Even though the Fukushima Theme Park was never affected by radioactivity or the huge tsunami of the 2011 Tohoku Earthquake, it was nevertheless a victim of the circumstances caused by the costliest natural disaster in history…

The Fukushima Theme Park (not its real name…) dates back to the Japanese asset price bubble in the late 80s, when pretty much every part of the country saw itself as the next top tourist destination and money was spent with both hands. Two of the most popular investments? Theme parks and botanical gardens. So why not combine both and make it real big, as in something like 200 by 400 meters?
And so it was done… A large flower park with plenty of eateries (admission fee: 500 Yen) and about a dozen pay as you go attractions spread across the whole area – including a gigantic ball pit, with 2.5 kilometers the longest kart track in all of Tohoku, some murder mystery adventure in a converted trailer, a mini zoo, a 9 hole golf course, a 3D mini cinema called “Inner Space Vehicle”, a fishing pond, AND a… drumroll… big Ferris Wheel! Things apparently went well (more or less…) for a solid 20 years, when the Fukushima Theme Park closed in December of 2009.
In early 2011 a professional golf player invested 100 million Yen (1.2 million USD at the time) into the park to reactivate it – unfortunate timing, to say the least. Though not directly damaged by the earthquake or the tsunami, the Fukushima Theme Park of course must have been facing the same challenges as the rest of the region – blackouts, supply shortages, damaged access routes, locals with other things on mind, and the almost complete absence of tourist, both foreign and domestic. The now pretty much useless large parking lots for up to 1000 cars and 50 busses were used to build temporary housing for displaced people… Japanese people only, of course – no Syrians allowed, anywhere in Japan, at least not for humanitarian reasons. (Interestingly enough both crises started within only four days of each other…) The refugee camp existed till late summer / early fall of 2012, two years later the whole park reportedly was closed for good.
When I explored the Fukushima Theme Park with my friends Dan and Kyoko three years later, the parking lot had already been turned into a solar park. The entrance area with the gift shops and a dozen karts parked inside was in surprisingly good condition, but most of the site’s attractions were at the other end of the park. Unfortunately the area in-between was almost completely overgrown by thick vegetation… except for that piece of forest with what looked like a footpath. Well, usually I’m not the kind of person heading directly for the undergrowth, but it was getting dark quickly, I eagerly wanted to see the Ferris wheel, and I really thought I was onto something. Well, long story short: the path disappeared and the undergrowth got thicker. Giving up wasn’t an option though, and so I kinda talked my fellow explorers into following me (sorry again, guys!). About 10 minutes and several bruises and scratches later I found a way out, only to realize that the rest of the park was located on a steep slope. Darn! While Dan was scouting an easier way out I was pushing forward by myself, borderline desperate to take pictures of that darn Ferris wheel before it was getting too dark. On the way uphill I found some of the already mentioned rides and attractions, yet no sign of the Ferris wheel. Hmm… Maybe behind those big trees, following the kart track? While I was seriously considering heading out into the darkness after my friends had just caught up with me, Dan annihilated all hope of taking pictures of a Ferris wheel that day – he found the overgrown concrete foundations… though it didn’t make sense. And it still doesn’t! On Streetview from 2015 the solar park was just being built, on satellite view the park is complete and the Ferris wheel is still there, so… two years between visual confirmation and a location that looked like it had been abandoned for at least five years. Darn, darn, darn!

Well, you win some and you lose some – and overall the Fukushima Theme Park was an interesting exploration, even though the Ferris wheel was gone. And before you ask, because people ask me since March 12th 2011: No, I didn’t go nowhere near the nuclear power plant and I didn’t explore any abandoned places in the disaster zone. I’m generally not a big fan of exploring ((temporarily) abandoned) private homes, and it would feel especially ghoulish to me in this case, considering that there are still many people unable to return. This was my second trip to Tohoku since the big earthquake and again we focused on classic abandoned places, though this one here was indirectly a victim of the disaster. And don’t worry, we found some great spots – this time and last time (*Matsuo Mine*, *Taro Mine*, *Kejonuma Leisure Land*).

