Archive for November, 2010

Okay, let’s kick off the travel series with a rare, but unspectacular location: The N# Nursery School. (Sorry for bleeping the name. This haikyo isn’t well-known at all and I don’t wanna be the guy who reveals too much about this untouched place.) I saw it only once on the net so far – luckily it came with a map, so it was easy to find…
Sadly the map didn’t come with any information. So all I can tell you is that the 1983 built nursery school is located in a very remote area within a beautiful landscape that was in full bloom even in late November; and that all the doors and windows were locked, so I was only able to take some outside pictures. Which wasn’t too much of a loss since the rooms seemed to be empty anyways, judging by looking through the windows. Luckily the N# Nursery School came with a small playground and the weather was very pleasant too (sunny 20 degrees Celsius), so shooting the location was a nice relaxed warm up for the things to come…

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Recently I went on a three day road trip to Awaji Island and Shikoku. Fellow urban explorer Jordy came down to Kobe, we rented a car and off we went. Since Jordy likes to drive and I like to do research we combined our powers to go to some places off the beaten tracks. Pretty much all of the locations will be English speaking firsts, some of them are even barely known to the Japanese haikyo community – including two original finds: A pachinko parlor with all the machines and a hotel called shangri-la. In addition to that we went to an abandoned monument (with a museum right next to it), another hotel, a nursery school, a restaurant with a spectacular view, an abandoned and very countryside elementary school, a spa built on a cliff and, most important of all, an abandoned doctor’s house that makes the previously posted Doctor’s Shack look like… well… a shack.
Please enjoy the preview pictures below – a series of articles about the trip will start ASAP, most likely by the end of this week.

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After I came back to Japan from my trip to Germany (meeting family and friends) and Ukraine (visiting Prypiat and Chernobyl) I kinda lost my drive a bit – living in Japan is way more wearing than you might think and which haikyo could really compete with an abandoned city in the middle of a radioactively contaminated zone? Going with Mike Grist to Nara Dreamland was exciting, but I’ve been to Dreamland before. Going to the Doctor’s Shack with the Gakuranman was interesting, but the place was already trashed pretty badly. Haikyo hiking alone was relaxing, but… well, it was haikyo hiking. Been there, done that many times. Eight weeks and tons of German sweets after I returned to Kansai I met Michael Gakuran again…
About 4 months ago Michael posted a location he called The Lost Subterranean Shrine, an original find he located in early summer. If he would have kept the location a secret and took it to his grave I don’t think anybody could have blamed him for that. You just don’t come across tunnels with religious artifacts – and vandalism as well as theft are common urbex problems, also in Japan. Nevertheless Michael guided me there and I’m even more grateful for that than I was when he showed me the Doctor’s Shack.
Reaching the entrance of the Lost Subterranean Shrine I was exhausted: Half up a mountain and lunch skipped the pouring rain was killing me – especially since I didn’t bring an umbrella. Michael removed the gate at the entrance to the tunnel and we both let out a little scream looking at the hand size creatures on the walls – Michael of joy (he loves critters of all kinds), me of disgust as I like my nature tamed – or grilled… I decided to keep the soaking wet towel on my head, just in case one of those chitin bastards decided to fall on me, and entered the tunnel, which at about 1.70 meters was 20 cm too low for me. This posture of humility was kind of appropriate considering what I was about to see, but it was nevertheless far from being comfortable. Neither was the insanely high humidity you could actually see in the beams of the flashlights we were carrying. After about 40 meters into the tunnel I saw a statue standing at a bifurcation, brightened by the beam of my flashlight – left: dead end, right: continue. After another 40 meters we reached a cave of maybe 15 by 15 meters with two rather small stone tables and a couple of stone stools around. The head end of the room had kind of an altar with several statues, vases and busts, flanked by a beautiful but damaged vase to the left and a simple brown one to the right – judging by their style the items must be from the south; Okinawa, maybe even Taiwan or China. On the main end of the altar were two openings right at the ground, leading to a secret room as Michael found out previously. Being 1.92m tall and blessed with a broad back I passed on crawling through the tight openings and started shooting. Or at least I tried. I never shot in complete darkness before and since I had my wide-angle lens mounted I couldn’t even use the flash since it creates nasty shadows on the pictures – switching the lens was not an option either as the humidity was crazy inside the cave and it was raining outside. Luckily I had some experience shooting manual thanks to my visit to Nara Dreamland at night and so I grabbed my tripod and two flashlights and started improvising. Playing around with different settings and ways to direct the lights was fun, but extremely exhausting, especially at the altar part because there the ceiling was way lower than in the rest of the comfortably sized cave room. Since it was getting dark outside our time was limited and after about half an hour we had to leave, although I wasn’t nearly pleased with what I had seen on the LCD of my D90 – we had quite a walk in front of us through pouring rain, making me worried if my camera would survive.
Well, the camera survived and I was even spared the week long cold I expected to get. What I got instead was a couple of surprisingly good shots of the vases and busts – never trust a camera monitor, especially when feeling tired and worn out.
Looking back at the exploration of the Lost Subterranean Shrine from the comfort of my apartment actually re-ignited my haikyo fire. When I came home that day I was just exhausted: It took me almost 16 hours and 9000 Yen to get to the place and back, I got caught by a rainstorm, had to drag myself up half a mountain, it was cold and humid, the walls were covered with really nasty beasts, I had to shoot under the most difficult conditions so far and on the way home I was soaking wet, smelling so bad I couldn’t stand it myself. But it’s not the average abandoned hotel on a sunny day that’ll stay in my mind. It’s an adventure like this with a friend like Michael and pictures like those…

