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Big industrial locations are rather rare in Japan, so when I had the chance to explore the Ausbesserungswerk Trier, an abandoned train repair shop in one of the oldest cities in Germany, I was quite excited…

The Ausbesserungswerk in Trier dates back to 1911, when it opened as the main repair shop of the Preußische Staatseisenbahnen (Prussian State Railways) with 400 employees. In the following years the shop grew and grew – in 1943 almost 1500 employees took care of 885 locomotives. After being damaged in WW2, that number went down to 622 in 1954 and continually lower in the following years. In 1974 the last steam locomotive was repaired, and in 1986 the Ausbesserungswerk was shut down. After falling into disrepair the area was privatized, but only three buildings were converted into apartment buildings, most of the rest were demolished. Today pretty much only the main hall, the Lokrichthalle, still stands, partly cleaned out and surrounded by all kinds of businesses.

Back in 2013 my high school buddy Gil and I were able to sneak inside the Ausbesserungswerk Trier to take a couple of photos. Most of the building was in really bad condition already, hardly any window still intact. Despite being partly cleaned out it was an interesting exploration as the aesthetics were quite different from the ones I am used to in Japan – and there were a handful of large graffiti / murals that were absolutely gorgeous. Usually I can’t stand them at abandoned places, but those here were pieces of art, not like anything I’ve ever seen here in Japan. Overall I liked the similar locations in *Schwetzingen* and *Berlin* a little bit better, but exploring the Ausbesserungswerk Trier was definitely a good experience…

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Abandoned houses are a dime a dozen in the Japanese countryside and I pass by 99 percent without even remembering them a minute later – the one I stopped at last weekend though was very well worth the effort!

According to the latest estimates, there are about 8 million empty houses in Japan, 3 million of them abandoned. Some of them form ghost villages like *Mukainokura*, others are hidden gems in little town, like the *Tokushima Countryside Clinic* – but most of them are just small partly collapsed houses or even huts; rotting structures made of wood, clay, straw, and corrugated iron, long beyond repair and not even worth a second look.

On Sunday, while enjoying a cherry blossom viewing and exploring abandoned buildings trip to the countryside, my fellow travelers and I spotted a rather tall wooden house with a thatched roof located a below street level. It was still in sight of the next settlement, but a couple of hundred meters away from it. The front of the house was already collapsed, probably when a load-bearing pillar or wall finally gave in under the weight of tons of snow in yet another beautiful, but devastating countryside winter.
Approaching the house I didn’t expect much, except for a nice snapshot of the front for a possible collective article about abandoned Japanese houses in the countryside. Sadly it was drizzling at the time, the sky a greyish mess, so the photos of the front turned out to be quite bad actually. When my fellow explorers Ruth and Chelsey had a closer look I took the opportunity to circle the house and had a look at the back, where an outhouse and a storage were added to the structure – seconds later I fell in love with the tiny bathroom next to the two toilets, featuring a traditional wood-fired metal bathtub that looked more like something you should prepare large amounts of soup in. The crammed space and the sparse light coming through the tainted frosted glass was just… fascinating.
When the girls popped their heads in I told them how I usually don’t stop at random houses and that I would be done in a few minutes as this was an excellent place to take two or three great photos, but not a location for a whole set – and then I moved on to take pictures of the small urinal next door, of the can of insecticide, of the brush hanging at the wooden wall. So many small interesting details caught my eyes, and the more photos I took, the more details I found! Soon later we upgraded the planned 5 minute stop to a full exploration that took almost 2 hours in total. While I was busy taking photos, my fellow explorers actually explored. First they confirmed what I already assumed – that the building was not safe to enter and a potential deathtrap; which wasn’t too much of a loss as the inside of the building didn’t look that interesting and would have been a nightmare to shoot on a difficult light day light that anyway. Luckily they also found half a dozen large old signs leaning against one of the exterior walls – and those explained both the size of the building as well as the outhouse area. What we found once had been a rest stop, a countryside cafè for hungry and tired travelers; an abandoned cigarette machine still visible in the background.

