Kagoshima is literally the end of the Shinkansen line – and one of the few places in Japan that isn’t completely overrun by foreign tourists yet. It’s also home to some stunning and barely covered abandoned places…

Most people probably don’t know much about Kagoshima prefecture, but within Japan it is famous for its hot sand baths in Ibusuki, the continuously smoldering volcano Sakurajima, and a sweet, juicy and very easy to peel mandarin orange called satsuma; named after the former Satsuma province, which is now the western half of Kagoshima prefecture. Food in general is a very important part of the Kagoshima experience and includes lots of fresh seafood, flowing somen (thin noodles flowing in ice-cold spring water) and the famous kurobuta – meat from black pigs, local sub-breds derived from Berkshire swines; basically the Kobe beef of pork.
And this is where *Abandoned Kansai* comes in… While doing a rather relaxing trip through Kagoshima and the neighboring Miyazaki prefecture with my dear friend *Hamish*, we stumbled across an abandoned pig farm, most likely once used to breed and raise kurobuta. The complex consisted of about a dozen concrete buildings and a mostly demolished area – far from being stunning, but nevertheless quite interesting, because how often does one get the opportunity to see an (abandoned) pig farm? Two aspects tainted the experience a little bit though. First of all it seemed like two or three of the buildings were still in use… people seemed to live there, so we had to sneak around a little bit. Which means that the second negative factor was actually kind of a blessing in disguise: Upon our visit of the pig farm it was raining cats and dogs – which made outdoor photography a pain in the ham, but also ensured that the local locals stayed inside and probably didn’t pay any attention to us. (I also found out afterwards that the company is still active, so in hindsight this was actually quite a risky exploration.)
I’m not sure which way humankind will take in the decades and centuries to come, but I’m pretty sure if it is surviving long-term, “meat factories” like that will be considered a stain on the late 20th, early 21st century. Despite it being a rather cold, windy, rainy autumn day and all living creatures long gone, it took only little imagination that this place must have been horrible in many ways, especially during summers, half a century ago.
Exploring the Kagoshima Pig Farm was interesting, but not pleasant – and it being part of local history and not just another random hotel / hospital / theme park added significantly to its attractiveness. It was also a great complement to the *Pig Auction Market*, which I explored just a few months prior… Definitely an unusual afternoon!

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What do you do with your little angels when you are a loving father and tired of your small apartment in the big city? Right, you spend a weekend in the countryside and let your children roam! Until that piece of paradise gets closed down and abandoned…

The first thing I thought when Dan, Kyoko and I drove up to the Cherub Land almost a years ago? “Well, there went another theme park in Tohoku thanks to that darn earthquake…” Well, it turned out that I was wrong. Cherub Land wasn’t really a theme park… and it wasn’t abandoned in the aftermath of the Tohoku incident, it was long gone at the time already.
Cherub Land was basically a campsite with bungalows, an onsen across the street (still guarded by a dog…), a free playground, fruit picking and a small pay as you go amusement park with attractions like bike rentals and go-cart – all of that in the middle of nowhere and in somewhat close proximity of the whole Fukushima thing that went wrong. Opened in the late 90s the campsite side was closed only 10 years later, three or four years before Tohoku 2011. The onsen part apparently survived a bit longer, but was also closed in 2016 when I explored the area. Fortunately there were no fences or other barriers, so we could park easily and out of sight of the main road on the former premises. Center of Cherub Land was a pond of about 20 by 30 meters, surrounded by wooden huts for couples and small families to stay at. There also were several different greenhouses, where tomatoes, eggplants, cucumbers and melons were grown – and an especially beautiful one full of kiwi vines… unfortunately they weren’t ripe at the time of the exploration. While some of the structures were partly demolished and / or decaying, the rental area was still in decent condition. Rusty and with a few signs of vandalism, but since Cherub Land is rather little known and off the beaten tracks, it was in a surprisingly good state overall. My personal highlight of the overall rather dangerously looking playground: the fading boxing ring, which did probably more damaged to kids than all the children hitting each other.

Overall exploring Cherub Land was heaven, especially on that beautiful autumn day – outdoors, quiet, virtually unknown, the right amount of decay, at first sight underwhelming, but offering tons of details to look at and explore… exactly my kind of abandoned place!

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As much as I love Japan, there is one serious aspect about my adopted home that really disgusts me: Japan loves to disguise its role in WW2, often even portraits itself as one of the victims, continuously downplaying the committed atrocities. In August the self-pity reaches the all-year height on the occasion of the nuclear incidents – which is really sad, especially since July 31st would be a perfect day to show some remorse.
Unfortunately “July 31st” isn’t a thing – neither in Japan, nor anywhere else. Last year I used the date for a little rant about this topic on *Facebook*, but that’s it. Why July 31st? Because of Unit 731, one of Japan’s darkest chapters. To quote *Wikipedia*: “Unit 731 was a covert biological and chemical warfare research and development unit of the Imperial Japanese Army that undertook lethal human experimentation during the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937–1945) of World War II.”

