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Archive for the ‘Abandoned’ Category

Timing is everything… and in this case it allowed me to explore a closed shopping mall that was currently being prepared for demolition!

In spring of 2017 I went to Gifu to explore the *Riverside Mall* – more or less a failure as it was already under demolition and the place was crowded with workers… so I got kicked out after just a few minutes on the premises. While I took some additional shots over some fences my buddy Mark googled the mall and malls nearby and found out that there was another abandoned one just down the road, the LC World Mall. So of course we headed there to have a look, just in case.
Upon arrival the mall and the circumstances gave me a weird vibe. It looked like there were still employees in the back. Near the former main entrance there was some scaffolding a few fences, and a few cars parked – but nobody around. So we found a parking spot, too, and the main entrance open wide. Weird. I was hesitant to go in, but fearless Mark just headed inside. “I’m just looking for a toilet!” Yeah, that might work for some people, but I’m not much of a bullshitter (who looks for a toilet at a shopping mall under demolition when there is a kombini every 100 meters?), so I’m having a hard time telling stories like that. As a result I only took some photos of the closed supermarket near the entrance… and from the outside. And then I waited for Mark to come back… and waited… and waited. When he didn’t show up after a while I actually went in, too – looking for my lost friend. Not a BS story, but the honest truth. It took me about 20 minutes to find Mark, in which I shot two videos while walking around, plus I took a few photos – all freehand and without any prep at rather high ISO, basically quick snapshots to make the most of this… tricky situation… When I found Mark I urged him to get the f# out of there, which was probably a good idea as more and more construction workers showed up – heading towards (our) exit, we saw about 15 at the main entrance. Mumbling some standardized greetings we walked straight past the group towards the car, despite catching the attention of a foreman. (Grunts in Japan don’t care about anything, taking on responsibility is something nobody does voluntarily on purpose, so only people who have it had forced on them already speak up in situations like that.) We ignored the guy, got in the car and drove off as quickly as possible…
So, no. The LC World Mall wasn’t really abandoned, it was closed and prepped for demolition. Places like that usually don’t get abandoned at all, especially in Japan. Nobody gives up properties like that here! So we had lucky timing that we came between the thing being shut down and being demolished. Because thanks to the gutting crew the front door was open. And thanks to our very special timing, nobody guarded it. As it turned out we arrived at the mall at around 12:10 – enough time for the worked to leave for lunch or gather in the back! When I finally found Mark and we headed back, it was pretty much 13:00 (or 1 p.m.) – so we hit by chance the lunch sweet spot when nobody paid attention and nobody cared. (The vast majority of workers in Japan, be it blue or white collar, have a one hour lunch break between 12 and 1, often announced by bells or melodies. Who needs flex time when you can be treated like a school kid?) If we would have come 10 minutes earlier we probably wouldn’t have been able to enter, if we would have stayed 10 minutes longer somebody most likely would have called the cops – to least make sure that we didn’t steal anything…

The LC World Mall definitely wasn’t my kind of exploration for a variety of reasons, but in hindsight everything went well, so it was totally worth it. And how often do you have the opportunity to see a shopping mall being prepared for demolition? So from that perspective it was at least an interesting exploration!

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Ahhhh, it’s that time of the year again – you know the drill! (Yes, it’s the seasonal abandoned love hotel. Some standard rooms, but lots of interesting ones, too, featuring slut… uhm… slot machines, a pool table, some mini golf holes (!), an automatic mahjong table, and much more… *If you are not familiar with love hotels and want to know more about them in general, please click here.*)
Merry XXX-Mas everyone!

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With 77 years of history, dating back to the 1930s, this spectacular abandoned onsen hotel was one of the most surprising explorations I’ve ever made! Let me show you a place even experienced urbexers didn’t know existed…

Whenever I plan exploration days, I try to start with a big ticket item and fill the rest of the day with original finds (which can be hit or miss) or locations I don’t expect much of – because sometimes one location can be enough and keep you busy the whole day. Unfortunately no region has exceptionally promising locations for several days when you are an experienced explorer with hundreds of explored places under your belt – so some days become filler days with filler locations. Stuff you know about for years but never checked out, because other places looked more promising at the time. The Volcano Onsen Hotel was one of those locations – it was big, yes, and being located on an active volcano made it interesting by definition… but nobody seemed to care about it. I have never seen inside pictures before I decided to explore it – and I have not since then. I even drove by on a previous trip to that region and couldn’t be bothered to stop and enter. On paper it was just another large abandoned hotel, status unknown, but from the looks of it in decent condition. Most likely vandalized inside… or maybe with locked rooms, two unspectacular shared baths and a moldy lobby.
Well, to this very day I still don’t know what the guest rooms looked like. I didn’t even try to open a single one. After three exhausting hours of shooting riches in sparsely lit rooms on that overcast grey autumn day I was just happy and grateful to leave with some surprisingly interesting photos.