For the past seven years I ignored pretty much every abandoned house I saw in the countryside, always in a hurry to get to the next location I knew was abandoned, I knew was promising. On Sunday I realized that it’s not only time to slow down, but to stop every once in a while. The Japanese Countryside Rest Stop wasn’t a loud spectacular location like *Nara Dreamland*… it was a quiet spectacular location. Very Japanese in every aspect. A place that took us back in time by decades. No signs of vandalism, because people don’t stop when they pass by. Their loss, our win – and that’s why I love this photo set so much more than most of the others I published so far…

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In 2015 there were about 134000 karaoke rooms in Japan, shared by a total of 475 million guests – and yet it is very difficult to find an abandoned karaoke establishment in decent condition… but I finally succeeded!

Karaoke and Japan are inextricably linked with each other. The word karaoke is a Japanese portmanteau, consisting of kara (= empty) and oke (= an abbreviation of the English word orchestra a.k.a. okesutora). It was most likely invented in 1971 by a musician Daisuke Inoue, who worked as a drummer at an utagoe coffeehouse, where the gathered customers sang songs together; those establishments were popular in the 1950s to 70s in Japan and are all gone now, but a handful. (Inoue apparently got tired of playing the same song requests all the time, so he recorded and sold them – the rest is history.) For the last five years, the Japanese karaoke industry has been recovering from a ditch in popularity (from 585 million customers a year in 1995 to 465 million in 2010) with slowly but steadily rising numbers in both boxes and guests. Personally I couldn’t care less about this aspect of Japanese pop-culture. My dad’s a retired musician, I was always surround by excellent albums and live music – hearing amateurs sing is one of the most painful things I can imagine, no matter how drunk I am; more than 10 years in Japan, not a single karaoke night for me! If you are into karaoke… good for you, I wish you all the fun in the world with it! Luckily they sound-proof those karaoke boxes… 🙂 (When I went to *North Korea* in 2013 the guides tried to peer pressure us into singing our national anthems – I claimed that it’s illegal to sing the German national anthem without the written permission of the German government and strangely enough not only the North Koreans believed me…)
Like I said, currently there are about 134k karaoke rooms in Japan. Let’s say each establishment features 20 rooms in average, that makes 6700 karaoke locations… And yet it was very hard to find an abandoned one in decent condition. Took me almost eight years! It’s not like I haven’t seen any abandoned karaoke parlors in the past, but they were pretty much all partly collapsed and overgrown. And the large places in the cities are not really abandoned when they close – they get locked properly and wait for a different use / demolition. Unlike hotels, hot springs, temples, theme parks, … karaoke joints have to be in walking distance and therefore in sight and / or hearing range of civilization, because let’s be honest: More often than not doing karaoke is just a thinly veiled excuse for getting s#!tfaced… 🙂
The Abandoned Japanese Karaoke Box was actually a shipping container construction near a more or less popular tourism spot. Each container was transformed into a karaoke room or a bathroom, the VIP room consisted of two containers, the kitchen probably of three; an additional one or two for the hallway / staircase, some plywood for the roof – done. Considering the location, the rather cheap construction and that the place must have been abandoned for something like five to ten years, it was overall in decent condition. Sure, some windows were smashed, some items were thrown around, but at least nobody started a fire or stole every single piece of equipment. The various lights and the half disco ball I found especially fascinating – when I first saw the Abandoned Japanese Karaoke Box from the outside I thought I’d be in and out in 30 minutes; it took me almost three hours to document this unusual 2-storey 4 by 20 meters construction… Since the place was an original find, I don’t know anything about its history, but to honest, I don’t really care. I finally had fun at a karaoke box!

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A new fence upon arrival is barely ever a good sign – and things didn’t get better after that!

