Archive for December, 2012

When Conan was asked “What is best in life?” he answered “To crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentation of their women.” – I’m pretty sure if the Mongol general would have asked him “What is worst in life?” Conan would have answered “To marry a Japanese woman, see her taking your paycheck, and to hear the lamentation about setting the AC to a ‘freezing’ 28° C in the middle of summer.”

Please forgive this provocative generalization of an introduction, but whenever I stumble across an abandoned love hotel I can’t help but be reminded of how different Japan is in so many ways to my home country Germany. Especially in the relationship department. What I wrote so far and will write in the lines to come is not an analysis of the Japanese society or even just its love life – I’m just describing what I see and hear as an expat living in Japan, which is quite different from the things one sees and hears as a tourist visiting Japan. After six years in Japan I tend to compare this country to a big amusement park – it’s shiny, it’s tidy, it’s expensive and everybody seems to be nice. But visiting an amusement park and working in an amusement park are two completely different things…

Last time I visited an abandoned love Hotel (*Love Hotel Gion*) I wrote about the love hotel industry in Japan in general – this time I will rant a little bit about relationships in Japan. Back home in Germany, when you talk about your girlfriend or wife, you are usually in the range of being honest to being more positive than it actually is; unless you have a beer with your best buddy, then it might turn into a bitchfest. Not so in Japan! The vast majority of people married to a Japanese woman, no matter if they are foreigners or Japanese, bitch openly about their significant others to everybody – constantly! For every happily married couple I can name two or three where the guy calls his wife “The Dictator” or at least doesn’t feel that it is a waste of time to feed his new-born kid after being pressured into having children… It’s depressing sometimes. (Maybe I should add that I never did any of the above and find Japanese women rather sweet and caring… but I was never married to one.)
While pretty much every woman’s biological clock starts to tick at a certain age that certain age is definitely lower in Japan. The big 3-0 seems to be the current number where cute, open-minded girls turn into little monsters obsessed with marriage – if you meet a woman past 35 you better look for rings right away and get prepared to father a child or two. But that actually is progress in comparison to a derogatory term popular for decades in Japan: Leftover Christmas Cake. Leftover Christmas Cake was a not so flattering way to call an unmarried Japanese woman over the age 25. In Japan Christmas is kind of an additional Valentine’s Day you spend with your significant other eating a beautiful, but extremely overpriced cake – and Leftover Christmas Cake is something nobody wants… Since the ticking deadline is now 30 instead of 25 the term isn’t as popular anymore and you can always see the surprise or even shock on a Japanese person’s face when you mention it.

But even if you get married before the age of 30 it seems like people just follow set behaviors, no matter if they make sense or not; like hardly anybody goes swimming in the ocean after September 1st because according to Japanese definition it’s autumn now – it doesn’t matter that it’s still 32° C outside, you don’t go swimming in autumn since it’s a summer thing to do. And it’s the same with married Japanese women. They quit their jobs, they dress differently, they behave differently. Again: Not all of them, but a lot. A couple of years ago a Japanese friend of mine, a cute girl in her mid 20s, wrote me something along these lines: “I know it’s a horrible thing to say, but I don’t want to work anymore. Maybe I should get married…” – I’m not making this up! In Japan the women have control over the money. No matter how much the husband makes or how high he is on the career ladder: The woman gets the paycheck and the husband gets some pocket money. And if he needs more he has to ask his wife – if he’s lucky enough to have access to a bank account he better remembers when and why he used the ATM, because it’s highly likely that he will have the justify the use of that card. One of the reasons guys married to Japanese women tend to bitch about their wives…

