Two abandoned ski resorts halfway up one of Japan’s most popular mountains – one at about 500 meters, the other at about 750 meters… and no working lift anymore to get up there! The Ruins of Mount Ibuki.

When I first picked up urbex as a hobby, I was an avid hiker and actually bought my first DSLR to take better pictures of scenic landscapes and waterfalls – I received it the day before I climbed Mount Atago in the outskirts of Kyoto. Not the normal route, but along the *abandoned cable car*, my first real abandoned place I visited on purpose. I started to go to abandoned places more often, quite a few of them in combination with hiking, like the *Taga Mine* or the *Mount Hiei Artificial Ski Slope*. In summer of 2010 I decided to climb Mount Ibuki and brought my big camera just in case there would be some spectacular views, because I didn’t expect to see any ruins along a popular hiking trail like that – I was wrong…
Mount Ibuki is one of the 100 Famous Japanese Mountains, a list compiled by mountaineer Kyuya Fukada in 1964 and made popular when Crown Prince Naruhito took note of it and decided to climb them all. It’s the highest peak of the Ibuki Mountains along the border between Shiga and Gifu prefectures and offers a great view at Lake Biwa on clear days.
With an early start, the 1377-metre-high peak can be climbed even by occasional hikers like myself in a day trip from Kobe / Osaka / Nara / Kyoto – usually by taking a train to Omi-Nagaoka and a bus to the trailhead near Sannomiya Shrine (bus stop: Ibuki-Tozanguchi). As fate willed, the regular bus wasn’t running that day without a reason given, so I shared a taxi with three ladies in their 60s, as the 5 kilometer walk would have totally messed up my schedule. The first 200 metres in altitude you gain by walking up what is basically a long staircase through the woods (the trail starts at about 220 meters above sea level). Steps, steps, steps – hardly any even stretches, but protected from the sun. Then you step out in the open right next to an abandoned lift on the right and a large abandoned ryokan to the left. Upon further exploration I found a still partly stocked abandoned ski rental shop, another accommodation, a restaurant / ski rental called Dorian, and some ski lifts right next to a beautiful slope. At one point this area must have been quite popular, now only the Mount Ibuki Plateau Hut and the Mount Ibuki Paragliding School are open for business – accessible for employees (and maybe customers) by a road closed to the general public. Already feeling the climb in my legs, surprised by the photo opportunity and only half a year into writing Abandoned Kansai I took a couple of photo, but I’d have to lie if I’d claim that I would be proud of them; now, six years later. Anyway, I continued to follow the track up Mount Ibuki for about 150 meters (height, not length!), past another abandoned restaurant, to the top of this lower skiing area, which included a still active accommodation, a temple (I didn’t visit) as well as another large abandoned rest house / ryokan with a beautiful UCC vending machine in front of it. At this point the hiking trail disappeared between some trees for another 200 meters of height gain – the lift leading straight up to connect the lower skiing area with the upper skiing area left abandoned.
The upper skiing area, basically another plateau, was riddled with about half a dozen lifts in all directions – and it also featured an abandoned hotel (Mount Ibuki Highland / Plateau Hotel) as well as an inaccessible gondola station connecting a parking lot next to Sannomiya Shrine directly with the upper skiing area. Even more exhausted thanks to the gruesome June summer heat and humidity I took some more pictures, but again… I was in hiking mode. And that was necessary, because at the upper skiing area the hike up Mount Ibuki becomes exhausting. For the final stretch of about 550 meters of height difference you see barely any tree, instead you have to hike up a rather narrow trail in serpentines without any natural protection from the sun – back and forth, back and forth, between 5 and 50 meters each. Like I said, I did quite a bit of hiking the previous year, but nothing like that! Upon reaching the top of Mount Ibuki I was surprised to find a small hut village, selling everything from food to crappy souvenirs. I wasn’t aware of it beforehand, but as it turned out that there is a pay road leading up the back of Mount Ibuki, called Ibuki Driveway. In summer, you can even take a public bus from Sekigahara Station! It kind of ruined the atmosphere up there, but at the same I was really, really, really happy to have some kakigori (shaved ice with syrup) to cool down! According to the hiking maps, it takes about 3 hours and 20 minutes to climb Mount Ibuki – 1157 meters of height difference stretched across exactly six kilometers.
On the way down, flooded by a motivating feeling of accomplishment, I continued to take photos… and I actually think that they are the better ones. I was more relaxed, more focused on framing – and to be honest, the warm afternoon light was much better than the rather harsh morning light. After a total of about six hours I was back at the bus stop – and this time it actually came!

