly as it was demolished, but I hope the Abandoned Kansai audience is a little bit more hardcore than the average Instagram hipster out there and appreciates both the photos and the videos of this article. And if you have never seen the Nara Dreamland shrine, you might want to *check out part I of this series*.

(For all your *Nara Dreamland* needs please have a look at the *Nara Dreamland Special**Like Abandoned Kansai on Facebook* if you don’t want to miss the latest articles and exclusive content – and subscribe to the *video channel on Youtube* to receive a message right after a new video is online…)

Nature loves Germany – no earthquakes, no hurricanes, no tornados, hardly any venomous animals or floods! So bricks as a building material have been popular and in high demand for centuries… just not high enough to save the Brick Factory Rhine.

The Brick Factory Rhine was built in 1965 and therefore was a rather modern and large scale brickworks. Business was good for about 30 years, but in 2001 the financials finally collapsed and a company collecting and disposing materials like dioxin and asbestos moved onto the premises, actually using the ovens to burn off some of the stuff – when it also went bust after five years, tons of special waste were stored all over the place. It took local authorities three years and almost 2 million EUR to get rid of the inherited waste and they took over in 2012 when the compound was finally foreclosed – and of course soon later a case of arson destroyed the offices (causing damages of about 50k EUR). Not much happened since then. The local authorities are trying to sell the property, but developing a legally binding land-use plan apparently takes forever, especially since the factory is on land that gets flooded regularly once every decade or so.
In Japan I try to stay away from “abandoned” properties that are owned by the state, because… of bad experiences, but in Germany state employees are much more relaxed than in post-Imperial Japan. When I grew up in Germany, the police was promoted as “Your friend and helper”, with the informal version of “your” – and I don’t recall a single bad experience with the guys. In addition to that, the brick factory is in the middle of nowhere, but along a somewhat busy road, so we parked out of sight and walked the remaining couple of hundred meters. Nowadays there seems to be a construction fence around the property, but back in 2014 you could just walk in and have a look around. Unfortunately I explored the factory after the place was cleaned out… and after the arson, so there weren’t a lot of items left behind. Nevertheless the Brick Factory Rhine offered quite a few photo opportunities just based on the fact that it was a big abandoned industrial site with all kinds of tanks, pipes and ovens – which is hard to find in Japan, for whatever reason; I guess here factories are used till they are held together by little more than chewing gum and duct tape – and then they turn into dust during the next typhoon. The lack of items also made the factory look much better than it actually did, because there wasn’t a lot of broken stuff lying around, despite the fact that pretty much everything left behind was actually broken. An unusual, handheld, quick (40 minutes + plus video) exploration. I’ve experienced worse… 🙂

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Outside castle, inside tatami – this abandoned house between the cultures withstood a short hype phase, yet it’s its questionable structurally soundness that makes its survival a miracle.

For some reason there is always a big fuzz about abandoned Western style houses in Japan. There was one near Tokyo, and it when it turned out that the previous owners were high society with ties to the Imperial family the property literally got trampled to the ground by the oh so careful and secret urbex scene in Japan, which is amazing, considering that it’s rather small in comparison to America and especially Europe; and that the average person is much smaller in Japan…
Anyway, when a similar house appeared in another part of Japan paranoia was big – several people published pictures at the same time and suddenly “the scene” became extremely suspicious about who had what information and would be able to take whom there. I was relying on help, too, so out of respect I waited several years with this article and won’t neither mention the area the house is in nor who made it possible for me to go there. Since the hype has died down significantly since this location first came up, I guess it’s “safe” to publish it now.
Sitting like a haunted mansion on a hill, access to the Japanese Western House turned out to be quite difficult for many reasons: fences, gates, steep slopes, at least one unchained dog, neighbours, construction, demolition – it felt like everything was going on at the same time and we somehow had to maneuver through the perimeter like a nightmarish real-life game of Frogger. At least there was no water involved. Wouldn’t have been the first (or the last!) time…

But hey, after some back and forth we finally made it into the surprisingly contorted house – and the entrance area kept the tension alive as it looked like somebody could show up any second to continue some long necessary renovation work. As learned at the *Deathtrap Hotel* we went to the lowest floor and made our way up, though it probably would have been easer for my nerves if we would have started upstairs as the semi-basement looked like it could have collapsed any minute and was only propped by a 4×4 timber or two – one low kick and probably the whole friggin house would have folded like Kevin Spacey should have. And we, being happy finally being inside, took the risk like a bunch of inexperienced schmocks. But hey, the upper floor with its western main room (thick sofas and couches) as well as the ground floor with the large tatami rooms that once must have featured jaw-dropping views offered some pretty decent photo opportunities that were clearly tainted by the overcast-rainy weather and the more than unfortunate circumstances (not knowing if the house was really, really abandoned while knowing for sure that the basement was one clumsy move away from letting tons of material sliding down the slope).

