Archive for March, 2012

Abandoned or not abandoned? That was the question when my haikyo buddy *Michael* and I arrived at the New Zealand Farm in Hiroshima (a.k.a. the Rainbow Farm). It clearly wasn’t demolished, which is always a big relief when finally reaching a location to explore, but getting close to the place it was clear that we would be in for a ride at this supposedly abandoned theme park…

Entering the meticulously clean parking lot by getting around a knee-high road block things didn’t look very abandoned. Nevertheless a sign there confirmed what I knew from my long hours of research on the internet: The New Zealand Farm was closed more than three years ago on 2008-08-31. But to our surprise the entrance area looked very preppy. The hedges and trees were well-trimmed, with freshly cut branches waiting to be removed at some parts. Things just didn’t add up – causing a bad feeling in my stomach. Michael was all excited and ready to jump a fence or disappear into the bushes, but I was very hesitant. So we agreed on having a look from the outside first before doing something that might get us into trouble. Which was good thing in this case, because a couple of minutes later, still on the huge parking lot, we ran into a security guard and several maintenance workers. (On the other hand: Later during the *road trip* Michael’s great gallantry would get us to a place we didn’t even expect to reach.) Since Michael’s Japanese is way better than mine and since he’s the more voluble person anyway I stayed in the background while he was talking to the main guy. From where I stood I wasn’t able to hear their conversation, so I’m still not sure which language they were talking in (Japanese, English or a more universal one…), but after a couple of minutes a smiling Michael came up to me and pointed ahead – we had one hour to explore the Hiroshima New Zealand Farm! (We were probably the first people ever to do so since this location never appeared on any Japanese or any other haikyo blogs – and most likely never will given the circumstances.)

What I already knew about the Hiroshima New Zealand Farm was that it was opened in July of 1990 and closed on August 31st 2008. This agricultural theme park was run by a company called Farm Co., Ltd. that owns farm parks all over Japan. Four of them were New Zealand branded, but only the one in Tohoku (where the earthquake and the tsunami struck last year…) is still up and running – the other three were closed in the late 00s. The remaining dozen parks are served by about 700 employees and have all kinds of themes: Austrian, German, Japanese countryside, … The concept is basically always the same: Giving children and their families the opportunity to spend a day amidst tamed nature. The parks are usually pretty big and feature attractions like a petting zoo, an animal race track (sheep… yes, a sheep race track!), kid friendly rides like a hill slide, horse / pony riding, miniature golf, go-kart races or a kids train, paddleboats, exhibitions and different shops (like a bakery or a milk processing facility) where you can witness or even participate in making fresh bread, yoghurt and butter – and of course there is the usual array of restaurants, BBQ areas and snack shops. Buildings are named according to the theme, so in this case we saw the “Hamilton Restaurant” and the “Kiwi Museum”. Everything merges beautifully in hilly landscapes. High-tech attractions like at Universal Studios Japan (USJ) are nowhere to be seen – those kinds of amusement parks have a rather different target audience. Unlike USJ and its major competitors the farm themed parks are pay-as-you-go amusement parks – which means that you can enter for little money (in this case 600 Yen, children and senior citizens only 300 Yen), but then you have to pay additionally for every single attraction; usually between 400 and 600 Yen – which can add up quite a bit over the course of a whole day.

What I didn’t know about the Hiroshima New Zealand Farm was that it was just closed, but not abandoned – unlike its *sister parks in Yamaguchi* and Shikoku. About half a dozen maintenance workers make sure to keep vandals and other nosy good-for-nothings out and take care of the vast meadows and countless big and small buildings – it seems like the destiny of this New Zealand park is still uncertain and that Farm Co., Ltd. has yet to decide what to do with it. Until then some long-serving employees keep their jobs.

I’ve been to *several abandoned theme parks before (and after…)*, but never to one that was only closed. Which made this experience unique and eerie at the same time. With the slowly decaying buildings in the outskirts of the premises it felt like an abandoned theme park, but overall it was in way too good condition – it was actually kind of confusing to see no signs of vandalism whatsoever. Nothing. Not even a broken window. At the same time climbing frames were getting rusty, colors were losing their intensity and wooden panels were getting brittle. We were actually told to not cross a certain bridge as it wasn’t considered safe anymore.

