An abandoned ryokan (Japanese inn), consisting of two buildings. The main one was in dilapidated condition – exterior walls were bending, the floors inside were brittle, overall it was far beyond repair. The second building was in even worse condition, looking like it was hit by a gigantic weapon. The exploration felt uncomfortable and took only about half an hour in total. Nothing I would normally explore these days, especially since I had no background story at all, but I guess it’s still a good filler for a busy week, like this one. Nothing in comparison to the spectacular *Wakayama Ryokan*!

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In early 2017 I was able to do an unplanned revisit – now the Nakagusuku Hotel Ruin is under demolition.

Okinawa’s tourism industry suffered quite a few setbacks recently. First two cactus theme parks closed (*this one* and *especially this one*), then plans for a proposed Universal Studios Okinawa fell through. In the summer of 2019 the demolition of the Nakagusuku Hotel Ruin began (you probably think I’m kidding, but it actually became kind of a tourist attraction, much like *Nara Dreamland*) – and on October 31st parts of the famous Shuri Castle in Naha burned to the ground. A series of unfortunate events that might be a blessing in disguise, because if cities like Kyoto, Nara, and even Osaka are any indication, the mass tourism of recent years isn’t always a good thing – especially for the people who live there. (Or just ask the people of Venice, Italy, what they think. I found it terribly crowded and when I went there as a teenager during a family vacation in the late 80s, early 90s – I can only imagine how nightmarish the situation has become in recent years…)

In early 2017 I went to Okinawa for a relaxing long weekend, escaping the “winter” in Kansai for a couple of days in pursuit of eating and drinking as much shikuwasa-related food as possible. No urbex on the schedule, I didn’t even bring my trusted tripod. Nevertheless I found myself next to the Nakagusuku Hotel Ruin just hours after my arrival in Japan’s most southern prefecture when visiting the Nakagusuku Castle Ruin, a UNESCO World Heritage site I rushed through during my first visit to Okinawa about five years earlier. I did my best to enjoy one of the few remaining tourist attractions on the island, but in the an a leopard cannot change his spots – especially after observing several foreign and local tourists walking past the warning signs and heading towards the hotel ruins.
The first time I explored the Nakagusuku Hotel Ruin it was an eight hour long endeavor on a sunny spring day with full equipment – this time I came during 20°C weather on an overcast, slightly rainy and overall rather gloomy day without a tripod and probably even without a second lens. Not a big problem for outside shots, but everything inside was quite tough. Sometimes the lighting situation was so difficult that I had to put down the camera and improvise to avoid blurry photos. In addition to the high humidity and the overall situation (a LOT more warning signs than five years prior!) a rather unpleasant experience I didn’t drag out much beyond the 1.5 hour mark (including video, but plus outside shots), though I kinda had the feeling that this would be my last visit to one the most amazing locations I’ve ever been to.

If you want to know *more about the mind-boggling background story of the Nakagusuku Hotel Ruin, then please click here*. *More about my first exploration you can read by clicking here.* Both articles contain dozens of photo and some lengthy videos, so they come highly recommended!

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I have no idea what Disney, Elsa, Anna, and Olaf (“Berzerker!”) would say about this abandoned theme park deep in the mountains of Japan – but it was definitely Frozen… uhm… frozen!

