The Seagaia Ocean Dome in Miyazaki, closed in 2007 and demolished ten years later, managed to build a reputation as the world’s biggest abandoned indoor waterpark, though I’ve never seen any indoor photos as probably nobody ever explored it, because it was part of an active coastal golf resort and therefore just closed, not really abandoned. While outdoor waterparks are a dime a dozen in Japan (as standalones and part of theme parks or hotels) and abandoned ones therefore are not that unusual (everybody knows the one of *Nara Dreamland* fame), finding another closed / abandoned indoor water park was not that easy. I’ve been to some nice baths at hotels and onsen, but none of them would qualify as indoor waterparks in my humble opinion… until that one trip to the northern half of Japan, where I finally found the abandoned standalone Indoor Water Park…

Like so many other abandoned places in Japan, the Indoor Water Park was located deep in the countryside with only sporadic public transportation access – and even then it was about a half an hour walk to get to the gigantic metal and glass structure. (Unless the Indoor Water Park offered a shuttle service, which I seriously doubt… Maybe the now slightly rundown luxurious hotel (still charging 28k to 60k Yen (that’s 200 USD and more!) per person and night!) next door did…) But I guess that didn’t matter much back then… because it was the 80s!
Japan in the late 80s was one big party for pretty much everybody involved in finance and real estate – brokers, architects, bankers… even local politicians; they all went crazy and first made billions and then lost billions. The Indoor Water Park was a typical brainchild of that time. In 1987 the local government of a pretty successful onsen / skiing town funded a joint venture with private investors to create this indoor entertainment behemoth consisting of an upper indoor water park, a lower indoor water park and an outdoor water park. The first stage of development was finished with a large opening party in December of 1989, costing about 2.5 billion Yen, about 17.5 million USD at the time. To get returning visitor, the Indoor Water Park expanded aggressively, investing another 1.6 billion Yen (more than 1.2 million USD almost 30 years ago) in new construction by the business year 1991/92 – and that didn’t even include running / maintaining the facilities, advertising and all the other costs connected to a business like that. Heating alone most have cost a fortune and so the joint venture was spending money hand over fist. Of course the projected 300.000 rich visitors per year never showed up (the next bigger city has a population of a little more than 150k people!), especially since the crash of the bubble in the already mentioned business year 91/92 ran Japan into a recession the country never really recovered from. By 1996 the joint venture accumulated about 10 billion Yen in debt (almost 100 million USD back then!) and the whole area was panicking – and to stop the madness they closed down the indoor water park after just seven years.
Problem solved? Far from it! To get finances under control, the local government made a deal and promised to pay back 300 million Yen per year, about 2 million USD. No big deal for a big city or a $ billionaire… But the onsen town’s yearly tax income was about 700 million Yen per year at the time – and that started a vicious circle: The underfunded city wasn’t able to make necessary investments / repairs which hurt the onsen / skiing business, which resulted in even lower tax income…
Now the Indoor Water Park sits there like a set from a post-apocalyptic movie. A good portion of the glass roof panels are already broken, maintenance must be a nightmare. Yes, maintenance, because photos of the Indoor Water Park tend to be rare and old – and during my exploration there were signs of recent maintenance, unfortunately limiting my exploration. The upper indoor water park was basically completely inaccessible at the time of my visit – all doors were locked, broken ones were boarded up and screwed solid with blocks of wood. The only building I managed to get into was the starting area of the two water slides (160 and 200 meters long) that connected the upper part with the lower part and cost 200 Yen to ride… back in the early 90s. And not directly, but via the lower indoor water park. (The outdoor water park was inaccessible, too, unfortunately.) A pretty nice staircase, partly covered by animal feces, connected both areas – here too: recent maintenance work, you could still smell the wood. (Thinking of it, right next to the water park I saw a handyman doing a bit of woodwork, so some of the blockades might have been installed very, very recently…) So the lower part was the main area of this exploration and even though it made up for maybe 1/5 of the whole park it was still amazing! The water was covered by algae of the most intense green I’ve ever seen and even the rainy weather with its dull light couldn’t prevent the colorful trees outside from shining through the large window and making for an amazing background. Luckily the weather cleared up a little bit by the end of my exploration, so I was able to add some outdoor shots, too.

