Industrial ruins are rather rare in central Japan, so I was quite a happy fella when I had the opportunity to explore this little gem in the outskirts of a major city about two and a half years ago…

Abandoned hotels, schools, hospitals… some might even say theme parks… are a dime a dozen in Japan, but industrial ruins are rather rare, unless you go to Kyushu and Hokkaido, Japan’s former mining centers – and even though Japan has a gigantic concrete industry and therefore countless limestone mines, they rather seem to move on than being abandoned; leaving huge scars even on famous mountains, like Shiga’s Mount Ibuki.
On a warm autumn day about two and a half years ago I had the pleasure to explore Heiwa Factory – unfortunately it’s a pretty common name, and by the looks of it, this Heiwa factory had been abandoned long before the internet became popular… or was even invented. In other words: I don’t know anything about the history of this place and my best guess is that it was yet *another concrete factory*.
Despite the lack of information it was a pretty neat exploration. I love abandoned factories and this one was out of order for quite long by the time I finally explored it, resulting in vandalism free decay you don’t see very often – it looked like straight out of one of those “what if humans would disappear from one day to the next” TV features.

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Over the years I’ve spent much more time in abandoned theme parks than in active ones – and the exploration of Wonderland in Fukui easily makes my Top 5!

In early spring of 2016 I found out about the imminent demise of *Nara Dreamland*, which reminded me of yet another pay as you go theme park I wanted to explore for a long time: Wonderland in the outskirts of Awara Onsen, a surprisingly active spa town with all kinds of entertainment facilities, including a boat race track and a now demolished driving range. Luckily I had a free weekend coming up, so the next opportunity I had I took a fast train up north and then a slow train even further north – yes, surprisingly nobody wanted to join me on that 4 hour long expedition to a virtually unknown theme park… which has advantages and disadvantages. 3.5 hours on two trains are a great opportunity to catch up with some sleep – or they can be boring as hell. You can explore on your own speed – or you never make it inside as you keep waiting for “the right moment”. Nobody else knows you’ve ever been there, but there’s also nobody to share the memories with. Almost two years later I avoid solo explorations as much as possible, and I think the abandoned *Bag Store* pretty much a year ago was the last one I did…

Even though I started my day rather early, it was already around 11 a.m. on this basically cloud free Saturday when I arrived at the Fukui Wonderland – a hot spring day, not a hot spring day (English sucks sometimes, doesn’t it?!) with temperatures around 30°C, and the first piece of shadow I was able to take advantage of, already almost grilled well-done by Japan’s horribly intense sun, was the tightly locked up main building of Wonderland right next to the large but empty parking lot. The pretty much untouched and tightly locked place featured karaoke rooms, batting cages, and several arcade machines as well as other games. The pay as you go amusement park was right next to it… and at first I was hesitant to get inside. The road next to it was quite busy and some rides were still in decent condition – and in the past it has always been the amusement parks where I got into trouble and either had to run or to explain my unexpected and unwanted presence. But of course after a few minutes and outside shots my curiosity won… and boy was I rewarded!
There was another large building complex with a restaurant and an arcade, including several abandoned machines (famous ones like Virtua Racing and rather unknown ones like Title Fight. There also was an outdoor kids’ train and an indoor one, disassembled and stored in the arcade. There was a rollercoaster and several merry-go-rounds, a kart track, some reverse bungee contraption and several other rides and items, like a couple of dinosaur sculptures. I was just about to get from the arcade to the restaurant part when I saw an older man driving a Segway into the park. After I picked up my jaw from the floor I witnessed him walking out of the park, only two come back on a Segway minutes later. At first I tried to stay out of sight, but that pretty much ruined my exploration / documentation, so I started to take pictures openly. Luckily the guy ignored me, so I was able to finish my tour through the park. Back outside on the parking lot I saw one car parked now – nothing else changed. No new sign, no banner, no nothing. How the guy expected potential customers to find him is absolutely beyond me, because there wasn’t even the slightest hint that one could rent Segways in what looked like a closed and probably abandoned theme park.

