Exploring abandoned hotels usually means looking for interesting items, baths or pools as most rooms look exactly the same – not only within a hotel, but across hotels all over Japan. The Mindfuck Hotel was different though…

When I first saw the Mindfuck Hotel, located a few hundred meters above the Seto Inland Sea along a gorgeous scenic road, I had a good feeling about it, as if we were in for a special treat. Unlike most other abandoned hotels I’ve been to, this one was not only abandoned – it looked completely gutted: no windows, no doors, no nothing. At least not from the steep angle below. The last road leading up to the entrance was clean, a rather new metal chain keeping unwanted cars away. Right behind the hotel was a small reservoir, which is why using that road was “strictly forbidden”. And that’s when the mood start to change slightly… even more so when we reached the same level as the hotel and finally had a good look at the ground floor and the surprisingly clean entrance area. Two thirds of the building still looked completely emptied out, but the last one looked fortified and kind of used. Some windows were secured by metal bars, others had rather modern, unbroken panes, heat shields usually used for cars used to prevent nosy visitors from having a look inside. The first sign I saw was a camera warning, the first door warned of a big dog. In Japan, both “warnings” are usually bluffs, but the Mindfuck Hotel had a camera directed right at the entrance… and an electric meter box outside on the ground level, so I kept out of sight of the camera and had a look at the meter to confirm that the camera was as dead as the rest of the building – only to be proven wrong, the meter was running. Something in that building was using electricity! I’ve seen active security cameras in Japan and I have seen active meters in Japan, but never have I seen an active meter right underneath a security camera at a presumedly abandoned building. What the heck was going on here? And if there was camera, were there alarms, too?
Luckily the entrance to the hotel wasn’t on the ground floor, you had to go up some steps to the second floor – and the camera was directed right at the entrance. Which meant that it was rather easy to avoid the area covered by the camera… and going around the building was only complicated by some early summer overgrowth (that was hiding the remains of a nice little outdoor pond area). Much to my surprise the first room I came across once had large windows that were missing now, which means that we were able to get inside just by stepping over a knee-high wall. But should we really? That was something Dan, Kyoko and I discussed ever since we found out about the running meter. What if there was an alarm system? What if there was somebody inside? Most likely a person, because the big dog we were warned of apparently wasn’t there.
So of course we went inside, we had a mystery to solve! The mystery of the Mindfuck Hotel. The hearts in our boots we climbed in, walked out a few steps in and into what once probably was the dining area of the hotel – a half-open two storey room with a big glass front. Pretty much empty, except for a solid gate at the end of the steps leading to the upper floor and warnings everywhere. About death, about traps, about anything under the moon. Feeling even more uncomfortable I walked a few steps further into the dining hall and froze – a room on the upper floor, featuring large window facing both inside and outside, had lights on! What the heck? A completely empty hotel… with four fluorescent lights on? I took a couple of more photos when we heard a car closing in – so we left the way we came, only to realize that there was no car coming. Or anybody coming. It was just traffic outside on the road below the hotel…
So we decided to fully circle the hotel first, to get a better impression of the whole damn thing. In the process we found three or four bungalows right next to the hotel, most likely rentals. All except for one looked abandoned – some dirt, some broken pipes. But one of them… we weren’t sure of. So we left them alone and returned to the hotel, only to find the outdoor staircase on the north side completely open. Some floors didn’t even have doors. So we went inside and started exploring from the top – it was a solid concrete building we circled before, so we didn’t have to worry about missing sections, like at the *Deathtrap Hotel*.
At first everything went smoothly, but then we heard voice outside. Two men… no cameras, but hard hats and overalls. Darn! Hoping they were inspecting the nearby reservoir, we decided to wait out the situation. Everything went smoothly again, until I heard voices inside the building, coming from the main staircase I was taking pictures of! I warned Dan and Kyoko, and decided to leave. On the way out the two guys saw us and we hurried back to the car. WTF was going on there? About 10 minutes later, we had a snack and some water and were just about to drive away, the two guys left, too. Since their car was unmarked, we came to the conclusion that they were either with the reservoir or had no authority at all on the premises, so we decided to go back in. I continued taking pictures in the staircase, Dan and Kyoko went ahead and had a look at the area the two guys went to… where they found a large tatami party room with a gorgeous view at the Seto Inland Sea. Reservoir or not, those two guys probably just entered the hotel (on the third of four floors, avoiding the dining area of floor #1 and #2, too!) to enjoy the view for a few minutes…
When we finally reached the second floor, the one with the entrance, the one with the mystery lights, we realized that the metal fire door leading to the main area was welded shut – so we circled the hotel one last time to sneak in from the side… or the back. Call it whatever you want. Since we were practically done exploring the Mindfuck Hotel, we all got a little bit more brave. First I took a rather blurry photo of the lit area by using my tripod as an extended arm, then we headed up the stairs again. It looked like somebody welded in extra metal bars to intruder proof not only the front, but separate areas on the second floor – the kind of area you expect to find some tortured kidnapped person in. It was a bright sunny day, but this main area was spooky as hell. The barrier / locked gate to get to the secured area was maybe 1.2 meters high, but since we were still unsure about alarm systems or what we would find back there and since I was still slightly impaired by an urbex related knee injury, Kyoko and I decided to stay back, while Dan had a closer look. No alarms, but the (locked) room with the lights apparently looked like somebody was building a bar in what probably once has been the breakfast room.
In the end we concluded that the hotel once had been abandoned (some graffiti there were more than 15 years old!), somebody rather recently managed to get electricity running again and started to fortify the entrance (for whatever reason) and build that bar. The security camera was probably as much of a bluff as the dog – but to keep people away, the current occupant kept the lights one when he was away… so people would conclude: Security camera + running electricity meter = active site with alarms.

