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Archive for the ‘Abandoned’ Category

Do you like beer? So much that you would like to bathe in it? No, because it sounds like a horrible idea?! If only somebody would have told the last owners of the Kurhaus Stromberg…

The history of the Kurhaus (“cure house”) or Kurhotel (“spa hotel”) in Stromberg began in 1909, when a teachers’ association revealed plans to build a convalescent home in the picturesque small town near Bingen, Germany. Planning and financing took five years (almost everything was a bit slower a century ago…), but on April 16th 1914 the laying of the foundation stone took place. After “the Great War” erupted, construction was put on hiatus, and finally finished in 1921 – mainly as a recreation home for the “Rheinischen Provinziallehrerverband” (that teachers’ association…), but also as a hotel and restaurant for the general public. In 1933 the Nazis took over pretty much all associations, including this one, and only years later the spa hotel became a military hospital. After the even less great war (WW2) and shorts stints under American and French military management, the Kurhotel was turned into a pulmonary health institute for released German POWs. State control continued in the 1940s, but switched from military to civilian use in 1948 when Rhineland-Palatinate’s ministry for social afairs took over… and finally returned the Kurhaus to the teachers in 1953. Turmoil continued as the hotel at first lost money and then was sold to the Deutsches Rotes Kreuz (DRK, “German Red Cross”). In the following year the institution apparently made money and was expanded several times, until it was closed in 1983. After six years of maintenance without being used, the Kurhaus Stromberg was repurposed as a transition dormitory for ethnic German immigrants to Germany, when the Iron Curtain came down in 1989. In the mid-90s the DRK sold the hotel to a private investor, who did nothing with it until 1997, when the Hotel- und Restaurantbetrieb Kurhaus Stromberg GmbH (Hotel and Restaurant Kurhaus Stromberg Limited) introduced the previously mentioned beer spa… The sobering awakening followed in 2001, when the beery dream ended once and for all.
Originally built in a style called Domestic Revival and equipped with a mansard hip roof, the Kurhaus Stromberg is now considered a national heritage site under monument protection – at the same time it suffered from almost a decade of vandalism and 15 years without maintenance, which means that it can’t be quickly demolished, but it’s also highly unlikely that anybody would invest in the rundown building and its ragged garden the size of a park.

Since I focus on urban exploration in Japan, looking for abandoned places in other countries doesn’t have high priority to me… especially as I usually don’t have much time to travel within a vacation anyway. When I’m back home in Germany for two or three weeks per year, I usually explore in the southwestern part as this is the area where most of my family and friends live. The Kurhotel Stromberg looked kind of interesting, but the information I found was contradictive – some said the place was inaccessible, some claimed it was completely vandalized. Well, it turned out that the latter was true. Upon arrival my sister Sabine and I had the place to ourselves, but it took less than half an hour for about a dozen teenagers to arrive – on the one hand claiming to be surprised that the hotel was accessible at all, on the other hand making noise like a wrecking crew. It got even worse after they dragged it some boxes and bags, and it turned that they were trying to shoot an amateur horror movie. I told them that I would shoot some videos and that they might want to be quiet if they don’t want to end up on Youtube, but much like the noisy tourists at *Nara Dreamland* and the *Former Embassy of Iraq in East Berlin* they claimed that they don’t care and that I should just shoot whenever I want…

Both the Kurhotel Stromberg’s changeful history as well as the grand structure with its gorgeous white exterior reminded me of the *Maya Tourist Hotel*, probably the most traditional abandoned place in all of Japan. Both places are pretty much empty and quite vandalized now, both are used for photo and video shoots, both offer a couple of interesting angles, yet both are only shadows of their former glory. It’s a shame what happened to the hotel, but I guess that is what happens to the low hanging fruits. So if you ever wondered why I more and more often use generic names like *Kanto Hospital* or *Japanese Luxury Spa Hotel* – places like the Kurhotel Stromberg are the answer…

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“Holy s#it, are you f*ing serious?!”, I thought to myself when I first arrived at the Hokkaido Hospital, a small orthopedic clinic and rehabilitation center in one of those countless rundown former mining towns on Japan’s most northern main island. It was a bright cold day in November, and the clocks were silent on this dry morning.