Climbing Mount Ibuki is quite an experience, whether you are into urban exploration or not – and I can only imagine how nice it must have been before all the lifts, huts, roads, and the big mine that is carving a gigantic open sore into the western part of the mountain. I actually liked it so much that I came back with a friend a year later, in 2011, only to find that most of the lifts had been demolished and the hotel was in use again – not by tourists, but probably by the workers who removed the lifts. What else was different? Well, that’s a story for another time…

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Getting to an abandoned place in the middle of nowhere can be a difficult challenge – but getting back home is the much more important one…

Since premises are really valuable in the bigger cities of Japan, most abandoned places in the land of the rising sun are in more or less rural areas – the more places I’ve explored, the further away from where people live I have to go to find suitable locations; some of them deep into the mountains, near a peak, dozens of kilometers away from the next settlement, past narrow roads riddled with rock fall. And one can only hope that everything goes well on those excursions – no damaged cables / pipes when accidentally driving over a sharp stone, or dead batteries due to negligence when parking the car. You don’t want to be stranded in the middle of nowhere with no cell phone reception!
Usually I go exploring solo or with local friends, but this time I was on the road with visitors from Europe, Michel and Tom; both awesome guys with impressive portfolios and many, many years of urbex experience. We were heading for the mountains to check out some schools I’ve located – sadly only two out of the seven I found were accessible, but the scenic drive in the countryside and exchanging exploration stories were half the fun anyway.

The first explorable school we reached was the Old Wooden Japanese School – one of those places appearing out of nowhere between a barely ever visited shrine and a ghost town at the end of a long drive up a mountain on a rock fall tormented road. Closed in 1969 and probably finally abandoned when the last resident left the nearby hamlet 30 years later, this was one of the oldest modern ruin I’ve ever visited. Not an easy exploration, as most windows had been boarded up and most entrances were covered by corrugated iron, basically separating the school into two parts – the easily accessible and rather well-lit storage / teacher’s room… and the rather gloomy class room(s), the main area of this wooden single-floor school. Overall the condition of the school was rather bad – which wasn’t really a surprise, given that it was made of wood and abandoned for almost 50 years. While the hallway in the back was almost completely gone and the floor of the classroom looked so bent and brittle that I didn’t dare to put any weight on it, the front was only in slightly better condition, probably thanks to different layers, including a door now lying on the ground. My favorite items in the school were the old Toshiba TV, the Hiruma day light projector, and the metal basketball hoop. (Yes, even as a German who has never seen a full basketball game I know that the thing is called a hoop in English, not a ring…) In total we spent about 1.5 hours taking pictures of the Old Wooden Japanese School, mainly because the lighting required long expose shots (30 seconds or 1/30 second makes a huge difference in how long it takes to document a place!), before we returned to the car and left…
… Well, tried to leave. The electronics of the car seemed work perfectly (lights, AC, …), yet whenever Michel turned the key to start the car, all we heard was a three note sound, as if something was dying; probably the battery. Early afternoon in the middle of nowhere, up on a mountain, past a rock fall riddled section of a rather narrow road, kilometers away from the next street with regular traffic, even further from the next occupied house. ARGH! A look at the car’s Japanese manual didn’t help at all, neither did Michel’s attempt of trying several lever position combinations. Just that depressing dying sound… over and over and over again. Starting to worry, we got out of the car – no visible damage, no liquids dripping; the car seemed to be fine… and the worrying intensified. It would take us hours to get help, at this point I considered getting home on the same day the best case scenario. Running out of ideas, Michel tried more lever positions… and all of a sudden the friggin car started! Three of the loudest sighs of relief I ever heard followed. As Europeans none of us was used to cars with automatic transmission – and without being able to understand the Japanese manual, we still don’t know what we’ve done wrong or how we fixed it. But we kind of didn’t care at that point. We were spared a really shitty afternoon, so we explored another school instead… and at the end of the day had tons of grilled and deep-fried chicken at Torikizoku – dinner of champions!

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A trout farm / fairground about three hours away from the next really big city, along a small river deep in the mountains of Japan? I think I’d rather invest in a video rental store…

