The *Demolition of Nara Dreamland* started almost three years ago, yet there are still some parts of it that are widely unknown to fans of this once amazing abandoned theme park. Today I’ll present another building most explorers walked by, but didn’t get in – the Parking Lot Game Center!

One of the first photos I ever took of Nara Dreamland back in December 2009 showed parts of the eastern parking lot, the parking garage, the ticket booth… and a locked white building with a brown roof. This was before Nara Dreamland became famous on the internet, so it was in very good condition and without any signs of vandalism. Just 14 months later the roller shutters were covered in graffiti, but the unmarked building was still inaccessible.
Fast forward to 2016: 5 years and thousands of urbex tourists later somebody finally took an effort to pry open one of the shutters for about one third – Nara Dreamland had been sold in an auction in late 2015 and the massive amount of scaffolding on the parking lot implied that demolition word would start rather sooner than later; and I guess we all know how much of a motivator running out of time can be! I still didn’t know for sure what the building was exactly, but I think I’ve been told that it was a pachinko parlor that closed several years before Nara Dreamland shut down for good in 2006.
Well, not much of a surprise that it turned out to be a ransacked game center. About 1/3 of the large, dark room was pretty much empty, the rest of it was cluttered with all kinds of equipment – stools, tools, pachinko ball baskets, a statue on a counter… a large counter. The way the stuff was placed was clearly to discourage people who entered through the front from going through all the stuff, kind of a barricade. And whoever did it, was successful in the case of yours truly. After spending half the night and quite a few daytime hours in the park I was tired and exhausted, so I took a few pictures and a quick video… or so I thought. Because unfortunately I couldn’t find any photos of the inside of the Parking Lot Game Center when I dug deep into my archive last weekend. So I guess pictures from the outside, dating from 2009 to 2017, will have to do… and the video, of course!

Finally exploring the inside of the Parking Lot Game Center was exciting and underwhelming at the same time. On the one hand it was little more than a rundown, underequipped pachinko parlor (no signs of the billiard tables advertised on the window signs!), on the other hand I had to wait almost eight years for this moment – and I knew that not a lot of people had seen what I was just seeing. It was a nice, exotic piece of this huge puzzle Nara Dreamland had been. And if you like rare stuff, have a look at *part 1* and *part 2* of this series about places at Nara Dreamland hardly any visitor knew existed.

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This exploration had it all: Spectacular views, hard to enter, fascinating background story, an original find… and monkeys going apeshit!

One rainy weekend afternoon back in 2015 is was once again skimming GoogleMaps looking for abandoned places, when a large dome like structure caught my eye – the bright white roof had some rusty spots, the slightly overgrown nearby parking lot was deserted; good sign that the place was really abandoned. Unfortunately it was located several hours away from Osaka, rather inconvenient to go to by public transportation, so it took me almost a year to check it out.
First half of 2016. After a day of other explorations I arrived at the dome with my buddy Dan – it was raining heavily, it was getting dark already… and a sign at the entrance to the parking lot warned trespassers about entering. We went back and forth on what to do, but in the end decided to call it quits and leave. For most other locations this would have been the end of it, mainly because I don’t like “abandoned” locations with a sort of active owner, but…
Second half of 2016. After a day of other explorations I arrived at the dome with my buddy Dan and his wife Kyoko. It was a sunny day, we had at about two hours of daylight left… and the laminated piece of paper at the entrance was gone. So… we jumped a fence and entered the parking lot. A quick run across up the hill and out of sight of the main road, but not all neighbors. Some kind of administrative building at the peripheral of the parking lot was shut tight – no open windows, no open doors, but built above a ledge, which was additionally encouraging. But we didn’t come for office space anyway – we came to find out what this mysterious dome was! Unfortunately all possible entrances were closed and locked, including the roller gates (for deliveries?), some were even enhanced by solid pieces of metal and wood – and once pried open door in the back, accessible only through thick brush, was tied shut again from the inside with metal wires. A storage room right next to the dome was accessible, but only shared walls with the main attraction, not doors. After about 20 minutes of trying all kinds of entrances we almost gave up, when I spotted some metal stairs leading up to the dome from a lower area. The problem with that: The vast majority of each step and the handrail were almost completely rusted, leaving maybe 5 centimeters of decent metal as well as another 5 of rusted one… and of course there was no guarantee that the door at the top was unlocked. Even worse: The area was in perfect sight of half a dozen houses, so any cautious neighbor could have called the police without us even knowing…