When my buddy, award-winning filmmaker *Hamish*, and I arrived at the Volcano Onsen Hotel it became apparent quickly that entering through the front door wasn’t going to happen… as a car was parked next to it and the hotel was located on a busy road. Said car actually made us wonder if an exploration was possible at all, but upon closer inspection it wasn’t clear if it was parked recently or if it was part of an abandoned ensemble. There was only one way to find out – finding another way in, preferably from the back. After passing through a small gate and past what looked like a somewhat maintained garden we had to chose Way A (leading stairs upwards to a terrace) or Way B (leading downwards along an overgrown path to the underbelly of the beast).
Out of sight, out of mind – so of course we chose Way B, which lead indeed down the slope the hotel was built on and past large locked windows of the former indoor pool. We then reached a sketchy construction of wooden stairs as well as under- and overpaths, maybe still somewhat solid a decade prior, but not after several years of abandonment under these harsh seaside conditions. Every step felt like a potentially broken ankle (or worse), but we finally made it to a variety of doors – all locked, but the area was strangely hot and humid as the hotel was still fed by slightly leaking hot water pipes. Not exactly inspiring confidence that the hotel was really abandoned for sure.
Faced with two or three dead ends we risked our ankles and necks again to get back up the slope, and after some discussions about whether it was really worth risking to set off an alarm over yet another dull abandoned Japanese hotel I realized that the terrace door was actually unlocked. Not a guarantee for an alarm free entrance (we once triggered an alarm causing security to show just reaching through a broken door and past a curtain – they didn’t catch us, but we saw them and it means that they just turned off the alarm and let other explorers run into the same trap over and over and over again; a story for another time!), but confidence inspiring enough for two no risk explorers to actually walk in and… enter the breakfast room with a view.
Everything was still in good condition, so I was tempted to start taking pictures right away, because part of me still expected that this could end at any second. No inside photos anywhere on the internet, no vandalism at all (not even metal thieves!), no animal droppings anywhere. Something must have been wrong here, right?
But in the end it was just a breakfast room / restaurant, which turned out to be the least interest part of the exploration, so I held back, left the room, turned right and stood in front of an indoor shrine. Yes, you’ve read right: indoor shrine. Next to the chow hall was an indoor shrine the size of… well, about my apartment, maybe?! Friggin huge, at least by hotel standards, where you don’t expect things like that. We’ve all seen the smaller ones, some public, some even in the corner of some backoffice – but a shrine the size of a room between the lobby and the restaurant? Never seen that before anywhere in Japan. (But I usually stay at business hotels as places too formal and exclusive make me feel uncomfortable.) A first of many surprises…
Since the lobby was at the front of the hotel with a huge glass front towards the road, we tried to stay in the back of the hotel and right next to the indoor shrine was a lounge with several chairs, sofas, very heavy tables… and all kinds of art. Pictures, sculptures, art books – you name it, it was there to entertain guest. An open door lead outside to a now overgrown garden; a sign of abandonment and the cause of some mold, but pretty much the only damage I saw during my visit.
The next couple of stops were almost dreamlike: The large bar with the empty bottle on the counter and the overgrown garden outside. The hotel’s art museum wing – partly empty glass cabinets, partly untouched religious items. The large lap pool. The classic gender separated onsen, one of the most beautiful of its kind thanks to its stunning simplicity. The outdated, but ready to be used breakfast room / restaurant. The former entertainment area with several modular karaoke boxes. The still fully stocked gift shop – too dark and risky to take pictures at, but only the second completely untouched abandoned gift shop I’ve ever seen; while this one only featured the usual array of sweets and tourist crap, the other one was stocked with necklaces and other jewelry – but that, too, is a story for another time…)

Exploring the abandoned Volcano Onsen Hotel took a little less than three hours from the first photo to the last and a little over three hours in total – and it wasn’t until we left that I realized that we hadn’t even entered a single guest room. I’ve had my share of strange moments exploring abandoned places in Japan, but this exploration almost felt like one long strange moment. As you can see at the end of this article’s photo gallery, the Volcano Onsen Hotel looked as unspectacular as a hotel closed for five years can look like. If you still have high expectations after seeing that exterior (twice) you must be really easily excitable! Well, and then we entered and the exploration took off like a space rocket – and despite several signs of abandonment there was always this uncomfortable feeling of somebody showing up at any moment or somebody watching us from an still active control room. It was a true exploration as neither of us had seen indoor photos of the hotel before or after on the internet, so there was this increasing nagging pressure to get the heck out of there and get to safety what we were able to ban on memory cards. And despite not having seen the whole building in the end, I assume we covered most of it – and what a unique place it was! Overall my favorite abandoned onsen hotel, without a doubt. The complete lack of vandalism in combination with regular wear and tear as well as barely any natural decay made it a sight for sore eyes, the unusual rooms / areas in combination with the complete lack of previous documentation and the uncertain ownership made it exciting to explore. Overall quite reminiscent of the *Nishiwaki Health Land Hotel*, a location of comparable quality which I explored under similar circumstances and that was closed at around the same time in 2012…