Exploring the closed by not abandoned Hiroshima New Zealand Farm was an absolutely fantastic experience, though rushed in parts. There was so much to see, so many attractions to go to. So many little things to discover, like the small road between the buildings at the village square, or the bunny welcoming visitors big and small to the petting zoo halfway up the main hill – and even further up was a kart track of decent size. It was almost a little bit like Shigeru Miyamoto described his childhood neighborhood explorations in David Sheff’s book “Game Over” – you never knew what to expect behind the next corner, behind the next hummock…

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Addendum 2014-07-15: The Hiroshima New Zealand Farm has been turned into a solar park recently – R.I.P.!

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The abandoned Japanese Sex Museum (a.k.a. the Mansion of the Hidden Treasure) first caught my attention in 2009 when I first started doing some research about haikyo on Japanese blogs. Three years ago the museum showed up on two or three homepages; both urbex and more general pop culture blogs. After that it basically disappeared, I haven’t seen pictures of the place ever since. So what happened? Boarded up? Security? Maybe demolition? Since *Michael* and I *were in the area anyways* we decided to find out, especially since the museum was pretty much on top of both of our “Places I Want To Explore” lists.
I guess the abandoned Japanese Sex Museum, along with the *Maya Hotel* and *Nara Dreamland*, was actually one of the locations that convinced me that Japan not only has abandoned places, but that it has some great ones. There are not that many sex museums in the world overall – so an abandoned sex museum is pretty unique! (Although “Abandoned erotic art museum” would be a slightly more correct name for the place now that I know what’s to find there.)

Opened on October 1st 1978 the Mansion of the Hidden Treasure was in business for almost 20 years before it was closed in the second half of 1997. Mansion of the Hidden Treasure is actually a great name since the exterior looks like a massive, old-style Japanese mansion, like a fortress almost. The entrance was guarded by a statue of Daikoku, the God of Great Darkness and one of the Seven Gods of Fortune. Opening hours were from 9 a.m. till 11 p.m. and the entrance fee was 1000 Yen according to a pamphlet that was lying around in an office room. Exploring the place further we found actual tickets with a printed price of 1300 Yen, so I guess the entrance fee was raised at least once during the 19 years of business. Several vending machines near the entrance and the exit offered all kinds of items, for example erotic playing cards and saucy postcards at the price of 300 Yen. One of the trashed rooms had a small stage and nearby we found a sign that said “Nude Show 2500 Yen”, so I guess it’s safe to say that there were live performances at the museum, too.

(If you are easily offended by sexual contents and you nevertheless read this far I strongly recommend to move on to another posting as from now the article will become a little bit more specific – while at no point pornographic I might mention the p-word once in a while and the photos at the end… or dear… well, it’s an abandoned sex museum, of course the exhibits are 99% erotica!)

As you may or may not know pornography in Japan is usually censored due to article 175 of the Criminal Code of Japan which says that people who sell or distribute obscene materials can be punished by fines or imprisonment – meaning that genitalia are usually blacked out, white out or pixelated with mosaic. Article 175 was part of the original Criminal Code passed in 1907 and remains pretty much unchanged till this very day. It was the written manifestation of the Meiji Era efforts to reduce the publication of pornographic materials. Before the second half of the 19th century the shunga, erotic woodblock prints and therefore a type of ukiyo-e, were quite popular – and as explicit as modern western pornography; probably even more imaginative since the shunga not only showed traditional sexual acts, but also sex with animals, demons and deities. Some of them even showed sex with foreigners… And I guess that’s where the worldwide image of weird Japanese porn comes from. Well, that… the used panties vending machines and of course the anime series Urotsukidoji, famous for inventing tentacle rape, creating a whole genre with just one extremely disturbing scene…

With that being said there was no pornography found in the abandoned Japanese Sex Museum – only a couple of paintings (some of them in a special room with black light lamps), softcore photos (e.g. Playboy Centerfolds), a couple of mannequins as well as lots and lots of wooden and stone sculptures; dozens of them, to be accurate. Sculptures of penises, vaginas, combinations of both, couples in the act, buttocks, masturbating animals, priests, deities, demons and whatever you can imagine. In one room there was a forest scene with penis shaped mushrooms. Or mushroom shaped penises. Your guess is as good as mine. It was almost impossible to open your eyes without looking at a phallic symbol.