Wives that they sometimes barely know. While arranged marriages are not common in Japan it is not exactly unusual that parents introduce their daughters to suitable candidates – especially when their daughters have passed the devilish age of 30. Traditionally men and women are not platonic friends with each other – and if a couple isn’t working at the same company it’s not really rare that they see each other only once or twice a week, because they are both super busy at work; especially the guys. And that’s another big difference to what I’m used to – unless you are having a long distance relationship you see (and get to know) your significant other on 5, 6, 7 days a week where I come from; way more often than in Japan. With the result that a lot of men (including foreigners) are marrying Japanese women they don’t know nearly as much about as if they would have been in a relationship with a woman in a western country for the same amount of time. On the other hand that fact makes it easier to stay at work till 9, 10 or 11 p.m. every night… Who wants to go home to a wife and kids they barely know…?
For a lot of Japanese men it almost seems to be a hassle to have a relationship after all – the so-called Herbivore Men (草食(系)男子, sōshoku(-kei) danshi) are described as having an “indifferent attitude towards desire of flesh”. Whenever you think you’ve heard it all…

Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure there are many, many, many happy (happy!) marriages in Japan, but when I listen to co-workers and friends hardly anybody seems to be really happy in their marriage – and a lot of them cheat on their wives.

And that finally brings us to the exploration of the Furuichi Love Hotel in Hyogo prefecture – an original find I’ve never seen anywhere else before, including Japanese haikyo blogs! Like the *Love Hotel Gion* the Furuichi Love Hotel was more like a motel. You drove into a garage (this one even had closable doors!) and entered a small apartment from there – on the right side was a Japanese style toilet, on the left side a bathroom, straight ahead the fun room with the king size bed and all the other extras. Like the Love Hotel Gion the Furuichi Love Hotel was in pretty bad shape. Most garages were locked and the dozen rooms were accessible via a two small hallways in abysmal state – some vandals used a pickaxe for some remodeling. They did surprisingly little damage to most of the rooms, so I was able to take photos in three of them. Sadly the light from the hallway wasn’t enough to see anything there, so I had to use my flashlight again to bring some light to those abandoned love caves.

The rest of the area was in a state of destruction, too. Right at the entrance was a small house for the manager of the hotel, the interior covered by some smelly pink powder – most likely somebody emptied a fire extinguisher there. The backyard was turned into a junkyard, but if you are looking for a Japanese style toilet you might find an undamaged one there. Glass shards and pieces of porcelain were all over the place, but what really caught my eyes was a sex toy with a cable remote hanging in one of the trees – Merry XXX-Mas everybody!

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The Tenkaen, literally Flower Garden of Heaven (but also known as China Park of Heaven), was probably the biggest location *Michael* and I visited on our *haikyo trip to Hokkaido*. Opened in 1992 and closed in 1999 this deserted China themed park now is longer abandoned than it was in business – and it showed…

Japan and China have a long common history full of complications – and the recent election of the Japanese House of Representatives most likely won’t change the situation, especially regarding the Senkaku Islands. Nevertheless Japanese people seem to love themed parks that are not necessarily theme parks. Unlike famous theme parks like Disneyland or Universal Studios the dozens of themed parks all over Japan don’t have fast and expensive rides. They really are just themed parks that offer a more or less authentic look at the theme they chose – usually other countries like Germany (Doitsu no Mura Kronenberg), Spain (Spain Mura / Parque Espana), the Netherlands (Huis Ten Bosch) or New Zealand (Tohoku New Zealand Mura). Most of them were build during the real estate bubble in the late 1980s/90s and a lot of them were already closed (like the *Hiroshima New Zealand Farm* and the *Yamaguchi New Zealand Village*) or even leveled.

The Tenkaen is not much different in that regard. Opened in 1992 as one of four big theme(d) parks in Noboribetsu (the other being the Noboribetsu Bear Park (opened in 1958), the Noboribetsu Marine Park Nixe (opened in 1990), and the Noboribetsu Date Jidaimura – a Edo era themed park opened in 1992), the Tenkaen was modeled after a garden court from the Qing Dynasty (1644 to 1912) and in addition included a 5-storey pagoda with a height of 40 meters and a bell donated by China to commemorate 20 years of rather friendly diplomatic relations. Sadly the Tenkaen didn’t last nearly as long, probably due the steep entrance fee of 1,900 Yen (1,100 Yen for senior citizens and elementary school students). In the first business year (1992/1993) only 270,000 people visited the 40,000 square meter site – and it went only downhill from there. In 1995 the attendance numbers were down to half in comparison to the first record year and in 1998 the opening days were reduced and a winter closing was introduced – on October 31st 1999, only seven and a half years after the grand opening, the Tenkaen was closed for good and now is one of the most famous abandoned places in Hokkaido.