I am not sure if I was able to convey how amazing this exploration really was, but I had the time of my life there. It was a little bit like being on “the island” (Lost… if you remember) – two good friends, a mystery building, strangers showing up, slowly piecing information together while running into new things that didn’t make much sense. And in addition to that I took some photos I absolutely love. Of the hallways, of the indoor staircase, of the views the hotel offered, of the top floor shared baths. An indoor exploration with an outdoor feeling, once used and yet empty again – colors, light, textures. Everything came together perfectly. And very rewarding, because I still explore about a dozen abandoned hotels per year and I am getting tired of them – but then I run into places like the Mindfuck Hotel, and they keep me going; keep me going even to abandoned hotels… because you never know what you will get. And the Mindfuck Hotel, in its own way, was as good as it gets – right up there with the *Nakagusuku Hotel Ruin* and the *Hachijo Royel Hotel*!

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The Patton Barracks in Heidelberg, once the headquarters of the United States Army Garrison Heidelberg, were closed in 2013, along with the nearby Patrick Henry Village – earlier this summer I had a quick look…

While the PHV was quickly used as an emergency shelter for refugees of the European Migrant Crisis after being transferred to the Bundesanstalt für Immobilienaufgaben (“Institute for Federal Real Estate”) in mid-2014, the Patton Barracks went a different way and got bought by the city of Heidelberg, who has big plans with the property that included 29 buildings (everything from storages and repair shops to a theater and even a church!) on 14.8 ha and has access to two street car and bus stops. Currently there are two main projects going on – the planning and construction of an indoor sports arena for up to 5000 paying visitors (planned grand open: October 2019), and a brand-new high tech center (Heidelberg Innovation Park, HIP) for IT, digital media and industry 4.0 businesses to keep up with the city’s latest twin towns – Palo Alto and Hangzhou!
Sadly I wasn’t able to find out much about the history of the Patton Barracks. Apparently it was founded before World War 2, but the first mentioning I found was in connection with the 110th Infantry Regiment, which was activated in 1936 and lead to the construction of a new base (from 1938 on Großdeutschlandkaserne, after WW2 Campbell Barracks) as the existing Grenadier-Kaserne (now Patton Barracks) wasn’t big enough. In 1952 the Patton Barracks became the headquarters of the United States Army Garrison Heidelberg… and 61 years later they were closed, leading to the current activities.
Sorry, just a small article about a quick Exploration, but Abandoned Kansai has a long history of covering closed US military bases in Germany, going all the way back to the *Cambrai-Fritsch-Kaserne* in 2011. Next week’s piece will be much more… mysterious… and Japanese! 🙂

