Archive for February, 2010

After about a dozen *haikyo* trips all on my own I took a dear friend and colleague to the Iimori Mine in Wakayama. Doing urban exploration on your own or going with somebody are completely different experiences with both advantages and disadvantages, so I was a bit sceptical at first – but now I have to admit that I prefer to go with company. Especially since Enric and I complement each other very well.

When we arrived at the Iimori Mine we were surprised to see that our destination was located in a beautiful mountainous area with lots of orange groves. Yes, orange groves. In the middle of the mountains. In Japan. In December! Stunned by the gorgeous nature we walked around for a while exploring the groves and looking for alternative ways to get to the mine: The straightforward entrance was blocked by a company and closed off by a barbwire fence to a water canal – at least we thought so…

We went up a hill and after an adventurous climb along a steep slope we made it to the second highest level of the mine ruins. There it turned out how good it is to have a partner who complements you. While I’m more of a planner who hasn’t climbed over a fence or even wall in about 20 years, Enric was totally fearless finding a way through the forest up the hill. I guided Enric to the mine, he guided me in.
If you like taking pictures of rust and concrete Iimori Mine is the place to go! The amount of great subjects is almost endless and shooting took us quite a while. On the way back we had to get further up again and that’s how we made it to the top part which offered a stunning view down the valley. By that time it was already afternoon and since the sun goes down rather early in Japan we decided to call it a day.

But the fence bothered me… Since we only reached the upper parts of the mine I wanted to have at least a quick look at the barbed wire fence – which turned out to be a good idea since the fence not only had a gate without barbwire, but it ended 30cm before it reached the water canal – so you can easily walk around it! Another example of great Japanese planning… For once not being afflicted by it, we took our chances and entered the lower part of the mine although the sun was already setting.

While the upper part was all about concrete and rust, the lower part was more about concrete and jungle. The vegetation there was pretty thick even in the middle of winter and at a certain point I had to give up to advance further – partly because of the climbers and trees, partly because it was actually getting dark.

When I looked for historical information about the Iimori Mine on the internet I was disappointed to find barely anything. No longer texts, no pictures. All I know is that it was an iron sulphide mine opened in 1878, bought by Furukawa Mining in 1918 and closed down in 1970.

Overall the Iimori Mine is a great urbex destination. Beautiful location, completely different looks depending on the way you approach it and an endless amount of pictures to be taken. On the downside there are no real buildings left – just a wild construction of concrete, metal / rust and (partly burned) wood. (Even vandals spare the place since there is barely anything left to be destroyed without a serious amount of dynamite.)
In case you are an urbex newbie going on your own, I would recommend to gain some experience first – the Iimori Mine is a dangerous place and should be approached with respect. Especially in summer, when it seems to be infested with snakes…

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It’s obvious that I post my urban exploration experiences not in chronological order and this time I will jump back to the very early days: My first indoor haikyo. The One Dragon Hotel is another internet favorite located in the southern part of Osaka. There are not a lot of known facts about the place – nobody seems to know when it was opened up or closed down. But there are the usual rumors of financial problems and the owner committing suicide. A classic you can hear about pretty much every closed hotel in Japan.
Since the One Dragon Hotel is built partly over a lake and the sides are blocked by fences protecting private property the only way to easily enter the place is by sneaking in through the back via a park. And although I went there on a very sunny day the place was pretty scary. The common way is to enter through the basement into a rather dark corridor, only lit by a few windows to the north. Like I said, this was my first indoor exploration, so every step was a new experience. Since I went alone and had neither an experienced guide nor an equally unexperienced friend at my side horror was lurking behind every corner; at least in my mind. It’s funny to look at the pictures now, remembering how I felt when I took them.
The One Dragon Hotel must have been shut down about 25 years ago and its location so close to a lake left it with lots of rotten components. Furthermore it was mentioned in “the book” (Nippon No Haikyo, one of the few books that include more or less detailed maps), so its location is known to a lot of people, even those who don’t consider haikyo a regular hobby. It’s not surprising that the place attracted a lot of vandals – most floors and ceilings are ripped apart, a few rooms were set on fire and the hallway to the shared bath collapsed. Maybe I was overly cautious back then, but I remember the One Dragon Hotel being in pretty bad shape.
I’m sorry to say that the pictures quality isn’t that good this time – my camera was brand new and I had barely any clue how to use it… so this is a real rookie posting. The next one will be more exciting, I promise!