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What started out as a very specific blog (abandonment) in a very specific area (Kansai) had quickly outgrown itself – after a few weeks I went exploring in a different area of Japan for the first time (Chubu), after a few months I left honshu, the main island, for that purpose (Kyushu). By now I’ve explored in all nine regions of Japan and in almost all of the 47 prefectures – from Hokkaido in the north to Okinawa in the south; more than 2400km (that’s almost 1500 miles) lie between the two furthest apart places I explored within Japan!
Japan is a really beautiful country and over the years I took some non-urbex that proved to be quite popular on the *Facebook page of Abandoned Kansai* and on *Twitter* recently – so here are some of them, for all the social media refuseniks out there… 🙂
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“Another Pachinko parlor? Really? With no videos and just a few pictures? Are you serious?”
Well, welcome to exploration reality…

Reading the comments here and on Facebook I realize that there are quite a few misperceptions about Abandoned Kansai. While this blog and all connected social media channels (including every bit of content) are run by only one person as a hobby (although it takes as much time as a part time job…), this is far from being a one man show. I have group of about ten people I go exploring with irregularly, i.e. whenever the opportunity arises – back home in Germany usually family members and old friends, here in Japan most of the time new friends I met thanks to the blog. But we don’t go exploring every Tuesday or even every weekend – sometimes I go several weekends in a row, sometimes not for weeks. Tuesday is just the publishing day of the weekly blog article. And the articles are not in chronological order. Some locations I explored months or even years ago, some indeed just a few days prior to writing an article. More often than not I choose on Monday or Tuesday which abandoned place I’ll write about that week – not in random order, but based on how much time I have, how much material I have, what I feel like… and most importantly, what I have written about recently; just to avoid presenting three deserted hotels in a row – even though I often explore three abandoned hotels in a row; sometimes on the same day. The length of a video and the amount of pictures usually depend on how big and how interesting a location is – of course I get much more material when I stay seven hours at a place like the *Nakagusuku Hotel Ruin* than when I spend 20 minutes at the Smile P&A Pachinko Parlor… How much time I spend on a location depends of course on factors like size, how interesting it is, security, what the plans for the rest of the days are – and sometimes my fellow explorers lose their patience and want to move on.

As for the Smile P&A Pachinko Parlor – small location, not really interesting, a guy next door eyeing us, other places to check out, bored fellow explorers; 13 photos in 20 minutes, no video. One of the most rushed explorations, definitely snapshots as I didn’t have time to properly frame a single photo. As Japan becomes super busy (with all kinds of duties and parties) before shutting down for a week just after Christmas, this location is actually a blessing in disguise for the blog as I don’t have to go through a lot of photos and research, because this was just another random abandoned countryside pachinko parlor – I hope you enjoyed it anyway. And if not, you can look forward to an article about an abandoned theme park I worked on for a while… and of course to a look back at 2017, including some gorgeous photos of mind-blowing locations not yet published or even mentioned on Abandoned Kansai! Add the yearly Merry XXX-Mas article and you know what to expect for the rest of December… 🙂