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One of my favorite kind of places to explore in Japan are abandoned hospitals, especially the old ones made of wood or located in lavish mansions – most of them time capsules that take you 70, 80, 90, 100 years back in time. Like the Horseshoe Hospital…

The Horseshoe Hospital is a name I came up with for a virtually unknown abandoned hospital in the Japanese countryside, mainly because… well… because it was shaped like a horseshoe. Two dear friends of mine took me there (for which I am incredibly grateful for!) and went ahead inside, so by the time I entered the ground floor through a missing door I was all by myself – and surrounded by gardening equipment. I thought this was supposed to be an abandoned hospital? The first couple of rooms I checked were filled with all kinds of useless items. Since the building was mostly overgrown, the light inside the hospital was quite unusual and rather interesting, but overall it was basically a hallway shaped like a U with rooms only to one side. Halfway through, the corridor was blocked by a few wooden desks, so I took the opportunity to take some photos before passing the obstacle and using the rather gloomy staircase to get to the upper floor.
The upper floor looked more like a hospital – less trash, more rooms with a bed and a night table. Sadly not much more medical equipment. But a nice view outside, since a part of the hospital has been demolished a while ago; months at least, probably years – no demolition equipment in sight anymore.

It has been quite a while since I last explored an abandoned wooden hospital in Japan, more than half a year (*and even longer since I last wrote about one*), so this was quite an exciting exploration, despite the fact that only a few things reminded me that this has been a hospital once – not the gardening equipment, not the advertising posters for diamond rings, and not the room with the model ship and the rather old pin-up poster. Sadly I don’t know much about the Horseshoe Hospital and the only thing I found that could help dating it, was a calendar from 1988… Nevertheless it was great fun and one of the few July explorations I don’t regret, despite a few mosquitos and the unbearably humid heat. Even at 7 a.m. it felt like being in a sauna – and by the time I finally left the Horseshoe Hospital (one and a half hours later) I was able to wring out my T-shirt…

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Wind is barely ever a factor when exploring abandoned places, but it this case it made taking outdoor shots very, very uncomfortable…

Over last few weeks I already wrote two articles about my day in Haboro in early May (featuring the *Chikubetsu Mine* and the *Haboro Green Village*), so you probably remember that it wasn’t the friendliest of days to explore, but not the worst either. You also probably remember the history of the place, so I won’t repeat again (built in 1940, closed in the early 70s, yada, yada, yada…). Arriving at the Haboro Miners’ Apartments, just a few hundred meters away from the Green Village / elementary school, the wind picked up significantly. Usually nothing to worry about, but as you can see on the photos, the apartment blocks were surrounded by a lot of trees… trees that were massively affected by the strong winds outside – to an extend that I was quite worried one of them would fall down on me… although it would have probably enough if a branch broke loose and turned into a widow maker. In addition to that the almost 80 year old concrete buildings were in really bad condition, apparently losing bits and pieces every once in a while, especially from the dilapidated balconies and the roofs in horrible condition…
Inside, the apartment buildings looked similar to the ones I’ve explored before – massive concrete blocks with wooden floors and storage spaces; some of the floors were in rather bad condition, most of the apartments were empty. Since the mine didn’t close by surprise and people could move out at their own speed, there was probably little to nothing left behind. And more than 40 years of irregular visitors did the rest. Interestingly those apartments did not only have private toilets (a real luxury in 1940s Japan!), they even featured Western style toilets, which is a luxury a lot of Japanese train stations don’t offer to this very day! (And don’t believe the hype, hardly anybody uses the squatting toilets here, unless they have to. It’s the same with restaurants and sitting on the ground – if a place offers both, usually the counter and the tables are occupied first, then the rest fills up…)

Overall it was the strong wind that made this exploration rather memorable – the buildings themselves offered some interesting details (like that tree growing through a balcony rail), but they were no match to the *Landslide Mining Apartments* and especially the *Matsuo Mine Apartment Buildings*.