I never thought about it before, but exploring the Japanese Western House would probably easily make it onto my Top 5 list of most uncomfortable urbex experiences – and that list would include my run-ins with authorities, though not even all of them. I was out of so many comfort zones that at one point I stopped counting. But the hype beforehand dragged me in, the beauty of some rooms kept me… and some chances don’t come back – you gotta explore when you have the opportunity to do so, only a handful of locations look better in a couple of years; most look worse or will be gone. So, no regrets – and I hope you’ll enjoy the gallery below!

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Cat cafés, dog cafès, owl cafés, a rabbit island, several cat islands, the deers of Nara and Itsukushima – not to mention several snake stations, monkey parks and bear villages as well as countless regular zoos and aquariums. Japan is (almost) every animal lover’s dream… and the more adventurous ones are heading for the mountains of Miyagi prefecture to visit the Zao Fox Village!

The Miyagi Zao Fox Village (a.k.a. Kitsune Mura, which is Japanese for… well… fox village) is located on the foot of Mount Zao, a large and absolutely gorgeous onsen / skiing / hiking area on the border of Yamanashi and Miyagi prefectures, just an hour outside of Sendai. According to the surprisingly informative and well-made English homepage it features “rare 6 types and over 100 fluffy cute foxes”. Unfortunately public transportation in this area is not running as often as in central Tokyo, so you either go there on a Tuesday or Friday by bus from Shiroishi Station (not Shiro Ishii Station!) at 7:58 a.m. and return to said station with the second bus of the day that leaves nearby Kawarago Dam at 2:32 (which means that you are stuck there for about five and a half hours!) – or you don’t. There are no other connections, except for private means of transportation (a taxi ride takes about 20, 25 minutes according to GoogleMaps and should cost about 4000 Yen), so… welcome to the Japanese countryside!
After paying 1000 Yen and agreeing to a couple of rules (not leaving the concrete paths, not squatting down, …) you first reach a tree-housy area on a slope where some of the foxes, the beautiful and especially tame ones, are resting in rather large cages. There’s also a mini (petting) zoo with other animals, and the veterinarian’s office. From there you can reach the main area (where the foxes roam freely and the large breeding cages are) or either exit through the gift shop. This main part is basically an open forest area with concrete paths and some benches as well as installations for the foxes to hide and play – and a big sign reminding you not to squat down or the foxes might bite or pee on you. You are also advised not to pet those foxes… and after being there for a couple of minutes and seeing them (play?) fight, you sure don’t want to anyway – though there is an optional petting experience at certain times with the caged foxes.