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Addendum 2010-12-01: As I mentioned in the comments I wrote e-mails to my former professors for Japanese History and I’m very grateful they answered quickly although they had barely any information about the place.
One assumed that the busts might depict the former owner / founder of another haikyo in walking distance, the rest being typical items of a butsudan plus some items the man might have liked when he was still alive. Another professor had a closer look at the vases and thinks that they are not that old, rather from “modern” industrial production, since their colors are very strong and not faded at all – maybe pre-WWII, especially since the busts include suits, not kimonos; going along with what sumi said. She guesses that the items were put there during WWII to protect them from American bombardments during the war. It’s possible that the owner(s) didn’t survive the war and therefore the place was forgotten. Then I asked an archaeologist for advice and she wrote me that the items by themselves are of no monetary value whatsoever. Stuff like that would be available in local “antique” junk shops, even the busts have more personal / sentimental value than actual monetary value.
Since we can’t be sure that the place is really abandoned (just because it looks like it doesn’t mean that nobody goes there anymore or claims it as their possession) and the things don’t seem to be of real value I decided not to take any actions. Maybe the place will be left alone for another 30 or 40 years and then the cave and its items might be interesting to some local historians…

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After Michael and I finished shooting the Doctor’s Shack we walked about 30 meters along a small, dusty street to get to an abandoned house he found during his first visit to the Doctor’s Shack; Michael ran out of time back then and therefore didn’t have the opportunity to explore it.

The place looked like a typical Japanese countryside house built maybe in 70s and abandoned in the 90s, although both dates are pure guessing on my side. One floor, no basement, wooden floor and tatami mats, plastic lamps and chandeliers, walls you can punch through with your fist, and most important of all: quite spacious. Judging by how (hardly) known it is on the internet I guess it attracts way less visitors although it’s actually easier to find. But if it isn’t in a book and doesn’t have special things (like many bottles with chemicals in them…) I guess most people consider it uninteresting. And while the house of the doctor’s neighbours really wasn’t a haikyo highlight by any means it was interesting to go through a “normal” abandoned building, especially since it was already getting dark (thanks to an approaching rainstorm) and therefore shooting the place became kind of a challenge since neither of us had a (working) tripod. Luckily there were lots of places to put down the camera and I learned quite a bit about shooting under bad lighting conditions at Nara Dreamland, so I got at least a couple of decent shots. Decent, not spectacular, since it seems like the place was inhabited by normal people – there was nothing special to shoot, although somebody brought over some medicine vials from the Doctor’s Shack.

Next to the main building was a smaller one, most likely used for storage. And while Michael still had the patience to play around with some boxes and his headlight I got the heck out of there trying to finally escape the mosquitos…

(Michael combined both locations into one posting and you can read all about it here.)

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Today I started working on two maps and put them online. I know, I know, urban explorers don’t reveal locations – and neither do I. Well, I reveal some demolished places and some locations in Pripyat / Chernobyl, but nobody wants to go to demolished places and in the Zone Of Alienation you can go whereever you want anyways – please read all about it on the *special page* and if you still have concerns you are very welcome to drop me a line. (Same if you think it’s actually a good idea to put up those maps!)

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A couple of weeks ago I received an e-mail from Lope Gutiérrez-Ruiz, co-organizer of the Venezuelan art festival Por el Medio de la Calle, editor of Plátanoverde magazine (in Spanish), and co-founder of The Gopher Illustrated – the latter ones being platforms for emerging artists. For the second issue of the Gopher the team was planning a feature about “urban landscape” and Lope asked me if I would like to participate by contributing some of my haikyo pictures. Considering that I started “real” photography without any kind of education (learning only by doing) just 10 months earlier I was equally surprised and flattered. Of course I agreed and today Lope made the collaboration official by publishing a short announcement on the front page of the Gopher’s homepage. The second print issue of the Gopher will be released in mid-December and of course I will mention it again then; just in case you want to buy a copy of the magazine via their online shop…

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