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The Glücks-Königreich (or Glückskönigreich – or Glucks Kingdom, when butchered by English speakers… sometimes Kingdom of Luck / Fortune) was a Germany themed park in Hokkaido, Japan; history, culture, fairy tales, and fun – all in one. Sadly the owners didn’t have much luck and didn’t make a fortune, though I am sure the park brought happiness to a lot of people while it lasted…

Opened on July 1st 1989 and closed in 2003 after just 14 years of being in business, the Glückskönigreich has been a popular urbex location half of its existence for both locals and foreigners, who time and again acted like douche nozzles by their own admission. Several years ago I read a story about how several English teachers (…), all foreigners from the Obihiro area, went to the Glückskönigreich and got caught by the owner, who still had an eye on the property (much like the owner of *Nara Dreamland* did). Why did they get caught and handed over to the police? Because some of those morons started to play a grand piano they found! Without the shadow of a doubt a new level of stupidity, ignorance and disrespect. Much like a more recent report of a (non-Japanese) girl who went to Glückskönigreich with her friends – and who couldn’t resist to post pictures of her “crew” heading back home with goodie bags after she wrote about how that bunch of c#nts (pardon my French!) looted the gift shops; I guess it’s not a surprise for you to hear that no more copies of the items she showed or described were still in the gift shop(s) when I went there…
“So why do you write about the Glückskönigreich under its real name and draw more attention to it?” That’s a valid question, one I am struggling with even since before I explored the place myself. To give you a plain and simple answer: The Glückskönigreich is a fascinating, well-known location past its prime, with its own Wikipedia page and an interesting history. Writing about it under a fake name would be pointless as people would figure out the real name anyway, so I have two choices: Putting it on hold indefinitely until I either run out of places to write about or the park got demolished (which I have done for the far less known *Shodoshima Peacock Park*… and which I am currently doing with quite a few other locations that are still virtually unknown) – or write about it now, piecing together the complex history of the Glückskönigreich for the first time in any language, as pretty much everybody else who has been inside the abandoned park was too busy bragging about their own bravery and / or mischief. I decided to choose the second option… like I did with Nara Dreamland, which brought joy to many, many people, most likely including you. And the Glückskönigreich is in lots ways the new Nara Dreamland… including the amount of visitors (I met about half a dozen people during my few hours there.. which is way above average for a Japanese location).

What is the Glückskönigreich?

The Glückskönigreich was a Germany themed amusement park that opened in 1989 near the Tokachi-Obihiro airport on a plot of land measuring about 800 by 250 meters (that’s more than 2.15 square feet, dear readers from the United States!). Right at the cutesy entrance it featured a full-sized wind mill and a West German pay phone booth TelH78 – a gorgeous large hotel based on the famous Schloss Bückeburg (Bueckeburg Palace), home of the princely family of Schaumburg-Lippe, including its spectacular ceremonial hall, opened in 1992. From the Schlosshotel Bückeburg (10800 Yen per person even 15 years ago in November – not a horrible deal, but not exactly a bargain…) visitors entered the main area of the kingdom through a replica of the town walls in Rothenburg ob der Tauber, a super popular destination for Japanese tourists in Germany, part of the famous Romantic Road. The town square consisted of several half-timber houses, a few buildings reminiscent of German palaces in general, and a replica of the Rathaus in Hanau (made of sandstone!), including the sculpture of the Brothers Grimm in front of it! On the back of the city hall were almost a dozen more buildings in different styles from the early modern age – half-timbered, a castle, a church, a traditional straw-thatched house, and many more. Inside those houses were all kinds of shops and workshops – a traditional shoemaker, a butcher, a baker, a potter, several restaurants, a fairy tale house, several museums, … There was easily enough to see and do to spent a whole day, especially when interacting with all the German students and other expats posing as fairy tale characters or running the shops (when the park opened for a mere 70k per month, just 820 DM). But there was even more: Grimm’s Forest, a pay as you go amusement park with all the usual theme park rides that places like the *Tenkaen* or the *Shikoku New Zealand Village* were missing. Oh, and of course you could have your German dream wedding at the Glückskönigreich, thanks to the chapel in the park and the spectacular ceremonial hall at the Schlosshotel. The entrance fee was rather reasonable and probably changed over time, but the amounts I found were 1800 / 1400 Yen (adults / children) for the park entrance (rides not included) or 3800 / 3200 Yen for the Free Passport (rides included)… which actually looked like a one page copy of a German passport. At one point the park apparently even had its own money, at least I saw some specimen at the office in the Hanauer Rathaus.

