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A crisp, clear spring day at an abandoned driving school. What better way to start an urbex road trip?

I’ve probably mentioned it before, but abandoned driving schools are rather rare in Japan, because usually they are located near train stations for accessibility and come with their own practice course, which makes them rather large (in comparison to the two room driving schools I’m used to from Germany) – and therefore quite valuable, even when abandoned. In almost eleven years of exploring I only documented three abandoned driving schools and found out about two or three more.
The Hokkaido Driving School was a one stop shop. Located on a busy countryside road it featured a large but somewhat dilapidated school building as well a car repair shop and probably once a upon a time a dealership, like back in the 70s. All structures were in rather bad condition, but the school building was a real death trap that looked like it could collapse at any moment. (Which it actually did some time after my visit, so this location is at least partly demolished now.) The combination of more than a decade of abandonment and heavy snow for six months of the year were just too much… But the driving training area usually is the most interesting part of an abandoned driving school anyway – and this one was no different. It was definitely the largest one I’ve explored so far and featured plenty of way to practice parking, starting a car on a slope and just not hitting other cars. 🙂
Exploring abandoned driving schools is always fun to me – and this one wasn’t an exception. Nothing you want to spend half a day on, but there is always something to learn… and with some melon icecream from a nearby Seico Mart exploring in Hokkaido is even better! The other two abandoned driving schools I wrote about was this now completely demolished one *here* and *this one* featuring a driving simulator!

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Abandoned food factories are rather are in Japan, so I was quite excited when I found this one by chance…

About four years ago I spotted on GoogleMaps what looked like an abandoned warehouse in the outskirts of the residential area of a rather big city in Japan. A few months later I had the opportunity to check out the place with my buddy Rory. To both of our surprise the fading sign at the entrance gate said Yamato Food Factory, so my excitement rose significantly as I have fond memories of exploring an abandoned food factory in Hokkaido years prior. Fortunately the gate was open and roped off… and a bit out of sight, so getting on and off the premises turned out to be surprisingly easy. There were three or four different structures, all of them accessible, unfortunately all of them more or less empty. So in the end this actually was kind of an abandoned (empty) warehouse. I also wasn’t able to find out more about the company „Yamato Food Factory“ on the internet, so it’ll probably stay a mystery what kind of food was produced here.

Overall not a bad exploration though. It’s always great to check out original finds (I haven’t seen this location anywhere before or after my exploration), the weather was great… and so was lunch afterwards. Of course the Yamato Food Factory couldn’t hold a candle to the spectacular *Fuji Foods Bibai Bio Center* in any aspect, nevertheless it was a nice little autumn exploration.

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This is an Abandoned Kansai classic! First explored in late 2009 and published in early 2010, Arima Wanda Garden a.k.a. *Doggy Land* was one of the original original finds!

When I first considered giving urban exploration a try and make it a hobby in mid 2009 one thing was clear as day to me: I didn’t just want to follow other people’s footsteps and seek out places dozens of more experienced explorers have been to before me (more like hundreds 11 years later…). I wanted to look for places unknown to the internet, original finds! The first three original finds I’ve located have been the abandoned theme park *Expoland* (now demolished and replaced by the gigantic shopping mall Expocity), the *Hitler Surgical Hospital* (demolished and replaced by an apartment building) and dog themed park called Arima Wanda Garden.
Writing about abandoned places puts you under constant struggle between wanting to present beautiful locations and trying to keep them and their location as secret, so not every shmock goes there and tramples through – or even worse, steals from or vandalizes the place. Both Expoland and the hospital had already been under demolition by the time I ended taking pictures of them, so there was nothing to worry about. But Arima Wanda Garden and many places after that forced me to make a decision between writing about them and exposing them that way, even if using a limited selection of photos (for example not publishing anything with a logo) and a fake name – or not writing about them at all until they’ve been demolished or other people did the dirty work of exposing them first. In recent years I tended to choose option 2 – I have at least two dozen places in my vault that are truly spectacular, but publishing an article about them with all the photos and information I have would probably turn them into tourist spots, some of them actually really dangerous for a variety of reasons. In the case of Arima Wanda Garden I initially decided to write about it with a limited selection of photos, no video walkthrough, without references where it was, and under the fake name *Doggy Land*. Six and a half years and several recent appearances on Japanese blogs later I revisited the once pristine Doggy Land and found it severely vandalized – so I published an article about *Arima Wanda Garden* in 2017 with the full original photo set, video walkthrough, and real name; there was not much damage it could cause that hadn’t been done already. Almost three years later I finally publish the photos and video walkthrough of my 2016 revisit with this article…