I’ve seen my share of unusual abandoned places over the years, but the virtually unknown Amusement Park In The Woods was probably the strangest of all – even beating *Doggy Land*, a dog themed park all about man’s best friend. Imagine a beautiful little river in the mountains, a small road about three meters above it leading to a remote countryside shrine; picture perfect Japanese countryside, kilometers away from the next village, dozens of kilometers away from the next town – hours away from the next big city. And then there probably was a rich, but lonely farmer wading through his nearby rice paddy, hearing a voice saying: “If you build it, they will come!” It… it was the weirdest amusement park of all time. At least it said at the entrance that it was an amusement park, but to be honest, I have no idea what exactly this conglomeration of structures was, let alone who “they” could have been. Probably dads who couldn’t shake off their wives and kids when they wanted to go fishing at a pond in the suburbs – so they took the whole family to the mountains; I can’t imagine any other target audience.
After almost being scared away by a leery local (“Did you get lost? Down the road is only the house where I live!”) me and my exploration buddies Dan and Kyoko walked down the slope from the small parking lot to the little river. On the way I spotted a partly overgrown cage to the left, maybe an aviary? We continued and quickly reached the main area of this “amusement park” (yes, it really said amusement park at the entrance!). Wow, this was one messed up eclectic accumulation of buildings! Probably the most eye-catching objects were two white Suzuki Carry, rusting away and sinking deeper into the muddy ground of what once probably was the outdoor sitting area of the park’s café / bar; dozens of chairs fading to nothing in front of the bar. To the right were the toilets and a glass green house, up the hill were two lookouts / rest areas – one shaped like a mushroom, the other was kind of reminiscent of a pagoda. To the left I found the remains of what probably has been a sheltered tiki bar, followed by the outdoor trout fishing area, including the concrete pond(s) and benches, now overgrown by moss. In the back towards the slope were (now dried-out) shallow ponds with bridges – I guess one of the park’s staff members was a gardener… On the other side of the river, sadly almost completely overgrown at the time of our visit in June, was the playground / fairground / amusement part of the park; cages, swings and other metal objects were barely visible from the main side, but not accessible. And I was running out of time, so I quickly took two videos and a photo of the bathhouse where guests could change into swimwear – apparently the river had some deep, calm areas, so people could cool down during the hot summer months.
Nevertheless I wonder who those people were and when they visited the Amusement Park In The Woods. I am not a car expert by any means, but judging by a quick internet research I’d say those Suzuki Carry were fifth generation (L50/L60), built between 1972 and 1976, so this strange abandoned park was probably built in the 60s and used till the 80s – but this really is just speculation, sadly I found no information about this place at all. Too bad we ran into that suspicious neighbor before our exploration, not afterwards…

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“Holy s#it, what a f*ing disappointment!”, I thought to myself when I first arrived at the Kobe Hospital, a mid-sized construction ruin of an unfinished clinic somewhere in the mountains of Japan’s most famous beef providing city. But… I was wrong!

There is little known about the Kobe Hospital and for years Japanese explorers have been very careful with photos or information about it, making it close to impossible to locate for an independent like myself – but like so often, patience and perseverance paid off big time. People never showed surrounding buildings, but after a while I knew it was in Kobe, I knew it was on a slope with lots of trees… and I knew it could not be too remote, because nobody would go to a hospital in the middle of nowhere in a densely populated area like Hyogo Prefecture’s capital. So a year or two after I saw the first pictures I finally pieced everything together, took a train or two, hiked for a while… and then… there it was indeed, the Kobe Hospital. Or what was supposed to be a hospital in Kobe. From the looks of it and what is out there as rumors, this place was under construction when the Great Hanshin earthquake hit Kobe on January 17th 1995 – and the damages were so serious, that construction was stopped… only to be replaced by a new project just down the road! Whether or not that story is true I can’t say for sure, but it sounds pretty interesting and plausible.
At first sight the Kobe Hospital is probably one of the worst abandoned places in the history of modern ruins – a couple of unfinished, cracked walls with openings for windows and a half-finished (at best!) second floor that’s covered by leaves all year round; a borderline depressing site to see, even on a sunny day. Convinced I’d be out of there in 20 to 30 minutes I started to document the place – 2.5 hours later I finally left!
I don’t know why, but the more time I spent at the Kobe Hospital, the more interesting it appeared to me. The half-finished hallways, bent metal sticking out everywhere, the ever-changing light, the one wall that looked like a tank crashed through, the vast size of the place… It was just strangely fascinating – despite being kind of the opposite of the *Hokkaido Hospital*.

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I’ve seen my share of “unusual” Japanese architecture over the past ten years, but never had I seen a hotel shaped like a crossbow; especially not an abandoned one! What a fascinating place – at least from a bird’s eye view…