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An abandoned ryokan (Japanese inn), consisting of two buildings. The main one was in dilapidated condition – exterior walls were bending, the floors inside were brittle, overall it was far beyond repair. The second building was in even worse condition, looking like it was hit by a gigantic weapon. The exploration felt uncomfortable and took only about half an hour in total. Nothing I would normally explore these days, especially since I had no background story at all, but I guess it’s still a good filler for a busy week, like this one. Nothing in comparison to the spectacular *Wakayama Ryokan*!

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In early 2017 I was able to do an unplanned revisit – now the Nakagusuku Hotel Ruin is under demolition.

Okinawa’s tourism industry suffered quite a few setbacks recently. First two cactus theme parks closed (*this one* and *especially this one*), then plans for a proposed Universal Studios Okinawa fell through. In the summer of 2019 the demolition of the Nakagusuku Hotel Ruin began (you probably think I’m kidding, but it actually became kind of a tourist attraction, much like *Nara Dreamland*) – and on October 31st parts of the famous Shuri Castle in Naha burned to the ground. A series of unfortunate events that might be a blessing in disguise, because if cities like Kyoto, Nara, and even Osaka are any indication, the mass tourism of recent years isn’t always a good thing – especially for the people who live there. (Or just ask the people of Venice, Italy, what they think. I found it terribly crowded and when I went there as a teenager during a family vacation in the late 80s, early 90s – I can only imagine how nightmarish the situation has become in recent years…)

In early 2017 I went to Okinawa for a relaxing long weekend, escaping the “winter” in Kansai for a couple of days in pursuit of eating and drinking as much shikuwasa-related food as possible. No urbex on the schedule, I didn’t even bring my trusted tripod. Nevertheless I found myself next to the Nakagusuku Hotel Ruin just hours after my arrival in Japan’s most southern prefecture when visiting the Nakagusuku Castle Ruin, a UNESCO World Heritage site I rushed through during my first visit to Okinawa about five years earlier. I did my best to enjoy one of the few remaining tourist attractions on the island, but in the an a leopard cannot change his spots – especially after observing several foreign and local tourists walking past the warning signs and heading towards the hotel ruins.
The first time I explored the Nakagusuku Hotel Ruin it was an eight hour long endeavor on a sunny spring day with full equipment – this time I came during 20°C weather on an overcast, slightly rainy and overall rather gloomy day without a tripod and probably even without a second lens. Not a big problem for outside shots, but everything inside was quite tough. Sometimes the lighting situation was so difficult that I had to put down the camera and improvise to avoid blurry photos. In addition to the high humidity and the overall situation (a LOT more warning signs than five years prior!) a rather unpleasant experience I didn’t drag out much beyond the 1.5 hour mark (including video, but plus outside shots), though I kinda had the feeling that this would be my last visit to one the most amazing locations I’ve ever been to.

If you want to know *more about the mind-boggling background story of the Nakagusuku Hotel Ruin, then please click here*. *More about my first exploration you can read by clicking here.* Both articles contain dozens of photo and some lengthy videos, so they come highly recommended!

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I have no idea what Disney, Elsa, Anna, and Olaf (“Berzerker!”) would say about this abandoned theme park deep in the mountains of Japan – but it was definitely Frozen… uhm… frozen!