Revisiting Arima Wanda Garden was bittersweet. During my first two visits in late 2009 / early 2010 it was in nearly pristine condition and I had to climb over a fence next to a rather busy road. In 2016 I was able to step through a low unlocked window and leave that entrance building through an open door on the other side. What I found was a much wilder, much more vandalized park. The first time around all the buildings were still locked, this time most doors were open and a lot of windows were broken. It was sad to see Arima Wanda Garden in that kind of state, on the other hand it looked so different that it almost felt like a new exploration. Usually I avoid revisits as I tend to explore locations fully the first time and only little things change from on year to another – but those six and a half years definitely made a difference! You can see for yourself and find out more about Arima Wanda Garden by *clicking here to get to the comprehensive article I posted in 2017*.

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A rundown abandoned „Japanese pinball“ venue with a shocking surprise on the upper floor – welcome to the Nightmare Pachinko Parlor!

In recent weeks pachinko parlors quite often made national news during the coronavirus crisis in Japan, especially in Tokyo and Osaka, when several prefectures ordered them to close temporarily as they were / are considered hotspots for spreading the disease. In addition, legally opened parlors attracted attention, when gamblers from prefectures with successful shutdowns crossed borders specifically to play pachinko, The 1985 opened Nightmare Pachinko Parlor fell into neither category as it was closed down for good (or should I say „bad“?) more than a decade prior to my exploration in 2017; a decade that didn’t treat the establishment kindly…
It was a cold, rainy autumn day and the trash scattered all across the slightly overgrown parking lot lowered my hope of having found another good abandoned pachinko parlor significantly – the busted doors and windows didn’t help either… The good news: It was still there and easily accessible. The bad news: Pretty much everything else. Because of course the inside was severly vandalized and dark instead of pristine and well-lit. But that’s not all! Since it took me a while to take pictures due to the difficult lighting, my buddy R. kept exploring the rest of the building – which included a soba and udon restaurant as well as the non-public rooms upstairs, usually a mix of offices and living spaces for owners and employees. And when I was finally documenting one of the rooms that was either part of the restaurant or the prize exchange (you can’t win money with pachinko, only „gifts“ of limited value), which included the boxes of several sex toys, R. came back and told me a little disturbing story. While he was upstairs he saw a young guy hiding in the cabinets! Since there was no longer exchange of words we don’t know if it was somebody hanging out there for the afternoon, if he was some kind of squatter (very unusual in Japan!) or maybe a murderer on the run, but R. suggested that I could have a look myself in case I didn’t believe him. But there is one thing you can believe me – I believed him! And I had not the slightest urge to turn this really bad exploration into a nightmare…

Exploring the Nightmare Pachinko Parlor felt more like a duty than fun (it was there, so I had a look…) – but I’m generally not a big fan of rundown, vandalized, trashed places on rainy days. Add unexpected people to the mix and it’s even worse. If you want to see some abandoned pachinko parlors in much better condition and find out more about the economics of pachinko, please have a look *here* and *here*.

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After several poultry farms and regular nurseries I finally had the opportunity to explore an abandoned plant nursery – and all I had to do was traveling 10000 kilometers…

Yesterday was Greenery Day in Japan, a public holiday to remind people to appreciate the beauty of nature – originally celebrated on April 29th, Emperor Hirohito’s birthday (because the guy apparently liked plants…), it was moved to May 4th in 2007 to annoy Star Wars fans. Nah, it was actually moved due to a revision of public holidays in 2005, which included stuffing Golden Week with one more day off to make it really shine! Unfortunately this year GW didn’t really shine at all as it was rebranded „Stay Home Week (To Save Lives)“ – which seems to be much more successful than the rest of this weak state of emergency the government proclaimed in Japan.
Anyway, Greenery Day reminded me of an unpublished plant nursery I explored on a vacation to Germany back in summer 2016. Since it was a virtually unknown business in the outskirts of a small town I basically know nothing about its history – but since I’ve never explored a garden nursery before it was nevertheless quite interesting, despite sounding dull at first sight.