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Dear Japan,

So… squat toilets – what’s that all about?
I know, I know: Squat toilets are widely used all over the planet and not a Japan exclusive thing – but they are common in the country I currently live in and not in the country I grew up in (or the States, where most of my readers are from), so I will take the liberty to rant about them. I am aware that squat toilets are cheaper and easier to maintain, which is probably the reason why they became popular in Japanese apartments when private lavatories became less unusual after World War 2 – as can be seen in many old abandoned apartment buildings like the *Landslide Mining Apartments*. Furthermore there is no direct contact between the skin and some potentially dirty surface… and the last part of the colon gets stretched for an easier and more relaxed dump – unless you suffer from arthrosis, a vestibular disorder, or any form of movement disorder; then the pressure in your lower back can quickly become the proverbial pain in the ass. (Pardon my French… who strangely enough apparently also use squat toilets, at least as public toilets.)
So on the one hand you have those rather primitive squat toilets everywhere in high-tech Japan – not just in public toilets in the middle of nowhere (most times without alternatives), but in train stations, accommodations, highway rest stops, private homes, even airports! On the other hand Japan is equally famous for its luxurious Western style toilets with heated seats and a whole variety of sprinklers, controlled by up to 38 buttons and an LCD (those are also known as washlets).
Now, why this rant?
Because they are not equally used – not even close! At least not in my experience / by my observation. Whether it’s at large highway rest stops, where you have 5 squat toilets, 15 Western style toilets, and 30 urinals – or it’s at Kobe Airport (opened in 2006!), where you have 4 or 5 urinals, 2 washlets and 1 squat toilet per restroom for men. EVERYBODY avoids the squat toilets. During my 11 years in Japan I saw maybe 5 times that somebody used a squat toilet when there were alternatives available – and in those cases one of the alternatives probably opened up while the poor person bent their knees… Instead I’ve seen lines in front of sit toilets time and again, because people rather waited in the stench of a public restroom than used a squat toilet. And as somebody who isn’t used to them I totally understand that, I avoid squat toilets whenever I can. I dislike them with a passion – they are extremely uncomfortable to use and you always worry that you might lose your keys / wallet or soil your clothes / immediate surroundings. But Japanese people grow up with squat toilets, and still hardly anybody wants to use them! I get why they are still in old places and that often there is no money to replace them – but why include them to new buildings like Kobe Airport or during renovations? When literally and figuratively nobody gives a shit…
So… how? How, Japan? How are squat toilets still a thing?

(A few months ago I wrote a spontaneous rant about bakeries in Japan on the *Facebook page of Abandoned Kansai* – much to my surprise it sparked quite an active discussion for much longer than the usual 12 hour lifespan of an average FB post, so this time I publish the rant here on Abandoned Kansai, too. Please feel free to let me know what you think about the topic or rants like that in general!)

Snow and a giant taxidermy seal… two things I definitely didn’t expect when I was planning my trip to explore the Asahi Elementary school!

The weather forecast in Japan tends to be quite unreliable – and so the 10 to 15 centimeters of snow took me completely by surprise when I arrived by train in that small countryside town the Asahi Elementary School was in; and judging by the empty roads / the way the few people were driving, I wasn’t the only one…
After walking uphill for almost half an hour I finally reached the outskirts of town and with it the deserted school. From the outside the complex looked bigger than expected – an elevated concrete behemoth with a huge gymnasium in the background.
Entering through a side entrance I was confused – with the kitchen, dining hall, and front desk this looked more like a rundown hotel than a school. The cold didn’t add to my urge to be there either, so I felt very luckily when soon after I found a taxidermy fox. It wasn’t in good condition anymore, but neither am I, so who am I to judge? 😉
The second floor was as moldy and rundown as the first one, but it looked a little bit more like a school – confirmed by large letters on the building, “family school”; maybe some kind of boarding school? A family hotel? As I found out afterwards, the Asahi Elementary School existed only from 1975 till 1983 – then it was renamend, most likely repurposed, and used until 2006.

The biggest surprise, both literally and figuratively, I found in one of the rather dark hallways – a gigantic stuffed seal in overall decent condition! Exploring an abandoned building like that on a gloomy day alone isn’t exactly a cheerful endeavor, and believe me, taxidermy animals don’t help to relax. More space and light offered the final “room” in the building, the large gymnasium – probably #3 after a yet unpublished location and the round gymnasium of the *Taiyo Elementary School* in Haboro, also converted after being retired as a public school.

After a slightly disappointing start the Asahi Elementary School turned out to be a decent location – nothing I would travel far for, but if one is in the neighborhood for other reasons it’s well worth to have a closer look… to see if the seal has (been) moved!

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A small, but quintessential Japanese conference center in the Japanese countryside – but most of all: a deathtrap!

