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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Nara Dreamland is no more… but that doesn’t mean that you’ve seen the last of it – quite the opposite! This is the first in a series of articles that will show you the rather unknown parts most people missed…

*Nara Dreamland* has been demolished in the last quarter of 2016, but most visitors who went to the world’s most amazing abandoned amusement park took all the same photos: of the two rollercoasters, the castle, the main street, the water park, and maybe the merry-go-rounds in the back… and that’s it. Spectacular photos that never got boring to look at, but Nara Dreamland had much more to offer – and sadly people rather crossed sights off their lists than actually explored the large park. In the spring of 2016 it became very apparent that Nara Dreamland would be demolished rather sooner than later when the new owner piled tons of metal framework on the *Eastern Parking Lot* – and though I had seen much more of the park than your average visitor due to regular visits since 2009, I realized that there were whole areas I hadn’t seen before… resulting in more than a dozen trips to Nara in 2016 alone – in addition to revisiting the spectacular sights I was looking for the unknown areas. At first completely undisturbed, then while the demolition preparations began (I’ll write a separate series of articles about that sad part of NDL’s history…) – and from one week to the next Nara Dreamland turned from open gates (yes, the gates were literally open, you could drive in by car if you wanted to!) to an active construction site with security and alarm systems; but that’s a story for another day…

Today I want to show you an area I’ve barely ever seen on the internet, wedged in the back between a pedal coaster and the Jungle Cruise of the Adventureland – the Nara Dreamland Shrine. Yes, there was a shrine on the premises, and hardly anybody ever mentioned it… not even the official maps of Nara Dreamland that I’ve seen; which makes me wonder how many tourists saw it while it was still open. The shrine was located on a little hill, after you followed a small road underneath the now overgrown rollercoaster. It consisted of half a dozen buildings and maybe a dozen statues and sculptures – not very spectacular to look at, especially in comparison to the nearby abandoned rides, but at least worth mentioning. The *Ishikiri Shrine* I visited in 2010 and wrote about in 2011 was even less to look at and very well deserved its own article, despite the fact that it had absolutely no connection to any famous theme park. Was there a priest living at Nara Dreamland? Most likely not. I don’t even know if the shrine was run by employees or a real priest. All I know is that the Nara Dreamland Shrine existed… and so do you now, too!

There is no doubt about it: As a fan of spectacular urbex photos, the Nara Dreamland Shrine was a bit underwhelming – and to be honest, I thought that had taken a lot more than just three photos when I decided to write this article… I guess my memory was a bit tainted by the many visits and the video I took of the shrine – a video that shows much more of the shrine than the meager three pictures. As a fan of Nara Dreamland though, the Nara Dreamland Shrine was a mind-blowing surprise find that put a smile on my face for many, many days. I hope you are with me on that, and are looking forward to future installments of Nara Dreamland Unknown as much as I am… then with more photos, I promise! (Yes, I double-checked before I made that promise!)

(For all your *Nara Dreamland* needs please have a look at the *Nara Dreamland Special**Like Abandoned Kansai on Facebook* if you don’t want to miss the latest articles and exclusive content – and subscribe to the *video channel on Youtube* to receive a message right after a new video is online…)

Exploring abandoned hotels usually means looking for interesting items, baths or pools as most rooms look exactly the same – not only within a hotel, but across hotels all over Japan. The Mindfuck Hotel was different though…