The History of the Glückskönigreich

Why did the Glückkönigreich close? And why did it open in the first place? Neither of those question is easy or definitely to answer, so let me try to piece together information from more than a dozen sources in three languages – for the first time ever. Oh, I wish it would have been as easy as translating or rephrasing an article, which I am sure will sooner or later happen with this one… Either in one of the gift shops or in the main office I saw several dozen photos of what appeared to be research trips to Germany by a Japanese guy, including what appeared to be meetings with German officials; all of them either not dated or from the second half of the 1980s. This guy seemed to be a real estate tycoon called Atsuo Nishi, who had this great vision of a Germany themed park to improve tourism in Hokkaido; Obihiro, to be more specific, about 3 hours away by car from Sapporo. Now, this was the time of the Japanese real estate bubble and only the sky seemed to be the limit – according to an article of the weekly German newspaper Die Zeit from 1989 the (there nameless) founder of the park expected that visitors would come for day trips from as far as Tokyo thanks to nearby Obihiro Airport (though Tokachi-Obihiro Airport would have been technically correct as the old Obihiro Airport was replaced and renamed (to Tokachi Airfield) in 1981). And at first things seemed to go well – an article in Der Spiegel from February 1990 says that the Glückskönigreich had more than half a million visitors within the first six months, but sadly I never found out how much Zenrin Leisureland actually spent on this incredibly ambitious project. One thing is for sure: It wasn’t cheap and the spending was far from being over in early 1990! While most of the buildings were replicas, Nishi and Zenrin didn’t shy away from spending big bucks on things that made little difference. For example when they imported cobble stones from Dresden (sources that claim they were from Leipzig or Berlin are wrong according to Guntram Rother, who spent almost 1.5 years in Obihiro as the lead architect of the project, after he was hired by Nishi from his former position as the conservationist of the city of Kassel, where he was one of Germany’s leading experts in the preservation of physical structures) or hired German craftsmen for jobs Japanese experts could have done as well; 250k Deutschmark (DM) were spent on the plumbing at the Schlosshotel alone (on a company called Truss Haustechnik), still under construction by the time those two articles were written. Not to mention that the Glückskönigreich was able to buy two half-timber houses for 1.2 million DM each, one of them from the year 1702. They were dismantled near Wiesbaden and reassembled at the Glückskönigreich, despite being under monumental protection. “… We got them after we promised to give them back when we don’t need them anymore”, The Spiegel quoted Toshihiko Kimishima, the park’s PR guy – they were considered the oldest buildings in all of Hokkaido, now they are fading away! But it seems like the Glückskönigreich was ill-fated right from the beginning, despite its initial success: According to various sources, the place was named after the nearby Koufuku Station, koufuku meaning luck. The problem is: There never was an active train station near the Glückskönigreich ever! It probably was still there when the planning of the park began, but the station was shut down in 1987, but before the privatization of JNR! And that must have been a terrible blow to the Glückskönigreich, because now the closest station wasn’t just 3 kilometers straight down the road (cheap shuttle busses!) – it was 23 kilometers away in central Obihiro! But Nishi and Zenrin followed through with their plans and opened the park on July 1st 1989 with a gigantic party and hundreds of people, including a prince of the Imperial family, a member of the German embassy and several mayors of cities along the German Fairy Tale Route. Back then the reddish replica of the town hall in Hanau apparently was a hotel, but after the incredibly detailed yet super fake Schlosshotel Bückeburg was finished the Rathaus was converted into a museum, a restaurant called Hanau, and the main office of the park – at least that’s what it was during the time of my exploration. Another building became the John Lennon Art Gallery. Yes, the John Lennon Art Gallery. Apparently after 13 years Germany alone wasn’t a good enough reason to visit the Glückskönigreich, so the main attraction of the year 2002 was an exhibition of 16 John Lennon lithographs (from June on) – and I hope whoever owned them was able to get them back before the park closed “temporarily” in 2003 and officially in 2007. What happened in-between? Well, the usual – after some successful years in the early 90s with up to 740k visitors per year (which is almost 5 times the population of Obihiro!), the number of guests dropped quickly to about 300k in 1997 (causing a loss of about 430 million Yen, something like 3.7 million USD back then), and 200k in 2000, almost quadrupling the loss from three years before – devastating for a park of that size…

