Archive for January, 2012

2012 didn’t start well for urban exploration in Japan – January has been a sad month for abandoned places in Kyushu. Two of the most famous haikyo in southern Japan were demolished:
The demolition of the *Kawaminami Shipyard* didn’t come as a surprise. It was decided on June 9th 2011 by the Yamashiro City Zoning Committee and executed in mid-January 2012 after all the greens were removed in late 2011. Nevertheless it is a big loss to the urbex community in Japan as it was one of the few locations that aged for decades without being affected much by anything but nature itself.
At the same time (late 2011 / early 2012) an up-and-coming location called *Navelland* was destroyed just 70 kilometers away from the famous deserted shipyard. The former amusement park was turned into a lot to soon become another campus of the Teikyo University. I was lucky enough to visit both places during Golden Week 2011 before they were destroyed and I have fond memories of both visits. You can find out their exact locations on my *map of touristy and demolished ruins in Japan*.
I guess it’s the normal run of things. New abandoned places show up, well-known ones get demolished. Nevertheless it makes me a bit heavy-hearted, especially since I decided a while ago to concentrate on western Japan and leave the east to all the blogs and people who live there. I already missed the famous Sports World in Izu for sure, but even if I change my mind chances are “good” that I might miss *Western Village in Tochigi*, the Russian Village amusement park near Nagano, *Kejonuma Leisure Land* in Tohoku and the Irozaki Jungle Park in Izu. Famous abandoned military installations like the Fuchu Air Base, Camp Drake Army Base or the Tachikawa Air Base. Popular deserted mines like the *Matsuo Ghost Town*, *the Taro Mine*, the Ashio Mine, the Murakashi Mine, *the Osarizawa Mine*, the Seigoshi Mine, the Kamaishi Mine or the *Nichitsu Ghost Town*. Not to forget the quirky remains of the sex industry like the Queen Chateau soapland, the Hotel Royal love hotel, the Fuu# Motel, the Yui Grand Love Hotel, the Akeno Gekijo strip club or the Pearl love hotel – and all the other places like the Royal House, the Small Pox Isolation Ward, the Japan Snake Center, the Okutama Ropeway, the *Heian Wedding Hall*, the many spas and resort hotels of the Yamanaka Lake, the Mount Asama Vulcano Museum, the Okawa Grand Stand or the Gunma Motor Lodge.
I probably forgot some famous spots as the east of Japan has plenty of wonderful abandoned places – but so has the west, and most of them are only described on Japanese urbex blogs until now. So I guess I’ll continue to focus on deserted locations east of Nagano / Nagoya, hoping that I will be able to see as many as possible before they falls victim to jackhammers, wrecking balls and other heavy machinery…

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Liebe “Spiegel Online”-Leser,
erneut herzlich willkommen auf Abandoned Kansai! Es freut mich sehr, dass Ihr Interesse an der Thematik des Artikels “Selbstmordschule mit Meerblick” Sie dazu bewogen hat, diesen Blog zu besuchen. (Der Artikel heißt wohl inzwischen “Kamikaze-Schule mit Meerblick”, aber das war soweit ich sehen kann die einzige Änderung.) Der einestages-Beitrag basiert auf den folgenden vier (englischsprachigen) Blog-Einträgen – wenn Sie auf die Links klicken, können Sie sich auf SPON nicht veröffentlichte Videos und zusätzliche Fotos ansehen:
Katashima Training School
Kawaminami Shipyard
Kawaminami Shipyard – R.I.P.?
Mukaiyama Mine
An dieser Stelle noch ein ausdrückliches Dankeschön an meinen Lektor Dr. Danny Kringiel von der einestages-Redaktion, der bei der Überarbeitung meines Artikel hervorragende Arbeit geleistet hat!
(Wenn Sie künftig über neue Artikel dieses Blogs informiert werden möchten, dann *folgen Sie Abandoned Kansai auf Twitter* und / oder *abonnieren Sie Neuigkeiten via Facebook* – außerdem gibt es einen *Videokanal auf Youtube*…)

Dear English speaking readers,
Today a second article of mine was published in German on Spiegel Online, one of the biggest and most respected German news portals. It’s called “Selbstmordschule mit Meerblick” (Suicide School With Ocean View – by now actually “Kamikaze-Schule mit Meerblick” / Kamikaze School With Ocean View) and is about Japanese suicide attack units during World War II. It combines four articles published on Abandoned Kansai:
Katashima Training School
Kawaminami Shipyard
Kawaminami Shipyard – R.I.P.?