While two or three rooms were completely trashed (basically the entrance and the exit areas as well as the offices upstairs) some of the exhibition area’s ceiling was quite moldy, but still in good shape. Those huge statues must have been insanely heavy, especially sculptures like the stone penis with a length of almost two meters, and let’s be honest: Who would actually hit a giant stone vajayjay with a sledgehammer or tip over a couple of marble dicks? Even the most ruthless vandal respects those symbols!

Sadly that didn’t apply for the female models. The main exhibits in the last room were stolen (or “taken to security” by some previous explorers…) a year or two ago. One was a wax model of the famous European softcore erotic character Emmanuelle, the other one was a replica of Marilyn Monroe – both presented in slinky poses behind now broken glass. The already mentioned pamphlet / flyer featured photos of both wax figures and they looked pretty amazing. Even more so on the already mentioned Japanese blogs I saw a couple of years ago. When the museum was still open to the public the wax figures were scantily dressed and well-lit behind glass, but once it was abandoned the new visitors had less respect and undressed both Marilyn and Emmanuelle to show lower body parts that were out of sight before – and surprisingly both models were not as anatomically impaired as a Ken doll.
The left behind mannequins on the other hand were exactly that: Rather gender neutral below that waist and more or less what you can see at every clothing store when the clerks redress the shop window dummies. Of course they were all (partly) dismembered and slightly damaged, but they were basically normal mannequins… except for the really disturbing “Sleeping Beauty” one, which had vibrators mutating out of her nipples.

The main challenge from a photography point of view was the fact that 80% of the museum was pitch black, which meant that I had to take every shot with a tripod and illuminate every photo individually with my flashlight; similar to what I did at the *Lost Subterranean Shrine*.

With a sheer endless amount of statues and the time consuming process of taking photos Michael and I spent a whopping four hours at this fascinating location. Like I mentioned at the beginning, we both had high expectations about the abandoned Japanese Sex Museum and they were not only met, but exceeded. This haikyo is without the shadow of a doubt one of the best abandoned places in Japan and it would be a place worth visiting anywhere in the world. I just hope that future visitors will treat the location with the same respect Michael and I did so it will put a smile on the faces of urban explorers for decades to come…

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Addendum 2012-09-10: If you liked this article you might enjoy the abandoned *Japanese Strip Club*, too…

Addendum 2012-11-27: I just posted an article about another abandoned Japanese sex museum: *Hokkaido House Of Hidden Treasures*

Addendum 2013-05-09: Two months later I revisited the museum – *click here for more photos and videos*!

Addendum 2014-07-11: According to a friend of mine the museum has been demolished a while ago – R.I.P.!

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Spring time is long weekend trip time! While Kansai doesn’t have much of a winter it nevertheless can be quite cold, especially when having a hobby involving taking pictures in abandoned places, other places of Japan can be snowed in for months with meters of snow… So when the sun finally warms the hearts of Japan and causes the first sunburn of the young year it’s time to explore places beyond my beloved Kansai – whether it be *Kyushu with Enric* two years ago or Shikoku with Gianluigi last year (a series of articles yet to come…), it became kind of a tradition for me to go on an urbex spring trip with a friend of mine. This time *Michael Gakuran* and I teamed up for a road trip to the southern end of Honshu, Japan’s main island – Chugoku, to be exact, the area west of Kansai. A trip with such exciting places that I decided to start writing about it right away – the last pictures are barely 50 hours old…

At this point I don’t want to give away too much about the locations we visited or which order we visited them in. But there were 8 of them in 3 days. 3 long days I might add, with me getting up at 6.30 a.m. on a Sunday, at 6 a.m. on a vacation day and at 5 a.m. on a national holiday. As I mentioned before: I’m a morning grouch; and by “morning” I mean any point in time which is followed by “a.m.”…

But the trip wasn’t just exhausting, it was also exiting, fun, frustrating, satisfying, rich in variety, surprising, delicious (I finally ate Hiroshima Okonomiyaki in Hiroshima prefecture and bought the best local sweets outside of Kyoto – mikan dango) and insanely expensive.

