One of the trends during the Japanese Asset Price Bubble of 1986 to 1991 was building company retreats – on top of mountains with stunning views, in old onsen towns, along the coast. Regular trips for team building in addition to the weekly drinking nights were a given anyway, so why not go all in and build a weekend house with the company logo on it? It surely was a lot more prestigious than sending the staff off to a ryokan or a hotel. As soon as a company had a couple of hundred employees it also had a more or less big and luxurious house somewhere; and not only companies – universities and private high schools, too. Some of those buildings were small wooden huts for 6 to 8 people, others were kind of company hotels with (part-time) staff, taking care of chores like cooking, cleaning and gardening. Most of them were for class trips, department vacations and team building events – others could be booked like a hotel with internal company credit.
As we all know the real estate bubble burst and the Japanese economy began to struggle. It actually still does, probably more than ever since World War 2. Over the past 10 to 15 years a lot of those relaxation retreats became too expensive and were just abandoned; because the company went bankrupt or because it couldn’t afford the running expenses anymore and wasn’t able to sell the property.
In 2012 I visited about 100 abandoned places in Japan and Germany and I had quite a slow start into 2013 – the weather wasn’t exactly great and I felt a bit exhausted. Last Thursday I had to make a decision whether to go on a (non-urbex) trip for three days as I wanted to see a shrine festival near Nagoya, but I still felt tired and worn out by one of those colds that get you in Japan every couple of weeks in winter, since most companies don’t have sick days and therefore people drag themselves to the office instead of taking a paid day off. It was on that Thursday morning when I found two extremely motivating comments by Nikki praising the last two photo sets I published – and while I appreciate every comment (especially the positive ones! :)) it was the timing of those two that gave me the final push to see Inuyama Castle, attend the Tagata Shrine Festival, take the gondola up Mount Gozaisho, do a boat trip from Toba to Iruka Island and finally pay a visit to the famous Ise Grand Shrine. Although I knew that there were abandoned places near all of those locations I didn’t do much preparation as I wanted to experience Japan again the same way I did when I fell in love with it – as a tourist, doing touristy things.
While I was walking along a countryside road on one of those three days, minding my own business, thinking about this and that, I saw a house with an open door from the corner of my eye, MISATO.TENNIS.CLUB written in neon green letters above it. If the door would have been closed I probably would have passed by as the building was in good condition and there was nothing unusual about it. But an open door and neon green letters… who knows?
So I turned around and had a closer look. While I was entering I was trying to remember simple phrases in Japanese, like “Excuse me, do you know where can I buy something to drink?”, just in case I would run into somebody – but nobody was there. From the outside the building looked like a normal single-family house, but the entrance area and the name above the door made it pretty clear that it was one of those company vacation facilities.
Since I have never seen the Misato Tennis Club Lodge anywhere on the internet I tried to be as careful as possible. Original finds are always especially exciting to explore, but this one was in exceptional condition – no graffiti, no vandalism, barely any signs that the place was really abandoned. The saddest thing about this lodge was a dead bird I found in the hallway of the upper floor. Other than that it was a clean place with lots of stuff left behind – like the model of a boat on the counter at the entrance, lots of plates near the kitchen and plenty of furniture. With a couple of cleaning products you could make that place ready for occupancy within a day! (I guess that’s what the Misato Tennis Club is thinking, too, as I found a completely faded sign with a phone number outside…)
I had been to similar places before (although I haven’t written about them yet), so I didn’t take a lot of photos – especially since I didn’t bring my tripod and the lighting conditions inside the building weren’t always great. But it turned out that the lodge was full of lines and fascinating details. Well, at least fascinating to me. If you want to see what the place looked like in general I recommend to watch the video – the photo set mostly shows those details I was strangely attracted to; in that regard the lodge reminded me of the *Takarazuka Macadam Industrial Plant*. All of the photos I took were taken freehand within 30 minutes. And while not all of them turned out the way I hoped others still put a smile on my face. So much that I had to write about the place right away, although it really wasn’t that spectacular. But it was an original find in great condition, a rare combination nowadays, where you have more urbex blogs than abandoned places…
The downside of an original find is that it’s close to impossible to find any information about it. The Misato Tennis Club Lodge could have been abandoned a year ago, maybe five; maybe it just wasn’t used during winter and somebody forgot to close the door when he had a look at what to fix for the new season? Some places in Japan go to shit in a heartbeat, others look barely touched after 30 years. In this case one to three years kind of sound reasonable, the remote location being the reason why it was spared by vandals. (There actually is a Misato Tennis Club in driving distance of the lodge – and like I said, their phone number can be found on a sign outside. They have locations in Yokkaichi and Suzuka, and about a dozen trainers; including head coach Robert “Bobie” Angelo, a Davis Cup player from the Philippines.)
I always try to be as respectful as possible when exploring an abandoned place, but I think this time I didn’t even leave footprints… I actually wiped off my shoes on the doormat before entering! Like all exceptional original finds the Misato Tennis Club Lodge will forever have a special place in my heart and I really hope it will find a new owner before it falls victims to vandals or the forces of nature.