The location basically consisted of several green houses, some sheds and a private house – since there were no signs of a shop I assume that they either produced for wholesale, a shop in town, or had seasonal stands somewhere on the property. Unfortunately I’m not much of a botanist, so I have no idea what they were growing there; though I think I spotted a couple of blackberry bushes. I just snapped a few pictures and got the hedge out of there… I was late already anyway as the exploration of the nearby abandoned school *Alte Martinsschule* with its large indoor pool took much longer than expected…

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A nice little original find along of one of Japan’s most beautiful coastlines – the Seto Inland Sea Rest Stop!

The Seto Inland Sea separates three Japanese main islands (Honshu, Kyushu, Shikoku) from each other and is part of eleven prefectures. While some areas are highly industrialized (especially the part from Kansai Airport to Himeji and near cities like Hiroshima, Takamatsu, and Tokushima) others are popular tourist spots famous for their beauty – like Miyajima, the Seto Naikai National Park, and Shodoshima). And where you have tourists, you almost automatically have abandoned tourist infrastructure, like hotels and restaurants.
The Seto Inland Sea Rest Stop was a large restaurant and omiyage shop in one of those touristy areas – closed and boarded up about 15 years ago according to the last calendar. I found this place by chance on GoogleMaps and it turned out to be a nice, quick exploration I’ve never seen anywhere else before… or after. Not a spectacular place, but with lots of parking space and rather easy access – and relaxed original finds I’ll take over photographed to death spots any day, especially since this one hasn’t been vandalized (yet). A fun little spot that offered some nice photo opportunities with an abandoned, but not rundown / destroyed look. If it was for me, I’d do one of those every other weekend…

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About five years ago this would have probably been one of the most stupid stories you’ve ever heard, but in the day and age of social media insanity you’ll probably like: “Yeah, really dumb – but not as bad as…”

Japan being a mountainous country, land reclamation has a long and important history – from trying to drain the swamp that is Osaka City to the construction of Kansai International Airport on its own artificial island just off the coast of Osaka Prefecture; flat land is very much appreciated in Japan for everything from housing to agriculture to solar farms.
In this very specific case somebody had the idea to dam off some rather flat land along the coast and use the area to create salt evaporation ponds, regulating the constantly rising water with pumps. Sounds like a pretty good idea as long as the saltern makes money. Which apparently was the case until the late 1970s. Then somebody decided to turn the flat piece of land into a bungalow resort with four tennis courts, a swimming pool and a driving range – which seemed to be successful while it was new and during the bubble economy, but in the 90s the whole thing was doomed and the drains pumps were turned off… and the bungalow village was slowly flooded, with only one building “surviving”. (It’s a death trap now, too…) Interestingly enough nobody cared to clean up first – when you look closely you can see traffic signs, cars, and of course several bungalows sticking out of the water. Along the dam that separates the flooded area from the sea are a couple of dry patches of land next to the last dry building, but I guess it’s safe to say that nobody should build something there as it is most likely going to flood or is flooded temporarily during periods of heavy rain. The day I had a closer look I found a dead fish there, a feast for one or some of the countless seabirds occupying the area now.

I don’t know why exactly, but considering the current situation in Japan, I felt like it was about time to write about the Flooded Bungalow Village – a touristy place deliberately drowned by it’s owner. Most of the people reading this live in countries that are under lockdown currently while Japan is still more or less pretending that the water isn’t rising… or that a deadly virus isn’t spreading at a potentially devastating rate. Anyway, enjoy the gallery – and let’s hope that this train is not going to run off a cliff. You know what happened if the articles stop…

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Abandoned golf courses in Japan are turned into solar parks more and more often – time to explore one of their tiny offshoots, an abandoned ground golf course!