Why insanely expensive? It’s because at the end of the first day a serious mishap happened to me. We were on our way to a hotel to stay for a night when we saw this huge, blue and white flame at a gigantic industrial plant – probably coke oven gas burning at a cokery. (Addendum 2012-06-11: I guess I was wrong about the gas – Gert from South Africa wrote me: “This couldn’t be coke oven gas burning, because coke gas got a very very hot orange (impurities) or yellow (cleaner) flame. But the flame in the video is actually blast-furnace or corex, midrex, finex gas flame (more methane content in gas).” Thanks a lot for pointing that out! I really appreciate it and changed the title of the video below, too.)
We decided to make a stop to take picture or two and when I got out of the car to marshal Michael I grabbed my bag and I don’t know how or why, but my beloved D90 camera flew through the air and crashed hard to the concrete ground. The body cracked open a couple of millimetres so I could see the insides. Parts of the electronics were still working (e.g. I could use the screen to look at the photos on the memory card), but since the lens mount was part of what cracked it was impossible to take pictures anymore. Mad props to Tokina BTW! The mounted 11-16mm lens survived without a scratch or any other damages as I found out with relief the next day.
Sunday evening past 7 p.m. – of course I was in shock at first, because going on a photo trip without a camera is pretty pointless. So we headed towards the flame to take some picture which I couldn’t do since my photo camera broke and Mike couldn’t do because of the lighting, lenses and passing traffic. So I took the video you can find below the article – it doesn’t fully capture the beauty of the flame, but it will always remind me of the death of my favourite camera so far (I also included the last JPG I ever took with it, even though it wasn’t related to urbex). Back at the car we decided to look for an electronics store, although it was almost 8 p.m. on a Sunday evening. After a couple of minutes we found a shopping mall, but it didn’t have a camera store. The staff at the mall was very nice, telling us where to find an electronics store – but it closed at 8. Michael, who did all the talking since his Japanese is WAY better than mine, wasn’t discouraged by that and asked for the phone number of the store. Although the store was closed Michael called and somebody picked up. He told them my tricky situation and they agreed to let us into the store if we hurry – so I got into a taxi and went straight to the store. There a guy with pretty decent English helped me at the camera department. I was hoping to replace the D90 with another one, but they didn’t have them in stock. A lower model was out of the question, so the only option was a D7000. Which they didn’t have in stock either. Just the display model – which they couldn’t sell me without the kit lens since it was a display model. After some deliberation and the certainty that not buying that display model would mean losing at least 5 hours the next morning looking for another camera (electronic stores in Japan usually open at 10 a.m.) I half voluntarily upgraded from a Nikon D90 to a Nikon D7000. With a bad feeling since I not only spent a huge chunk of money, but I also had to learn by doing how to handle a new camera. While I’m very pleased with how the photos of all locations turned out it was quite unnerving at times to get the shots I wanted to take.

Now just a few quick words about the locations we visited. The undisputed highlight of the tour was the abandoned Japanese Sex Museum. Both Michael and I had high expectations and we were not the slightest disappointed, shooting in almost complete darkness for the majority of the 4 hours we spent there. Another glorious highlight to me was the Kart Pista Hiroshima race track – why it was a highlight you’ll find out soon. Since theme parks are one of my favourite types of abandoned place we visited two of them and I loved them both. 4 world class haikyo in 3 days – plus 2 good ones (a Meiji Era army fortress and a quite tricky hotel) as well as 2 more we took pictures of because we went there and it would have been a waste not to cover them… a strip bar in an onsen town (euphemistically called “theater”) and a car camp site. To my knowledge all of these places never appeared on English speaking blogs, some of them are even unknown to the Japanese urbex crowd. So please enjoy the preview pictures and come back for much more information, photos and about one hour of video material!

Here’s an alphabetical list of the upcoming locations:
Ganne Fortress
Hiroshima New Zealand Farm
Japanese Sex Museum
Kart Pista Hiroshima
Moriyama Auto Camp
Noga Hotel
Onsen Town Theater
Yamaguchi New Zealand Village

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The Tohoku Earthquake of March 11th 2011 was a horrible, horrible event. I was on the 16th floor of an office building in Osaka at the time, almost 1,000 km away from the epicenter – but looking at the faces of my Japanese colleagues I could see that most of them remembered another horrible earthquake: the Great Hanshin Earthquake (a.k.a. Kobe Earthquake), January 17th 1995; the second worst earthquake in Japan of the 20th century with about 6,500 casualties. 200,000 buildings collapsed, the total damage was more than 100 billion US-dollars – with massive consequences for all of Kansai as many companies moved to Tokyo and other parts of Japan, closing subsidiaries in Kobe, Osaka and Kyoto out of fear of another earthquake; which is kind of strange since a major earthquake is overdue in Tokyo for quite a while now…