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(Most search engines referring to this blog usually end up up here, although the main article about Nara Dreamland is considered the *Nara Dreamland Special* by now. For a look at the area around Nara Dreamland on GoogleMaps, including some fancy icons linking to articles on Abandoned Kansai and videos on YouTube, please *click here*.)

Initially I planned to do a three part series about the Nara Dreamland without giving away too much about its location since it’s considered something like the last holy haikyo cow. But due to events that may or may not be related to a recent blog post I decided to not do that. I’ve heard that the owner(s) of Nara Dreamland don’t want to have pictures taken by trespassers a.k.a. urban explorers to avoid attention on the internet. Something I totally understand and basically respect. But respect is a mutual thing and that’s why this blog entry will be a bit different than usual. Nara Dreamland is really one of a kind – the place as well as this blog post. (Don’t expect something similar here too soon…)

First of all – here is where you can find Nara Dreamland:
34° 42′ 0″ N, 135° 49′ 27″ E

But what is Nara Dreamland? Some would describe it as an extremely cheap copy of Disneyland. More or less successful for the first years of its existence it was annihilated by Universal Studios Japan in Osaka and closed in 2006. It seems like people hated the place and considered it abandoned even before it actually was – these guys say “it’s an ugly, disgusting, abandoned looking theme park ” and even call it “a total dump”:

Since it closed down Nara Dreamland actually became more and more popular – as an abandoned place on the internet. Since I would never enter this huge abandoned and apparently untouched amusement park I can only show you what other people found when they went there:
http://tw.silk.to/am/dreamland/dreamland__20060610/index.php (Oops, this set of pictures was taken when the park was still open – but who can see the difference anyways…?)
(If this material was created by illegally entering Nara Dreamland I totally distance myself from it as they obviously disrespect the owner’s wishes! But I guess those people asked for permission in advance…)

If you want to go to Nara Dreamland please go ahead. But be aware that people say that the security there is tight. The whole park is surrounded by fences, most of them with nasty spikes and rusty barbed wire. There are talks about guards patrolling the area and there are motion detectors yelling automatic messages at you – scared me half to death when I was walking along a public street (!) around the northern part of the park, just minding my own business. I don’t know if those installations are inside the park, too, since it is so obvious that people are not wanted there… now even less than when the park was still open for business.
Oh, and at the eastern parking lot there are the main entrance and several buildings. The area has no fences, only some ropes preventing people from entering. Since it’s still private property of course I didn’t cross the ropes, but the northern building looks interesting and like a place worth checking out. Especially the observation tower part is very tempting and must offer a great view. I would never enter the building since the owner doesn’t want to draw attention to it. And by it I mean Nara Dreamland in Nara city, Nara prefecture, Japan.

To bring this joyful entry to an end I’ll present you some pictures I’ve taken back in December – all of them were taken from public roads; there was no trespassing or any other illegal activities involved! Enjoy… And if you go to Nara Dreamland, the most fascinating abandoned place in Japan, remember one thing: It’s all about respect!

(I went back to Nara Dreamland after this posting, so for all your Nara Dreamland needs please have a look at the Nara Dreamland Special – including night shots and the hardly ever seen Nara Dreamland Hotel. And since this article is quite popular, especially with first time visitors: You can follow Abandoned Kansai on Twitter and *like this blog on Facebook* – and of course there is the *video channel on Youtube*…)