The building in front of me consisted of two parts, connected by a small hallway: A three-storey building, most likely brick, approximately eight by 15 meters, with the exterior rendering falling off in huge chunks – and a rusty metal container, about six by eight meters and 1.5-storeys tall, held two meters above ground by six metal pillars; the space underneath carelessly and recklessly used to park cars and store equipment. The hospital was underground famous for its well-lit, white tiled operation room in good condition, but from the outside the building looked like a deathtrap, a place that could collapse any second – not because of an earthquake, but because of a gust of wind created by a speeding car. I was finally about to explore an abandoned hospital on Japan’s fourth main island, but this was not at all what I expected…

While I was checking out the exterior, a neighborhood dog apparently became aware of my presence and didn’t acknowledge me “leaving” (inside) for at least half an hour; a fact that just added another layer of uneasiness to this uncomfortable and rather cold exploration.
The ground floor was in bad condition, there is no other way to describe or even sugarcoat it. About half of it was dark and moldy, wood and ceiling panels rotting, paint flaking off the walls – unfortunately it was the most interesting part of the floor… or maybe even the whole hospital; the part with the X-ray machine. At least I assume it was an old X-ray machine, judging by the left behind blue lead-weighed jacket and the control panels in that tiny neighboring room. I spent almost an hour in this dark area, taking photos all by myself in an extremely eerie atmosphere – wondering if I found the right hospital, because this rundown piece of something surely didn’t look like it was still home to a surgery. And when I finally moved on, the staircase leading up didn’t exactly reinforce my confidence in the structural integrity of the building or raise my expectations on the higher floors!
But as we all know: Books shouldn’t be judged by their covers – and some of them not even by their first couple of chapters. About 1.5 hours after my arrival I finally found the operating room… and it was almost as bright and shiny as I had hoped it would be. Now please keep in mind that I am writing about an exploration that happened 18 months ago – since then I’ve been to a couple of abandoned hospitals with fully stocked operation theaters, but back then I was only used to countryside clinics run by small town doctors, like the legendary *Tokushima Countryside Clinic*. In hindsight (and visible in the photos) the surgery room had some flaws – a lot of instruments were scattered all over the floor (signs of other visitors…), pretty much all of them were rusting away, and the operation bed / stretcher had seen better days, too. But it was nevertheless an exciting place to be after the dark, nerve-wrecking rooms on the ground floor! (Especially since the neighborhood cur was finally quiet…)
Not much of an exciting place to be was the metal container past the staircase. The darn thing was obviously leaking and a good part of the floor was under water, especially the room with the abandoned rehabilitation equipment. The whole area smelled of mold, it was visible almost everywhere… and I also was a bit worried about crashing through the floor and ruining a car parked underneath, so I left as quickly as possible; which explains why some of the photos are not aligned well and tend to be a bit too bright or dark.
Back in the main building I went up to the third floor – interestingly enough by far in best condition, but not interesting enough to spend much time there; mostly patient rooms with little furniture and other interior left behind, but I already had spent 50% more time there than allocated anyway, and I was swiftly running out of it.

Exploring the Hokkaido Hospital was a pretty amazing experience, especially since I knew little to nothing about it beforehand – two or three photos of the white surgery room and a recommendation… that was all I had. How to get there, how to get inside, finding the good parts? That was up to me, and only up to me. Over the course of the past 18 months this little gem has appeared here and there, and photographers still seem to be fascinated by the operation room… but my favorite part was the X-ray area. It was dark, it was old, it was spooky – the kind of place you just want to get out off, but then you stay for “just one more photo” in hope to take another good one… Luckily I had the chance to explore the Hokkaido Hospital before it became too well known – and so I was able to move on to other abandoned hospitals, some of which I liked even better… like *this one here*!🙂

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Nara Dreamland and Abandoned Kansai are inseparable… A long time ago I brought you the first pictures (taken in 2009!) and now I publish the latest – none of the photos in the gallery below is older than 24 hours; some have been taken barely half a day ago, literally this morning, May 3rd!