As you probably have guessed by now, the Miyagi Zao Fox Village isn’t abandoned – and probably won’t be anytime soon. But as I travel all across Japan I often run into roadside attractions, so-called B-spots, that look quite intriguing… and then we push on, because it’s not abandoned or we don’t have time. I always felt sorry for all the tourist explorers who came all the way to Japan and “explored” the already photographed to death *Western Village* as well as the moldy, rundown spa hotels of Kinugawa Onsen, but didn’t take the time to have a look at the spectacular Toshogu Shrine in nearby Nikko – and yet here I was doing a similar thing on a (much!) smaller scale… so I decided to add some B-spots to the Abandoned Kansai mix. It’s actually nothing new, I’ve done it in the past (for example with my article about *Hachijojima* or the one about the *Okinawan themed parks*. And don’t worry, the vast majority of articles on Abandoned Kansai will still be about abandoned places – throwing a B-spot into the mix every two or three months won’t hurt the flow… and half of them will probably look abandoned anyway… 😉
But to wrap up the Zao Fox Village: I’m not a fan of any kind of animal prisons, especially dolphinariums and circuses, but much to my surprise the Zao Fox Village didn’t make a bad impression to me. We arrived there shortly after 3 p.m., two hours before the place closed, but it was a late autumn day, so the sun was already setting in the mountains and we were losing daylight quickly. It also meant that the foxes had been entertaining guests for six hours, so about half of them were already tired and just trying to keep warm by making themselves small in one of the few preferably sunny spots. About three or four dozen foxes though were still roaming around freely. Some of them were fighting occasionally – but only away from the concrete paths humans were not supposed to leave anyway. And while it was a really strange feeling to have one or two getting so close that you could easily touch them (or they could bite you without a warning…), it was also quite exciting to get so close to an animal you usually only can see from afar. Some of the foxes were especially tame, for example the one with the gorgeous white and black fur – that one actually sat down on a bench and patiently had its photo taken. So patiently that it was borderline annoying, because in today’s selfie culture some people seem to have lost awareness of their own selfishness completely. It took three Japanese girls a couple of minutes to take some selfies and group photos, which is totally fine, but then a… tourist from another Asian country… took like 10 minutes to take selfies and have her picture taken by her parents, over and over and over again, while a dozen people lined up to take photos – which was completely ignored by that… BTW, are female foxes called bitches, too? No, I just looked it up, they are called vixens – which is probably what that girl thought of herself, though she wasn’t; she was just narcissistic. Long story short, her photo session ended when even the monochrome fox had enough, got up and left; leaving quite a few disappointed people behind, including yours truly. Luckily the furry model just went for a walk and was back two minutes later, giving me the opportunity to take a couple of quick shots, before yet another line formed.

So… overall visiting the Zao Fox Village wasn’t as bad as I expected it to be. When you go to pages like Tripadvisor especially the English speaking reviews depict a nightmarish place that make South American prisons look like a spa vacation – and I kinda expected to see a rundown facility with a couple of visitors, but in reality they had a couple of parking lots and even close to closing something like 50, 60 visitors at any given time on the premises. In peak seasons like late spring and early autumn this place must be a money making machine. All the animals, not just the foxes, didn’t look like they were mistreated or malnourished. At least not to me, but then again – I’m not an experienced animal prison visitor and I went there in late autumn; what the situation is like at 35°C in summer I don’t know. But I’m pretty sure if those one star reviewers would see me in my small apartment in summer, they’d probably criticize the animal unworthy living situation I exist in, too… 😉 Of course *the rabbit island Okunoshima* is much more relaxed and all animals there are actually free, but if you take the Zao Fox Village for what it is (a commercial roadside attraction, not a wildlife haven for hand-tame predators) it’s a unusual, slightly quirky place to visit – and even some the haters couldn’t resist to take and publish selfies… Probably not worth traveling to, but definitely worth stopping at, if you are in the area anyway; I actually added it to my *map of demolished and touristy places*.

Little is more exciting than exploring original finds, places you spotted by chance and haven’t seen on pictures in detail before – it even makes abandoned hotels exciting!