General weather statements are difficult for a country that stretches about 3000 kilometers from north to south, but the areas known for snow, like Tohoku, the Japanese Alps, and Hokkaido, tend to start their winter seasons from mid to late November on, the center of the Kii-Peninsula a couple of weeks later. Coming from 20something degree weather in Osaka (Celsius, not Fahrenheit!) it was quite a shock arriving to light snowfall and more than ankle deep snow at the Frozen Theme Park in early November three years ago. Luckily there wasn’t a strong wind, because I wasn’t really prepared for this, neither physically nor mentally.
Since the area around the former main entrance seemed surprisingly busy, I headed straight towards the back, where they had a smaller side entrance and a few mid-sized parking lots. The disadvantage of that strategy: all fresh snow, so if somebody would have seen my footprints he could have just followed them and get straight to me. So I entered a little bit on edge, following the snowed in wide steps down into the park. To the left the former water park and the go-kart track, to the right the main area of the park, featuring a large restaurant, a ticket shop for the pay as you go attractions and several other houses and huts, featuring everything from rest rooms to small exhibitions to eateries. The park was located in a valley with roads on both slopes and bridges crossing, so I instinctively headed for the restaurant building to get out of sight of passing cars and pedestrians – nothing special there, basically just an abandoned restaurant, though the rest room signs were kind of cool. Not *Shidaka Utopia* cool, but still cool!
About an hour into my exploration, I just had left the rest(aurant) area to head towards the water park, the inevitable happened – sirens in the distance, coming closer and closer and closer… Seriously worried that the powers that be were coming for me I rushed towards the stairs to leave the park, but by the time that I reached the side entrance / exit, the sirens stopped; in a distance that could have been near the main entrance – meaning two things:
1. They weren’t specifically looking for me, because then they would have used the abandoned side entrance.
2. They (police, security, whatever, …) could still enter the park through the main entrance looking for intruders on foot, making it virtually impossible to see them before they see me.
Nervously I went back into the park via another… path… I found, avoiding the main area completely and heading directly to the abandoned water park. What a brilliant idea to include an outdoor water park to a theme park that gets about 5 months of snow per year! I wonder how long its season was when even regular water parks in much warmer areas of Japan only get about two months of use per year. A shame, considering that it was actually designed quite nicely, taking advantage of the valley’s slope. The most interesting part, of course, was the large green water slide on its bright yellow metal structure – especially since it was partly collapsed. When I was on location I assumed that heavy snowfall caused all the damage to the water slide, but the park hadn’t been closed for very long, only a few years; an outdoor slide like that should have a longer lifespan, even without maintenance. Given that the park had been partly demolished already, it’s more likely that one of the demolition machinery operators had two minutes of fun to prevent local children from playing at the abandoned slide and get hurt in the process.
When I was about to finish up taking pictures at the water park I heard sirens again coming closer, so I rushed out of the park instead of heading deeper inside. Again false alarm, but I was running out of time anyway, so I looked for higher ground to get some ultrawide shots of the park and then called it quits.

Exploring the Frozen Theme Park was an exciting adventure – not just because of the sirens and the snow, but also because it was virtually unknown at the time of my exploration back in 2016. Since then the water slide popped up once in a while, but people seemed to be generally uninterested in this remote little gem. Sure, even three years ago most of the original rides had been removed, but I still found it worth checking out – though I have to admit that the surprise snow just added to the atmosphere. No *Nara Dreamland*, but I’ve been to worse abandoned theme parks… much worse.

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A colorful seashell museum with a nondescript name – mostly artistic, but also scientific… and not even abandoned!

Ever since I moved to Japan 13 years ago I’ve been traveling the country when time allows. At first day trips to touristy spots (now hard to enjoy due to the suffocating amount of tourists from overseas – visiting the bamboo forest in Kyoto’s Arashiyama or the temples and shrines in Nara, for example, is a completely different experience in 2009 and 2019!), then weekend trips to explore abandoned places. During those early exploration trips me and my various co-explorers didn’t actively avoid other places (and included even spots like the very famous and recently burnt down Shuri Castle in Okinawa), but we were quite focused on our ruins, especially during daylight hours. Exploring can be quite exhausting and after a while I realized that extended lunch breaks at mom and pop restaurants and occasional sightseeing spots can really break up an otherwise quite tense day. Sooner or later sightseeing spot lead to roadside attractions and here we are now, at the Takeshima Fantasy Museum. (After visiting the infamous *Zao Fox Village* last year…)
The Takeshima Fantasy Museum, located in Gamagori, Achi (about an hour southeast of Nagoya), has quite a bit of history. Opened in 1983 as Gamagori Fantasy House it featured colorful exhibits made from 5 million (!) pieces of corals and seashells, collected in 110 countries. During the economic boom of the 1980s even the strangest places did well, but after some years of decline it closed in 2010 – apparently without any plans of ever being opened again. I remember actually being there around late 2013 / early 2014, but wasn’t able to find a way in… and there was some construction going on. Turns out that the Gamagori Fantasy House was in the state of renewal and expansion. Part of the parking lot was turned into a (casual) seafood restaurant and the exhibits were overhauled, bringing the shell count up to 5.5 million upon reopening in August 2014 as the Takeshima Fantasy Museum.
When the recent exploration attempt of the *Gamagori City Pool* (actually within sight of the Takeshima Fantasy Museum) failed miserably it was a good opportunity to come back later and finally have a look inside. Fortunately photography without flash was allowed in the whole museum, so I took the opportunity to snap some high ISO shots for another roadside attraction article. While the *homepage of the museum* is in Japanese only, the museum hands out a nice, large pamphlet in English, which is included in the entrance fee – at 1000 Yen for adults, 800 Yen for senior citizens and 500 Yen for children not cheap, but still affordable, considering that it takes about an hour to enjoy the colorful fantasy world, the museum, and the gift. It’s a unique location worth supporting, especially if you have a soft spot for whimsical places and unusual art. While passing by the exhibits I was wondering what the people creating them were doing now. And I guess I got the answer in the gift shop, where I saw a guy making chickens using different kinds of seashells – to be sold in the shop. If you ever are in the Nagoya area: Have a look! I’m sure you won’t regret it. To me it was a strangely and surprisingly entertaining experience! And who knows, maybe I’ll be back one day after they close it again…

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An original find deep in the mountains, far away from home – and a rare kind of location: an abandoned garment factory!