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After I finished shooting at the Koga Family Land I walked back along the street that surrounded the Koga Country Club at the eastern side. I knew from a Japanese map I found on the internet that there must have been another haikyo nearby, some kind of club / guest / employee house. Unfortunately the person who marked the map missed the spot, so I had to look around for quite a while – but in the end I was rewarded with a haikyo I only saw a small picture of beforehand since it is widely ignored by the usual crowd visiting Family Land.
Although I spent almost an hour taking pictures and videos at the place I’m still not 100% sure what the building was used for exactly. Right at the (open) entrance were dozens of shoes lockers and a vending machine. From there I went to a private bed room (maybe the quarter of a caretaker?), a staircase to the second floor, another small antechamber with doors to five (hotel style) rooms, a washing / rest room – and to the left I found a dining room and a kitchen. Going up the stairs there was a pretty big open space, some kind of lounge for the people staying there, now completely empty. To the left was a hallway with about 10 rooms, to the right two more rooms (one of them locked) and another washing / rest room. From the lounge you could go outside on a terrace – now filled with lots and lots of furniture.
Overall it was an average haikyo, I guess. But I nevertheless liked it since the building wasn’t vandalized at all and in decent condition – and since it’s very close to the mostly demolished Family Land the combo is definitely worth a visit. I just still wonder why there was an open package of instant noodles next to a porn video in one room…
(Addendum 2012-02-06: I just added the video walking tour – I never intended to publish it, so please don’t get your expectations too high. This was one of the first videos I ever took…)

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Well, kind of. Sort of. It had to happen sooner or later, but finally I got caught by a pitbull like person during one of my explorations.
First of all I have to say: It was my own fault. You always risk getting caught by somebody when doing urban exploration as it is technically trespassing. (I guess…)
But most places are far from civilization and closed for monetary reasons, so nobody really cares – only a few owners hire security and that’s when it gets risky.
I enjoy urban exploration because I like old things and photography. I’ve studied history and I take pictures to keep the memory about those places alive. I don’t destroy things and I don’t want to hurt anybody’s feelings or property. I just come, take pictures and go – and publish the photos on the internet so other people can enjoy those places, too. If somebody doesn’t like that then just tell me, I delete the memory card of my camera and go home. No problem. I’m not a troublemaker.
Recently (well, very recently…) I went on a haikyo trip and while I was taking pictures minding my own business a guy in a white minitruck almost ran over me. I ignored him making my way towards where I entered (trying to avoid trouble…), but of course he jumped out his car and ran after me. He yelled at me in a strange mix of Japanese and English: What I was doing here, that this was his place and that I should be quiet – and of course he threatened to call the police, like, in every second sentence. Totally puzzled I tried to calm the guy down, but he got right into my face yelling like a mad man. He didn’t get violent, but he clearly was in a big rage. He asked me where I was getting in – I told him that I would show him and slowly went to direction I came in, away from his car, but he stopped me.
He demanded my camera. I didn’t give it to him. Then he wanted my memory card. I didn’t give it to him either, but I apologized (several times at different points in the “conversation”…) and offered to switch the camera to Japanese so he can see that I will delete the pictures. (Which I gladly did since I wasn’t there alone and actually took pictures of a friend – who, to my joy, escaped and with him the pictures he took.) But to my surprise neither the apologies nor deleting the pictures did calm him down. He still wanted my name (surprise, I didn’t tell him), threatened to call the police and demanded that I would go with him in his car. At that point he turned his back to me walking a few steps towards his car – and I ran. I ran like I was never running before in my life. Then I jumped over the next fence (since he was in a car…) to a public street and got away without looking back once.
Like I stated earlier: I shouldn’t have gone to the place I went to and there is no discussion about that. But there are several ways to handle things. One is to be calm and talk to each other like civilized people – or you can go ballistic, yell, threat and treat the other person like shit… Too bad Japan took over two things from Prussia without changing them in 150 years: Medicine and the way to deal with people – to crawl the bigwigs and to bully the underlings. And it seems like trespassing foreigners are kind of the definition of “underlings”…
(BTW: Did you know that “doctor” and “butcher” are the same word in Japanese? Okay… that’s not true, but it could be! Should be…)
Addendum 2010-02-07: Now that I think about it… I actually ran into security twice before. Once at the already posted Koga Family Land, another time at the Osaka Expoland. But I never felt “busted” or even unpleasant, most likely because on both occations there was no yelling or threatening involved. The guy at KFL was nice and I left “his” property according to his wishes to find another way to get to my goal. The other guard I met was actually super nice – and he had every opportunity to not let me leave. I guess overall Japanese security people are not that bad. Nice guys: 2, Pitbulls: 1…

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