Whenever I have a couple of minutes and access to GoogleMaps I love to randomly have a look around via satellite view. It’s a bit like playing the lottery – you could spend your time (money) better and usually it’s a total waste, but… I’m in Japan and pretty good at it, so I guess it’s more like playing poker. Still risky, but entertaining and often rewarding, because I know what I’m doing, though there are no guarantees. It’s also one of the few ways to stand and be able to do something most other people can’t do – so I guess it’s more like a prize draw with stuff you can’t buy. Whatever it is, it’s kind of necessary to stand out an urbex blog and to avoid doing the exact same locations everybody else does. And as much as I love the *Kejonuma Leisure Land*, the *Matsuo Mine Apartments* and the *Maya Tourist Hotel* – it’s boring as heck to see the same photos of the same locations over and over and over again, because people are too lazy or unable to go for uncommon places and find some of their own. So while the Demon Warrior Hotel was just another abandoned hotel and not a large theme park or mine – at least it still felt like an exploration and the pictures you’ll see in the gallery below are some you haven’t seen dozens of times all over the internet.
There are plenty of reasons why I love urbex, the thrill of the legal grey zone isn’t one of them, which is why original finds are especially nerve-wrecking to me. When you have seen a place a gazillion times you can be pretty sure that there are neither alarms nor security or other unusual risks involved; you also can be sure that access is rather easy as so many people trampled through there before. At original finds though you know nothing, so even if inaccessibility isn’t a problem (which it often is – and one of the reasons why a location hasn’t appeared on the internet yet), there still could be alarms, caretakers, homeless people (rather unlikely in Japan) or druggies (even more unlikely in Japan!). Fortunately the Demon Warrior Hotel was really abandoned – and though the front door was still locked, access was easy via an annex. And while my friend Gen, his son, and I were probably the first or among the first urban explorers there, we clearly weren’t the first visitors after the hotel was closed about half a decade ago. Metal thieves had been there for (as the shared baths showed), so were vandals and at least one arsonist who caused major damage to the gift shop, the bar and the area between. The gender separated baths were still nice, though somewhat unspectacular. The rooms, both Western and Japanese style, were pretty much standard. The bar and some hallways were kinda spooky, but overall the Demon Warrior Hotel turned out to be a rather unspectacular exploration. My favorite room in the whole hotel was unremarkable at first sight, it looked like the typical tatami party room you have in pretty much every Japanese accommodation. One of the cabinets though featured a hotel shrine, including a kami mirror and prayer beads also known as juzu. None of the items appeared to be of high value or craftsmanship, but they were nice to look at and made this exploration at least somewhat special.

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2018 has been a strange year in many ways – and I’m still not sure what to make of it. A look back.

Let’s start this article on a positive note: A very big THANKS to all of you who support Abandoned Kansai by liking and sharing pictures and articles on social media, with friends via e-mail, via postings in forums! While the amount of comments on the blog directly is still dwindling, the social media accounts (*Facebook* and *Twitter*) are doing more than well (probably because I post quite a bit of time-exclusive material) – and it’s always nice to find some new links in the referrer list of the statistics. Abandoned Kansai is basically a one man, ad free side-project and I really appreciate all the support and most of the resulting conversations! (Please be aware that it might take me some time to reply to messages – and that I sometimes get distracted and don’t answer at all, which usually doesn’t happen on purpose.)
In the Chinese zodiac scheme 2018 was the year of the dog, though sometimes it felt like one year long dog day… which is very subjective, of course, and probably includes overthinking too many first world problems, especially after the grandiose 2017, which took me from one end of Japan to the other and allowed me to explore a record number of locations (70, checked out a total of 120!) with a record number of people (20) on a record number of days (45 – and those were just the exploration days, not including the time spent to create this blog or finding locations…). In 2018 those numbers dropped to 48 explored places (+ 2 roadside attractions) and 67 checked out places with 12 different people on 24 days – so with this article and maybe an “all locations of 2018 not worth their own blog entry” piece I barely get to the 52 posts I need per year to keep this blog running on a weekly basis. I know, I know, a ton of other explorers would be happy to get that many locations under their belts, especially since the explored places included some world class locations and more than a dozen originals finds (marked with OF in the gallery below, though I had to leave some out for obvious reasons), but cutting back involuntarily hardly ever feels good – and 2018 definitely was the year of empty phrases and insincere apologies in pretty much every aspect of my life. One more “I’m so sorry, but…” and I’ll go Duke Nukem on somebody’s head! Being stuck between fake American friendliness and even faker Japanese friendliness I sometimes miss some good old German “Look, the situation is like that…” straight talk, though the insane amount of dishonesty and unreliability in 2018 was mainly a non-urbex problem – and the explorations that actually happened in the end were almost all memorable.