Mukaiyama Mine
All information related to the locations can be found in the original articles, additional historical facts were added to tie everything together. To read the (German) article on Spiegel Online please *click here*. (A special thanks goes out to my editor at the einestages editorial team, Dr. Danny Kringiel.)
Abandoned Kansai will continue business as usual early next week with some snowy photos of a very popular deserted location…

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I have to admit: Finding and exploring the abandoned poultry farm in Okayama prefecture was one of the most rewarding and exciting experiences since I started urban exploration. It was unusual in many ways and I’m so eager to tell you about it, that this has become the fastest published article in Abandoned Kansai history – the events, photos and videos are just 5 days old…
Gosh, where to start? Pretty much everything about this exploration was unusual. The whole thing started when in 2011 a *red factory* / mine popped up on Japanese blogs several times. Urban exploration usually means going to places where many men (and women) have gone before, so I did some research, but didn’t get more than the information that the red mine was supposed to be in Okayama prefecture. So when I kind of randomly looked at the satellite mode of GoogleMaps I found two places with red roofs in the mountains that might have been abandoned. While I found confirmation about the smaller one that it was really a factory, the larger one I had no lead on. A still quite blurry satellite image, that’s it. No information on other blogs, no marking on a Japanese haikyo map, no Streetview – darn, not even a link to a Panoramio photo nearby. Just a bunch of buildings with red roofs standing rather close to each other, kind of similar to the satellite image when you look at the *White Stone Mine*. I didn’t know what they were or even if they were still there as the satellite photos of GoogleMaps tend to be a couple of years old. Nevertheless I grabbed my equipment and a book (The Hunger Games, which I really enjoyed!) last Saturday early in the morning and boarded a train – and another one, and another one, and…
After I finally reached a small station in the middle of nowhere I left the tiny town it was in quickly and walked along a country road for about half an hour, reaching a small settlement close to where I suspected the red roof shacks to be. I was on my own for this exploration – it’s hard to find people to get up when it’s still dark outside to go to a cold place in the middle of the mountains, especially when you can’t promise a spectacular site; or in this case: anything at all. While I was walking past gorgeous little wooden Japanese houses with the stunning roofing tiles and neat gardens a small pickup truck with two senior citizens passed me and turned left down the road – where I suspected the red roof shacks to be. My heart sank almost as quickly as when Gil and I approached the *Deportation Prison Birkhausen-Zweibrücken* back in Germany. And like half a year ago I was right: Getting passed by a truck near an abandoned place is barely ever a good sign. When I reached the small gravel road that supposed to lead to the red roof shacks I found the street and the whole area fenced off. Not with a sturdy fence that is easy to climb. No, one of those half-ass ones you basically have to trample down to get across – unless you are willing leave and get home. But at that point it wasn’t the decision to be made. Because the previously mentioned senior citizens were there, early on a Saturday morning of all days… inspecting the fence and making sure that it reached about a meter over the little river so nobody can go around it – like *Enric* and I did at the *Iimori Mine* two years ago. Since those guys looked like they came to stay I climbed a nearby small mountain with a cemetery. My hope was to get a glimpse into the valley, to at least confirm that the red roof shacks were still there. But that didn’t work out either. Slightly frustrated I came down the mountain and made my way back to the train station when I realized that I will miss the once per hour train by about five minutes even if I’d run. At that point I became rather frustrated and angry. Why the heck did I get up early on a Saturday winter morning to ride trains for hours to go all by myself to a cold mountain valley where I didn’t know what to expect just to find it fenced off and guarded by two old guys? While I was silently cursing on my way through the settlement outside the little town I heard a small pickup truck behind me. When it passed I saw the two old guys sitting in there and I stopped… I had at least half an hour to kill and even then I would make the next train. Why not getting back to that stupid fence?