Fortunately Dan volunteered as a scout and made it up the stairs safely – and against all odds found the door unlocked. Kyoko and I followed as quick as we could and in we were. And by in, I mean inside the building. In what turned out to be a dim-lit changing area for former employees – as step closer to the dome, but still not inside. A couple of minutes and a misstep into water later our guide Dan, chosen by destiny, finally lead us into the dome. Kind of. What we entered was the ring around the dome, a 360° degrees radial run-out – some areas close to completely dark, others decently lit by skylights – but there always was that constant pressure / uncertainty due to nosy neighbors and the possibility of an owner showing up. Still not 100% sure what the dome was, we finally found an entrance to the main hall – oh wonder, oh glory, what an amazing sight!
Things became spookier by the minute though. As the sun was setting, it was getting darker outside, when we first heard strange noises from the roof, where shadows seemed to appear and disappear randomly. A person? No… a wild monkey! (We named him Shinzo Ape, a joke that unfortunately works even three years later as Japanese people are pretty much as bad at voting as people from the United States, the United Kingdom, Poland, Hungary, the Philippines, …) I’ve ran into monkeys several times in the mountains before, but not in a rather populated area like this! Next there were loud banging noises from the back entrance, as if somebody was trying to open the large doors violently. Police? Neighbors? The owner? Then we heard loud laughing, as if a bunch of young teenagers had great fun giving us a scare. The banging and laughing continued for a few minutes, but nobody came…
At that point daylight was fading really fast, so we cautiously left the main hall, where we finally found out what caused those banging noises and laughter: monkeys. About a dozen of the little f#ckers used their own bodies to shake parts of a metal frame in front of the back exit back and forth – and the rascals clearly enjoyed themselves! All of a sudden I realized that some of the headlights in the outer ring were broken. What if the monkeys were able to get in and attack us? Not likely, but I wasn’t eager to have my face teared to shreds by some insane primates! We quickly made our way out the way we came in, hoping that the monkey bunch would leave us alone. And so we left via the large parking lot under the curtain of night… still surprised that monkeys can laugh like humans.

The abandoned Monkey Dome is without the shadow of a doubt one of my favorite explorations of all time. It was an original find, it took me months to get there, two attempts and quite some effort to get in, it was a spectacular location with a fascinating background story we truly explored step by step – and the more or less real threat by a dozen wild monkeys made it all more exciting. “What fascinating background story?”, I hear you say. “And what was that place anyway?”, that you also say. Well, it’s a long story. Come closer, and I’ll tell you. Another time. Because more than two years later, in late 2018, I was able to revisit the Monkey Dome – and revealing too much about the place’s history would reveal too much about the place’s exact location. So enjoy the photos below… and look forward to a revisit article with one of the strangest background stories you’ll ever hear, photos of areas I had to omit this time… as well as two walkthrough videos!

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Finally an abandoned bowling alley – or so I thought…