When I first saw the Mindfuck Hotel, located a few hundred meters above the Seto Inland Sea along a gorgeous scenic road, I had a good feeling about it, as if we were in for a special treat. Unlike most other abandoned hotels I’ve been to, this one was not only abandoned – it looked completely gutted: no windows, no doors, no nothing. At least not from the steep angle below. The last road leading up to the entrance was clean, a rather new metal chain keeping unwanted cars away. Right behind the hotel was a small reservoir, which is why using that road was “strictly forbidden”. And that’s when the mood start to change slightly… even more so when we reached the same level as the hotel and finally had a good look at the ground floor and the surprisingly clean entrance area. Two thirds of the building still looked completely emptied out, but the last one looked fortified and kind of used. Some windows were secured by metal bars, others had rather modern, unbroken panes, heat shields usually used for cars used to prevent nosy visitors from having a look inside. The first sign I saw was a camera warning, the first door warned of a big dog. In Japan, both “warnings” are usually bluffs, but the Mindfuck Hotel had a camera directed right at the entrance… and an electric meter box outside on the ground level, so I kept out of sight of the camera and had a look at the meter to confirm that the camera was as dead as the rest of the building – only to be proven wrong, the meter was running. Something in that building was using electricity! I’ve seen active security cameras in Japan and I have seen active meters in Japan, but never have I seen an active meter right underneath a security camera at a presumedly abandoned building. What the heck was going on here? And if there was camera, were there alarms, too?
Luckily the entrance to the hotel wasn’t on the ground floor, you had to go up some steps to the second floor – and the camera was directed right at the entrance. Which meant that it was rather easy to avoid the area covered by the camera… and going around the building was only complicated by some early summer overgrowth (that was hiding the remains of a nice little outdoor pond area). Much to my surprise the first room I came across once had large windows that were missing now, which means that we were able to get inside just by stepping over a knee-high wall. But should we really? That was something Dan, Kyoko and I discussed ever since we found out about the running meter. What if there was an alarm system? What if there was somebody inside? Most likely a person, because the big dog we were warned of apparently wasn’t there.
So of course we went inside, we had a mystery to solve! The mystery of the Mindfuck Hotel. The hearts in our boots we climbed in, walked out a few steps in and into what once probably was the dining area of the hotel – a half-open two storey room with a big glass front. Pretty much empty, except for a solid gate at the end of the steps leading to the upper floor and warnings everywhere. About death, about traps, about anything under the moon. Feeling even more uncomfortable I walked a few steps further into the dining hall and froze – a room on the upper floor, featuring large window facing both inside and outside, had lights on! What the heck? A completely empty hotel… with four fluorescent lights on? I took a couple of more photos when we heard a car closing in – so we left the way we came, only to realize that there was no car coming. Or anybody coming. It was just traffic outside on the road below the hotel…
So we decided to fully circle the hotel first, to get a better impression of the whole damn thing. In the process we found three or four bungalows right next to the hotel, most likely rentals. All except for one looked abandoned – some dirt, some broken pipes. But one of them… we weren’t sure of. So we left them alone and returned to the hotel, only to find the outdoor staircase on the north side completely open. Some floors didn’t even have doors. So we went inside and started exploring from the top – it was a solid concrete building we circled before, so we didn’t have to worry about missing sections, like at the *Deathtrap Hotel*.
At first everything went smoothly, but then we heard voice outside. Two men… no cameras, but hard hats and overalls. Darn! Hoping they were inspecting the nearby reservoir, we decided to wait out the situation. Everything went smoothly again, until I heard voices inside the building, coming from the main staircase I was taking pictures of! I warned Dan and Kyoko, and decided to leave. On the way out the two guys saw us and we hurried back to the car. WTF was going on there? About 10 minutes later, we had a snack and some water and were just about to drive away, the two guys left, too. Since their car was unmarked, we came to the conclusion that they were either with the reservoir or had no authority at all on the premises, so we decided to go back in. I continued taking pictures in the staircase, Dan and Kyoko went ahead and had a look at the area the two guys went to… where they found a large tatami party room with a gorgeous view at the Seto Inland Sea. Reservoir or not, those two guys probably just entered the hotel (on the third of four floors, avoiding the dining area of floor #1 and #2, too!) to enjoy the view for a few minutes…
When we finally reached the second floor, the one with the entrance, the one with the mystery lights, we realized that the metal fire door leading to the main area was welded shut – so we circled the hotel one last time to sneak in from the side… or the back. Call it whatever you want. Since we were practically done exploring the Mindfuck Hotel, we all got a little bit more brave. First I took a rather blurry photo of the lit area by using my tripod as an extended arm, then we headed up the stairs again. It looked like somebody welded in extra metal bars to intruder proof not only the front, but separate areas on the second floor – the kind of area you expect to find some tortured kidnapped person in. It was a bright sunny day, but this main area was spooky as hell. The barrier / locked gate to get to the secured area was maybe 1.2 meters high, but since we were still unsure about alarm systems or what we would find back there and since I was still slightly impaired by an urbex related knee injury, Kyoko and I decided to stay back, while Dan had a closer look. No alarms, but the (locked) room with the lights apparently looked like somebody was building a bar in what probably once has been the breakfast room.
In the end we concluded that the hotel once had been abandoned (some graffiti there were more than 15 years old!), somebody rather recently managed to get electricity running again and started to fortify the entrance (for whatever reason) and build that bar. The security camera was probably as much of a bluff as the dog – but to keep people away, the current occupant kept the lights one when he was away… so people would conclude: Security camera + running electricity meter = active site with alarms.

I am not sure if I was able to convey how amazing this exploration really was, but I had the time of my life there. It was a little bit like being on “the island” (Lost… if you remember) – two good friends, a mystery building, strangers showing up, slowly piecing information together while running into new things that didn’t make much sense. And in addition to that I took some photos I absolutely love. Of the hallways, of the indoor staircase, of the views the hotel offered, of the top floor shared baths. An indoor exploration with an outdoor feeling, once used and yet empty again – colors, light, textures. Everything came together perfectly. And very rewarding, because I still explore about a dozen abandoned hotels per year and I am getting tired of them – but then I run into places like the Mindfuck Hotel, and they keep me going; keep me going even to abandoned hotels… because you never know what you will get. And the Mindfuck Hotel, in its own way, was as good as it gets – right up there with the *Nakagusuku Hotel Ruin* and the *Hachijo Royel Hotel*!

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The Patton Barracks in Heidelberg, once the headquarters of the United States Army Garrison Heidelberg, were closed in 2013, along with the nearby Patrick Henry Village – earlier this summer I had a quick look…

While the PHV was quickly used as an emergency shelter for refugees of the European Migrant Crisis after being transferred to the Bundesanstalt für Immobilienaufgaben (“Institute for Federal Real Estate”) in mid-2014, the Patton Barracks went a different way and got bought by the city of Heidelberg, who has big plans with the property that included 29 buildings (everything from storages and repair shops to a theater and even a church!) on 14.8 ha and has access to two street car and bus stops. Currently there are two main projects going on – the planning and construction of an indoor sports arena for up to 5000 paying visitors (planned grand open: October 2019), and a brand-new high tech center (Heidelberg Innovation Park, HIP) for IT, digital media and industry 4.0 businesses to keep up with the city’s latest twin towns – Palo Alto and Hangzhou!
Sadly I wasn’t able to find out much about the history of the Patton Barracks. Apparently it was founded before World War 2, but the first mentioning I found was in connection with the 110th Infantry Regiment, which was activated in 1936 and lead to the construction of a new base (from 1938 on Großdeutschlandkaserne, after WW2 Campbell Barracks) as the existing Grenadier-Kaserne (now Patton Barracks) wasn’t big enough. In 1952 the Patton Barracks became the headquarters of the United States Army Garrison Heidelberg… and 61 years later they were closed, leading to the current activities.
Sorry, just a small article about a quick Exploration, but Abandoned Kansai has a long history of covering closed US military bases in Germany, going all the way back to the *Cambrai-Fritsch-Kaserne* in 2011. Next week’s piece will be much more… mysterious… and Japanese! 🙂

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