The Indoor Water Park was supposed to be my urbex highlight of 2017 – unfortunately most of it was inaccessible and I was only able to explore a small part of it. Nevertheless it was an amazing experience as indoor water parks are rare and the accessible part was still in good condition; especially considering that it had been abandoned for more than 20 years! And in hindsight I consider myself lucky to have seen at least this small part, because like I said: Most of the Indoor Water Park was locked tightly… and there were local cars passing by every other minute. By now probably even this part is inaccessible, because as you can see on one of the photos, there is heavy machinery parked inside, definitely city owned, which means two things: The local authorities still have an eye on the Indoor Water Park (the last driver probably just forgot to lock one single door…) – and they own the most expensive garage in the world!

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Abandoned ropeway stations are rather rare, even in Japan, where both aerial lifts and funicular railways are super popular – the Futuristic Ropeway on the other hand is not only deserted, it’s a real beauty!

Build in 1968 high above a river valley, the Futuristic Ropeway was actually part of a theme park on the opposite side of the valley. It basically connected a hotel rich area on the one side of the river with the amusement park on the other side, so people didn’t have to get into their cars or walk up a hill and then do a big detour only to pay parking fees – it was probably faster, cheaper and definitely more exciting to use the ropeway. The downside of that setup was that nobody else used the ropeway as it ended directly in the middle of the park. In late 2000 the theme park closed, and with it the ropeway. One and a half years later, in early 2002, the park was miraculously revived, but the Futuristic Ropeway, now a relict of the past, stayed closed for good.
The first time I went to the Futuristic Ropeway was a couple of years ago. It was the last location of the day and could barely be called an exploration – just a few outside shots until the autofocus refused to play along as it was already too dark; back then I didn’t even bother to look for a way inside.

Earlier this year I came back… again the last location of the day, but with about 1.5 hours of daylight left – which sounds like more time than it actually was as the whole ropeway station is in danger of being swallowed by the surrounding forest. Unlike *Nara Dreamland* in its last days the Futuristic Ropeway wasn’t exactly wheelchair accessible, fortunately I am a tall guy which definitely helped in this rare case.
The main area of the abandoned station was in rather bad condition – mostly empty, a bit moldy, flaking paint and wallpaper falling off. The old control panel in one corner of the main room was definitely the highlight of the lower floor. I’m sure 20 years ago it was very popular with the kids! The outdoor staircase leading to the platform felt a bit dodgy. Slightly brittle concrete blocks resting on a rusty metal contruction – 50 years after construction and without maintenance for more than 15 they didn’t look too trustworthy, but they held even my weight, so I guess Japanese explorers will enjoy them for at least another decade; you are welcome, fellow urbexers! In my experience only about half of the abandoned cable cars and ropeway station still feature vehicles – and the Futuristic Ropeway was one of them. It was actually the round gondola that inspired this location’s fake name. Parked in the left slot is was still hanging in. The door rusted shut and most of the acrylic windows pretty dirty, it was nevertheless quite an impressive sight, especially in the warm light of this spring day sunset. Unfortunately dusk laid itself upon the station quickly, and so it took less than eighty minutes to shoot this wonderfully decayed location. Thanks to a strenuous hike exploring the *Shidaka Ropeway* felt more fulfilling, but exploring the Futuristic Ropeway was a wonderful way overall to end a day full of surprises…

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And now for something COMPLETELY different – an abandoned indoor ice rink!