“We just passed what looked like an abandoned bowling alley. Do you want me to turn around and have a look?” Slightly confused about what was going I woke up from a nap, my favorite thing to do in a car when nobody is talking to me. After more than a decade in Japan I can sleep anywhere – and by that I mean ANYWHERE! (Except long distance flights. I’m gone in 60 seconds when on the way to Okinawa or Hokkaido, but Europe? Only Marvel movies can put me to sleep, and even that doesn’t last long…) Never even missed my station while on the train. Even better: One time we drove to the middle of nowhere to explore a school I hadn’t been to before. Since there was nothing around, I had to program a phone number (Japanese navigation systems don’t use coordinates…) about a kilometer further down the road. After a while I fell asleep – when I woke up again I looked left and said “There’s the school we want to explore!”, still two or three minutes away from the programmed destination and completely out of nowhere – much to the surprise of my co-explorers
“Why not?”, I mumbled, “Let’s have a look!” My buddy Hamish turned around and sure enough, there it was – a longish, abandoned looking hall with a large bowling pin pinned on its roof; the universal sign for bowling alleys in Japan. Usually I’m not a big fan of spontaneous explorations, because I literally know nothing at all about the location, which means that everything could go wrong… and I always have enough place to explore, so no need to take unnecessary risks, but… accessible abandoned bowling alleys are rather rare, so we had a closer look.
Fortunately this deserted looking building turned out to be accessible – not easily and only at one spot that required some climbing, but all that mattered was that it was accessible. Unfortunately what looked like an abandoned bowling alley and probably once was at least a closed bowling also turned out to be not a bowling alley anymore. In hindsight we could have / should have known given the retrofitted shutter gate on the side of the building, but on the way in neither Hamish nor I paid attention to details like that; and they wouldn’t have stopped us anyway. The former entrance area with the toilets and the office was pretty much cluttered with all kinds of items, from a piano to bath room elements to a scale with built-in label printer. The main area, the former bowling lanes, was now occupied by a forklift and a variety of brand-new looking kitchen equipment still on pallets. A fact that made me feel very uneasy, especially since Hamish considered the location too uninteresting to keep me company for more like a few minutes. And to be honest, I wasn’t very eager to get caught over some dark photos of a cluttered warehouse either, so I took a few quick shots and got the hell out of Dodge. Still not sure whether or not the facility was really 100% abandoned…

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Strength lies in calmness – but when the clock’s ticking you have to make quick decisions… and some of them might not be the smartest!

I hate being rushed, in every aspect of life – whether it’s working, eating, or exploring. In times when more and more people become more and more unreliable, addicted to their own vanities locked behind black mirrors, I like to decelerate my life on purpose; not wasting time, but consciously deciding what to spend it on – planning ahead instead of making rushed decisions on short notice, that cost money and reputation at best, at worst even time in addition. I prefer slow food over fast food, a chair over a back seat, rewrites over first drafts, well-laid plans over rushed decisions, quiet time over a constant stream of IM ping sounds. I rather explore two or three locations a day thoroughly than rush through five or six – I live a busy life, still way too fast and busy for my taste… but I’m not on the run!
Back in 2013 I was on my way to Nagoya and I stopped at a rundown onsen town to explore a couple of places, more or less successfully. Despite being rather small, the village featured some large abandoned hotels. Hotels so rundown that I rather enjoyed the surrounding nature than breathing mold half the day. Back in the onsen town to catch a bus back to civilization I had about 15 minutes to kill, so I made the spontaneous decision to speedrun explore one of those rundown pieces of… decay. Walking inside as far as I could in 10 minutes, taking as many photos as possible freehand on high ISO (the sun was already setting…) – filming the three or four minutes on the way back before heading to the bus stop. For comparison: 10 minutes usually get me two decent shots using a tripod when exploring regularly; sometimes even less.

The result you can see below: A bunch of crappy photos and a rushed video. I probably would have spent those 15 minutes better by visiting an omiyage shop or enjoying a cold beverage while waiting for the bus. In addition to that the exploration was dangerous – because I rushed it, because I was alone. Overall a stupid idea. One I never repeated, because: Strength lies in calmness.

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If you are eager to make / explore original finds, abandoned hotels are probably your best chance as they tend to be rather easy to spot. You drive past an accommodation that has a “Do not enter!” sign? Most likely closed / abandoned, because it contradicts their business model. You have a look at GoogleMaps and see a large building with a green pool and / or an empty, partly overgrown parking lot? Most likely closed / abandoned, because nobody likes to bath in green water or can park on overgrown lots. No guarantee that those places are really abandoned or even accessible, but your chances are much higher than at places with the lights still on…

In late spring of 2017 I boarded several trains and buses with my buddy Mat to travel to a rather rundown resort area in Japan and check out a couple of abandoned looking places. It took us almost four hours and quite a chunk of money each way, but sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do, especially when you want to get yourself off the beaten paths.