So that’s what I did. I hurried back to the fence only to find that Japanese planning never disappoints. Since I couldn’t make it around the fence I just followed it for a while. Up another mountain and another cemetery. And there it was, an opening in the fence, at least a meter wide, probably to allow hikers and mourners to reach the top of the mountain. I followed the fence back (on the other side, of course!), only to find a rather steep slope along a wastewater pipe or something like that. Luckily somebody set up a rope there, so it was quite easy to get up and down, ignoring the fact that I ripped my fingers on the cutting plastic, but well, small sacrifices…
Finally on the other side of the fence at the gravel road I hurried deeper into the valley. The road here was overgrown and barely visible, but to my left I saw a couple of shacks in abysmal condition. I was relieved. A lot! Whatever I saw on the satellite pictures was still here. But the feeling of relief didn’t lower the tension at all. At this point I was still visible from the street and being alone in a fenced off area in the Japanese mountains isn’t the best situation to be in. No need to worry about poisonous snakes in January, but I ran into both wild boars and wild monkeys before… and there are wild bears in Japan, too. I tried to ignore those worries and hurried deeper into the valley on this overcast, hazy winter morning. And there it was – the big red building with the intact roof. And at first sight it was clear: This wasn’t the red mine / factory I hoped it would be… it was better!
The first thing that caught my eyes was the small silo in front of the open, but rather uninviting building. When I entered I saw cages inside. Dozens, hundreds of them. With the roof still intact the building was pretty dark towards the middle, so I got outside again, circumvented the place and entered from the back. It seemed like nobody had been here in years. And there’s where I found a couple of Lyon Debeaker machines (to „stop losses from picking, cannibalism, fighting, and egg eating”). A silo, cages, debeakers… no need to be a modern Sherlock Holmes to conclude that this was an abandoned poultry farm. An abandoned poultry farm that, to my knowledge, hasn’t been mentioned on any urban exploration / haikyo blog. Ever. Not in Japanese, not in English. So this wasn’t the nth mine to visit – no, this was a unique place. An abandoned poultry farm in Japan!
Finding new places is always exciting to some degree, but in most Japanese prefectures you can’t throw a stone without hitting an abandoned private home or small business, so it isn’t actually that unusual. Finding a yet unknown gigantic abandoned animal farm in the middle of nowhere on the other hand… that’s kind of the urbex definition of “jackpot”. I was truly happy for a short moment, until I realized that I had only a little bit more than an hour to shoot the huge place – I could afford to skip a train, but I would have to catch the next one to make it on time to the second place on my agenda that day. Nevertheless I forced myself into taking my time at the mostly undamaged building. Doing some bracket shots and taking photos with long exposure time in the dark parts of the one room building.
Separating the one intact building from two dozen severely damaged shacks was a small, mostly dried out river. I followed it for a while back towards the fence to find a place where the river bank on both sides was rather low so I could make it on the other side. I had about one third of my time left to cover 80% of the area, so I decided to leave my tripod behind and take some freehand photos, which turned out fine; nevertheless I wish I had an additional hour or two, but there was this other mysterious red roofed building on my schedule. So I hurried a bit making my way through the poultry farm and took a video on my way back to the tripod. I then crossed the tiny river and walked carefully up to the fence, but nobody was in sight. Just to be sure I climbed the mountain again and ripped my fingers just a little bit more. Back down the mountain and through the settlement. This time with a big smile on my face. I had found a huge yet unknown unique abandoned place in the middle of nowhere without any help and explored it all by myself on a cold Saturday morning – the only thing making this experience even sweeter was the fact that I almost failed when the two old guys showed up at the fence at the same time as myself.
What an absolutely awesome adventure!
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And now to something completely different – an abandoned driving school in Japan. Well, since it’s abandoned and in Japan I guess it’s not that different, but how many abandoned driving schools have you seen? Especially since it’s so much more than just a driving school, at least by what I’m used to.
In Germany a driving school more often than not is a two room “office”. One small real office room and a bigger seminar room where the driving instructor is having his 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 15 years ago. The one to three driving instructors usually are out on the road, because that’s where the real money is for them. 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!). Most cars in Germany, except for taxis, have manual transmission anyways. 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 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 actually have a 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 and 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…
About 2 years ago I spent quite a lot of time researching new places. Nowadays you can find at least 50% of the locations popping up on blogs on one map or the other, but 2 years ago that was a dream! (Now it’s actually a nightmare since urban exploration is going to become a victim of its own popularity soon. Maybe not this year or next, but soon…) Japanese blogs have the funny tendency to obscure names by leaving out kanji in the text decriptions, just to show the full name on the photos coming along with blog entry. Happens all the time. In late 2009 I found the blog of a guy showcasing an abandoned driving school, but of course he wasn’t willing to give up the name or even the location. He just said it was a driving school in Hyogo and that the company is bankrupt now, but has a succession company with a similar name. So I did some research with Google and found out about the Daikyo Driving School and its successor. Sadly the original Daikyo school went bust before the internet got popular, so there was no way to find out about the exact locations of the old schools, just the cities they were in. Luckily the same guy was bragging about his GoogleMaps skills – showing different zoom levels of the same place, which turned out to be the driving school. The guy was pretty smart not showing any train stations and other landmarks, but since I narrowed the location of the school to a couple of towns it took me about 20 minutes to compare his screenshots with the current GoogleMaps satellite images and then I knew where it was…
Abandoned driving schools are pretty rare, especially in Japan. Usually they are rather close to train stations since their customers are depending on public transportation. But land close to railroad stations is rather expensive – and driving schools take up a lot of space since they have that huge training area, so I’m sure realtors can’t wait for them to go bust.