Deserted hospitals are amongst my favorite abandoned places, so when I first heard about this little gem somewhere in the Aichi countyside I knew I had to visit it. Sadly it’s barely reasonable to explore locations in Aichi as day trips from Osaka, so when the opportunity for a three day road trip came up in spring three years ago, I was all in. Luckily my buddy Hamish gives me free hand when it comes to planning schedules, so the Aichi Hospital became the first destination of said trip.
Upon arrival we were welcomed by a brandnew bamboo fence, replacing the old metal barrier that had quite a few holes in it – the surrounding fortified with several layers of barbed wire. New fences are always a problem, but physically and morally. If there is still somebody investing in a fence, is the unused location behind it really abandoned? Since we were lucky enough to find a small hole in the thinner part of the barb wired bamboo we took the risk and slipped through, despite the fact that we could have been seen by neighbours. We passed through the empty shell of a small building at the foot of the hill and walked up the (only) road to the hospital… only to find out that the clinic had been mostly cleaned out, too, probably when the fence was replaced.
About half an hour into exploring the Aichi Hospital we heard police sirens. Sirens that got closer… and closer… and closer… And when it sounded like they were in front of the bamboo gate, they stopped. Had we been seen by neighbors, who alarmed the cops? Worried that our way in (and out) was now under police control, we ran out of the building and into the woods, hoping to sit out a possible building search. Nothing happened for painfully long 15 minutes, so we checked out the situation carefully. No coppers, no cop cars. Really just a false alarm.
Nevertheless we decided to finish up quickly – which is what we did, because you never know…

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You like the aesthetics of abandoned places, but are afraid of the risks involved? Now that *Nara Dreamland is completely demolished*, how about a trip to Kyushu? The former mining island Ikeshima is happy about every visitor and welcomes them with open arms!

When *I first visited Ikeshima* in 2011 I arrived as a sceptic and fell in love with the island over the course of my eight hour long stay. It was a windy, humid, late spring day, but the amazing variety of abandoned places on the island was completely satisfying, yet it kept me yearning for more as I simply ran out of time at the end of the day without having seen most of Ikeshima. Nevertheless it took me five years to come back! Ikeshima is a bit off the beaten tracks, and there was always a new place that seemed to me more interesting… until the spring of 2016! (If you are interested in the fascinating history of this mining island that once was the home to up to 20000 people, I strongly recommend reading the *original three part series* I wrote six years ago. This is just a mere update / add-on for people who want to know how the island has changed over the years.)
Ever since the mine on Ikeshima closed and everybody but 300 people left the island, Ikeshima wanted to be a tourist attraction. Right at the harbour visitors can find the first tourist map, as sign that has seen better days. But with only one restaurant and no accommodation, Ikeshima wasn’t exactly a tourist magnet and only attracted a handful of fishermen and one or two photographer per weekend. That as changed quite a bit. First of all – you can stay over night on Ikeshima now! The former city hall is now a museum / ryokan for up to something like two dozen guests, there is a small supermarket now, and two or three eateries. And though the number of guests per day must have at least quadrupled over the last five years, you still see barely anybody on the Ikeshima, unless you are at the harbour or near the ryokan. Another thing that changed in comparison to five years prior is the amount of barbed wire. Even in 2011 large parts of the island were off limits, but that area grew quite a bit over the last half decade. Remember how I was invited by those two workers to see the entrance of the mine? Well, that building is off limits now – the back secured by a large gate, the front by a barbed wire gate. Since I had great memories of that building and wanted to have another look at it, I was like “Screw it!” and about to make it past the barbed wired gate, when I saw a couple of people in the distance – luckily I was able to retreat before I was seen – as it turned out that you can book guided tours on the island, but you have to give a few days notice. Most apartment buildings are off limit now, too, with extra layers of barbed wire. For good reasons. Especially the large apartment blocks on a slope that once were accessible from above and below are deathtraps now. And by that I not only mean the rusty bridges with holes in them which connect several block with each other… even standing in front of the buildings in the strong spring wind gave me a bad feeling, as if an AC or part of the roof could break loose and kill somebody below just minding their own business.

Despite the new limitations I tremendously enjoyed my sunny early spring day on Ikeshima. The atmosphere on the island is just fantastic, and the tons of books and old photos in the (free of charge) museum are super interesting. Since it still takes quite a bit of effort to get to Ikeshima, it will probably never become a popular tourist destination – which is fine by me as I still haven’t seen about half of the island. Maybe I should go back there… and stay over night. I’m sure it would be quite an experience…
And if you still haven’t read the old articles, *I recommend having a look now* – tons of information, photos, and videos are waiting for you!