Michael and I arrived at a reasonable time in the morning at the Tenkaen, expecting a rather long day of shooting there, but we had no idea what the layout of the location would really be since this China themed park is located in a rural area where even GoogleMaps isn’t much of a help. The weather was sunny, but nevertheless strangely gloomy, offering lighting conditions I have never seen before at an abandoned place. The whole area was dusted with a thin layer of snow, so we chose our ways carefully not to leave to many visible footprints. After we spent about half an hour at the garden palace area the sun began hiding behind some clouds and we were hit by a snowstorm. The atmosphere changed completely and the photos we took looked like they were taken at a different day. The storm lasted for about half an hour and ended abruptly when the sun came back with a vengeance, melting the freshly fallen snow along with the one we found at our arrival – so much for walking carefully not to leave footprint.

But that wasn’t the last time the weather would change. It seemed like the Tenkaen wanted to live up to its name – there weren’t a lot of flowers, but heaven changed about every 30 minutes, switching between gorgeous sunlight and almost blizzard like snowstorms. Which was great for us *haikyoists*, because whatever part of the Tenkaen we explored, we always had a variety of weather conditions to take pictures of. Altogether we spent 4.5 hours at the Tenkaen, and if it wouldn’t have been for a long list of other locations to be visited on the same day (and the ice cold wind, especially on the higher floors of the pagoda!) we probably would have stayed much longer…

Personally I loved the Tenkaen – it was my kind of abandoned place: in the middle of nowhere, open space, nice weather, interesting location, not that much vandalism, lots of natural decay, unique theme. The two major streets with dozens of cars passing by were a little bit annoying at times, especially when exploring the floors of the pagoda, but overall it was a great experience, not least because of the constantly changing weather conditions. I would love to come back one day in a warmer season of the year, to see some more green and maybe to take some night shots!

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Some locations just have a sound to them that is irresistible, places you want to visit purely based on their names. Like the *Abandoned Japanese Sex Museum*, *Nara Dreamland* or the *Zone of Alienation* – names that create images even without knowing anything about them. When I heard about the Olympic Ruins Of Sapporo I knew I had to see them at one point or the other. There have been only 21 Olympic Winter Games so far and although the ones in Sapporo were held 40 years ago I was stunned to hear that some of the locations were abandoned – which, admittedly, is kind of naïve given the fact that even some event locations of the Olympic Summer Games in Athens (2004!) are already abandoned!

Since my first day in Sapporo was surprisingly sunny and I had some time to kill till my fellow explorer would arrive, I took the opportunity to not wait for a second trip to Hokkaido and have a look at the Olympic ruins right away. Sadly the whole thing sounded a lot better in theory than it ended up to be…
First of all: The skiing season in Hokkaido starts in early December, but I was in Sapporo in late November – so there were no buses running, only taxis. When I told the (female) train station staff that I will walk instead I was taken away by a prime example of a typical wave of Japanese surprise and disbelief. Still hilarious even after six years…