After more than 700 explorations (not nearly all of them successful, unfortunately…) in the last 8.5 years it is getting increasingly difficult to find abandoned places that are completely new to me – which is neither unexpected nor problematic, because each location is different and most of them offer enough variations in detail to keep me heading out there. The true motivator though is finding yet another location that is unique… and after about a year of in parts amazing “more of the same” explorations I finally spent one and a half hours at a unique place – and not only did I find it myself without any help or advice, I also explored it solo!
Located in the countryside and out of sight of any major roads, getting to the abandoned Ice Arena required quite a bit of an uphill walk on a really bright and hot sunny day. For a while now I don’t like to explore solo anymore for a variety of reasons (mainly safety), but sometimes you gotta roll with the punches, use opportunities and take minor chances. Fortunately the Ice Arena turned out to be an easily accessible solid concrete and steel building in overall good condition, but definitely abandoned (no security, problematic fences or alarms…). After some outdoor shots, one featuring decals of a cartoon dog with a striking resemblance to Muttley, probably used without caring much about a license, I slipped through a side door just open wide enough for me to fit through. Inside the area was surprisingly well-lit, even the staircases to the upper floor didn’t require the use of a flashlight – indoor explorations, especially solo, still make me feel quite uncomfortable, especially upon entering, but this turned out to be a dream location in almost every aspect! Unfortunately there weren’t a lot of items / interior left behind, except for the dozen hockey helmets somebody threw to the center of the rink.

Was the Ice Arena the most spectacular location I’ve explored in the past year? Not even close! But it was the first abandoned indoor ice rink I’ve ever been to and therefore it will forever have a special place in my urbex heart – especially since it was an original find, especially since it was a solo exploration, and especially since it went extremely smoothly; and the photo set overall is one I am very pleased with – not just because it’s unlike any other I’ve taken, but because it’s just a good photo set… one I hope you enjoy as much as I do!

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Never judge a book by its cover or an abandoned building by its exterior – the content might surprise you…

Even after more than eight years of exploring abandoned structures in Japan I am still in the lucky position that I know many more locations than I am able to check out – so I choose which places to explore depending on factors like distance, accessibility, weather, co-explorer(s) and several more. Since I am getting tired of mold and emptied fire extinguishers I tend to prefer rather clean abandoned places… which almost resulted in a big mistake recently, when my old urbex buddy Michael excitedly tried to convince me to check out that really rundown concrete shack halfway up a hill – because of some painted fusuma (you know, those sliding Japanese room dividers). A decade ago I enjoyed hiking much more than I do now… and when it’s uphill, it usually kills my urge to take photos, but Mike was excited like a young dog, so I dragged myself through a bamboo grove and up the hill to a rundown concrete building in miserable condition. Smashed windows, doors and shoji (you know, those sliding Japanese room dividers with the thin rice paper), dirt and rust everywhere, a missing outdoor staircase – a place so unattractive I wouldn’t even stop if I saw it on the roadside… or take my camera out… or take photos even if the camera was mounted on a tripod and ready to shoot. The lower floor was cluttered with all kinds of items, leaving just enough space to move around and get to the staircase – and my first impression of the upper floor wasn’t any better until I stepped into the tatami room and it seemed like a choir of angels started to sing. There it was, the daruma painting! Across the whole wall! Four fusuma in total! What a glorious sight! It was the first urbex photo I’ve taken in nine or ten weeks, so maybe I was a little bit extra excited, but seeing this work of art in the middle of rot and decay was just amazing! And then it got better… On the other side of the fusuma was a tatami room of the same size – and of course that side of the four fusuma was painted, too. With a large dragon! What a sight! I’ve been positively surprised before in rundown hellholes, but this brought it to a whole new level. Sometimes I take hundreds of photos at a single location and none of them are very memorable. And then I stepped into that dump and was rewarded with not one, but two absolutely gorgeous paintings! Needless to say that the rest was still a crappy building I couldn’t get out of quickly enough, so I took some quick shots upstairs, some more downstairs and one more focused one in the room with the three abandoned chandeliers, despite the stench in there. Sometimes I wish there was smell photography to immerse you even more… just imagine you average train station toilet, then you have a good impression, I guess.