Ground golf (グラウンドゴルフ), a Japanese invention is a minimalistic version of regular golf. The courses are smaller (usually 8 holes) and so is each hole of a course (between 30m and 100m) – every player only needs one ball (similar to bocce balls) and one club, which can be made of plastic, metal, or wood. In “match play” each hole nets the person with the least amount of strokes a point – winner is the person who has the most points at the end of the course. In “stroke play” the strokes of all holes are added up and the person with the least amount of strokes at the end of the course is the winner. Ground golf is especially popular amongst senior citizens in the countryside as it is easy to learn, communicative, cheap, slow paced, but still offers some form of exercise…

The Overgrown Ground Golf course was actually the main attraction of a now also abandoned hotel, but of course it was also accessible to day guest players, much like a lot of onsen hotels open their facilities to non-guests. Unfortunately there is not much to say about this location as the course was overgrown and there was little to see. Even the small club house / equipment storage at the entrance was mostly empty and pretty severely damaged at one side, with some walls missing. A quick exploration for a short article during busy weeks, when the Abandoned Kansai motto is: “A small abandoned location is better than none!” And now please enjoy the small photo gallery… and if you are into golf and / or haven’t seen it yet, check out the *Japanese Driving Range*!

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Wooden sculptures, old TVs and weird Japanese raccoon dog statues – if any abandoned hotel ever deserved the (obviously made-up) name “Tom Nook’s Hotel” it’s this one!

Tom Nook is without a doubt the most famous tanuki in the world. The shop owner and real estate mogul kind of stars in Nintendo’s amazing Animal Crossing game series, though some players consider the greedy turbo-capitalist, named tanukichi in the original Japanese version, a genuine antagonist. What Nintendo leaves out for good reasons: tanuki are also part of many of Japan’s stories and legends as the bake-danuki is a type of yokai (supernatural being), dating back to the nihon shoki (“The Chronicles of Japan”, finished in 720. They are usually described as upright walking and shape-changing (8 disguises!) with a foolish character. What makes them stand out visually to most people though are their massively oversized scrotums, most likely added to the character around 1200 AD when goldsmiths started to use tanuki pelts when hammering gold nuggets into leaves. The scrotums can be used to glide through the air, to trawl, and to use them as a drum. None of which Toom Nook would ever do, because he is not a bake-danuki! (Super Mario’s tanuki costumes from various games also missed the giant balls for obvious reasons – it’s impossible to jump and run if you need a wheelbarrow for your testicles to get around.)

The second I saw Tom Nook’s Hotel I knew two things: It was abandoned for sure and most likely not much fun to explore. One of those hotels you look at and know that it would be vandalized and damp. Fortunately the whole tanuki / bake-danuki thing came as a (positive) surprise, because the lobby confirmed all the concerns I had outside – it was mostly empty and pretty much vandalized. (In the rest of the article I only use the term tanuki for simplicity as the Japanese term in English commonly refers to the yokai version anyway; and if not you should realize from context.) A calendar behind a small bar from August 2010 implied that the hotel was closed almost 10 years ago and an omiyage sample box kind of confirmed that there must have been a little shop, probably in the lobby or nearby. Right after the lobby the guest rooms started… and the problems with the floors. Some were cluttered with furniture (maybe courtesy of some airsoft players?) others caved in when stepped on – and some were flat-out broken, so I had to step down half a meter on the dirt floor below to continue. So what do you do when you are exploring an underwhelming abandoned hotel like that? Right, you look for the shared baths, which tend to be the highlights of deserted accommodations in Japan. Unfortunately it was a rainy day, so everything was damp and dark, the kind of place you’ll expect to find a dead body at.
It didn’t get that bad, but fortunately the bizarre-o-meter exploded when I already had given up on the location. The rotenburo (outdoor bath) of the shared bath for men featured a strangely smiling tanuki statue. So far, so good. At least one somewhat interesting photo. Then I heard my friends laughing! “Florian, you have to see this! The tanuki in the rotenburo for women has a boner!” And indeed, there it was – as usual, the rotenburo for women was much smaller, but the tanuki’s penis was very happy to see guests! This was such a sexist dick move! (Pun intended…) Bad enough that the baths for women in Japanese hotels almost always are smaller / less elaborate, here they not only put tanuki statues in the rotenburo (which is not common at all!), but they chose the flaccid for the men’s bath and the erect one for the women’s bath. (To be honest, this is the first time I ever had to pay attention to the yokai dick as tanuki tend to have tiny penises, because the attention is on the balls, not the whole junk!)
Unfortunately the rest of the exploration turned back into the desperate hunt for at least somewhat interesting photos as nobody really wants to see rundown places – but in the end they can’t be all like the *Kanemochi Mansions*, so I took some of the quite nice view and of abandoned TVs; there’s something about those black mirrors…