The Daikyo Driving School I went to was located in the same distance of 3 train stations, all about 30 to 40 minutes away by foot; forest on one side, surrounded by fields on the other three. Only a few farm houses in sight. And of course the owners of the closest one had to have a big party exactly on the day that I wanted to explore the Daikyo Driving School. Cars were coming almost constantly, parking up to the only entrance of the driving school. So I took my time circling the place, looking for other ways in, but there weren’t any. So after about half an hour I thought “Screw it!” and just went in, not sure if anybody saw me and how they would react if they did. Luckily nobody was able to see or hear me once I was inside since the driving school was slightly elevated with a beautiful view at the surrounding area.
Abandoned places in Japan have a reputation of being mostly undamaged due to the lack of vandalism – which isn’t true. My experience with urbex outside of Japan is limited to Germany and Luxembourg (*Pripyat / Chernobyl* in Ukraine is kind of a special case), but I can’t say modern ruins in Japan are in better condition overall than back home. Some are, some aren’t. The Daikyo Driving School was not. A couple of the inner walls were smashed in, the more solid outer walls were smeared with graffiti. Furniture not bolted to the ground was dragged outside and / or severely damaged, electrical installations were ripped out. Overall the building was in pretty bad shape and I was kind of surprised that the really rusty chairs and tables of the one “modern” lecture room weren’t smashed to pieces. For a rather remote and virtually unknown place abandoned for only about 15 years the school was in pretty bad shape, especially in comparison to other similar locations like the *Jumbo Club Hotel Awaji Island*. It was actually way more beautiful from the outside than the inside. Since it’s getting dark rather early in Japan the training area was equipped with floodlights, now as overgrown as the school building and most other installations on the premises.
Overall the abandoned Daikyo Driving School was a nice and unspectacular exploration, which I appreciate now, two years later, way more than back then – once you’ve realized that a lot of deserted places in Japan are either hotels or mines a unique deserted place like an abandoned driving school is a welcome change.

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In mid-December of 2011 the North Korean “Dear Leader” Kim Jong-il died coincidentally at around the same time I wrote my article about the abandoned *K-1 Pachinko Parlor* (about 30 to 40 % of Japanese pachinko parlors have ties to North Korea)  – and the whole North Korea thing came back to my mind. You know, my urge to visit North Korea being limited by my unwillingness to support the system by spending money on it.
I’ve been growing up in a divided country myself (Germany) and I’ve been fascinated by dystopian literature and movies as well as the aesthetics of run down architecture for about two decades, so I guess a certain interest in North Korea was only natural – especially when living in a neighboring country, Japan, for more than 5 years now.
Exploring abandoned buildings in North Korea will most likely be off-limits for quite a while; unless you are North Korean, of course, but I guess then you have other and more serious problems…
So what’s the next best thing when exploring abandoned North Korean buildings in North Koreaisn’t an option and pachinko parlors are too obscure? Right, you look for abandoned institutions once run by North Koreans close to where you live. While the Republic of Korea (= South Korea / 대한민국) has one embassy and nine consulates in Japan, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (= North Korea / 조선민주주의인민공화국 / 朝鮮民主主義人民共和國) doesn’t have any of those institutions, let alone abandoned ones. But since Koreans are by far the biggest minority in Japan (in 2005 more than 900,000 Koreans lived in Japan, only 285,000 of them naturalized Japanese citizens – most of the rest are Zainichi Koreans, Koreans with a permanent residency) they are pretty well organized to get their interest represented. Of the 610.000 Zainichi Koreans about 65% are members of the Mindan (Korean Residents Union of Japan / 민단) with ties to South Korea, while another 25% are members of the Chongryon (General Association of Korean Residents in Japan / 총련 / 總聯) with strong ties to North Korea. Interestingly enough there is a Japanese group called Zaitokukai (在日特権を許さない市民の会, Citizens against Special Privilege of Zainichi) who opposes both groups – and sometimes even more: On October 31st 2009 some members protested foreigners in Halloween costumes with a sign stating “This is not a white country”. Whenever you thought you’ve seen and heard it all…
But let’s get back to the Chongryon. In addition to offering support and various services to their members (including issuing North Korean passports) the Chongryon not only controls a serious chunk of the Japanese pachinko money, it also runs about 140 schools (朝鮮学校 / 조선학교), kindergartens and a university in Japan. While it is said that all the classes and conversations at those schools are conducted in Korean I am not 100% sure about that since the few leftover books I saw at the abandoned school I visited were (partly) in Japanese. So, yes, some of the North Korean schools in Japan are deserted now. Which isn’t a surprise given the fact that the number of students enrolled in those schools went down from 46,000 in the 1970s to about 15,000 in 2004.