So, yeah, long story short: rundown place, two good photos I’ll probably publish again and again for the rest of my life, Florian happy. Small gallery and short video this time, probably next week, too – then we’ll get to bigger locations again, promised!

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Climate change is a hoax – and if it’s not, the problem will be fixed by God? Yeah, tell that to the countless companies who closed down their ski resorts in Japan…

If you travel to Sapporo or Nagano between December and March you’ll inevitably run into tourists from Southeast Asia, from early November on the online tourist message boards are full of “Where can we already see snow?” questions. Believe it or not, but quite a few people see snow for the first time in Japan, not in their home country; you know, the unfortunate ones who don’t have four seasons – which is unique to Japan, as every expat has been told at least half a million times… (No story about that yet, Rising Wasabi?)
But more and more ski resorts in Japan are struggling with age and the increasing lack of snow. There are dozens, maybe even hundreds of abandoned ski resorts all over the country – most of them of course in the northern half from the Japanese Alps to Hokkaido. The majority of closed / abandoned ski resorts are actually not worth the visit. Ski lifts are worth being removed, unmaintained buildings either collapse or rot rather quickly, if they don’t get demolished in the lift removal process – and since satellite pictures on the internet are not always the latest, there is a certain risk involved scheduling time to explore ski resorts.
I wasn’t able to find out much about the Nagano Ski Resort. Apparently it was closed in / after the 2004 season and brought back a year later after some management changes, but only for another season or so. The oldest pictures I saw were from 2009 – the lifts and all buildings still standing, it obviously took them a couple of years to come to the conclusion that there wouldn’t be a second revival.
Overall the Nagano Ski Resort turned out to be an average location – worth having a look when nearby, but not driving something like 300 kilometers from Osaka or Tokyo. Six buildings were still standing, the rest had been demolished. Strangely enough two active hotels were amongst those six buildings, probably because the slope is also one trailhead for hikers and mountain climbers. Unfortunately the lifts were already gone, but two massive metal frameworks with speakers and lights implicated that people there used to enjoy their après-ski! The two wooden buildings halfway up the hill were in even worse condition with their collapsed outdoor decks.
Exploring the half demolished area was good fun since hardly anybody else was around and the weather played along – on a rainy day this would probably be a rather miserable experience, especially if you were lucky enough to have been able to explore spectacular abandoned ski resorts like the *Arai Mountain & Spa* or the *Gunma Ski Resort*

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A little known fact about Japan is that the country has a surprisingly high number of water power plants, though hardly any of them are abandoned – and the status of the Tottori Water Power Plant one was questionable at best…

“He is inside!”
I was sitting on the rear bench of our tiny rental car when I heard those words from the front passenger seat – and my heart sank a little bit. Coming from a spectacular countryside clinic the three of us were on our way to the mountains for more explorations, when we made what supposed to be a quick stop at a site of historic interest. Japan was about a century late with its industrial revolution… and it’s a few decades late appreciating this time of fundamental change, but this small water power plant somewhere in Tottori prefecture somehow managed to be chosen as being worth of preservation – and so the building was cleaned out, partly bricked up, and provided with a few plagues. Especially the wooden ceiling / floor (depending on how you look at it…) that makes the otherwise massive stone building a two-storey construction was in quite bad condition and probably one of the main reasons why the former water power plant has been locked up tightly – until “he” found a way inside after “we” were already back at the car, ready and happy to move on…
Buildings between preservation and abandonment are one of the grey zones in urban exploration – and those under government management are the worst, because they don’t care about the electricity bill of an alarm system or having the cops showing up every once in a while, because, well, they are on the payroll anyway and small-time crime not really being a problem in Japan, those guys have more times on their hands than the night watch at a mental institution (a friend of mine had that job and put in more than 1200 hours on Monster Hunter Freedom Unite – during work hours!). So when I heard from Her that He made it inside I was only modestly happy, to be honest – but I knew that She would follow Him, so I put my hooded jacket on again and started to trudged through the snow back to the building…
Put into operation in 1919, the Tottori Water Power Plant had an output of 1000 kW. In 1977 power production ended and the plant was reduced to a substation. From 1984 on the substation was further demoted and became a training facility till 1990, when the then owner transferred the building to the local government – six years later its rise as an industrial monument worth being protected began.
Exploring the Tottori Water Power Plant you can only assume that it has a rich history as it was pretty much empty, except for a couple of boxes, a scale, a table or two, a sparsely furnished tatami room… and a large item partly covered by a big blue tarp. (The upper floor covering half of the building was empty and in rather bad condition, but offered some decent photo opportunities, including different layers of the wall…) Halfway through and me still being uncomfortable my two co-explorers decided to fully remove the tarp to reveal what looked like an old manually operated fire engine from the mid- or late 19th century – the kind you might have seen in Scorsese’s Gangs of New York. What a fantastic find! We were just about to have a closer look when a car outside honked. So I rushed outside to see what was going on / try to distract whoever was there, while my co-explorers covered up the precious hand-drawn machine. Fortunately the honking wasn’t directed at us inside the building, but most likely at our car parked at a narrow road – but by the time I was back there the other car was already gone… and soon later were we.

