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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One Japanese billionaire and his three abandoned mansions – the perfect urbex location?

Gosh, there is so much to say about this guy and his three luxury mansions, but currently I have neither the time nor the motivation to write everything up properly. So please consider this a first look and a (high class) picture dump. I’m already gathering information for a proper bullshit-free article with even more spectacular photos and some videos, but there is a lot of background story to talk about, so stay tuned. Until then please enjoy the following picture set, containing photos from several visits since 2016!

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Finally a real abandoned bowling alley in Japan – with some neat photo opportunities!

Who would have thought that it would be that tough to find and explore a decent bowling alley in Japan after the legendary Toyo Bowl Nagoya and Toyo Bowl Kanagawa were demolished before or just after I picked up urbex as a hobby – and explored locally as the name Abandoned Kansai implied. But bowling places tend to be big and near where people live, so closed ones tended to be converted to storage facilities (like the *Tohoku Bowling* I explored not so long ago) or supermarkets, but I guess most of them still get demolished to make space for new developments.
More than 120,000 bowling lanes were installed between 1960 and 1972 during the big bowling boom in Japan – in 1968 there were 14,000 bowling lanes in Japan, in 1970 there were 63,000, and in 1972 the number passed 124,000 at almost 3,700 bowling establishments; second in the world only to the United States (130,000 lanes at the time), which delivered most of the equipment to Japan, like bowling pins by the Vulcan Corporation and bowling balls by the Brunswick Corporation. The Tokyo World Lanes Bowling Center became the biggest bowling center in the world, with between 252 and 512 (!) lanes, depending on the source. Unfortunately this record wasn’t surpassed, but the Tokyo World Lanes downsized to 28 lanes (!) after an owner change and finally got closed for good. A general trend of course, as the popularity of bowling diminished almost as fast as it rose – by the 1980s there were only 23,000 active lanes left and since then the number keeps going up and down by a few thousand, making it a somewhat popular spare time activity, but not the hype mass sport it was for about a decade. Nowadays the Nagoya Grand Bowl is the biggest bowling center in Japan with 156 lanes on three floors – making the 20 lanes of the Countryside Bowling Alley look tiny! (Fun fact: For a couple of weeks it looked like pre-video game Nintendo could benefit from the bowling fad when they started to sell the so-called Laser Clay Shooting System to failing bowling alleys starting in early 1973 (developed by the Nintendo legends Gunpei “Mr. Game Boy” Yokoi, Masayuki “Mr. NES” Uemura, and Genyo “Mr. Wii” Takeda!). Before it could even become a fad the 1973 oil crisis hit Japan and stopped Nintendo and their expensive system in its tracks, leaving the company with billions of Yen in debt and on the verge of bankruptcy. A smaller and cheaper version called Mini Laser Clay was sold to arcades from 1974 successfully and included Wild Gunman, which became a launch title for the NES Zapper 11 years later.)

But enough about the past! Exploring the Countryside Bowling Center was a bit nerve-wrecking as it was a solo exploration on a gloomy day, and the building made quite a few sounds – screeching metal, probably a few birds, though I never saw any. The main entrance was barricaded, implying that somebody took care of it to some degree even after metal thieves, vandals and probably some urbexers and airsoft players considered it abandoned. Was it still managed? Not properly, that’s for sure, but there were other signs that at least parts of the vast premises were still used… When I finally found a side-entrance I felt like The Hulk or The Rock, because when I grabbed the door knob, I basically held the whole metal clad door in my hand. Of course I didn’t rip it out myself, but whoever broke in there didn’t bother picking a lock, that’s for sure! Inside I quickly found another (open) exit, which provided some peace of mind as I now had two possible escape routes in case somebody would show up – but of course nobody did, so I spent about two hours taking photos are my first real abandoned bowling center. Lighting was a bit iffy, but I really enjoyed the new photo opportunities, especially the seating area, the monitors, and the dissolving bowling shoes. In addition to the 20 lanes the center also featured a couple of karaoke rooms and an amusement game corner with some not really vintage machines like a love fortune tester and some UFO catcher type thing – probably from the late 90s, early 00s, so I assume this really rural bowling center was the result of yet another bad real estate bubble investment.
Despite (or maybe because?) its rather remote location, the Countryside Bowling Center showed all kinds of signs of vandalism – graffiti, smashed (and covered) entry doors, bowling balls used to damage or destroy everything from monitors to arcade machines to trophies, to… you name it. Sure, the condition of the building could have been much worse, but also could have been quite a bit better. Nevertheless an awesome, smooth solo exploration with a couple of photos that could make it to my all-time favorites.

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A countryside clinic with lots of decay, lots of vandalism – and some really neat items from an era long gone!

I love traveling in Japan, pretty much everywhere… except for that area consisting of Chiba north of the Boso Peninsula and Tochigi / Ibaraki south of the line Utsunomiya / Hitachi. I’ve been there several times and I’m sure the people are lovely – but for some reason the area always felt totally generic to me, despite some really good abandoned places, including about a dozen abandoned hospitals. Maybe because it’s a rather flat area with very little visual stimulation – I don’t know, but when I think of that area, I think of endless drives I wish that would have taken a lot less long… (If you have any recommendations – shrines, waterfalls, maybe even something unique, anything! – please feel free to mention them in the comments!)