Overall exploring Wonderland reminded me a lot of exploring *Nara Dreamland* six years earlier, in 2010 – just a much smaller version… with easier access… and without sneaking in at night. As you can see on the photos and in the videos, Wonderland was in good condition when I went there in May 2016, just the right amount of decay and with only little vandalism… which is why I took advantage of exploring it solo and kept silent about it for almost two years. The last couple of weeks have been stressful and I feel like I posted a couple of sub-par locations recently, so this is my way of trying to make up for it – and I hope that you enjoy Wonderland as much as I did!

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Don’t judge a book by its cover – or an abandoned building by its front. It’s all about the content…

My last exploration of 2017 was a chance discovery. After successfully exploring an abandoned onsen hotel and an abandoned pachinko parlor we, a group of experienced urbexers with a total experience of about 40 years, were on our way to check out one or two places for future explorations, when we spotted from the car what looked like an abandoned factory and some kind of administrative or apartment building. After a quick discussion we decided against writing down the coordinates and for checking out the places right away – after all we were basically there already, short on time, but also 2.5 hours away from home.
We chose to not approach from the busy highway, but from a small residential area behind the two potentially abandoned buildings… and ran straight into a local taking care of some fruit trees. In a combined group effort we ignored the guy as much as he did us (luckily!), and a few minutes later we confirmed that there was no way to get inside the factory, that it might actually still be used.
The other building on the other hand… we had more luck there. What looked like a typical 1950s/60s apartment building in Japan actually turned out to be one. The setup we all knew from countless similar explorations before – staircase on one end of the building, balconies facing the sun, a hallway on each floor with windows to the north and apartment doors to the south. But the inside was in much better condition than any of us could have ever imagined… and held more than one surprise for us. Hands down my favorite part was the communal bath on the second or third floor. 60 years ago most Japanese apartments didn’t have private baths or private bathrooms. You had your small one or two room apartment with a tiny kitchen – and shared installation somewhere on your floor… or the building! (Other than rich people it was actually *miners* who were among the first to “enjoy” a private (squat) toilet in their apartments, a benefit to lure people to the remote snowy areas where back breaking jobs were waiting for them…) By the time I got to the bath, the sun was already setting, flooding the whole area with beautiful orange afternoon light; the atmosphere was kinda magical there. But even before and after it was an exploration full of surprises. For example the two pianos in the hallway of the ground floor. The vintage coke machine in one of the rooms. The mostly still furnished rooms. The many items left behind – from cutlery to posters to toys and charms.

While intense and very rewarding, exploring the Factory Dormitory was also a rushed job (hence no video!) done in 45 minutes instead of the 2 or 3 hours it deserved – but the last location of the day almost always doesn’t get enough time… and this was the last location of the year. Nevertheless is was a successful conclusion of a tremendously successful year of explorations, most of which have yet to be published; especially the unique and hard to find locations.

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The Sand Dune Palace is one of the few well-known urbex locations in Tottori – although it shouldn’t be…

I first visited the Tottori Sand Dune Palace during Golden Week of 2012 and *wrote about it half a year later*. Built in 1965 right across the street from the famous sand dunes, Tottori’s #1 tourist attraction, the Sand Dune Palace was used as a restaurant and souvenir shop for a few decades before falling into disrepair and out of business – giving it the abandoned look both urban explorers and readers of urbex blogs like so much. But looks are deceiving… and the dune palace has actually never been really abandoned.
When I first explored the palace solo in spring of 2012 it was quite a famous urbex location, yet nobody had ever posted inside photos – which is usually a bad sign. But the building looked somewhat interesting with its round lookout on the top floor, so I gave it a chance. There were plenty of potential entry points – large windows, several doors on different floors, but they were all locked… and the outdoor staircases were blocked by rusting barbed wire. Yesterday I went back to the Sand Dune Palace with two great explorer friends on the way back to Osaka. The whole area, including the sand dunes, was covered by a thick layer of snow, so my second visit was a completely different experience, though not much less disappointing. People had cut through the barbed wire and made the higher floors accessible, but only on the outside. All the upper doors were locked, too, and nobody dares to smash a window; which is quite unusual for a building that sees some traffic passing by, but is not really in busy area. On the ground floor one of the doors apparently had been fixed… and the formerly empty main room was now filled with boxes, so clearly somebody is / was using the Sand Dune Palace as a storage facility. The question is… for how much longer? On the parking lot I saw tons of ready to use scaffolding, which gave me a serious flashback to May 2016, when I first saw scaffolding in front of *Nara Dreamland* – a few months later the greatest abandoned theme park of all time was gone…
As on my first visit, the photos of the Sand Dune Palace look much more interesting than the place actually was, so if you like the picture set below, *please click here to get to the previous exploration* for more photos!