Being from Germany myself, I grew up in a society that quite openly dealt with the darkest chapter of its history, but also with its attempts to make up for it – not just by paying reparations, but also by showing regret and remorse (*Warsaw Genuflection*) and by being a driving force behind organisations like the European Union. Japan on the other hand were trumping Asia before Donald J. Trump was even born – making half-ass excuses or even apologies, only to taking them back soon after. Japanese history school books tend to be a joke, barely dealing with the 1930s and 40s. As a result Japanese old men grunt “brassas in aams” when they find out that I am German (which is wrong in many ways…), more people seem to know Josef Mengele than Ishii Shiro (which is a shame!), and Japan still has conflicts with Russia, China, Taiwan, both Koreas and probably even more countries over topics that date back 75 years or more and should have been resolved generations ago!
I really love Japan, but the country desparately needs a day for sincere remorse – and what better day than July 31st?!

If you are interested in the topic, please start with the *Wikipedia page about Unit 731* and get more information and further reading recommendations from there.
Abandoned places closely and loosely related to Unit 731 are the poison gas island *Okunoshima*, a *school for suicide squads* and *a factory for suicide squad vehicles* – those are older articles, but of course they haven’t lost any of their fascination.

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5000 Likes of Abandoned Kansai on Facebook – a huge milestone reached completely organically, without a single Cent or Yen spent on ads. A big Thank You to everyone following, especially to those who Like and / or Share articles… or even spread the word actively otherwise – you are a great additional motivation to keep this cozy little blog running… Thank you very much!
(The photo was taken at the Monkey Dome, a previously unknown location I found via GoogleMaps by chance three years ago … and which turned out to be one of the most exciting explorations I’ve ever done one year later! I still haven’t written about it yet, but it will be on Abandoned Kansai sooner or later…)

Monkey Dome

An old wooden abandoned school well hidden deep in the mountains of Okayama – and the burning question: Where did the children come from who once visited this now deserted building?

It’s no secret that Japan’s countryside is dying, especially the traditionally sparsely populated mountainous areas. Along tiny, barely maintained roads you can find countless abandoned houses and small settlements often kilometers away from each other – no shops, no public buildings, no nothing anywhere close. Over the years I’ve explored abandoned schools in the most remote areas… in tiny villages and on mountain ridges. On the way I always passed at least a dozen houses, so even the smallest schools made kind of sense, but the Okayama Elementary School appeared out of nowhere on the left side of the road, almost swallowed by the surrounding forest… Not a single house in sight or sound, and I couldn’t remember the last time I saw one. Where did the children come from that visited this school? Did they live in hamlet that are completely gone now? I don’t know and I’ll probably never find out…
Since I was exploring with Japanese friends, my time at the Okayama Elementary School was limited to less than an hour – and though the school was rather small even by abandoned countryside school standards, there were quite a few items left behind, which made this an interesting exploration. In addition to the fact that this is one terribly hard to find school. I didn’t even know about it before that day and only recognized it once since then on another post that was published before my visit in 2016. The typical “Oh, they took that picture THERE…” realization that puts a knowing smile on your face. Unfortunately I don’t know much else about this school. A calendar sheet with tropical fish pinned to one wall was from March / April 1973, which makes sense as the new school year in Japan starts in early April. That would mean that the school was closed years before I was even born – and from the looks of it, that’s not an unreasonable conclusion…

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Pidgeon Pachinko or Garbage Pachinko – quite suitable alternative names for this virtually unknown abandoned pachinko parlor…

Pachinko is probably one of the most sketchy businesses you can get yourself into in Japan. About 40% of the parlors are run by the yakuza, another 40% by exile Koreans with ties to the northern half of the motherland. And the majority of the rest is probably owned by large chains with gigantic parlors – and despite that there are quite a few abandoned pachinko parlors all over Japan, from inner cities to the middle of nowhere. A surprising large number of them are actually in rather bad condition – you would think that criminals, borderline criminals and corporations would pay better attention to their properties, but maybe the abandoned ones are all closed independent parlors; who knows? I don’t, that’s for sure. But I am not much of a gambler. Never even entered an active pachinko parlor and hated every second when visiting one of the highly regulated casinos back in Germany.

