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Archive for the ‘Abandoned’ Category

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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A couple of months ago I wrote an article about the *Utopia Lift* near *Shidaka Utopia*. Well, about the upper terminus… but of course I also took photos of the lower terminus, which is often overlooked by other explorers – it’s easier to reach, but harder to find, since the area is much more overgrown than its counterpart up the hill.
So you already know the history of the lift… and the history of the nearby amusement park. What’s left to say? Not much. Looking back, it was one of the best days of solo explorations ever. Four rather rare locations (including an amusement park), countryside, spring, hiking, beautiful weather, a wild fox on the kart track below – it barely ever gets better than that! So please enjoy the photos and the video below…

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Fossil fuels have been on the decline for quite some time now in industrialized countries, with coal leading the way – and so it’s not a surprise that North America and Europe, but also Japan, are littered with closed / abandoned mines. The Mikobata Mine in central Hyogo is one of them…

Deserted mines are very close to my heart as it was one of them that re-ignited my slumbering interest in abandoned places – though this very specific one was everything but deserted. In the winter of 2004 I attended a bi-weekly seminar at the Zeche Zollverein (*Zollverein Coal Mine Industrial Complex on Wikipedia*) in Essen, Germany. Unlike many other mines that were closed since the 1950s, this gigantic conglomerate was saved by the state of North Rhine-Westphalia – when the coal mine close in 1986 it bought the land and declared Shaft 12 a heritage site. Cleaning up and renovation began instantly and continued till 1999, from the mid-90s on also involving the massive cokery closed in 1993 (after selling it to China fell through). In 2001 the Zeche Zollverein became a UNESCO World Heritage Site and now houses a visitor center for the Industrial Heritage Trail (part of the European Route of Industrial Heritage), the Ruhr Museum, the Red Dot Design Museum, a performing arts center (PACT Zollverein), as well as several other spaces for artists and lecturer – and of course some eateries. Initially hardly anybody liked the idea, because the mining industry was associated with dirty, hard labour and many hazards… who needed to be reminded? Now the Zeche Zollverein and its unique mix of architecture (based on the 1932 Bauhaus style Shaft 12) and culture is a popular destination for all kinds of activities and hopefully the model for similar projects all over the world.
Japan is still lacking this kind of foresight for the most part. There are tourist mines here and there all over the country (for example the *Osarizawa Mine*), but little is done to effectively preserve large structures – probably because most of them will be extremely expensive and difficult to preserve, like the concrete jungle on *Gunkanjima*. Most other closed / abandoned Japanese mines are made of wood and corrugated iron, destined to slowly fade away. To make preservation financially feasible, most of those mines get stripped of all those costly, dangerous areas – some machines are salvaged, former administrative buildings are turned into mini-museums; done! Even on location you can only guesstimate the former glory of those places… unless you enter areas not supposed to be accessible for the general public.

The Mikobata Mine in Central Japan was actually one of those closed mines that were rotting for more than a decade, before some local historians and technicians turned them into a safe tourist attraction. Founded in 1878 as an offspring of the nearby Ikuno Mine, the whole mining conglomerate (Ikuno, Mikobata and the recently presented *Akenobe Mine*) was sold to Mitsubishi in 1898 (or 1896, according to other sources). All three of them were closed 1987 and in 2001 restoration began; resulting in the demolition of the Mikobata Processing Site in 2004. The bright grey concrete stumps were fenced off, nearby houses were restored, a mini train and several bilingual info signs put up, machines hidden under tarps, …
Due to my somewhat sloppy research ahead of time, Dan and I were not aware of all of this, and kind of expected a fully abandoned mine, *Taro* style. But it was a beautiful spring day in the mountains, so of course we made the best of it. First we headed over to the gigantic concrete UFOs and slipped through the fence to have a closer look – plenty of salvaged equipment, just waiting to be placed into more old restored wooden buildings. Nice!
Then we headed to the other direction, the part of the slope that still had plenty of trees. There we found all kinds of semi-overgrown concrete and metal remains, including an outdoor lamp in pieces… and tiny paths leading up the mountain. When life gives you lemons, you make lemonade – and when urbex gives you a slope, you climb it. Even when the tiny paths disappear and you only think that there might be something up there… you go anyway. Basic rules of life, you know.
Half an hour and me fully out of breath later, we indeed found a road – and it lead us back to the mine! Of course there was a gate, but again… If urbex gives you gates, you climb them or find a way around them – I’m not making the rules, I am just following them! The view from up there down the valley was absolutely gorgeous, but we were very well away that this wasn’t abandoned anymore; rather part of a museum – so we headed across the open space and followed the road down the mountain, hoping that it would lead us back to the big street at the foot. On the way we found an old mining railway, partly covered by rock fall. Fantastic! As much as I love barely touched abandoned place like the *Wakayama Hospital*… there is something very special about a sunny day outside in the mountains, about massive concrete construction, about brittle wood and rusty metal – about a couple of dozen meters of bend old railroad tracks.
When we finally got back to the car I had gone from disappointment to pleasant surprise – the Mikobata Mine wasn’t really one of those classic abandoned mines, but nevertheless we were able to do some real exploration, seeing some things and getting to some areas that probably not a lot of eyes had seen in previous years. We didn’t know it at the time, but we should end our day at the *Akenobe Mine* a little bit deeper down into the mountains – two mines that not only belonged to the same company, Mitsubishi, but that were actually connected by endless kilometers of tunnels…