One of the buildings that were severely damaged in Kobe was the former Iranian general consulate or Persia House, as it was known in its later days. In the 19th century Kobe opened its ports quickly for oversea trade and became host of one of the biggest foreign communities in all of Japan. Especially an area now known as Kitano was the home of many, many merchants from all over the world. Nowadays a major tourist attraction Kitano is the home of small antique shops, fancy bakeries, lots of wedding halls and bridal gown boutiques as well as countless French bistros – or whatever Japanese people think French bistros should be like… And of course there are the old merchant houses. The Weathercock House (German style…), the Denmark House, the Original Holland House – and before the Great Hanshin Earthquake happened there was the already mentioned Persia House.

The Persia House was a 2 storey wooden building with a kiritsuma style roof. Until 1981 it was the home of the Iranian general consulate in Kobe, afterwards it was opened to the public as a tourist attraction, housing the Persian Art Museum which showcased pottery of the Persian Empire. In 1983 the Persia House received three sets of leaded glass windows from Roger Nachman Glassworks, making it even more beautiful than before.

Unlike the neighboring foreign residences the Persia House wasn’t rebuilt after the Great Hanshin Earthquake hit Kobe – nor was it demolished. It seems like the ruin was left alone for almost a decade until in 2004 city of Kobe seized the premises since the owner didn’t pay taxes for quite a while. Since from that point on the ruin was a problem of the city a green stockade was erected to keep people from hurting themselves; and to make it harder for the ruin to catch the innocent tourists’ attention. Hardly anybody likes an “eyesore” like that in a preppy area like Kitano, but it seems like nobody had the will or authority to get rid of it completely – and that assumption would have been dead wrong as the city in fact tries hard to get rid of the whole problem. So far the premises were up for public auction nine times, but there was never a taker, although the minimum bid was lowered in six steps from 159 million Yen to 95,4 million Yen. (1.5 million Euro / 1.9 million US$ to 0.88 million Euro / 1.56 million US$)

When I was visiting the Persia House it was kind of funny to watch dozens of tourists pass through the narrow street the former art museum is located at without even realizing that there was a ruin. But as soon as I took my camera to take some photos over the picket fence 80% of the people passing by did the same. After a while I left trying to take pictures from another angle – when I came back to the front again none of the passing tourists seemed to see the ruins…

I guess those tourists are basically the main reason why the location is one of the least photographed haikyo considering its exposed location in the heart of Kobe. Hopping the fence wouldn’t have been a problem, although a cable and a connected electronic device might have been some kind of alarm system. But even if you made it past the fence you could always be seen by people passing by. On the adjacent estate to the north is actually the Original Holland House (and with that I can as well mark the *location on the map*…) – looking down from its back porch you probably have a pretty good view at the side of the ruins of the Persia House. Sadly the teenager at the entrance wouldn’t let me take a couple of photos and I wasn’t willing to pay the 700 Yen entrance fee for 2 minutes of not entering the friggin house. I recently spent 15.000 Yen on a roundtrip train ticket expecting to see a demolished amusement park, so I don’t consider myself cheap, but come on! The Dutch being of German blood I would have expected a little bit more solidarity…

Anyway: board fence + uncontrolled plant growth + tourists + shooting in west direction in the afternoon = a picture set I’m not very proud of.

To end this article on a funny note, please have a look at the last photo of the set. I took this nearby at one of Kobe’s major tourist spots. It’s the map of a public restroom. Not a map showing public restrooms in the area – a map of ONE public restroom. If your sense of direction is below par you better study the map before you enter to avoid getting lost… unless you are a man. The gentlemen’s section is so small it really is your own fault if you get lost!

(Update 2013-01-05: The Persia House was demolished since I took the photos – I’ll write a RIP article as soon as possible…)

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After a couple of explorations with family and friends during my summer vacation 2011 it was about time to fly solo for the first time in Germany. The place to go: an abandoned shipyard along the river Rhine in a really nice little town called Germersheim, the city of syringa and the nightingale, just south of the way more famous Speyer. Germersheim was first mentioned in written form in 1090, but it was most likely founded more than a 1000 years prior to that. One of many beautiful small towns in the Rhine-Neckar Metropolitan Region.