My favorite thing to do, probably overall, is going on road trips in Japan. Spending four or more days in an area of Zipangu I don’t know very well yet is the greatest thing ever. Especially when combined with nice people, spectacular abandoned places, interesting touristy stuff, local food… and good weather (i.e. no rain – everything else is good weather!). Unfortunately the amount of road trips went down from 3 to 1, plus one solo trip per year – in 2017 I was able to visit all nine regions of Japan, in 2018 I never got off Honshu, except for when I left Japan to visit family and friends. (No urbex in Europe last year, half a dozen places the year before, including the still popular *Chateau Banana*…)
But enough of the whining, though the hot and humid summer with three typhoons, a heat wave and an earthquake, all costing precious lives, would deserve its own paragraph.
I guess overall it was still a good urbex year – I just wish there would have been more opportunities… So if you are living in areas like Kyushu, Tohoku or Hokkaido and want to give this urbex thing a try with one of the most experienced explorers in Japan, feel free to drop me a line. Most plans fall through for one reason or another, but hey, I also met some truly good people via urbex, so why not trying it this way? (After 9 years I have most of Kansai picked clean and I barely ever do revisits. So pretty much all day trips begin with at least two hours on trains / in cars. Another reason to love multiple day trips – we barely ever spend the night further than 30 minutes away from the first location of the day.)
On the positive side, I was able to spend some amazing days with fantastic people… exploring some spectacular old clinics and barely touched love hotels, checking out more than a dozen original finds (some of them successfully, though you won’t see all of them until later this year… or next year… or the one after that!), barely fleeing the scenes several times when triggering alarms or having nosy geezers checking out our parked cars, almost got snowed in at an abandoned golf hotel – I bought the most delicious apples I ever ate from a street vendor on a countryside road in Miyagi prefecture (they also have the best maguro don up there!), froze my butt off at the Tottori Snow Dunes, had pink ginger curry at an obscure museum that was basically about itself, forged a knife from a metal rod with little more than a hand-operated coal forge, an anvil and a hammer, climbed the 1000 steps up Yamadera, enjoyed Japanese beef in at least five prefectures, did the Geibikei river cruise, and presented some of my *North Korea photos* in a solo exhibition at a gallery in Osaka.
Having all of this written down, I guess 2018 wasn’t a bad year overall – it was just a bit disappointing considering what it could have been; and going from 45 to just 24 active days, that drop was just too much. Let’s see what 2019 will bring. Hopefully more explorations on more days with old friends and new ones. And of course more original finds, because the well-known stuff is for tourists… 🙂

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Hatsumode, the first temple or shrine visit of the year, has become a tradition on Abandoned Kansai – and this year’s hatsumode is especially special!

Abandoned temples and shrines are quite hard to find in Japan, despite the fact that there must be tens of thousands of them. But no matter how remote the location, there always seems to be somebody who takes care of. Sure, some of them are rarely visited and not in good condition anymore, but really abandoned are only a few of them. The abandoned temple for this hatsumode actually hasn’t even been finished yet – it’s still under construction. Or was, about a decade ago. And it’s not actually a temple (or shrine…) – it’s a stupa.
A stupa is a hemispherical structure containing relics, usually the remains of important Buddhist monks, and is used as a place to meditate. Predecessors of the stupa date back to the 8th century BC in Phrygia and its appearance changed quite a bit until its arrival in Japan around the 4th century AD.
Traditionally stone constructions, the Temple Construction Ruin cut some corners by being made from ferro-concrete… and never finished. There isn’t much known about the history of this location, but it looks like construction began at least a decade ago, though several older buildings imply that the premises have been used much longer before being abandoned completely in the early 2010s.

Overlooking a gorgeous plain, unexpected snowfall turned out to be a blessing in disguise. It made access a bit thougher than expected… but even against the grey sky, the half-finished stupa looked absolutely amazing. After some outdoor shots I went inside and was totally fascinated by a Buddha sculpture with blue hair – Marge Simpson style. Much to my surprise it wasn’t a solid statue, but made from light material. To more surprise, people left money and other offerings… so… who know how abandoned even this place was. Through a rather narrow opening the center of the stupa was accessible. While the outside featured some withered wooden ladders, the inside had some metal scaffolding to access the upper parts, probably two to three storeys tall. This part really reminded me of the *La Rainbow Hotel & Tower*, a classic location in Japanese urbex. Absolutely fascinating and strangely beautiful in its own way, literally inside and out. Speaking of outside: The weather brightened up and the sun came out for about half an hour, so I rushed outside to retake some of the shots I did with a grey background – because, let’s be honest, the colors just pop a lot more, especially with the autumn leaves surrounding.

Exploring abandoned places can be quite nerve-wrecking, but exploring the Temple Construction Ruin was as serene as you hope an abandoned religious place to be. It was just a great experience, from the beginning till the end – and it even surpassed my exploration of a finished stupa several years prior to this exploration and the hatsumode “tradition”; the *Golden Buddha Park* in front of a cherry blossom background.

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