Old meets new and fails – only to be revived and remodeled years later. The unusual revival of the Wakayama Ryokan…

It’s pretty much impossible to predict which abandoned places become popular and which are hardly ever explored by the urbex community – similar to which places are vandalized regularly and which are spared.
When the Wakayama Ryokan showed up with the exact address on a big Japanese urbex site about six years ago I was convinced that it would be the next urbex hot spot in Kansai. Consisting of a modern hotel style building and a wooden traditional part full of nooks and crannies, the Wakayama Ryokan was the best of both worlds – and in almost pristine condition with hardly any signs of vandalism. Located on a slope overlooking a local harbor, the ryokan offered stunning views – and probably amazing seafood when it was still open.
When I explored the Wakayama Ryokan more than five and a half years ago, I did it solo and didn’t pay attention to not film / take pictures of things that could be clues – probably because I never expected the amount of lurkers his blog attracts by now. But even back then I knew that I didn’t want to be the foreigner who spills the beans to an non-Japanese speaking audience, so I wrote about other places first… until I kind of forgot about it. Despite the fact that I enjoyed the exploration and was eager to share some of the photos – especially the wooden parts in the east and the norths were gorgeous, despite or maybe because first signs of decay. The modern part was still in good condition overall. Some signs of metal thieves and an emptied fire-extinguisher here an there, but overall in good condition. Some rooms were actually filled with packed boxes full of… stuff; most of it table ware and other typical ryokan items. But yet another reason why I didn’t want to drag too much attention to this wonderful location.
Fast forward to five years later, the spring of 2017. I was passing by the Wakayama Ryokan on the way to another location when I realized that the front featured several new wooden signs, announcing an “Art Station” to be opened in the summer of this year. Well, it’s autumn now, so I assume that this international art museum, bar, café, theater, inn, kiosk, music room, … is open to the public now – though given my experiences with Japanese schedules, I wouldn’t be surprised if postponed till spring 2018 or gave up completely.

Back in 2012 the Wakayama Ryokan was one of my first accommodations in really good condition – and I explored it solo, which is always equally nerve-wrecking and exciting experience, so this place holds a special place in my heart forever. Especially the traditional wooden part was as Japanese as it gets, which is why I published as many photos as possible, though I am sure it would look even more impressive edited down to 30 or even 20 picture – but I know that a lot of you out there like those “Japanese images”, so I hope you’ll enjoy the gallery overall.

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Japan is the land of abandonment – from *sex museums* to *amusement parks*, there is nothing that people don’t leave behind. Even if they could use it to drive away – welcome to the Ibaraki 7.
The Ibaraki 7 are a handful of foreign made cars sitting next to a wooden barn in rural Ibaraki; which means that the area is really rural, because Ibaraki is pretty rural, even by Japanese standards. And not to diss the prefecture, but it strikes me as one of those you would be glad to have a car – to get around or to get the heck out. (The capital is Mito – and Mito is famous for natto! Kyoto has yatsuhashi, Fukuoka has ramen, Yubari has melons… and Mito has natto; there even is a natto statue in front of the train station. Probably the only prefecture where you don’t want to eat the local delicacy…)
Anyway, the cars known as the Ibaraki 7 are just sitting there next to that barn at a countryside road. A little bit more overgrown in summer and autumn, a little less in winter and spring. Despite being rather popular even amongst Japanese explorers (mainly because they were on the direct way between two abandoned hospitals – were, because one of those hospital has been demolished two or three years ago), there is little to nothing known about the Ibaraki 7. And since I am not much of a car guy, I couldn’t even say which manufacturers or models they are. But I am sure Gred does. I was actually about to skip this week due to extreme lack of time, but then I thought: Look for those old car photos, rant and rave a little bit, and maybe some people will enjoy the combination. If nobody else does, I am sure Gred will… just for the photos. So here you are, Gred – this one’s for you!

PS: When naming the photos I guess found out at least some manufacturers / models myself… 🙂

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When you think you’ve seen it all you start to have a closer look at things that have been under your nose for years – and then you’ll find places like an abandoned pig auction market!