Exploring the Glückskönigreich

Despite the fact that the Glückskönigreich is slowly swallowed by its once surrounding forest, you can see single structures literally from miles away. Entering certain elements of the park can be tricky at times, especially since there have been reports of unpleasant sightings, like owners and bears. The Schlosshotel Bückeburg at the entrance is without a doubt still one of the main highlights. Still, because it looks awesome from the outside, but it’s a moldy hellhole inside. To this very day all doors I checked were either locked or locked by chains, but the ones pried open or with broken glass elements gave access to a smell as bad as anything I ever had to deal with during my explorations. The only reason I got inside was to look for the spectacular ceremonial hall, a pretty exact replica of the one at the original Palace Bückeburg. I found it after a while, but I didn’t enjoy it nearly as much as I hoped I would. Luckily some of the photos turned out well, so I guess you’ll enjoy it probably more than I did… 🙂 The surrounding of the Schlosshotel and therefore the way into the park is pretty much overgrown now, too. This place it not nearly as wheelchair or car accessible as *Nara Dreamland* was during its last few months… In addition to certain people looting, metal thieves have been busy too, stealing both piping inside the hotel and other buildings as well as statues and other metal objects outside. The John Lennon Art Gallery and its beerhall was almost as moldy as the Schlosshotel at the time of my visit, the same applies to most parts of the gorgeous Hanau city hall. The half-timbered buildings along the square started to collapse, probably thanks to regular floods. Apparently the cobble stone guys did such great work that the water doesn’t have a way to drain, so it sets the ground floors of the houses under water – even if it’s just a centimeter, the damage is done. The buildings behind the square and the city hall are still in much better condition – my favorites being a fairy tale house and the butchery. Man, I miss German cold meats, sausages, and bread – and it looks like this was probably the most authentic place to get them. Past the shoemaker in the straw-thatched house was the park’s part with the ride – but that’s a story for another time, this article is already long enough…
BTW: The last video I linked to at the end of the article is a music video, Fukai Mori by Do As Infinity – it was shot in early 2001 at the Glückskönigreich and gives you a nice idea what certain now completely rundown areas looked like…

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Trains – most of us were fascinated by them when we were kids… and started to hate them when we had to take them to school or to work. I fell in love with trains again when I found a few of them fading away in sight of a still active line. Probably because they were the same models I remember from the 80s and early 90s.

I know that train aficionados are an extremely passionate and knowledgable bunch of people – and I have no clue about trains. As a history buff I know about their origins and importance for the industrial revolution, but when it comes to details… no idea! So there is not a lot I can say about the trains and machinery I took pictures of, maybe I even mislabeled one or two; my apology in advance for that!

The railroad system in Germany has a rather negative image – people love to complain about the prices, the lack of service, the frequency of trains, the (perceived) large amount of delays (interestingly enough the Deutsche Bahn counts trains up to five minutes late as “on time”…), the (lack of) cleanliness, and much, much more. And while there is no excuse for the often mediocre job the Deutsche Bahn does, one has to admit that they are still doing well in comparison. Overall the track network is rather tight and you can all big cities, most mid-sized cities and even a ton of small cities for reasonable prices – considering that there are no barriers to the tracks, which means a lot of people fare-dodge, which raises the prices for everyone who’s paying. From what I’ve experienced and heard (after working in international teams and various countries for about 15 years) the German system is much more reliable than let’s say in France, Spain or Italy and it is right up there with Great Britain and a bit below Japan. In many ways on par with Japan for international travelers – because as fun as it is to mock the rather poor English of the average Deutsche Bahn employee, at least they are trying to keep their international guests informed when something happens. In Japan? Nothing. If you are lucky a prerecorded message on the Shinkansen, but on the levels below or at train stations? Silence… between Japanese messages. Anyway – surely not a perfect system in many ways, but much better than its reputation among locals. (Which also applies for the country’s economy, politicians, bureaucracy, food prices, health care system, and much, much more…)