(Since the inhabitants of Ikeshima consider their island a tourist attraction I added it to the *Map Of Demolished Places And Tourist Spots* and created *a new map just for Ikeshima*. If you don’t want to miss the latest postings you can *follow Abandoned Kansai on Twitter* and *like this blog on Facebook* – and of course there is the *video channel on Youtube*…)

Only a few things are more exciting to me than exploring abandoned places I found by myself – sadly not all explorations go as planned…

Urbex can be really frustrating at times. Some trips didn’t even start, because I was not able to locate a desired place. Others ended or almost ended due to broken equipment or injuries. Summers tend to be too hot and humid in Japan, winters can be rather cold – that usually doesn’t keep me from exploring, but I definitely go out there more often in spring and autumn. Another huge frustration factor are (possible) co-explorers. I think I spend more time talking about explorations than actually go exploring, because half of the people in Japan are oh so busy, the other half is just plain unreliable. Hardly a month without “Let’s go exploring together!” or “Let’s have dinner!” e-mails from strangers – maybe one or two per year follow through in the end, some even having the nerves to just not show up; which makes me appreciate my regular co-explorers even more! (Interestingly enough 95% of those efforts to get in contact with me are from or about Kansai – personally I am much more interested in possible collaborators in the south of Kyushu, south of Honshu, Shikoku or Tohoku…)
I was very excited about the weekend trip to Ishikawa: I found a handful of places I hadn’t seen on the internet before, knew a local expat I had been talking to for about two years via e-mail, the weather forecast was promising – no doubt a fun trip, despite the five hour long journey to the first location with a really early start after a regular week of work. And then my local contact went silent on the evening before the trip, after not being able to tell me if they were in the area or on a weekend trip themselves. Faaaan-tastic! Luckily the first day went as planned and I had a great day with great locations and great food – it was as good as solo explorations get. The second day? Not so much!
The weather forecast predicted sunshine for the whole weekend, and since this was only a two day trip, I tried everything to travel light, including leaving my folding umbrella at home. When I woke up to an overcast sky I didn’t worry too much. Mornings here often are overcast and then turn sunny, so I grabbed my backpack and my tripod and made my way to a small train station – so far in the countryside that there weren’t any open stores on a Sunday morning, not even a kombini; one of those 24/7 supermarkets that sell nearly everything. Long story short: It was raining upon my arrival. Within minutes the rain turned into sleet, and I still had a 25 minute walk ahead of me. Since the first location of the day was a large factory that looked extremely promising and accessible on GoogleMaps I pushed forward, only a thin towel between me and pneumonia…

My good morning mood dropping with every step, I finally reached the factory; its gate wide open. Yes! I walked up the wide driveway and reached a large asphalted yard. To the right a medium sized storage building, in front of me the factory complex, to the right a 2-storey administrative building. The whole setup reminded me a bit of the industrial revolution – some (wannabe) tycoon in his Western style office welcoming potential customers, people slaving in the large manufacturing halls below and behind him. And the building actually lived up to it to some degree. Just big enough for a handful of offices, including what seemed to be a first aid station to quickly treat urgent work injuries. Sadly the building was mostly empty, except for a large, rather modern safe I wasn’t able to open – that thing was definitely not 100 years old…
But parts of the factory could have been. The front door was locked, nevertheless I was very motivated to find another way in, despite the fact that it was still sleeting. And that the whole factory was surrounded by undergrowth; about half of it of the thorny kind. It turned out that the factory consisted of more than half a dozen connected buildings of different age. After a while I found access to a really old and quite small part – unfortunately the door connecting it to the rest of the complex was stuck or maybe even welded shut. A few minutes later I was outside again, not only tired, scratched up, and wet, but also dirty from head to toe. Soon the undergrowth became so thick and nasty that I had to give up, so I tried to circle the factory the other way, which ended at a rather high open window and a steep slope. I took a photo through said window and called it a day, deeply frustrated. The second location of the day would have been outdoors and about an hour away on foot, something I really wasn’t in the mood for on this extremely disappointing day. Fortunately I only had to wait 20 minutes for the once an hour train, but guess what – 20 minutes into the 4 hour long ride back to Osaka it finally stopped raining and the sun came out. Lucky me, eh?