Desperation is barely ever a good advisor, but after exploring Kansai (and the rest of Japan) for eight years, I am kind of running out of places to explore within reasonable range. Well, at least places I am interested in – locations that are virtually inaccessible, mostly collapsed, or completely moldy are not exactly luring me out of bed early on a Saturday morning. A couple of months ago I was planning another day trip with my buddy Mark and I finally added a location I’ve been skipping for years – because it was small, because it was located along a very, very busy street, because there were no other even remotely interesting places around; and let’s be honest, how interesting could a pig auction market be?
Well, surprisingly interesting actually! Since I had low to no expectations, the Pig Auction Market was a very positive surprise. Yes, it was located along a busy road between a car dealership and a trucking company, but the only building on the premises was at the far end of the lot, separated from a rice field only by a small road with basically zero traffic. From the bird’s eye perspective the small complex must look like a large grey Pac Man eating the auction building – Pac Man, of course, being the roofed outdoor pen. Back in the day, trucks apparently were able to drive up directly to the stalls to unload the pigs – and on the other end of the metal cage stable was a small railroad to drive the poor creatures directly into the building, where people bid on them. To my total surprise the auction building was accessible, too. Mostly empty, nevertheless extremely interesting as Japanese pig auctions are something I never wasted a single thought on in my whole life, but I had the feeling that I learned a lot about them just by having a look around at the Pig Auction Market, which included a small private area, so somebody probably lived there for a while, at least temporarily. (The place was established in 1969 by the ZEN-NOH (National Federation of Agricultural Co-operative Associations), part of the omnipresent Japan Agricultural Cooperatives or JA, as a shoat market. In 1974 it was bought by the prefectural government and lent to the local pig keeping society – they used it till the market was finally closed in 2005. After years of abandonment the next door car dealership started to use the premises as a parking lot, though I don’t know whether or not they own the place now – all I know is that it didn’t help taking pictures outside as there were used cars all over the place…)

I knew about the Pig Auction Market for at least five or six years until I finally explored it in early July, on the last bearable weekend of yet another horrible Kansai summer. Despite dripping with sweat (inside) and being eaten alive by mosquitos (outside) it was great to explore this location – looking at the different elements and piecing together how the place could have worked 20, 30, 40 years ago… it felt like a true exploration with unusual motifs everywhere. When I planned the the trip out there I scheduled about an hour at the Pig Auction Market, but in the end I took pictures for pretty much exactly 2.5 hours – because I really, really liked that place. The whole thing actually reminded me a bit of the still Abandoned Kansai exclusive abandoned *Poultry Farm* that I explored in early 2012…

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Why on earth would you nickname an abandoned mansion in the French mountains Chateau Banana? Well, the answer is surprisingly obvious…

Sometimes I wonder if I publish too many photos with my articles… probably around 30 in average, usually between 20 and 40. So far nobody has complained about too many photos, some people actually want even more pictures, but I often feel like I am watering down photo sets by posting too many average photos that show the average or below average parts of a location – because let’s be honest, only a handful of locations are interesting enough for 30 really good photos, a more realistic number is probably between 10 and 12 per set… and “just” good Pictures, which is in the ballpark of what I’ve seen of the Chateau Banana before exploring it. People were rather monosyllabic with information and stinted with photos, giving the impression that the Chateau Banana was a spectacular kitschy version of the now legendary *Chateau Lumiere*. The location wasn’t even on my radar as I just don’t have the time to intensely follow urbex trends outside of Japan, but luckily my reader Dennis made me aware of it and pointed me in the right direction without just handing me coordinates – very much appreciated!
The Chateau Banana is a rather recent discovery even amongst European urbexers, which is why there is only little known about it. Located in the Vosges Mountains, the Chateau Banana most likely originated as a private mansion maybe 80 to 100 years ago on quite a piece of land on the edge of a small town. Luckily my friend Nina and I found a quick and easy way in, because two hours and forty-five minutes into our three hour long drive it started to rain – the main door was locked, but the side entrance through the kitchen was only closed.
Kitchen instead of kitsch… The Chateau Banana was nothing like it looked like on the photos – at first. I’m sure it once was a majestic kitchen, but not at the time of our visit. The whole area was cluttered; boxes, cartons and random items stacked over each other, along the wall till underneath the ceiling – a path just wide enough to walk through leading deeper inside the eerie building. Lighting on the ground floor was difficult in general as most window shutters were closed and nailed shut – only a few of them had been partly “opened”, with the use of force and not without damaging the shutters. The hallway and most of the other rooms on the ground floor were as cluttered as the kitchen, only the gorgeous living room was in excellent condition… like on the photos I had seen. Since the lighting situation didn’t improve during the first few minutes we decided to explored the building from the top – two more floors plus the attic. The wooden staircase didn’t inspire confidence, but I had seen worse. At least it was made from massive, solid wood, much more sturdy than the lightweight construction I am used to in Japan.
The attic was not much of a surprise, maybe except for the fact that there was still laundry to dry on the clothesline rope. The floor below looked like it was privately used, with the peculiarity that that every room had its own bathroom, some even a dressing room. It was there where I found one of most unusual abandoned items ever – a fencing mask. A little less cluttered than the rest of the house it slowly dawned on us what was going on at the Chateau Banana. This wasn’t just an abandoned mansion – this was a failed conversion, private villa to hotel. The middle floor gave even more hints – most of the rooms there were almost done and ready to welcome guests, the most beautiful room with the biggest bath was labelled private though. Interestingly enough a lot of items we found at the Chateau Banana had German text on it – like the Happy Families card game with classical composers or pretty much all of the renovation material.
By the time I finished shooting the upper floors it stopped raining and the sun came out… for a few minutes, only to hide behind clouds again, and again, and again… Nevertheless I took a couple of photos in the beautiful dining room and living room – in such good condition that some of the tableware was still in the glass cabinet. Other items left behind included a great piano, an old bible and a turn of the century stroller plus quite a few pieces of furniture; whether they just looked like antiques or actually were antiquities is impossible for me to say. Just before we left I final look around, still wondering why this was called the Chateau Banana – and then it dawned on me. A lot of the boxes between the living room and the main entrance, stacked up to the ceiling, were actually banana cartons from a variety of companies…