The Grazia Pachinko parlor though I will remember as by far the shittiest place I’ve explored, the biggest pile of garbage; unfortunately not only figuratively, but also literally – thanks to a flock of pidgeons living in the entrance area and a hobo filling the upper floor with trash.
I try to approach every exploration with the most positive attitude as possible as I actually look forward to every single one of them (except for revisits – I’m really not a revisit guy… except for *Nara Dreamland*, of course!), but when I was approaching the Grazia on this January morning (a chill winter bastard though dry), I kinda wished the weather were better – luckily it wasn’t, because I think these days, summer days, the parlor is borderline inexplorable. Partly covered by graffiti on the outside, quite unusual for Japan, the innards of the Grazia Pachinko parlor weren’t much more of a looker. The last owner basically removed anything of value and / or interest, the outdoor “artists” and / or their following did the rest. Even worse, several dozen pidgeons decided to occupy the entrance area (now the back of the parlor) and leave huge piles of scat everywhere – now I was grateful for the close to 0°C weather, because neither money nor pidgeon shit has much smell at those temperatures. Well, ground floors of abandoned pachinko parlors tend to be crappy places in general, maybe the living area above the parlor (not a lot of people know that, but most pachinko parlors have a whole apartment area on top!) would be more interesting? The vandalized staircase wasn’t very promising and the real thing fully lived up to the now extremely lowered expectations. The entrance to the boiler room to the left was blocked by a horizontal door and filled with trash, the almost empty kitchen to the right filthy to a level you wouldn’t expect of an empty room. The hallway was kinda darkish and cluttered, nevertheless I followed it down to the next door, where I was welcomed by a breathtaking surprising – the whole bedroom behind it was filled almost knee-deep with trash, most of it empty plastic food containers. Too bad that there is no thing as smell photography, because I totally would have used that technology in this case! And just to remind you, this was dry 0 degree weather in January. Now in July we often reach very humid 35°C during the days and still above 30° at night. At that point I had enough and didn’t even venture further down the hallway. I love exploring like hardly anybody else, but buildings that were turned into garbage dumps… seriously, nobody needs locations like that. Behind the parlor I had a quick look at the building where the few lucky winners could exchange their balls for prizes (locked) and a small bungalow building, but they were of little interest and it was still early in the day – there were other places to explore… more promising places!

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A legendary, shockingly dilapidated factory office and an old man with a sickle – this exploration could have gone wrong in more than one way…

Tohoku isn’t exactly famous for its abandoned places. Mostly mines (*Taga*, *Matsuo*, and *Ozarisawa*) and of course the vast area for (mostly foreign…) Fukushima catastrophe tourists. Most popular among local explorers is probably the Ironworks Office Building, which you can see on the first photo of the gallery. It’s a pretty gorgeous wooden structure at the site of a mostly demolished smeltery dating back to 1881, when Japan’s industrial revolution caught up 150 years of development within a couple of decades. Access was surprisingly easy when I explored the place with my friends Dan, Kyoko and Heather in autumn last year during a partly touristy road trip, so we took our time to have a look outside first – with not much success as most of the buildings on the premises must have been demolished around the time business closed in 2001. Yes, 2001! It’s hard to believe that the company was active until rather recently, but apparently it’s true… I’m still baffled by that fact and you probably will be, too, after looking at the photos. The last remaining building of the main area was the former office building, which also included a room for drafters / technical drawers as well as a laboratory, though the back part of the building, including the hallway leading to the lab, have been collapsed a couple of years ago. (And the rest of the building probably won’t make it another decade either. The wooden staircase leading to the upper floor was so… wobbly that I didn’t dare to go upstairs as I was afraid that it would collapse under my weight and probably bring the whole building down. And wouldn’t that have been embarrassing? (In addition to being most likely deadly…)
Before that another strange story happened. The four of us just entered the Ironworks Office Building through a door or partly collapsed wall (it was hard to say what it was…), when one of the girls spotted an old man outside, appearing out of nowhere from where we just came from. He was dragging one of his feet, kind of like a zombie, and was wearing rather worn clothes, holding an old sickle in one of his hands. Combine that with the rundown wooden building and the somewhat rainy weather and you have a perfect horror movie scenario. With four people it was kinda hard to hide in that part of the building, and we didn’t want to go much further inside, worried that we might cause some noise with all that rusty metal, brittle wood and broken glass around, so we carefully and anxiously watched the sickle zombie slowly scuffing his body past the 130 year old dilapidated structure we were in. Luckily he didn’t see, hear or smell us, before he finally turned right, leaving the premises. That’s when we finally relaxed and explored the building, at least the lower floor, because… well, you already know about the staircase.
As you can see on the photos, the interior of the building was quite eclectic, with probably at least one item from each decade between the 50s and the 00s – interestingly enough the calendar near one of the desks in the private office was from 2007, six years after the ironworks closed. Why? Your guess is as good as mine. Maybe the office was still used to deal with the aftermath of closing, maybe it was used for other purposes, maybe somebody unrelated left it behind. The atmosphere in there was actually kind of spooky – rather dark offices, vines growing in, the worn interior, the kind of dangerous state of the building.
On the way out I took a few quick shots through the window of the laboratory, basically because none of us was eager to find a way inside across an ankle-breaking field of slippery debris. Sometimes you have to cut your losses and move on, because there is almost always another location to explore…

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