Planning an urbex trip, even if it’s just for a day, is not an easy task, even if you can choose from dozens or even hundreds of locations. Do you go with established locations or do you risk original finds, which can be hit or miss? Do you choose clusters of mediocre places or is it worth driving an hour between locations? Do you choose high risk / hard to enter or rather low risk / easy to enter? Can you start early in the morning and plan till sunset or do you have to calculate for late risers and “But my partner wants me back by 6!” sleepyheads?

On an autumn day two years ago my friend *Hamish* and I came through a rather remote area of Japan, where I had marked an inconspicuous building on GoogleMaps I had found by chance and assumed was abandoned. Hardly any visual proof due to blurriness of the satellite view and lack of Streetview, but I had a strong hunch. So we did a minor detour to check it out. And what can I say? It was a surprise success! 🙂
It turned out that the unremarkable building was an abandoned garment factory. The largest space, most likely the main workshop, had been mainly emptied out, but there were several other rooms full of machinery, fabric, paper patterns, and documents! So much to see and take pictures of… And since I’m a rather slow photographer, Hamish finished before me and went back to the car, which we parked right in front of the facility on the slightly overgrown former employee parking lot. A carelessness that attracted the attention of the close-by neighbors after a while, apparently. I more or less had finished taking pictures of the main complex when I heard voices outside – we got caught! Sort of. Seems like there was a small festival taking place rather nearby (which we heard), so instead of calling the police, the neighbors called the local fire department to check out that car with the license plates from far away that was parked in front of the abandoned factory for a while. Assuming we were in trouble I left through the back door and approached my friend and the stranger from behind the building. Apparently the guy was quite nice and didn’t want to get us into trouble either, so we asked for permission to take photos – which he granted, but ONLY of the outside. No going inside… Of course not! As soon as the guy was gone I went back inside for the video walkthrough before heading for a small side-building, that unfortunately turned out to be just cluttered and rundown.

Overall a fantastic exploration on a warm, sunny autumn day – a rare kind of abandoned place, an original find in really good condition, great company, getting to know the locals… It’s close to impossible to beat that!

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First only partly abandoned, now under demolition – the unusual story of the Gamagori City Pool.

Recently I don’t have much luck with abandoned water parks / city pools. Pretty much exactly a year ago I went to Tsu in Mie to explore a supposedly abandoned pool and arrived at dawn just to found it to be under demolition. What made that story even more painful is that I had been there before with my buddy Dan, but we didn’t dare to enter as it was already later in the day and we were worried about getting caught due to traffic passing by and a nearby police station.
EXACTLY the same story happened to me last Sunday at Gamagori in Aichi! An abandoned city pool I didn’t dare to enter with Dan around noon, revisited with other friends at dawn, only to find it to be under demolition. Friggin hell! (Strangely enough both revisiting days turned out to be wonderful exploration days as the fallback location were nothing short but spectacular. More about those locations soon. Fortunately they are still insider tips, so I’m in no hurry to reveal them myself…)

The Gamagori City Pool was a public outdoor bath in Gamagori, Aichi, and featured a lap pool, a kiddy pool, a wave bath as well as some kind of lazy river and a couple of water slides. It opened in July 1975 and closed to the public in 2010 after the somewhat rundown facilities started to leak – another reason most likely was Laguna Gamagori, a nearby theme park with a large modern water park that opened a couple of years earlier. But apparently the Gamagori City Pool didn’t fully close – it only did to the public and the “fun parts”. The small building with the changing rooms and the lap pool were somewhat maintained and used by a nearby high school, despite their own pool. But I guess two are better than none…

Unfortunately my exploration of this half-abandoned location fell flat as it was under demolition as of past Sunday – even worse since a large hole in the fence allowed easy access without being seen or heard by the half a dozen students who for whatever reason met at the entrance building at 6:30 a.m. on a Sunday morning… So I took a quick few snapshots for a busy week with little time for an article, which came sooner than expected as you can see. Shoga-fuckin’-nai – there’s nothing one can do about it… *except having another look at the spectacular Indoor Water Park* I explored a while ago!

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A handful of abandoned cars somewhere in Japan. I’m sure Gred Cz will like those photos… and can probably identify all car models.

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