Winter is coming! Not to Osaka, but to the Kansai region in general, as there is no real winter in Osaka. Sure, the locals start freezing the moment the temperatures fall below the 28° Celsius they set their ACs to in summer (which means that some of them go from cooling straight to heating, because nobody deserves to live in inhumane 26° weather!), but if you are from a place that actually has four seasons, you will quickly realize that Osaka doesn’t really have a winter. Temperatures barely ever fall below 0° Celsius and in the past eight years it only snowed two times hard enough for the white beauty to stick on the ground… for a few hours, never for longer. It also explains why certain types of women turn into walking urinary tract infections – if you wear belts all year long and call them dresses, then for a couple of weeks a year you have to suffer through your inability to wear proper autumn clothes… (Being male I am not complaining, I am just tired of the stupidity. The principle of cause and effect doesn’t seem to be a strength of the average ditz…)
On the other hand, Osaka is in day trip range of mountainous prefectures. Hyogo, Kyoto, Shiga, Fukui, Gifu, Mie, Nara and Wakayama all get their share of snow from as early as December on. And just because you have sunny 10°C in Osaka doesn’t mean that the weather is the same just an hour’s drive or two later. When I was planning to visit a school with *Michael Gakuran* I was aware of that fact and looked up the forecast for the target area – temperatures near freezing point, low chance of snow. Considering how unreliable the Japanese weather forecast is I expected nothing bad and off we went…
A few hours later we reached an elevation of just 600 meters… when it started to snow. Just a few flakes at first, but by the time we reached 800 meters we found ourselves in a full-blown snow storm, the white beauty definitely sticking to the ground! For the next few hours the weather changed constantly between early darkness caused by blizzard like snow falls and blue sunny skies at temperatures between -3° and +2°C. The problem in our case – what I call the Blizzard School wasn’t at 800 meters, it was significantly lower, deeper in the cool mountains. So we had to descend a few hundred meters in altitude on a typical Japanese mountain road. Snowy, sometimes barely as wide as the car (our rental car equipped with summer tires, occasionally sliding a couple of centimeters!), made of concrete (not asphalt!), sometimes cracked or damaged by falling rocks and small landslides, with steep slopes to at least one side where only tall trees would keep us from falling fifty or a hundred meters to our certain deaths. Driving at an estimated speed of 5 kilometers per hour we finally reached the Blizzard School after a painfully long drive – and Michael didn’t hesitate to admit that he is worried about driving back on that narrow, mostly snowy road (on some stretches the thick forest protected the road from getting snowed in). Well, we were halfway down the mountain, we could as well stay and have a look at the school after driving there for hours! And of course we did, everything else would have been a waste, but we agreed to leave well before sunset in case we would have to walk to a village along the way to ask for help.
The Blizzard School turned out to be an excellent exploration, partly because of the circumstances. Of course we were excited that we made there despite the horrible weather condition, but the snow outside and the cold temperatures everywhere just added to the atmosphere of being a student here 30, 40, 50 years ago; when 3 months of winter in the mountains was a reality for a dozen students or two.
Like quite a few abandoned Japanese schools, the Blizzard School wasn’t located in a village, but between two hamlets; which was good for us as we didn’t have to worry about neighbors showing up. Despite being a rather small school with only six rooms, including the inaccessible nursing room (or nurse’s room?), it took us almost four hours (!) to explore and shoot the place as the wooden structure was stuffed with all kinds of items: sports gear, tools, books, a taxidermy caiman, chemistry lesson equipment, an almost full-sized anatomical model of the human body, a globe, an overhead projector, a piano AND an organ, several TVs, an old daylight slide and strip film projector – and the list could go on and on and on. I’ve been to my share of schools this year, but hardly any of them came even close to what was left behind at the Blizzard School. And taking photos there wasn’t an easy process – partly because some of the floor was damaged, partly because the light inside the school changed on a regular basis due to the weather conditions outside; which brought back memories of the amazing *Tenkaen, a Chinese themed park in Hokkaido*.
There is not much known about the history of the school, but given that its schedule said Showa 62 (1987) and the calendar in the kitchen ended in March / April 1988, it is pretty safe to say that the Blizzard School was closed at the end of the school year 1987/8 – new Japanese school years start in April.
Still in decent condition, it’s only a matter of time until the Blizzard School will be gone. Built below the mountain road on a small (most likely manmade) flat area, the former schoolyard already suffered from a landslide ripping a hole into the ground. There were actually some small living quarters beneath the kitchen and the organ room of the school, probably for the head teacher; directly at the slope, so a disaster is just a matter of time; whether it’ll be a landslide starting there or a landslide rushing through from above, the school collapsing from the weight of heavy snowfalls or just from mold damages – danger lurks everywhere. I’d actually be surprised if I would come back in 10 years and the school would still be there.
This theoretical visit would take place in summer though as going down that crazy snowy road once was enough for me. Luckily we didn’t have to leave the valley by driving up a mountain again – after following the road we came on for about another 45 minutes the valley opened up and released us to a wide, paved and snow free National Route… the wonderful feeling of bringing another set of urbex photos back to safety!
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