My visits to *Nara Dreamland* have always been troublesome. I’ve been cut short by security twice and afterwards went to great lengths to avoid that damn guard(s). As much as I love the place, my visits there were never relaxed and barely ever a good experience. The same goes for the so-called *Golden Week*, an agglomeration of national holidays in Japan that causes the whole country to travel, which means that hotels, trains and tourist spots are crowded and overpriced as heck – which causes a lot of people to travel abroad, this year including my regular urbex buddies: honeymoon, vernissage, surprise marriage. Facing another disastrous week of binge-watching overrated TV shows or playing the Xth installment of a video game series I lost interest in half a decade ago, I decided to make the best of the situation. What better time of the year to mess with my biorhythm than the time of the year I actually have nothing better to do than to recover from a night and early morning stay at Nara Dreamland?
Last year it took me 10 days between exploring Nara Dreamland and publishing the photos here on Abandoned Kansai… 9.5 to be exact. On a regular weekend I would be able to reduce it to 2.5 days – but thanks to Golden Week I was actually able to lower that delay to half a day; which is as fast as I will ever get since I don’t take pictures with a smartphone… mainly because I don’t have one.🙂
(Though I am sure you don’t really care how old the photos are. If I learned one thing over the last couple of years, then that Nara Dreamland pictures are always are crowd-pleaser – one I probably should have milked more often, as I still have whole sets of old unpublished NDL photos; not to mention the hundreds of photos of used sets I never published…)

My main goal for this visit was to duplicate some shots I took back in 2010 to illustrate the insane amount of vandalism Nara Dreamland has suffered from just within a few years – those I saved for a future article, but of course I took a lot more photos; some in areas I have missed during my first few visits.
If you follow the news closely, you might have heard that *Nara Dreamland* has been sold in November of 2015 to SK Housing, a real estate company based in Osaka. The previous owner owed the city of Nara something like 650 million Yen in property tax – and the only way to get the money was to foreclose the former theme park. After a failed public auction a year prior, SK Housing was the only bidder willing to pay the minimum amount of 730 million Yen, pretty much 6 million USD. This looks like a steal considering the property size of 297,000 square meters (3.2 million square feet!) and the fact that it comes with 75 buildings and other structures (that’s less than 20 EUR per sqm!), BUT the deal comes with some serious drawbacks. First of all: None of the buildings / structures are usable anymore – most of them are actually beyond repair. But even if you would level the whole park (which SK Housing has no plans for, according to a friend of mine who contacted them recently!) you’d have to invest several hundred million Yen more and then deal with nightmarish zoning regulations: new buildings are not allowed to be taller than 10 meters (the wooden rollercoaster Aska is 30 meter high!) and have to be used for libraries, museums, schools, sporting grounds, welfare facilities or a zoo – commercial, hotel, residential and retail developments are prohibited. So what is SK Housing going to do with their six million dollar investment? I have no idea…

(For all your Nara Dreamland needs please have a look at the *Nara Dreamland Special*. *Like Abandoned Kansai on Facebook* if you don’t want to miss the latest articles and exclusive content – and subscribe to the *video channel on Youtube* to receive a message right after a new video is online…)

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You can’t throw a stone without hitting an abandoned hotel in some parts of Japan, deserted youth hostels on the other hand are rather rare…

There are about 300 youth hostels all across Nippon, which is not a lot in comparison to the 500 hostels in Germany (Japan: 127 million people, Germany: 82 million inhabitants) – probably because youth hostels tend to be more expensive in the land of the rising sun, while low-price competition in the form of minshuku and business hotels is much bigger. The lack of cheap places to stay for young people and families was actually the reason why youth hostels were invented – by German teacher Richard Schirrmann, who liked to go on hiking trips with his students and often had to spend the nights in barns or school buildings. As a proof of concept, Schirrmann opened the first youth hostel in an old school on a trial basis in 1907. In 1910 he presented his idea of an exhaustive network of affordable accommodations in an article for the Kölnische Zeitung (back then a big nationwide newspaper) and received lots of support. With that Schirrmann was able to move his provisional youth hostel to the renovated Altena Castle in 1912, making it the first permanent (and still existing!) youth hostel – and him becoming its warden. (Sadly the annual details differ depending on the sources… I went with the numbers that made the most sense to me.) Soon after the idea was picked up internationally and today there are more than 4000 youth hostels all over the world, organized by an association called Hostelling International.