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It’s been more than five years since I last presented an abandoned driving school – those things are pretty hard to find…

In Germany a driving school more often than not is little more than a two room rental, consisting of a tiny office and a bigger seminar room, where a driving instructor is teaching a couple of theory lessons several times a week. Not much more space needed, because German driving schools tend to be small, at least when I got my driver’s license more than 20 years ago. The owner then tends to hire one or two driving instructors, who are usually are out on the road, because that’s where the real money is as you need a certain amount of practical experience to take the final test, including a few hours on the Autobahn (Germany’s infamous highways) and at night. Pretty much all driving school cars in Germany are manual / stick-shift cars – probably because there is only one license (no separate automatic-only license like in Japan). Most cars in Germany, except for taxis, have manual transmission anyway. A lot of Japanese people are surprised when I tell them about it, even more so when they find out that you don’t have to renew your driver’s license in Germany. It’s lifelong, of course unless you mess up by violating traffic rules too often.
In Japan (and probably your country) the situation is a bit different. First of all: Most cars in Japan have automatic transmission, which kind of makes sense since traffic here can be nerve- and ankle-wrecking. So when you enter a driving school you have the choice between a “general” manual license and a “limited” automatic-only license. And a surprisingly high number of Japanese people only have an automatic-only license – which feels totally wrong from my German point of view since I would never give up that kind of control over my car; to me shifting gears manually is part of the fun and it (usually…) reduces fuel consumption. Even worse: In Japan you have to renew you license every 3 years, which costs time and money – if you managed to not violate any traffic laws for 5 years you get gold status and have to renew your license only every 5 years. But it gets worse! New drivers have to put a yellow and green sticker to their car denouncing them as beginners. If you are a senior citizen age 75 or above you need a orange-yellow sticker – guess why… (None of that bullshit in the land of the Autobahn!)
The biggest difference between a driving school in Germany and a driving school in Japan is what we would call a “Verkehrsübungsplatz” in German. It seems like there is neither an English nor a Japanese term, but the literal translation would be something like “traffic training location” – a place that has roads, traffic lights and crosswalks, but is on private property, separated from normal traffic; and therefore you are allowed to practice driving there without having a license (if you at least 16 years old, have an experienced co-driver with a regular driver’s license and are able to pay an hourly fee). In Germany those place are separate from driving schools and usually run by automobile clubs. In Japan those traffic training locations are part of the driving school, which is kind of ironic given the fact that Japan has oh so little space… But it gives the students the great opportunity to practice safely in a driving school car. Worst case scenario in Germany: After a couple of theory lessons and a general instruction by the driving instructor you are pushed right into traffic…
Abandoned driving schools are pretty rare, especially in Japan. The reason is simple: Since driving schools serve customers without a driver’s license, they are usually located within a couple of hundred meters from a train or subway station for easy access. But since land near public transportation hotspots is rather expensive (and driving schools take up a lot of space since they have that huge training area…) they tend to be quite valuable and are rather turned into new real estate projects than being abandoned – especially in overcrowded areas like Kansai and Kanto.

The Japanese Driving School consisted of a lobby area and a couple of seminar rooms, all of them pretty much empty now… except for the remains of a DS-5000 Driving Simulator – apparently once upon a time a state of the art simulator with three main screens and two or three additional ones working as rearview mirrors. The pictures I saw kind of reminded me of a hydraulic simulator I played in Tokyo’s Odaiba district back in 2000 – pretty simple vector graphics, but as a simulator really impressive back then! The building wasn’t accessible at all, signs of intrusion on one side had been professionally patched up.
The training area featured all the usual obstacles, like a ramp, a fake train crossing, narrow tracks, crosswalks (in Japan usually ignored…), traffic lights, and so on… Somewhat in the middle a small tower for observation and car traffic control.
Overall the Japanese Driving School was a lovely outdoor exploration,  more memorable for its rarity and the fun company I had than its spectacular looks. Nevertheless a great experience – and I absolutely loved the abandoned traffic school bus on the last picture!

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