I explored the German Railroad Graveyard two years ago with my sister Sabine on an exceptionally bright and hot summer day. The access point was about a kilometer down the road from where we parked without a single patch of shadow, which wasn’t exactly a good start. Luckily the exploration itself was smooth sailing, despite the fact that the tracks next to the abandoned carriages and maintenance cars were still active – and you probably remember the *other time I explored along an active train line*… Kids playing on / near tracks is a rather common nuisance in Germany and often the official explanation when a line shuts down due to a suicide. Luckily we didn’t cause any problems and had a fun hour or two in and on the back of the trains. Despite rumors saying something different there is progress even within the Deutsche Bahn – and the trains changed drastically over time. The ones fading away were from the 80s / early 90s, the ones I grew up with – signs printed on paper within the cars implied that those carriages were used for training after being removed from active day to day duty. Then they ended up in the countryside, where some vandals had a go with them. Nothing too serious, but pristine would have looked differently. Overall a rather unusual exploration and a fun trip down memory lane.

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Bears are a growing danger to people in Japan – little did I know that one of them was waiting for me inside this abandoned school / holiday village!

Hokkaido, the great, wild north of Japan… The country’s second largest and by far coldest island is especially popular amongst outdoor and nature fans. Oh, and brown bears love Hokkaido, too. There are more brown bears in Japan than anywhere else in Asia besides Russia – and due to climate change they are becoming increasingly more dangerous to people; roaming the streets of small towns, killing one or two people per year, most often over a dispute about bamboo shoots (a.k.a. locals) or the right of way (a.k.a. hikers). Urbexers? Not (yet) on the diet of Japanese bears, but some abandoned places are definitely in bear territory, including the Haboro Green Village; the converted Taiyo Elementary School. Little did I know that one of them was waiting for visitors inside of the defunct and derelict building complex…
Like most urban explorers visiting Japan’s most famous abandoned school, my buddy *Hamish* and I started our day with the spectacular round gymnasium / auditorium. The Taiyo Elementary School (not be confused with a school of the same name in Hokkaido’s village of Niikappu – that one was auctioned off in 2009 for 30 million Yen, about a quarter million bucks) was built in 1940 for the children of the workers at the *Chikubetsu Mine*. In 1967 it was refurbished / rebuilt – and in 1971 it was closed, just a year after the mine; sad! After being without children for almost a decade, the city reopened the school as the Haboro Green Village, apparently a hotel / hostel / campsite for families and even larger groups. It ran from 1979 till 2000 – just before the internet and digital photography became really popular, which is probably why there is so little information about it out there.
Anyway, Hamish and I went to the round gymnasium / auditorium first and took all the usual pictures there, especially the most famous standard shot I called “Symmetry For Dummies”, because there are so many lines everywhere that you’d have to seriously shaky for whatever reason to mess up that shot… As far as school gymnasiums go, this was probably as good as it gets. Cleaner and newer? No problem! Bigger / more original? Probably not…
Since the wooden hallway connecting the gymnasium with the main building was slightly dilapidated, we decided to head outside and enter the former school directly through the front door. Usually I would have circled the school, but I guess it was a mix of time pressure, cold wind, drizzle, and false familiarity with the location that lead me to grab the doorknob, twist it, open the door… and stare right in the face of a big brown bear! Luckily it was a taxidermy one, so there was no harm done… 🙂
The Haboro Green Village was a rundown, boarded up, vandalized, moldy piece of something – with tons of surprises other than the bear “guarding” the main entrance probably 95% of people will enter through. First of all there were other taxidermy animals, a gigantic seal and a decently sized deer. Then there were quite a few Pokémon Trading Cards on the floor of boys’ restroom. The table video games / video game tables from the early 80s were amazing, including Championship Baseball by Sega. And the amazing (bust rusty and vandalized) Live Beer cooler by Asahi. The rest of the building offered some nice spots here and there, thanks to some decent patina due to 17 years of abandonment.

The Haboro Green Village / Taiyo Elementary School has been on my list of places to explore for many, many years – mainly because of the impressive gymnasium and because it was a famous spot easy to find. Locations like that tend to disappoint, because they are known so well and taking the same photos as everybody else feels more like a chore than a successful explore. And to some degree this actually applied to the gymnasium – luckily the main building offered quite a few surprises, so overall I was very pleased with this exploration… and it was only the first one in Haboro (before the mine *I wrote about last week*)! More about the rest will follow soon – but first some completely different locations… 🙂

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