The Japanese Youth Hostel I explored with my buddy *Hamish* was in the outskirts of a famous resort town, in the middle of a forest, surrounded by dozens, maybe hundreds of retreats for rich people and companies. From the outside the building was still in good condition and only the CLOSED sign in a window and the massive amount of foliage gave away that this JYH youth hostel was actually abandoned. Both the exterior and interior looked a bit outdated, probably 1950s or 60s, but there were no signs of vandalism, which is even more impressive as the place had been abandoned for almost 25 years at the time of our visit. Sure, some previous visitors obviously moved around a couple of items, but nothing had been smashed or covered with spray paint. It was almost like a time capsule… strangely beautiful in its own way – yet kind of eerie, as in: all of a sudden you could be trapped inside, like in a supernatural horror movie…

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Urbex is a dangerous hobby – even more so in Japan, where wildlife can be nasty and deadly earthquakes are a constant threat that can strike anywhere at any time (most recently last weekend in Kumamoto). How to up the ante? By exploring near one of the country’s many active volcanoes…

I always wanted to travel to the mountains of central Japan – not just for urban exploration, but for sightseeing, too: Matsumoto, Nagano, Karuizawa. And while the area is easy to access from Kansai, it’s also a time-consuming endeavor of up to six hours each way (plus one for the bus to Mount Asama). With winter looming, I finally took last trains to Matsumoto on a Friday after work in early November of 2012, and from there I made my way through the valley of the Chikuma River to Karuizawa and Mount Asama, the most active volcano on Japan’s main island Honshu.
Luckily the weather played along on both days, so I had a really good time in the Chubu area, though I made a couple of mistakes that affected this article and some future ones: First of all, I forgot my trusty video camera, so I had to use the video mode of my D7000 – and I wasn’t familiar with it at all. The second, even worse mistake was that I thought it would be a good idea to shoot in NEF and only take some “safety shots” in JPG, despite me never doing any enhancing post-production – as a result it took me 3.5 years to write about this trip for the first time… and only because I took plenty of safety shots at Mount Asama. When will I write about the other half a dozen locations I visited during that weekend? It might take a while. Probably never, as I still have zero interest in photo editing! (Luckily I never repeated this lapse of judgment and from the following weekend on I started to shoot in NEF and JPG simultaneously, using the JPGs and archiving the NEFs just in case I ever need them…)

Arriving at Mount Asama I had a quick look at the new Asama Volcano Museum (opened in 1993 to replace the old Asama (Garden) Observatory and Volcano Museum), but only at the gift store and for a couple of minutes, because my time in the middle of nowhere was limited – I had to catch a certain bus back to Karuizawa to still be able to make it home the same day.
At first I was worried that it would take me a while to find the old, at that point abandoned museum as other people wrote they hiked for like an hour to get there… luckily the old museum was right next to the new one – and both of them were right next to the Onioshidashi Park. Oni-oshi-dashi means something like “demons pushing rocks” and is a huge area of Mount Asama’s northeastern slope covered by volcanic rocks as a result of the Tenmei Eruption in 1783, killing more than 1400 locals and intensifying a famine that lasted several years, causing nearby provinces to under-produce for half a decade. In 1958 a temple dedicated to Kannon, the Buddhist goddess of mercy, was built – and in 1974 a wheelchair-friendly hiking trail with several routes was opened in the oni-oshi-dashi, creating Onioshidashi Park.
Between the temple and the hiking trail, an observatory and museum about the history of Mount Asama and volcanoes in general was built between 1965 and 1967 – and closed / abandoned in 1993, when the new museum opened in the shadow of the old one. Since Mount Asama is an active volcano (with most recent eruptions in 2004, 2008, and 2009) that causes up to +1000 earthquakes per month (!), you can imagine that the exposed concrete observatory / museum had a tough time being hit by rocks and standing on shaky ground. And though the abandoned old museum was easily accessible for many, many years, it wasn’t anymore upon my visit in November of 2012 – the whole damn thing was thoroughly boarded up on all possible levels of entry.
Given the extremely dilapidated condition of the building and its location right next to two (!) tourist attractions I couldn’t blame the people in charge, but I was nevertheless a little bit disappointed. Not for long though, because it was an incredibly beautiful autumn day and I was in a touristy mood anyway, so I enjoyed a wonderful stroll through the Onioshidashi Park… until I wanted to cross the suspension bridge at the end of the course, the one that would get me back to the parking lot / bus stop within 5 minutes. Unfortunately the thing was closed! Whether for maintenance or for good I wasn’t able to find out, but it didn’t matter, because either way I had to rush back to make it home on time…