GoogleMaps and its satellite view have been invaluable tools ever since I picked up urban exploration as a hobby almost seven years ago. Despite the fact that most of the used satellite pictures are several months (or years…) old, it’s still a great way to find and pre-scout abandoned places. The Crossbow Hotel looked absolutely fascinating from above… like a giant crossbow with some kind of greenhouse in the lower part of the stock. Hardly ever was I that excited to explore an abandoned hotel! Sadly it turned out to be another vandalized piece of crap…
I knew that I was in for a disappointment the moment that I saw the busted open entrance of the hotel and gigantic piles of plastic cable sheathing – metal thieves had ripped apart ceilings, bathrooms and some walls, graffiti “artists” started to take over some of the rooms still in acceptable condition (leaving behind candy bars with a Best Before date several months in the future!), and your average run-of-the-mill vandal had been there, too. And while the architecture looked really intriguing from above, it was rather confusing on location, featuring some unexpected turns and narrow hallways. Especially the stock part was kind of strange and tough to explain – I recommend watching the walkthrough video at the end of this article to get a better impression.
Sadly there is little to nothing known about the hotel and it features. Located on a small hill in walking distance of a sandy beach, it once probably was quite a nice place to stay at. And while the latest signs implied that the Crossbow Hotel was used as a love hotel (“rest” and “stay” rates…), the whole setup differed greatly from regular love hotels – so I am sure that it was a conversion after the initial regular hotel failed. Why did it fail? I can only make assumptions, but I am pretty sure it has something to do with the not yet mentioned bypass along the beach, built in the 1990s; a source of massive amount of noise and a serious eyesore. It’s easy to imagine how that can ruin a hotel within a season or two – unless you keep the windows and blinds closed, because you only came there to… fornicate. And even then success obviously wasn’t a given thing…

Overall the Crossbow Hotel was just another average hotel exploration with quite a bit of vandalism. No risks like decay, security or mold – but also not much to get excited about…

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One of the few things I just don’t get tired of is the aesthetics of Japanese architecture. And by that I mean the beautiful countryside architecture using lots of wood! Regular Japanese cities with their rundown grey buildings or modern skyscrapers are as ugly as it gets, especially on a rainy day. Ye Olde Inn though was one of those buildings you just won’t find anywhere outside of Japan, especially not in that condition…

You might remember *Ye Olde Tea Factory* I’ve written about a couple of weeks ago – and the remote area near Kowada Station on the eastern bank of the Tenryu River, completely cut off from the road network after the Sakuma Dam cause said river to rise. The abandoned 2-storey building right next to the factory is usually ignored by explorers, probably because the upper floor is completely locked, but of course I found a way in on the lower floor… in the back. I’ve never read anything reliable about it anywhere, so I assume that it was built and closed around the same time as the factory (1950 / early 1980s) – probably a restaurant or an inn… or the home of a rather rich family. Who knows?
Like pretty much everything else in the area, Ye Olde Inn was built on a slope, which means that there was a smaller lower floor and a bigger upper floor. The lower floor was basically a storage room with a rather big wooden machine in one corner, most likely also related to tea production. Wooden stairs lead up to the (indoor) toilet – and since the upper floor was completely locked, it was the only way to currently get up there. The other staircase near the entrance, leading to the kitchen area, was made of concrete – and right next to the exit outside was some kind of outhouse; not a toilet, but a small room with a bathtub. Upstairs was rather dark and gloomy, and I didn’t trust many of the floors of this metal-clad wooden building, so I tried to stay in the parts I assumed were on solid ground. Everything here was magnificently old-fashioned, from the brick-built cooking place to the slightly radio. With supplies still on shelves, this house could have been a private house, a restaurant, or an inn… or maybe it was used for changing purposes. In any case, the interior kept what the exterior promised, and so I actually had to postpone my return to civilization as I didn’t want to rush things. Overall a great exploration well worth the really long journey there…

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My trips to the Democratic People’s Republic Korea a.k.a. North Korea have been some of the most memorable vacations I’ve ever been on – and the *North Korea Special* here on *Abandoned Kansai* is still one of the most popular articles I’ve ever written.
During my summer vacation in 2015 I did a solo exhibition about urbex photography in the city hall of my hometown of Bürstadt, Germany; quite a popular one, with enthusiastic reviews by several local media outlets. So when I decided on my 2016 summer vacation, planning another photo exhibition was kind of a natural thing to do – especially since I was able to get the precious time slot that includes the international gymnastics festival “Gymastica”, which attracts hundreds of amateur athletes from all over the world. The perfect opportunity to show some of the pictures I took in North Korea, famous for its own and “slightly bigger” gymnastics festival, the Arirang Mass Games.
The exhibition takes place at the city hall in Bürstadt, Germany – Rathausstraße 2; that’s about 45 minutes south of Frankfurt. It’s accessible free of charge on Mondays / Thursdays from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., and on Tuesdays / Wednesdays / Fridays from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. till August 5th 2015. If you are lucky you can catch me there, but even if you don’t, you’ll find handouts with some explanatory lines about each of the 26 photo in both German and English. Oh, and please leave a comment in the guest book if you can make it!🙂

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