At first the Chateau Banana was kind of a disappointment as it didn’t live up at all to the image I had in my mind based on the pictures I had seen beforehand. Luckily my friend Nina was extremely patient and allowed me to explore and take pictures for three and a half hours, sacrificing a second location I had in mind for the same day. It wasn’t an easy photo shoot, especially since I had to deal with a really crappy tripod (if you buy one, buy a good one – sadly I left mine in Japan as I was just on vacation…), some tight spaces and ever changing lighting. And yet I ended up with 40 photos again. Usually I post them in chronologically order – this time I will post them differently. The good ones first, then the crappy ones you usually don’t see on other blogs / urbex sites. So in the end the Chateau Banana was beautiful in its own way – but my favorite location in France is still the amazing *Chateau Lumiere*.

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Japanese people love euphemisms, especially English ones. Let’s check out another abandoned love hotel!

It has almost become kind of a Christmas tradition here at Abandoned Kansai to write about an abandoned love hotel (Merry XXX-Mas!) for Japan’s last Valentine’s Day of the year (after the original one and White Day), but the country is littered with them… and my explorations of them start to pile up, so I guess I have to throw in one or two at different times of the year.
The Kobe Love Hotel is actually my most recent love hotel exploration, the pictures are barely 72 hours old. Located in one of many love hotel districts in Hyogo’s capital Kobe, this abandoned fashion hotel was actually in surprisingly good condition, considering that it was closed in September 2008 – the last porn on demand menu in the rooms was from August 2008. Before that the Kobe Love Hotel underwent several name changes as the big neon signs outside didn’t match the name printed on the escape routes in the rooms. Of course this couples hotel has seen better days, too – some rooms were more vandalized than others, but overall they were still in decent condition, given that romance hotels are amongst the most vandalized type of abandoned places in Japan, at least in my experience. Since most of the parking lot was overgrown by thick thicket, I guess it prevented most casual vandals from getting access. Oh, and the giant, still active suzumebachi nest probably didn’t attract anybody either…
The layout of the Kobe Love Hotel, actually more of a love motel, was quite interesting – a long line of rooms, parking spots on the west side and a narrow non-public maintenance hallway on the east side; two external staircases allowed guests access to the second floor rooms. For access to the third floor rooms you had to go up an internal staircase past the lobby. Sadly those high up rooms were just regular rooms, without exotic features like an outdoor pool or at least a rooftop Jacuzzi.
The Kobe Love Hotel was a fun exploration, but as a location it was rather average – no kinky themes, no exotic interior, no unusual vending machines. Every room had a slightly different design, but overall the differences to a good hotel room were rather marginal. If you are new to the love hotel topic, I recommend reading my articles about the *Furuichi Love Hotel* and the *Love Hotel Gion*, as I write more about the history of those places there.

