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Food in Japan is amazing – but the competition is boiling and not all eateries survive; some even become abandoned…

Having long term success in the Japanese restaurant business is tough, even for established brands from overseas. Burger Kings are hard to find, Wendy’s gave up. When one of the first Coldstone Creameries opened in West Japan’s largest shopping mall the lines were 2.5 hours long. Half a year later you could walk up to the counter most of the times, two years later the store was gone. I think the first Krispy Kreme a few years ago in Osaka had a similar destiny: Lines around the block, regular business, closed after a year or so. The standards are high and especially in densely populated areas food is available everywhere 24/7. Even the main roads through the countryside are littered with restaurants – most of them offering rather simple dishes like Japanese curry, soba, and udon… but still!
Of course not all of them can survive. While closed kombini are usually de-branded and blend in with the countless other abandoned dull buildings in the suburbs and countryside, independent restaurants tend to be just closed, sometimes boarded up.
The Countryside Restaurant & Karaoke was closed almost 20 years ago and boarded up tightly at first sight, so my expectations were pretty low, but it looked kinda cool from the outside, which justified a quick stop. It turned out that there was a way in after all – and that the place has visitors that loves to break glass. Windows, doors, glass cabinets, coolers. You name it. If it originally had a solid piece of glass, it was broken now. That probably contributed to a decent amount of air circulation, which means that the place was dusty, but not overly moldy – which is always a plus in my book, because so many abandoned places in Japan rot away, creating unbearable smells upon closer looks. Unfortunately there was also not much left behind after almost 20 years of abandonment, except for a few tables, the broken stuff and a mummified mouse… The back area with the karaoke rooms looked a bit spooky, but it was pretty much empty of course, too. Typical 60s building abandoned 30 years later.

Overall the Countryside Restaurant & Karaoke was a decent exploration, especially since this is not a popular location and I hadn’t seen any inside pictures before exploring it last weekend (yep, those photos are not even two and a half days old…) – a good place for a quick stop on the way to other locations (*Facebook* followers know more!), but not as good as the *Japanese Restaurant & Onsen* or the *Japanese Yakiniku Restaurant*.

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Converting love hotels into regular once in the wake of the tourism boom and ahead of the 2020 Olympics sounds like a reasonable idea, but is no guarantee for success – as proven by the Love Hotel Orleans.

Japan (as a whole) has a reputation for having unusual preferences when it comes to sex related things – pixilated porn involving tentacles, underage girls and rather “rapey” topics. While that stuff is comparatively underground as it isn’t shoved in your face like the Heian Shrine or the Tokyo Sky Tree, the love hotel industry is worth about 30something billion USD, twice as much as the anime and mange industry that is happily advertised everywhere and to everyone. Of course the current rather conservative government isn’t the biggest fan of those f#ck hotels, so in 2016 they began to encourage love hotels to convert into regular hotels… but not necessarily with much success. The love hotel industry is not exactly my expertise and I can’t quote studies and statistics, but from me living here for more than a dozen years I have the impression that the number of love hotels stayed about the same, just now some of them are listed on regular hotel booking sites. Not a lot of them, because close to nobody in that industry speaks English or Chinese – and who wants to deal with customers you can’t communicate with unless it’s a quick sell? So Abe, if you think a noteworthy amount of love hotels will turn into regular ones… think again!
Especially since the past showed that similar conversations are not a guarantee for success. First of all, there are plenty of bankrupt regular hotels, hundreds… thousands of them abandoned. And second, there are former love hotels that failed miserably as regular ones. Like the Love Hotel Orleans in Shiga. At least I thought that it was a converted love hotel… There is close to nothing about it on the internet, but the information on location implied that the accommodation started as a love hotel and ended as a regular one (not before 2010) – fading outdoor signs with the rather convoluted love hotel rates, indoor signs calling the place Business Hotel Orleans. The rooms also had both a love hotel vibe (colorful stained glass windows in most rooms, unusual bath tubs / bathrooms) and a regular hotel vibe (not a single kinky room…) – but overall it was surprisingly boring, despite the rather low amount of vandalism. But there was nothing memorable about the Love Hotel Orleans. No pool, no bar, no kinky rooms, no special item. Just one slightly vandalized room to the next. Basically the *Yakuza Love Hotel* without an exciting story…

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An abandoned seminar house of a university for women from Japan’s golden years – fading away in one of the country’s most picturesque areas.