General weather statements are difficult for a country that stretches about 3000 kilometers from north to south, but the areas known for snow, like Tohoku, the Japanese Alps, and Hokkaido, tend to start their winter seasons from mid to late November on, the center of the Kii-Peninsula a couple of weeks later. Coming from 20something degree weather in Osaka (Celsius, not Fahrenheit!) it was quite a shock arriving to light snowfall and more than ankle deep snow at the Frozen Theme Park in early November three years ago. Luckily there wasn’t a strong wind, because I wasn’t really prepared for this, neither physically nor mentally.
Since the area around the former main entrance seemed surprisingly busy, I headed straight towards the back, where they had a smaller side entrance and a few mid-sized parking lots. The disadvantage of that strategy: all fresh snow, so if somebody would have seen my footprints he could have just followed them and get straight to me. So I entered a little bit on edge, following the snowed in wide steps down into the park. To the left the former water park and the go-kart track, to the right the main area of the park, featuring a large restaurant, a ticket shop for the pay as you go attractions and several other houses and huts, featuring everything from rest rooms to small exhibitions to eateries. The park was located in a valley with roads on both slopes and bridges crossing, so I instinctively headed for the restaurant building to get out of sight of passing cars and pedestrians – nothing special there, basically just an abandoned restaurant, though the rest room signs were kind of cool. Not *Shidaka Utopia* cool, but still cool!
About an hour into my exploration, I just had left the rest(aurant) area to head towards the water park, the inevitable happened – sirens in the distance, coming closer and closer and closer… Seriously worried that the powers that be were coming for me I rushed towards the stairs to leave the park, but by the time that I reached the side entrance / exit, the sirens stopped; in a distance that could have been near the main entrance – meaning two things:
1. They weren’t specifically looking for me, because then they would have used the abandoned side entrance.
2. They (police, security, whatever, …) could still enter the park through the main entrance looking for intruders on foot, making it virtually impossible to see them before they see me.
Nervously I went back into the park via another… path… I found, avoiding the main area completely and heading directly to the abandoned water park. What a brilliant idea to include an outdoor water park to a theme park that gets about 5 months of snow per year! I wonder how long its season was when even regular water parks in much warmer areas of Japan only get about two months of use per year. A shame, considering that it was actually designed quite nicely, taking advantage of the valley’s slope. The most interesting part, of course, was the large green water slide on its bright yellow metal structure – especially since it was partly collapsed. When I was on location I assumed that heavy snowfall caused all the damage to the water slide, but the park hadn’t been closed for very long, only a few years; an outdoor slide like that should have a longer lifespan, even without maintenance. Given that the park had been partly demolished already, it’s more likely that one of the demolition machinery operators had two minutes of fun to prevent local children from playing at the abandoned slide and get hurt in the process.
When I was about to finish up taking pictures at the water park I heard sirens again coming closer, so I rushed out of the park instead of heading deeper inside. Again false alarm, but I was running out of time anyway, so I looked for higher ground to get some ultrawide shots of the park and then called it quits.

Exploring the Frozen Theme Park was an exciting adventure – not just because of the sirens and the snow, but also because it was virtually unknown at the time of my exploration back in 2016. Since then the water slide popped up once in a while, but people seemed to be generally uninterested in this remote little gem. Sure, even three years ago most of the original rides had been removed, but I still found it worth checking out – though I have to admit that the surprise snow just added to the atmosphere. No *Nara Dreamland*, but I’ve been to worse abandoned theme parks… much worse.

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An original find deep in the mountains, far away from home – and a rare kind of location: an abandoned garment factory!

Planning an urbex trip, even if it’s just for a day, is not an easy task, even if you can choose from dozens or even hundreds of locations. Do you go with established locations or do you risk original finds, which can be hit or miss? Do you choose clusters of mediocre places or is it worth driving an hour between locations? Do you choose high risk / hard to enter or rather low risk / easy to enter? Can you start early in the morning and plan till sunset or do you have to calculate for late risers and “But my partner wants me back by 6!” sleepyheads?

On an autumn day two years ago my friend *Hamish* and I came through a rather remote area of Japan, where I had marked an inconspicuous building on GoogleMaps I had found by chance and assumed was abandoned. Hardly any visual proof due to blurriness of the satellite view and lack of Streetview, but I had a strong hunch. So we did a minor detour to check it out. And what can I say? It was a surprise success! 🙂
It turned out that the unremarkable building was an abandoned garment factory. The largest space, most likely the main workshop, had been mainly emptied out, but there were several other rooms full of machinery, fabric, paper patterns, and documents! So much to see and take pictures of… And since I’m a rather slow photographer, Hamish finished before me and went back to the car, which we parked right in front of the facility on the slightly overgrown former employee parking lot. A carelessness that attracted the attention of the close-by neighbors after a while, apparently. I more or less had finished taking pictures of the main complex when I heard voices outside – we got caught! Sort of. Seems like there was a small festival taking place rather nearby (which we heard), so instead of calling the police, the neighbors called the local fire department to check out that car with the license plates from far away that was parked in front of the abandoned factory for a while. Assuming we were in trouble I left through the back door and approached my friend and the stranger from behind the building. Apparently the guy was quite nice and didn’t want to get us into trouble either, so we asked for permission to take photos – which he granted, but ONLY of the outside. No going inside… Of course not! As soon as the guy was gone I went back inside for the video walkthrough before heading for a small side-building, that unfortunately turned out to be just cluttered and rundown.

Overall a fantastic exploration on a warm, sunny autumn day – a rare kind of abandoned place, an original find in really good condition, great company, getting to know the locals… It’s close to impossible to beat that!

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