5 kilometers, 400 meters altitude difference and 1.5 hours later (I took my time…) I finally reached the Olympic Ruins Of Sapporo 1972. In the 1972 Winter Olympics this area was the bobsleigh goal house – the track was constructed from reinforced concrete between October 1969 and January 1972 for 433 million Yen and highlighted by 127 lamps for night runs. After Nagano was rewarded the 1998 Winter Olympics the bobsleigh track in Sapporo (1563 meters long, 132 meters vertical drop, 14 turns) was dismantled in 1991, but the goal house wasn’t.
Since I was stopping by at another location first it was already getting dark by the time I arrived halfway up Mount Teine. The area around the bobsleigh goal house was covered by snow completely, making it difficult to approach safely and impossible to reach the back area and the green shack halfway up a slope. I was able to enter the basement though, where all kinds of crap and some heavy machines were rotting and rusting. Sadly I forgot my flashlight at the hotel, so I wasn’t able to enter the ground floor or the first floor, both in a quite dilapidated state anyway. It also made me hurry quite a bit so I would get back to civilization at daylight to limit the risk of breaking some body part due to black ice or getting run over by one of the few cars speeding up and down the mountain. Furthermore I am a jeans and T-shirt guy all year round, not well prepared for winters since there are no winters in Osaka… and it got pretty friggin cold up there after a while, especially after the sun was hiding from about 3 p.m. on!
So in the end it was a quick look at an unspectacular location, but I was able to take some photos of an abandoned building with the Olympic rings on it – and that made me feel like a winner!

(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*…)

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Abandoned Kansai in Hokkaido… Who would have thought that? Up till now I never made it further east than the center of Japan’s main island Honshu. I limited myself to the western half of Japan, because that was the reason I started this blog. Heck, initially I wanted to limit myself to the Kansai region; hence “Abandoned Kansai”, not “Abandoned Japan” or “Abandoned West Japan”. But then the “once in a while” hobby urban exploration turned into a regular thing and only weeks later I went to different regions, then to different islands – and in spring of 2012 I did a *haikyo trip to Okinawa* together with my urbex buddy *Michael Gakuran*. “What’s next?” was the big question, and the answer was found quickly – we already explored Japan’s most western prefecture, so we kind of had to explore Japan’s most eastern prefecture, Hokkaido!

Usually I plan my urbex trips on short notice. One time I brought my urbex equipment to work on Friday to see how I feel during the day, booked a hotel in the afternoon and left for a weekend trip right after work. Flexibility like that is impossible when partnering up for a long distance trip, so Michael and I booked plane tickets weeks ahead – and according to the weather forecast we ended up with a rainy weekend; a long weekend even, to which we added some days. Luckily the forecast was as reliable as always in Japan and so 4 out of my 5 days in Hokkaido were sunny and slightly snowy, only the last one came with 8° Celsius and rain.

Since I arrived almost a day earlier than Michael the original plan for me was to do some sightseeing in Sapporo. To my surprise the weather was sunny to cloudy, no rain at all, so instead of visiting indoor classics like the Sapporo Clock Tower, the Ishiya Chocolate Factory or the Sapporo Beer Museum I opted for a little hike to Mount Teine, once home to some of the sports events at the 1972 Winter Olympics in Sapporo. One day of good weather? I had to take advantage of that! Then it turned out that the next three days were pretty nice, too – which is a big advantage when doing urban exploration as you spend a lot of time outdoors…
On the last day Michael and I split – while he drove for hours to infiltrate a location he asked me to keep secret for now, I went on to do some really touristy stuff, like visiting the old harbor town of Otaru and taking a glass blowing lesson. My favorite touristic place though was the Sapporo night view from the freshly renovated observation platform on top of Mount Moiwa – stunningly beautiful! It was soooooo cold up there, but the view was absolutely amazing! I went there on the first day before visiting the Sapporo White Illumination and I strongly recommend to pay Mt. Moiwa a visit – I would love to shoot a time-lapse video from up there…
Overall the trip to Hokkaido was a great mix of urbex and tourist stuff. Five days I really enjoyed, probably more than any five consecutive days I spent in Osaka this year… So this is a list of the abandoned places I ended up visiting:
Advantest Research Institute
Bibai Bio Center
Canadian World Park
Hokkaido House Of Hidden Treasures
Horonai Coal Mine Substation
Mt. Teine Ski Lift
National Sanatorium Sapporo
Olympic Ruins Of Sapporo 1972
Sankei Hospital
Sapporo Art Village
Showa-Shinzan Tropical Plant Garden
Tenkaen – Japan’s Lost China Theme Park

(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*…)

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