The abandoned North Korean school in Gifu prefecture I visited rather spontaneously in late December of 2011 must have been victim of that loss of interest. Half an hour by foot away from the next train station the school was located on top of a small hill, overseeing the surrounding countryside. With about half a dozen classrooms plus special rooms for sports, physics, chemistry and music it’s quite easy to understand why this Chongryon institution was one of the first candidates to become a modern ruin. Opened in 1975 it closed in 1998 already – its students being transferred to another Chongryon school in the suburbs of Nagoya; 20 minutes away by train, but closer to a railway station.
Exploring a North Korean School on Japanese ground was nothing like I expected. The school looked nothing like I expected. No North Korean flags, no propaganda material, no socialist style architecture. Quite the opposite. The layout of the school was full of nooks and crannies, its level of decay reminded me of *my trip to Pripyat and Chernobyl*. I was actually so fascinated by it that I walked around for maybe half an hour to see every last bit of it without taking a photo – and then I took a 19 minute long video. Usually I try to break up buildings by floors or other units, but this school felt so organic I had to turn into a poor man’s Michael Ballhaus and film the whole abandoned and quite seriously vandalized building in one shot. Always having Sting’s “Russians” in the back of my mind.
Do the North Koreans love their children, too? Having the physical distance of living in Europe, the States or Australia the problem might not sound so serious and North Korea might appear as that wacky little state with its funny looking leaders, but living in a neighboring country there are quite a few people here that are worried about what will happen in the upcoming weeks and months – and given the fact that South Korea and the States placed their troops under high alert I guess there is a serious number of people who are having serious thoughts about that “bonsai Cold War”. Personally I’m not much of a worrier. I actually still like cracking jokes about North Korea being reunited with South Korea and East Korea. (East Korea being Japan, based on a theory that around 300 AD a Korean cavalry army conquered Japan, and therefore the rulers of Japan are actually of Korean descent till this very day. Especially Japanese people don’t think my quirky humor is funny…)
I have no doubts the North Koreans love their children, too – sadly this deserted school was no indicator. I wish there would have been more signs that the school actually was a North Korean school. I found a couple of washed-out pieces of paper showing past school festivities, describing them in Korean, having the cliché level of formality and stiffness you would expect of events like that. In the lobby was a smashed “World Atlas” with several destroyed clocks on top – interestingly enough the people in charge included Moscow, but chose London over (East) Berlin; Pyongyang of course had its own row. Also in the lobby I found several boxes of a sexual stimulant called Samboso. Yes, a sexual stimulant in a school… (Insert clergy joke here!) It seems like the main ingredients were ginseng and honey, but even the crude English text didn’t reveal much information. Neither did the internet. But it gets even stranger: The text on the bottle as well as on the package stated in Roman letters “Pyongyang, Korea”. So here I had a sexual stimulant from North Korea, labeled in English and Korean in a deserted North Korean school in Japan. Finally I have a good answer when somebody asks me “What is the strangest thing you’ve ever seen when exploring abandoned buildings?” – can it get any weirder than that?
(If you don’t want to miss the latest article you can *follow Abandoned Kansai on Twitter* and *like this blog on Facebook* – and of course there is the*video channel on Youtube*…)

Addendum 2014-03-02: Since I wrote this article, I’ve been to the real North Korea twice. Not for urbex, obviously, but those vacations were nevertheless extremely interesting. *You can read all about them here.*

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