Whether or not the Tottori Water Power Plant qualifies to be featured on a blog about abandoned places is a matter of what you consider abandoned, but given that nobody ever complained about me prominently featuring *Nara Dreamland* (which at no point in time was abandoned!) time and again, I guess most of you can live with this grey area location. Personally I could have done without the excitement of exploring such a place, but I really enjoyed seeing that old hand-drawn water pump – and as it turned out it was the last exploration of the day anyway as all of the other locations we checked out were in the middle of a horrible snowstorm…

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With a history of almost 150 years the Yamanashi Elementary School was by definition a very special location. But wait till you see what I found inside!

The sky was unusually grey for a Japanese autumn day – at first sight the weather was quite reminiscent of your average fall day in Germany, but then then relatively high humidity and temperature reminded me quickly that this was just another early October day in the mountains of Japan, about six weeks too early to enjoy the autumn foliage this part of the country is famous for. Hidden behind a line of large, lusciously green trees on a gentle slope the Yamanashi Elementary School can be easily missed, especially since it is completely out of sight driving along the nearest bigger road. The institution dates back to 1872, unfortunately the current school building is not nearly as old – it was built in 1957 and closed in 1985. Since it was maintained for about two decades it was used in 2004 for a Japanese dorama (ドラマ) on Kansai TV, but it looks like after that the long 2 storey construction fell into disrepair.
Since I tend to explore on sunny days (because grey days are rather rare on mainland Japan, there are like five of them per year – it either rains or there is sunshine; grey for the sake of having a grey day is really, really unusual) exploring the Yamanashi Elementary School was kinda eerie, borderline spooky. I started at noon, but it felt like sunset time… and there were actually dark corners. Plenty of them. Since it was a wooden school, the floors were creaking with every step – and then there was Mr. Innards… a mutilated life-size anatomic model of a (skinned) human. Luckily he waited for me in a tidy, well-lit classroom – him in a dark corner or hanging from the ceiling would have creeped the beep out of me! His feet looked like they were tied together with wire, the toes as if they were frozen off in an attempt to climb Mount Fuji in winter barefoot. And the rest of it looked “a bit off”, too… Just bring a camera on a cloudy day and shoot your horror short – everything you need is already on location; including some instruments for the score, including a piano and some drums.

Arriving at the Yamanashi Elementary School I was a bit disappointed since I had mostly seen bright, colorful pictures of the school, and I was expecting to experience the same warm, welcoming atmosphere as the people before me. Due to the overcast sky the colors of my photos didn’t nearly pop as much as usual – but the whole thing turned out to be a blessing in disguise, because it allowed me to literally capture the school in a different light. 🙂

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