The TV Clinic was located in said area and was actually the second one I’ve explored on a surprisingly cool autumn day back in 2015. The sun was already setting, so this was a rather rushed exploration, accompanied by cold gusts of wind haunting the mostly doorless old mansion. Unless you are new to Abandoned Kansai, you know that kind of clinic: A large wooden building from about 100 years ago – a clinic with reception, waiting room, exam room, surgery room, some post surgery rooms followed by large private living quarters for the doctor and his family. Unfortunately even back then the building wasn’t structurally sound anymore, which made exploring rather difficult – nevertheless I got a few good and some decent shots out of it, before the place became too dark and too cold; but till then I enjoyed taking photos of medical equipment and a really old TV.

Is the TV Clinic worth going to Japan’s most boring stretch of land? Maybe, if you have a time machine and can go back the 2012 or at least 2015 when I was there – since then urbex became quite popular even in Japan and too many people trampled through the building as it is located in day trip range from Tokyo, both by car and public transportation. Apparently it’s much better guarded these days than five years ago, but given that the TV Clinic was beyond repair even back then, I’m pretty sure it will bite the dust and disappear forever soon. In any case, there are much better similar clinics in Japan, like the *Hospital By The Sea* or the *Showa Era Countryside Clinic*.

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Once a prosperous rest stop between two famous onsen, now an almost completely overgrown complex of restaurants and souvenir shops – reclaimed by nature, tough to access, especially in summer.

Omiyage (basically overpriced snacks, sold at tourist spots, you are expected to buy for family and especially co-workers) are one of the many curses you have to deal with when living in Japan – and like so many pain in the a$$ traditions, this one started a long time ago as something slightly different. Back in the Edo period (1603-1868) people barely ever traveled (because it was basically forbidden) and if they did, it was usually a pilgrim to a shrine – and expensive. So people at home collected money to support the pilgrims and in return received a “present from the shrine” (miyage – the o is a honorific prefix), usually something non-perishable like a charm. When the Edo period ended and Japan in general stopped acting like North Korea now, traveling became faster and cheaper – and the pilgrim aspect became less important. Nowadays most people travel for fun and shrines are only part of the sightseeing program. People staying at home stopped financially supporting travelers, but still expect a small present – no charms, because despite the fact that a lot of Japanese people identify on paper with two or even three religions, people here are not really religious anymore. So instead of charms, travelers buy boxes and bags of sweet or savory snacks, depending on what the visited area is “famous” for. And in Japan every second conglomerate of huts is famous for something! Yet a big portion of those snacks is just locally branded, rather generic stuff. At the coast you get shrimp crackers, at places known for wagyu you get beef flavored crackers, various areas in Japan are known for fruits, so you get all kind of apple / pear / mikan flavored cakes, cookies, drinks, hard candy – often in the same packaging, just with the local area / city name. Real local delicacies like Kyoto’s yatsuhashi are rather rare. But all those omiyage, sold in specialized shops near tourist attractions, have three things in common:
1.) They are insanely overpriced. Best example are Kit Kat – if you get nationwide distributed bags 12 pieces cost you about 298 Yen (plus tax), in cheaper supermarkets two bags for 500 Yen (plus tax). Sold only in certain regions a dozen pieces in a box will set you back 800 Yen (plus tax) – that’s three times as much! But then you can try flavors like Purple Sweet Potato (Okinawa), Wasabi (Shizuoka & Kanto), and Red Bean Sandwich (Hokuriku). There are countless different packages and flavors of Kit Kat in Japan – the smaller the amount and the more unique the flavor the higher is the price per piece, of course.
2.) They are a serious waste problem, because most omiyage are individually wrapped. You have up to 2 dozen individually wrapped cookies sitting in a plastic tray, sealed in a plastic bag, surrounded by a carton or plastic box wrapped in paper of rather high quality with colorful printing– and when you buy it, you get a small plastic bag for each box and all of that in a large plastic or paper bag.
3.) They are expected – and therefore a major pain, especially when you travel a lot! Wanna be the unpopular person at the office? Dare to not bring something from a trip you’ve mention to colleagues – NOT a good idea! But it’s also a pain for people who don’t travel a lot, because they are under pressure to contribute. I’ve seen colleagues bringing “omiyage” from touristy places that are closer to work than my apartment!
In my experience it’s a Japanese thing and overseas tourists don’t give a damn about omiyage though. They see the overpriced snacks and stick with souvenirs instead. Westerners usually get the kitschy classics, like beckoning cats or Hello Kitty sweat rags… Asian tourists tend to be even worse, buying things like rice cookers that were probably assembled by their third cousin once removed – and by once removed I mean: Once removed from their original job to spend some time in a reeducation… in an educational summer fun land camp…

Anyway, like I said, most omiyage shops are in close proximity of tourist attractions, but some of them are part of rest areas along busy roads, usually build at locations with a scenic view – highway rest stops, michi no eki (Road Stations / 道の駅) or independent businesses. This one apparently was an independent rest stop with a couple of restaurants and most likely different shops – omiyage, souvenirs, fresh local produce, … There is not much reliable information about this place available, but apparently it was built in the 1970s and was used until sometime around the year 2000 plus/minus a couple of years. Since they cut they construction site from a pretty jungle-like lot and didn’t build anything directly at the street (except for road access, of course), the whole thing disappeared behind a green wall within years. If you are lucky and approach from the right angle you might see one of the restaurants stick out in winter – in summer and four years after my exploration I’m sure you need to know where to go and how to wield a machete (which is probably not a good idea as most mass murderers in Japan use knives due to the lack of access to guns, so if you get caught by the police in Japan even with a pocket knife you have some serious explaining to do!).

Exploring the Jungle Omiyage Rest House took about an hour and wasn’t that spectacular, in all honesty – but it was a gorgeous January day in a very beautiful area, a no risk location, and afterwards I had the pleasure to take a relaxing bath at one of Japan’s top 5 onsen. So no reason to complain, I had a wonderful time there!

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