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Japanese men have a thing for chicks! They love young firm breasts and meaty thighs, preferably while getting drunk. And while some of those school girl fantasies could be considered borderline child pornography outside of Japan, restaurants serving chicken dishes are also quite popular…

Yakitori restaurants are amongst the most popular eateries in Japan, especially for groups and couples. As the name yakitori implies (焼き – grilled / 鳥 – chicken), those places focus on grilled chicken dishes, usually on skewers. Chicken meatballs, pieces of chicken breast, chicken hearts, chicken livers, chicken skin, chicken cartilage – the latter gives you an impression of what it is like to bite somebody’s nose or ear off, but some people seem to like it. In addition to meat there are usually some side dishes available. French fries, salads, kimchi, pickles, … Prices vary dramatically from affordable to “I didn’t want to buy the whole friggin’ farm!” and depend on several factors, like most restaurants. Since Japanese people tend to prefer fatty thigh meat over the perceived dry breast meat, rather cheap chicken chain places often serve breast meat – much to the joy of most foreigners, who tend to prefer breast meat. In any case, yakitori restaurants are awesome places to hang out with colleagues or friends for a quick dinner or to have food and alcohol all night long… and unlike at *yakiniku restaurants* you get your food properly cooked and don’t have to do it yourself. (BTW: While not considered a yakitori restaurant, KFC is widely popular in Japan. So popular that they managed to establish buckets of KFC chicken as a common Christmas dinner!)

Growing up in a rather small town in German I was always aware that meat comes from animals and doesn’t grow pre-packed on trees, but I’m pretty sure that the vast majority of Japanese people have never seen a chicken farm – mainly because they are much better hidden than in Germany, where you can often see them from highways or in the outskirts of small towns. In Japan they tend to be in small side-valleys or halfway up a mountain; out of sight, out of mind, out of smelling distance.
As urbex locations chicken farms are not super interesting, but ‘better than nothing’. Being unusual places only a few people have regular contact with they have the potential to feature some unusual items – like the debeaker I found at the *Poultry Farm* six years ago. The Japanese Chicken Farm was the last location of spring exploration day and got more and more interesting the further I got, which means that I ran out of light and therefore out of time after 45 minutes. At first the farm looked quite unimpressive, an agglomeration of long and narrow metal sheds, most of them more or less empty – but then there was this extremely rusted, yet still almost complete one that featured a ton of machinery and other interesting items. No word on when and why it was abandoned though…

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It was pretty much exactly five years ago when I booked a group tour to North Korea – a rather spontaneous decision after talking to a new colleague from Norway for a while, who had been to the DPRK several times. As a history buff from Germany living in Japan I guess I was destined to visit the country sooner or later… and I was so fascinated that I came back after just half a year. In spring of 2013 I spent 8 days, 7 nights in Pyongyang and the southern part of North Korea, in autumn an additional 8 days, 7 nights in the rarely visited northern part of North Korea along the Chinese and Russian borders.

*After each trip I posted a series of articles here on Abandoned Kansai* – and the resulting special is still quite popular, depending on how much attention North Korea gets in the news. Next week the 2018 Winter Olympics will begin in Pyeongchang, South Korea, and much to the surprise of the rest of the world North Korea will actually participate – which is kinda great news for *Abandoned Kansai*, *AIDA Gallery* and our long planned photo exhibition “North Korea – Surprising Insights”!