Unfortunately the Vandalized Resort Hotel didn’t live up the expectations… at all. Hence the nickname. The outdoor pool was quite cool – and the hotel, overgrown as it was, looked pretty impressive from down there. But the inside was just bad. A bit rundown, seriously vandalized, dangerously rotten in some places, including some of the hallways. While even the worst accommodations usually impress with a nice bar or an indoor bath with a view, this one only had the outdoor pool – yes, even the indoor bath was so unimpressive that not even the metal thieves could be bothered to steal the tapware! The rest was just a large, rotten, mostly empty building… Probably one of my least favorite hotel explorations, nevertheless totally worth it just for the outdoor pool.

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Quarries tend to be the duller, more boring cousins of mines – not this one though! The Abandoned Vehicle Quarry had some really nice surprises waiting in the shadows…

In all honesty, on GoogleMaps the Abandoned Vehicle Quarry was little more than a yellowish spot surrounded by lush green in quite a mountainous part of Japan. I wasn’t even sure if the blurry area really was a quarry or maybe some kind of grove… or a landslide. But I was in the area for other locations, so I thought it couldn’t hurt to check it out. Fortunately the original find did not only turn out to be indeed a quarry, it turned out to be quarry with left behind machinery and vehicles! (Unlike the previously explored *Asuka Quarry*, which was kinda nice, but also kind of boring…)
At first sight the Abandoned Vehicle Quarry wasn’t that spectacular – a slightly dilapidated road leading up a steep mountain to a party overgrown wound carved into a mountain. Then I spotted a large piece of machinery, that once most likely was used to load trucks with whatever kind of stone they were “harvesting” here. Next to it some metal pieces that looked like oversized shotgun shells; at least to a weapons noob like me. Hidden in the shadow was a large abandoned bus, once used to transport all the workers up the mountain – probably from the nearest town to the quarry as there surely wasn’t enough space for a large parking lot. A fascinating piece, especially since it was partly swallowed by a landslide or two, making it nearly impossible to even guess how it got there. Further up the hill the separately roped off quarry itself, as unspectacular as you would expect a place like that to be. On the way down the mountain and back to the car I had a hunch that there was more, so I walked past a few metal drums and followed a disappearing path when I spotted another vehicle affected by said landslide, a mostly buried car. Pressed for time I took a couple of quick shots and finally left – very pleased as I just had explored yet another beautiful original find.

Back home I posted a couple of photos on the *Facebook page of Abandoned Kansai* (lots of time exclusive content, sometimes years before it finds its way to the website!) and they all did surprisingly well – the vertical one of the front of the bus actually became the most successful AK photo on FB so far with almost 250 reactions, also attracting a few dozen new subscribers. (In average posts tend to gather between 50 and maybe 80 reactions…) So while my expectations on exploring the Abandoned Vehicle Quarry were low, my expectations on the performance of this article are actually quite high – and I hope you like the following photo set as much as I enjoyed creating it!

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My busy phase continues, so does the series of articles about small locations and failed explorations. This week: an abandoned weekend home, most likely for rent.

I hate to publish photo sets without giving much context, but there is really next to nothing to say about the abandoned Weekend House. A friend and I found it after exploring another place nearby and we were lucky that it was abandoned, too – the door was closed, but unlocked, so we went in. Small kitchen in the hallway, to the right the main living room with another fridge, a table and several seating options. Definitely the daytime area to spend a good time with family and / or friends. Upstairs a similar setup, but much more empty floor space – probably the main sleeping room; on the ground, Japanese style. The third floor was little more than a crow’s nest, basically one small room, big enough for two people tops, but with a stunning view at the surroundings. And I mean really stunning! I explored this place in early spring, when Japan is rather barren, but the view from up there was nevertheless gorgeous!

And that’s basically it. I don’t know when the Weekend House was built, I don’t know when it was abandoned, I don’t know what exactly it was used for – all I know that it could be saved. One day of cleaning, mostly animal poo, and the place would be ready for a family to move in. Unfortunately that’s unlikely to happen as Japan has much more living space in the countryside than it needs, so I guess in 10 years the latest this place will be overgrown and beyond repair – like so many others… Unlike the hotel last week, this was actually a fun exploration I really enjoyed – especially the versatile bench in the living room, which reminded me of one my family had when I was a child.

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