The Lost Forest School was one of the oldest schools I’ve ever explored – founded in 1903, it was built 110 years prior to my visit… and no student has been studying there for more than 40 years!
I think I mentioned before that most “abandoned” schools in Japan are rather closed and most likely inaccessible – or they are accessible, because locals still maintain, but do not lock them (properly). The Lost Forest School on the other hand really deserved the status abandoned. Located deep, deep, deeeeeeep in the mountains of Kyoto prefecture, this compulsory elementary school originally was for grades 1 to 4, later from 1 to 6 – I doubt that a lot of the students continued beyond the then mandatory eight years of school education and rather started working in the family business. Once probably much larger, the nearby hamlet consisted of about a dozen houses of the time of my visit, though most of them looked abandoned, too. I wouldn’t be surprised if this area goes from population 0 in winter to maybe a dozen in summer – like so often older people returning to their former full time homes, doing some gardening; definitely not a commuter community…
The Lost Forest School itself was surprisingly big and surprisingly boarded up. Given its location, the area most likely gets a lot of snow in winter, so when closed in 1973, the school was properly boarded up – and since it’s quite a hassle to get out to countryside wilderness, not a lot of vandalizing savages are up for the day trip. But since one is enough, the once thoroughly sealed auditorium / gymnasium was accessible again… in theory. The sady reality though was, that a wooden building more than a century old and exposed to the weather for a few years isn’t exactly in the best condition. Despite being well ventilated now, there was the smell of mould hanging in the air when just looking through an open window – the floors bent like Beckham. Me jumping in there most likely would have resulted in a few holes in the ground and a hurt ankle, so I took a few quick shots without entering; there was nothing of interest left inside anyway. The main school building was still completely boarded up, but if the gymnasium was any indication, it was probably empty anyway – and I’ve been to so many other schools before that this obstacle didn’t turn me into a burglar. Instead I headed on to a small house next to the building, most likely for a teacher or two to live in; sadly also in bad condition beyond repair. But like pretty much all Japanese schools, this one also had an exercise space in front / between the buildings – the most interesting item there was a really old and rusty jungle gym with two trees growing through it; when the school pops up on other blogs it’s usually the picture that reveals the location, no matter what fake name they use.
Exploring the Lost Forest School was quite an interesting experience overall, despite it being low key and mostly inaccessible. But for a change this school actually looked like an abandoned school, while most other ones I’ve explored almost were too good to be true. Don’t get me wrong, I love abandoned schools in good condition and I’ve never left one thinking that I am getting tired of them, but this one had its own Meiji era charme. If nothing else, this one was unique, something I hadn’t seen before.
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