In the end Tom Nook’s Hotel was a much better exploration than I expected thanks to the two tanuki statues and the three abandoned TVs, but overall it was average at best. When you hoped for a 9 in the morning, expect a 2 upon arrival and got a 5 when leaving it was just one of those days…

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Whenever I explore a new location I try to expect the worst and hope for the best, especially when it’s an original find – but the Animal Scat Mine blew me away!

A rusty roof in a forest halfway up a mountain, just a few kilometers away from known mine remains caught my attention a while ago on GoogleMaps’ Satellite View – and I didn’t do much about it since it was probably nothing. Maybe a larger hut or the last visible remains of some boring stuff like a private house or a farm. Also, halfway up a mountain meant a long ascending hike through more or less overgrown terrain, which is something I am getting to fat, old and lazy for – especially since I had to walk back again after the exploration, too, of course. But over time my curiosity grew and one day early last year I decided to add the rusty roof to an exploration schedule.
Parking was easy to find in the remote area, so was the not usable dirt road leading up the mountain – even next to the gravel “main” road it was already slightly overgrown, about 50 meters later the first trees followed. Over time the road became narrower and much more overgrown, at one point is was barely visible anymore before miraculously opening up again, though not much. And there it was… The rusty roof turned out to be a large mining building I had never seen or heard of before! (And I think I have a pretty close eye on what’s going on in the Japanese urbex scene, where only a handful of people post about truly new locations – the rest are just following the worn-out paths others walked on before them.) Fortunately the overgrown and partly landslide ridden “road” (it really was more like a trail at that point…) kept going up the hill in serpentines, so I kept following it until I reached the lower end of the building made of a solid concrete base and a superstructure made from corrugated iron and wood. No signs of vandalism whatsoever, but nature left its marks in more than one way. First of all there were piles of animal scat everywhere! Different kinds, different sizes – similar colors though. I probably should have taken pictures to look it up and learn some shit (literally!), but I didn’t, because I was too busy photographing more interesting stuff. Another of nature’s marks was a certain amount of natural decay, which enabled me to climb inside the building through a window. I took some pictures inside and then headed out again for two reasons: The path continued uphill, so I assumed (correctly) that it would lead to the top of the building – and it was already late in the day, so I was running out of time quickly. Another 10 minutes later (for a total of about an hour) I was finally at the top end of the mining building, which was complemented by several huts featuring a metal workshop, an office, a kitchen / rest room and a large control room for the electronic system. In front of the narrow building: All kinds of scrap metal and a chain conveyor system to move mine wagons. Unfortunately I was running out of time at that point and had to return downhill, but I hope I’ll be able to come back one day… despite the strenuous hike with tons of photo equipment.

The Animal Scat Mine is easily one of my favorite explorations ever, despite the hikes through somewhat difficult terrain, the worries about a bear or a boar showing up, and the lack of time at the end. But stumbling across an unknown mine when expecting a barely standing stable in the middle of nowhere is nothing short of an explorer’s dream! It was a great reward for a great effort, exploration at its purest – all of that in nature, without vandalism, but some great views. Usually I don’t do revisits, but I’m really looking forward to going back to the Animal Scat Mine… then hopefully with more than 80 minutes to explore!

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