It was kind of by chance that I stumbled across the place since I never saw it on the usual German urbex blogs and homepages – but the more excited I was about it. So enjoy, dear German urban explorers. While you can…

At first I was actually thinking about calling this location Shipyard G# – but that would have prohibited me from writing about the long and and turbulent history of the Shipyard Germersheim. Founded as “Oberrheinische Schiffswerft Spatz & Co GmbH” (Upper-Rhenish Shipyard Spatz & Co., Ltd.) in 1927 the company was renamed to “Germersheimer Schiffswerft” (Shipyard Germersheim) in 1953 after the “Reederei Reichel & Co” (Shipping Company Reichel & Co.) bought into the dockyard – but for whatever reasons the sign on top of the buildings says “Schiffswerft Germersheim”. In 1989 the company had to file for bankrupcy, but a rescue company with the creative name “Neue Germersheimer Schiffswerft” (New Shipyard Germersheim) was founded. Interesting fact: When Germany granted a guarantee to build two ships it was ordered by Brussels in December of 1990 to withdraw it since the whole procedure was repugnant to the Treaty of Rome (the whole thing was rather complicated, but it had something to do with a development aid project for the benefit of Senegal – we’ll kinda get to that topic later on again…). The new company was nevertheless successful for a couple of years, but finally failed in 2002. In 2009 a few scenes of an episode of the most popular German crime TV show “Tatort” (there is an English Wikipedia entry about the series if you wanna look it up… more than 800 episodes since 1970 – eat that, CSI!) called “Tod auf dem Rhein” (Death on the Rhine) was shot at the abandoned (New) Shipyard Germersheim and broadcasted in early 2010. A guy passing by on his bike told me that there are plans to tear everything down to build some mansions (with marinas, I guess), but nothing has happened yet to my knowledge…

The shipyard started by building inland cargo ships and pusher crafts, but later added tugboats, tankers and passenger ships to their portfolio. In the Spatz years the dockyard was also famous for (and a European leader in) repairing and conversions. More international fame was gained with the towboat Zongwe and the coastal motor vessel Lukuga, both built in pieces at the shipyard in Germersheim and assembled on location at Lake Tanganyika. In 1990, after the reboot, the ferry Le Joola (80 meters long, 12.5 meters wide, designed for 536 passengers and and a crew of 44) was built to cruise the coast of Senegal – one of the biggest ships ever to be built on the Upper-Rhine. 2002 turned out to be a horrible year for both the shipyard and the Le Joola. The ferry capsized and sank off the coast of Senegal, more than 1800 people died while 65 were rescued, making it the second largest naval desaster since World War 2.

I actually didn’t know any of that background when exploring the shipyard on a hot and humid late summer day. The gate to the area with access to the Rhine was wide open, so I had a look at the backside first. Later I spotted some anglers and probably some geocachers at the waterfront, too (there is a cache on the premises or at least very close by… lost places geocaches are becoming more and more popular and people go there with their whole families). Back at the main street I saw that the sliding gate at the entrance and the porter’s office were closed – the door to the management office building was secured by an additional chain with a heavy lock. I decided to have a look at the rest of the area from the outside to think about how to enter, so that’s what I did. After visiting the *Kawaminami Shipyard* just a couple of months prior it was interesting to see a dockyard that survived way longer although it was founded earlier. Some of the construction buildings were very old, probably from the founding days – too bad they were pretty much empty. So was the office building – way more modern, but empty. And moldy! I’m sure the hot and humid day didn’t help, but I could actually feel how it became more difficult to breathe inside of the building – that’s why I kinda hurried to get out of there again.

It’s hard to imagine that once 140 people were planning, constructing and welding ships at this quiet, almost tranquil place. All the machines were gone and about half of the former dockyard area was already taken over by another business – one that continues the metal work and painting: a car tuning and repair shop. (At least that’s what it looked like from the distance, I didn’t get really close to avoid drawing any kind of attention.)