Yes, I admit it: I like abandoned places in good condition! And while I appreciate the artisan work of Japanese carpenters, I prefer the solid ground most concreters provide – especially when a house is built on a slope…
Quickly after I arrived at the Japanese Conference Center with my urbex buddy Rory and his friend Toby, it became apparent that getting into the building would be a lot easier than getting out. Located on the slope of a small hill, the cultural institute consisted of a three storey main building (guest rooms, kitchen, dining room, ofuro, meeting rooms) and several small single storey constructions featuring guest rooms. The additional buildings were of no interest (too rundown, too locked-up, too generic), but the main building was actually quite intriguing due to its typical Japanese design. The main entrance featured a slab of concrete as well as a concrete wall on the slope side and a concrete staircase leading up one floor to the once with the back entrance. Pretty much the rest of the building, including some overhanging parts, was made from wood and other traditional material – and as a result the abandoned building was not only not structurally sound anymore, it had turned into a deathtrap since the last time somebody took care of it. There were collapsed walls, collapsed floors, collapsed ceilings… and the roof was partly collapsed, too. Most of the floor was so brittle that you could hear cracking noises with every step – I am admittedly a big guy, but the problem went literally and figuratively deeper as indicated by several folding tables scattered across the worst not yet collapsed parts of the floor, a way to distribute weight of previous, presumedly much lighter explorers. Unfortunately it was often unpredictable whether one would crash down two millimeters or two meters, which is why I had to refrain from seeing the whole building (I saw most of it though…), because what’s the point of equal weight distribution when you crash through the floor while standing on a folding table?

Thanks to the almost constant danger of crashing through a floor or having a ceiling falling down on me, exploring the Japanese Conference Center was quite a nerve-wrecking experience – on the other hand it had been a while since I explored a building in that bad condition, so it was nice to see one again… I just could have done without actually going through in person, so this is one of the explorations where I enjoy the photos taken quite a bit more than actually taking them. 🙂

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About a year ago I wrote about an abandoned driving range – now I finally explored an abandoned golf course!

The transition from summer to autumn was rather abrupt in Japan this year. In September Kansai felt like a steam sauna and nobody wanted to do anything outdoorsy – three typhoon weekends with heavy rain later people cancelled BBQs and other events because it was “too cold” outside. And of course those friggin typhoons hit the area I lived in exclusively on weekends, which meant that I had to postpone several exploration plans as exploring during strong rain and severe winds is not fun at all. Even if you plan to explore indoors the five to ten minutes you need to figure out how to enter a building can become nasty and expensive – and most pictures look a lot better when taken during sunshine, which is why I tend to be a good weather explorer. Sometime though bad weather is unavoidable, for example when on long planned multi-day trips or when the weather forecast fails you – and sadly the weather forecast in Japan is rather unreliable…
The Countryside Golf Course I explored on one of those typhoon weekends with false forecast. The rain was supposed to start in the evening at around 6 p.m. according to the predictions made the evening before the day trip – sadly it began to drizzle just when we arrived at our first location at around 10 a.m., minutes later it poured and didn’t stop for two days. By the time we arrived at the Countryside Golf Course the rain was so heavy that the road leading up to the main area partly turn into a shallow rivulet – luckily the rain became a bit weaker at times, but overall it was an uncomfortable and quite wet exploration with only little to see. Located in the mountains, the Countryside Golf Club offered some gorgeous, very atmospheric early autumn views that day. Sadly the clubhouse had already been demolished and the driving range was more than underwhelming in comparison to the one I explored a year prior. All the paths and bridges were still accessible, though most of the courses were already pretty much overgrown after just two or three years of abandonment. And so the only really interesting area was at the end of a lonely downhill path that lead to a garbage dump (they removed a whole club house and nevertheless left some trash?) and a shed with two golf carts in decent condition. That’s pretty much it.

Since golf is definitely not my world it was kinda interesting to have a look around an abandoned country club, but as an urban exploration location it was definitely a bit underwhelming – and the constant rain didn’t make the experience any more joyful. Surely not a bad experience, but I’d take the *Japanese Driving Range* over the Countryside Golf Club any time…

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