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Last week’s Riverside School and this week’s Riverside Mall have only one thing in common – the riverside part…

The Riverside Mall was a large shopping complex featuring not only stores and restaurants, but also a multiplex cinema, a Ferris wheel, an onsen and several sports facilities, including a basketball court on one of the roofs. I’m not really sure when the mall initially opened, but the cinema was in business from late 2000 to February 2011 – and then again for two weeks in March of the same year before closing down for good.
I found out about the Riverside Mall a few years ago, but never prioritized to go there until I finally had the chance in May of this year, 2017. Just in time to witness the demolition. Daaaaarn! The demolition was actually in full swing, so initially I wanted to drive on, especially since it was drizzling outside anyway. My buddy Mark on the other hand was super excited and convinced me to gaijin smash the place – playing the dumb foreigner to take some photos. Luckily one of the (de)construction site’s parking lots was open and unguarded, so we drove in, got our photo equipment and started shooting as if it was the most normal thing in the world. After about 15 minutes a big old guy walked up to us trying to shoo us away, so Mark started talking at him in English and a few words of Japanese to distract him, while I was continuing taking photos, slowing going deeper onto the construction site, but not into any of the buildings. The guy was friendly enough for about 10 minutes before he insisted that we should leave (no surprise he locked the gate as soon as we were gone to prevent other shmocks like us from entering…) – so I left with eight photos I wouldn’t have taken if it wouldn’t have been for Mark. I took another couple of shots from public ground and voilà, here we are. Not a spectacular location, but better than skipping a week – am I right or am I right? 🙂

Overall the Riverside Mall was a big disappointment, of course – especially imagining that in 2013 or 2014 we probably could have had access to the cinema and the onsen… or we could have been arrested by the police after causing an alarm. Who knows? Urbex is all about timing, and this time, the timing was bad. It could have been worse, because a month later probably nothing was left of the Riverside Mall, but well… it is what it is – or “it can’t be helped”, as the Japanese like to say: shoganai.

Initially I wanted to write a little bit about consumerism in Japan, but I am extremely pressed for time this week – so maybe some of you want to leave a comment under this article about how you imagine shopping in Japan or how you experienced shopping in Japan? (Sometimes I like to be entertained, too… 🙂 ) I will come back to that topic when I write about another abandoned shopping mall I already explored – and that time I actually got inside!

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Wooden schools in Japan… the kind of abandoned places I can’t get enough of! Always interesting, always different, always unique… and always very Japanese.

Another thing that abandoned wooden Japanese schools have in common is the fact that they are really abandoned – and most of them are located in the countryside between two towns (hamlets…) or even on top of a ridge between two valleys. The Riverside School was abandoned, wooden, Japanese, and located out of sight… but there still was a caretaker we had to carefully avoid even on a Saturday visit. Luckily I quickly figured out a way how to reach the elevated located school from the back.
The Riverside School consisted of three main buildings – an elementary school, a junior high school and a gymnasium… with easy access through an open door far away from the main entrance. Both of the big school buildings were actually long gorgeous wooden hallways with rooms to one side – the hallways ended in beautiful staircases with just one upper room, not a complete second floor. Why? I have no idea. Little is known about the Riverside School in general. Apparently it was built just after the war in the late 1940s and both sections closed in the mid-1990s – most likely due to the lack of students in the Japanese countryside.
Nowadays at least one of the buildings is still maintained, although none of the buildings necessarily looked like it. But just a few minutes into exploring the Riverside School we heard some noise from the other end of the building. Since I was super busy taking photos, my fellow explorers Dan and Kyoko “stealthed” forward and had a look – as I feared it was indeed a caretaker, not fellow explorers. We kept quiet as well as we could and just as we were done exploring the lower school building and the gymnasium, the caretaker took his bike and cycled away – lunch time!
Of course we took the opportunity and headed outside for some outdoor shots before walking up the mountain (hill?) to the second main building a bit higher up. The interior of the upper school (like I said, technically the Riverside School consisted of two schools…) was in worse condition, but less chaotic – while the rooms in the lower building were cluttered with all kinds of items, the rooms with often dangerously arched floors in the upper building were tidy and neat – a telescope still standing behind a window, books stacked on untouched tables; probably because one would most likely have broken the floor if trying to enter the rooms.

Like I said in the intro, I absolutely love abandoned old wooden schools in Japan – and the Riverside School was no exception. There is just something very special about exploring a 70 year old wooden building that has seen the rise and partly decline of post-war Japan. All those items left behind, the stunning natural decay, nature creeping in – the skipped beat of your hear when you stick your head into a rather dark room and all of a sudden a bat flies out. And nobody else around. Just you and this “open air museum” that allows a glimpse at times long gone. And the architecture of those buildings! Simple, but so beautiful… There’s just nothing like those abandoned schools anywhere else in the world. And if you enjoyed this article about the Riverside School, have a look at classics like the *Landslide School* and the magical *White School*… they are at least equally interesting, yet completely different.

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