Visiting the Shipyard Germersheim was a great experience overall. Sunny weather, a pretty much unknown and rather unique location with a long history und barely any hazards – it’s good to know that there are still places to uncover back home in Germany…

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Addendum 2014-08-06: Three years later I *revisited the Shipyard Germersheim* – only to find it completely vandalized… 😦

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Takarazuka is one of those bedroom towns at the foot of the Rokko Mountains, home to thousands of commuters working in Kobe and Osaka. Like Nishinomiya and Ashiya (both to the south) Takarazuka is a rich suburb. While Nishinomiya is famous for sake and the Hanshin Tigers in all of Japan till this very day, Takarazuka’s brightest days are in the past – although it’s still a beautiful place to live and attracts hordes of tourists every weekend. The days of Hanshinkan Modernism, which made Takarazuka one of THE places to be in the early 20th century, may be long gone, but a few parts of this cultural heyday survived for almost a century. Prime example being the Takarazuka Revue, an all-female musical theater troupe, founded in 1913 by the president of Hankyu Railways to attract more people to come to Takarazuka and its hot springs – and of course to sell train tickets… 99 years later the revue is popular as always with ticket prices up to 11.000 Yen. While the hot springs are outshined by the nearby Arima Onsen town Takarazuka gained a new attraction in 1994 when the Osamu Tezuka Manga Museum (Takarazuka’s Tezuka Osamu Memorial Hall) opened its door. This three floor museum is dedicated to Osamu Tezuka (who would have thought it?), the godfather of anime, father of manga, Japan’s Walt Disney – and creator of Astro Boy, Kimba the White Lion (still in development hell at Nintendo?) and Black Jack. Oh, and of course there are dozens of hiking trails in the mountains to Takarazuka’s west and north!

Being one modern and tidy city Takarazuka is way less famous for abandoned places. I’ve actually never seen one on any of the Japanese haikyo blogs. The more surprised I was when I spotted some rusty machinery on my way back from a hiking trip a couple of years ago, long before I started urban exploration as a hobby. So when I remembered the rusty gold a few months ago I saved it for one of those “I wanna explore an abandoned place, but I don’t wanna get up at 6 a.m. to ride several trains for 3 or 4 hours” days. In February of 2012 I finally went back to Takarazuka again – after lunch, because I could!

When I was exploring the Takarazuka Macadam Industrial Plant I wasn’t sure what the place was exactly. Judging by the look of the surroundings and the machinery left behind I guessed it was another limestone mine, an industry almost omnipresent in Japanese countryside – just without the chemical plant the *White Stone Mine* had. A stone crusher was also missing, which is kind of ironic in retrospect given the fact that the kanji for macadam are the same as the ones used in the Japanese term for “crushing stones”. So basically all I found were a couple of loading bays (probably with sorting devices to separate small stones from bigger ones) and conveyor belts; plus controls for the machinery. Some installed within wooden huts in dangerously desolate state, some in wooden boxes just nailed and bolted to concrete walls; I guess waterproof wasn’t invented back then…

Exploring the area was especially exciting since I’ve never seen the place anywhere on the internet before – and it was dangerous! Every step forward, every corner revealed more unsound wood and brittle metal. I guess somebody lived for a while in one of the shacks and left behind, among other things, a suitcase full of porn. Yes, not just a couple of magazines – a whole suitcase full of the censored Japanese school girl porn that seems to be so common for abandoned places in this country… I guess you could call it the Porn Shack.

The other thing that really fascinated me was the already mentioned wooden box containing some of the controls for some of the machinery. Being located at the foot of a mountain range Takarazuka gets its share of rain, so I really wonder who thought it would be a good idea to nail a wooden control box to a concrete wall – and put a metal control panel right next to it. One can only imagine how much maintenance those things needed…

And finally a couple of words about the history of the place – stuff I found out after I explored the plant based on the information gathered there; and of course the internet was a big help… The whole rusty thing is / was owned by a company which could (should?) be translated as Osaka Macadam Industrial Place (大阪砕石工場, Osaka Saiseki), which is still a major player in the earthwork / crushed stone industry with 350 employees and several plants all over Japan. But my limestone assumption was wrong, hence the lack of a chemical plant. Osaka Saiseki was founded 1934 and the macadam plant in Takarazuka was opened in 1938. I assume the area I explored was the old separation and transportation line that was abandoned when the plant moved further into the valley to continue ripping some chunks out of the Rokko mountain range…

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