Back in the 1980s everything was peachy in Japan. Long before Abe, overaging, and a recession that would span decades Japan was the epitome of technological advance and economical success. It was during that last booming phase before everything went down the drain that the Women’s University Seminar House was closed and abandoned after probably 30 or 40 years of use. Most likely because it was too old and not affordable anymore – in a way 25 years ahead of its time… 😉
The Women’s University Seminar House was a typical post-war structure with typical post-war amenities. Built at a leveled slope the complex consisted of three parts. A rather big cafeteria / seminar room with a large kitchen and several entertainment options (for example a reading corner, a “stereo”, and a piano) as well as shared baths on the lower level, a two-storey dormitory on the upper level, and a roofed wooden hallway connecting both. A wooden structure covered by sheet metal and corrugated iron. Probably cold as f# in winter and hot as f# in summer, but hey, even the golden years were partly made of fool’s gold. Now, whoever shut down the Women’s University Seminar House did a great job boarding it up, nevertheless the combination of wood, more than 25 years of abandonment (at the time of my visit), a nearby lake (humidity!) and a damp surrounding forest made this place… made but a deathtrap, but at least an ankle breaker. Even after that long and a collapsed bath, access was limited and only possible at three or four points in total. The easiest way in was through the kitchen (as so often…), which was directly connected to the main room. Walking past the baths to the hallway connecting both buildings turned out to be a bad idea as the floor was already partly collapsed and spongy like a soft cracker – and at places like that you never know how far your foot would go down when put too much pressure on the ground…
The upper building was in even worse condition. So bad, that I didn’t even care to get inside and instead took some pictures through a hole in a door and an open window. Sure, I could have climbed inside, but navigating the building would have taken forever as the floor was in total shambles. And after several hundred explorations as well as research done beforehand I doubt that I missed much there, especially on that overcast to rainy day.

Overall the Women’s University Seminar House was an average exploration – a couple of neat items in the cafeteria, lots of natural decay, some vandalism. Nothing I hadn’t seen before at other places and a bit underwhelming given the hype on Japanese blogs around the time of my visit, but still a decent one, especially if that kind of look is your thing; no regrets, but surely no revisit any time soon…

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The Kansai Fun Land was probably one of the lesser known theme parks that fell victim to the almighty Universal Studios Japan…

Japan is the country of abandoned theme parks and themed parks, though they keep disappearing at a frustrating rate. The Kansai Fun Land was a little know countryside water and amusement park that was virtually unknown three years ago, at the time of my visit, but gained a bit of popularity recently when some Japanese explorers apparently found out about it.
The first things my buddy *Hamish* and I saw of the Kansai Fun Land was a large fortified gate with a big parking lot behind it and a UFO like building in the background – not exactly great hints that we were close to an abandoned theme park. Since both of our free running skills are limited we had to find another way in, which wasn’t exactly easy and almost failed thanks to some nearby construction. Once out of sight (and sound) exploring was as easy and relaxing as it can get, except for the fact that the UFO building was inaccessible, which didn’t bother me at all at the time as I was way to eager to see the water park part of the Kansai Fun Land. It was probably nice for young families in the 80s, but in comparison other abandoned water parks I’ve been rather underwhelming – 2 pools, 1 tiny slide for kids, but plenty of space for beach chairs… Right next to the summer fun part was a go-kart race track and Cycle UFO, an elevated cycle ride that looked more like a torture contraption than a theme park attraction. (Gosh, Andy Cohen would be so proud!) Also nearby: An almost completely overgrown playground / jungle gym. A bit further away on a mostly overgrown road up a slope within the Kansai Fun Land was an abandoned summer toboggan run, basically completely reclaimed by nature – just ten years after the fun at Fun Land ended. Only a few photos and a quick video from up there as large spiders and aggressive insects made exploring not fun at all…

The Kansai Fun Land was an entertaining outdoor exploration, but going there in late summer made the whole experience unnecessarily complicated – getting in, getting out, navigating within the park, sweating like a pig in 30 degree humid weather, tons of insects and other critters. No regrets though as I love *abandoned theme parks*, I just wish I would have come five years earlier or three months later. Also, strangely the place looked much bigger on GoogleMaps than in reality, so I kinda expected more, I wanted more… and it was so off the beaten track that it was basically the only exploration of the day. Nevertheless a good one… 🙂

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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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