Despite not being able to enter the old Asama Observatory & Volcano Museum I had a great time out there at Mount Asama. The weather was gorgeous and the area so stunningly beautiful in its very own way. And the old building… was just perfect the way it was, crumbling before my eyes. (It was actually demolished just months later, in June of 2013, and replaced by yet another observation platform.)
The Onioshidashi Park was a treat by itself and it’s definitely a stop you should include on your next off the beaten tracks tour of Japan. (Be aware though that the new museum and the hiking trails are closed between December and March, both included.) Having to pass concrete shelters every couple of dozen meters was a strange feeling! You know that the volcano can erupt at any time, but seeing those shelters makes it a lot more real than just having book knowledge. Having experienced time and again how unnerving earthquakes can be, I really don’t want to be near a volcano when it erupts…

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The article about the *Jozankei Go-Kart* I published on Tuesday was quite a small one… and as chance would have it, I recently stumbled across another place barely worth mentioning – so I guess two unspectacular locations make for a decent week on Abandoned Kansai, too…🙂
It was in summer of 2013 when my urbex buddy Dan and I were on our way to the countryside of Kyoto to explore some abandoned schools (*this one* and *this one*). Usually I don’t go exploring in July, but we hadn’t been on the road since spring and I was about to leave for summer vacation to Germany (exploring an *abandoned Nazi airport*, amongst other things), so we ignored the heat, humidity and super active wildlife and headed for the mountains in hope of bearable temperatures – and as far as summer explorations go, this turned out to be quite a successful and pleasant day, because in addition to the previously mentioned schools we also found a still unknown *ski resort* and this place, the Moter Sport Shop Cheetah; though I am sure this must have been a spelling mistake and should have been Moter Sport Shop Cheater!😉
Opening a motor sports shop halfway up a mountain is probably not the smartest idea, even though it was located on quite a busy road on the way up to Mount Hiei between Kyoto and Shiga prefecture. The location being an accidental original find, we approached carefully, waiting for several minutes not to be seen by any passing cars. While there was a potential entry point on the front, the sides and the back of the building were tightly locked. After a quick look we decided it would be better to come back in autumn or winter – we had more interesting locations to explore, traffic was heavy, and the building contained a hideout for thumb-sized Giant Asian Hornet. So I skipped the video and just took a few quick photos before we left for where the grass was greener…
Time leap to the spring of 2016: I recently was checking out previously visited places on GoogleMaps, just to get an update as so many of them have been replaced by solar farms over the past two or three years. The Moter Sport Shop Cheetah was spared that unfortunate destiny, nevertheless a revisit would be impossible – it seems like renovation began shortly after Dan and I had a look! Thanks to Street View I now know that the building was scaffolded in November of 2013… and the latest version dated April 2015 shows a completely renovated building with a new company sign. Add the September 2010 version to the mix and you can go from unused to renovation to in business – modern technology, fascinating. I usually don’t post links to GoogleMaps, but in this case I’ll make an exception as you might want to have a look yourself: *Moter Sport Shop Cheetah on Street View*

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Abandoned race tracks tend to be rather unspectacular – which isn’t much of a loss when they are part of an amusement park, like most of them are. Two or three decent photos and you can move on to the next attraction. An abandoned go-kart track as a standalone article kind of stretches it a little bit though, but… well… shoganai, eh?🙂
It seems like the Jozankei Go-Kart once had been part of a bigger sports park called Leisure Land, but little to none information is available on this often and rightly overlooked location. I paid this virtually unknown place a short visit after I bid farewell to the once amazing *Hokkaido House of Hidden Treasures* one and a half years ago – and there is actually not much I can tell you about it. Located a bit outside of Jozankei Onsen, the atmosphere around dusk on a late autumn day was rather spooky, as if wildlife could attack any minute. Sadly there was not much left to see. The track, marked by old tires, was covered by several layers of foliage and severely overgrown. The former restrooms were vandalized, some small shacks held office furniture and other garbage. A bit further up the hill I found a collapsed house, most likely a restaurant gift shop – and a rather big boat, also overgrown. Since it was getting dark and I was increasingly worried about ending up as dinner for a bear, I hurried up and got the heck out of there after less than half an hour…
Leisure Land obviously had nothing to do with the fantastic *Kejonuma Leisure Land* – but unlike the *Kart Pista Hiroshima*, Jozankei Go-Kart was actually 100% abandoned! Nothing worth traveling to Hokkaido for, barely worth stopping for when you are in the area; which is rather unlikely, given that *the infamous sex museum just down the road has been demolished in January of 2015*.

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