The exhibition features 48 photos taken between April 27th and October 21st 2013 – from Pyongyang’s skyscrapers to little huts in the countryside, from impressive monuments to unwanted glimpses, from high-ranking military personnel at the Korean Wall to unsupervised contact with regular people in a park.
We’ll have an opening party on Saturday (February 3rd) at AIDA Gallery in Osaka from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. – then the exhibition will be open to the public on February 4th, 10th, 11th, 17th, and 18th from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m.; free of charge, of course… (Please *click here* for a link to GoogleMaps.) Please stop by for a look and a chat if you are in the area!

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Common cuisine and uncommon architecture – this now abandoned BBQ restaurant once offered food… and food for thought!

Yakiniku is the Japanese term for “grilled meat” and a widely popular dish from Okinawa to Hokkaido. The nowadays often romanticized samurai days of Japan’s history (which include neither Okinawa nor Hokkaido…) were actually rather miserable for pretty much everybody involved – a poor agrarian state under autocratic rule, where even the 1% weren’t rich and the poorer explored the poorest. For centuries rice wasn’t food for the average people, but a way to pay taxes… and beef consumption was forbidden before the Meiji Restoration in 1871; yep, no Kobe Beef 150 years ago! But the Meiji Restoration changed Japan fundamentally in many ways, including the way people ate. All of a sudden beef consumption was not only permitted, it was actively promoted as one of many ways to introduce western culture. Over the years yakiniku changed from western style steaks and roasts via Jingisukan (“Genghis Khan”, grilled lamb / mutton, named after the famous Mongol leader) in the 1930s to a Korean style BBQ from WW2 on; consisting of beef, pork, chicken, seafood, vegetables, and so called horumon (“discarded items”), cuts like heart, liver, stomach, intestines and even uterus. Usually up to four people share a shichirin (round charcoal grill) which is located in the center of a table. You choose from a menu what you want (for example: three portions of vegetables, two portions of beef loin, two portions of pork belly, 3 portions of chicken thighs, and three portions of squid) – the raw food is delivered on plates and you put it on the shichirin yourself; everybody at the table then picks pieces when they are done to their liking. Some places offer all you can eat from about 2000 Yen on (about 18 USD), but yakiniku can also quickly set you back the equivalent of several hundred USD if you go to a good restaurant – if you order à la carte at an average yakinikuya you’ll probably end up paying about 4000 Yen including drinks.

When I first saw the Japanese Yakiniku Restaurant on a Japanese website I had no idea what it was. The page only showed outside photos of this partly overgrown, massive square concrete building and the round pods surrounding it – and I fell instantly in love with the unusual construction as I clearly have a thing for brutalist architecture. (BTW: If you are in Frankfurt, Germany, before April 3rd consider visiting the “Deutsches Architekturmuseum” – they currently host an amazing exhibition about brutalism, bilingual, of course; *please click here for more information*) And so I kept looking for that mysterious place until I found it about a year later, this time with the information that it was an abandoned restaurant.
Unfortunately the weather and I weren’t on good terms last autumn. The forecast predicted rain for the evening, but if course it started to drizzle just minutes after we arrived at the deserted place mid-morning shortly after 10. I did some quick outdoor shots from a distance, but by the time I got closer to the building the drizzle had turned into regular rain. Luckily one of the concrete pods was open – it wasn’t exactly spacious inside, but it offered a really nice photo opportunity. The other ones were all still locked and due to the weather and the glass doors it was pretty much impossible to take decent photos of the pods with the untouched interior. Exploring the main building it became pretty apparent that the Japanese Yakiniku Restaurant wasn’t closed for good from one day to the next. The main dining area was pretty much empty and even in the private black dining room the table including the shichirin had been removed; the kitchen was gone completely, except for a hot water heater. Back outside the rain had become heavier and prevented me from finishing the exploration the way I wanted it to finish – I grew quickly tired of becoming soaking wet and having to dry my lens every two shots, so I called it a day and looked for a still open place to have lunch… which turned out to be a local delicacy – deer curry; delicious!
Interesting abandoned restaurants are not very common even in Japan, so if you enjoyed the Japanese Yakiniku Restaurant, I recommend having a look at the *Tottori Countryside Restaurant*

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