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I’ve explored all kinds of abandoned hospitals in Japan – old and new, big and small, wooden and concrete, general and specialized, countryside and in the middle of cities, unfinished and fully equipped, private clinics run by a single practitioner and those with a dozen specialized doctors on staff. But hardly ever have I been to a vandalized, mouldy piece of haikyo crap like the Toyo Hospital…

Walking / driving up to a location is always exciting. Have I really found it? Is it still there? Is it accessible? What condition is it in? All those important questions are usually answered in a split-second – not fully, but 95%. My first impression seeing the Toyo Hospital? “Oh no… Damn!” It was still there and the waist high fence was not really an obstacle, but the vandalized entrance area lowered my expectations significantly. My second impression wasn’t any better than the first: Most of the ground floor of this rather modern hospital had been smashed to pieces – and the upper floors didn’t look that much better at all. Vandalism and mould, mould and vandalism. Here and there I found a couple of items left unharmed, lonely witnesses of former urbex glory, but overall vandalism was the dominating shroud hanging over everything. Yes, vandalism. In Japan! Shocking? A little bit. Vandalism always shocks me a little bit. Surprising? Not at all. Have you seen the photo of the dentist equipment I posted last Sunday on *Facebook*? I am pretty sure that clinic will look exactly like the Toyo Hospital in two years. While I was there, I actually met a handful of Japanese explorers, loud and obnoxious. I quickly made my presence known (to ask them to be quiet as I could hear people outside from time to time – meaning that people outside were able to hear noises from inside), which stopped the running and yelling, but I was really glad when they were gone 20 minutes later; I spent more than three hours exploring that place, although it was not even half the size of the Toyo Hospital!

Exploring the Toyo Hospital took less than 1.5 hours – including the video walkthrough at the end. In the past I’ve spent more time documenting single hospital rooms! (For example at the *Tokushima Countryside Clinic*.) The greyish weather outside didn’t contribute to lighten up the atmosphere and gave the whole exploration a very gloomy undertone… and not necessarily in a good way. There are quite a few places I would love to revisit – the Toyo Hospital I wouldn’t give a second thought even if it would be five minutes down the road…

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I am not much of a gimmick photographer, but I am quite loyal to the internet forum of a German PC games magazine that existed for a handful of issues back in 1996/97 – the mag was gone in no time, but the forum survived somehow. In late 2010 one of the guys there got a Sackboy doll, hero of Sony’s LitteBigPlanet games series. He started to send it to forum members all over the world, who showed the little fella around. In early 2012 Sackboy finally made it to Japan and I took him to Osaka, Wakayama prefecture (*Wakayama Beach Hotel*), Tottori prefecture (*Sand Dune Palace*), Okunoshima (*The Rabbit Island*) and all across Okinawa (*Nakagusuku Hotel*, *Himeyuri Park*, *Okinawa Seimeinooka Park*, *Sunset View Inn Shah Bay*); some of the places were abandoned, some were very touristy.
Since the PC Xtreme would have been 20 years old in 2016, I thought it would be a nice idea to finally publish the whole set of Sackboy photos I deemed worth preserving, as only half of them made it to the forum in the end. Four years ago it felt a bit like a chore, but in hindsight it’s actually a pretty nice bonus set – perfect to complement a rather weak Tuesday location.

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One way to find abandoned places is to keep your eyes open and to check out locations that look suspicious – so when my friend Rory saw a dodgy looking sign from the highway, we took the next exit to check out the area behind the rusty metal construction…

Ten years ago we probably wouldn’t have found a way to the place Rory saw, but thanks to modern technology it was rather easy to navigate some small back roads to what turned out to be an abandoned love hotel under demolition. The entrance of property was blocked by heavy machinery, probably to prevent metal thieves from driving right in and loading their trucks. To the right was a regular countryside house, western style – further down the road we saw the actual hotel, already ripped half apart.
Exploring the Japanese home felt kinda strange – the (previous?) owners took most of their belongings, but there were some pieces of furniture and some electronics left behind, plus a couple of random items, like omamori; Japanese charms usually sold at shrines during hatsumode, the first shrine visit of the year (which is also used to dispose of old omamori to avoid bad luck – you see the genius business model!). Overall the house wasn’t in bad condition, so it was kind of a waste to get rid of it, but I guess that’s the way the cookie crumbles sometimes…
The far more interesting part was the hotel down the driveway. It had the typical love motel layout with garages on the ground floor and small staircases leading up to the rooms, but a box of matches labelled it as a “car hotel inn” named Regent Hotel – obviously not part of the famous Regent International Hotels chain of luxury accommodations. Although the place once had been a solid ferroconcrete structure, the ongoing demolition made parts of it rather sketchy. Nevertheless we had a closer look to find out what it really was. Thanks to a calendar in the family home we knew that it was most likely abandoned in 2008, six years prior to our visit, and a look at some of the remaining doors proved that it had been a love hotel indeed – the room rates were still written on them. Other than that not much left behind. A gutted and rather disgusting kitchen, a bed frame here and there, one bathtub in a bathroom and trash in the yard; both piled and scattered. There we found more indicators for our love hotel theory, but you gotta see for yourself in the gallery.

Exploring this half-demolished love hotel surely wasn’t a highlight in my urbex career, but it was nevertheless an interesting experience as it literally and figuratively gave us some insight into this strangely fascinating world – and it was a neat addition to regular love hotel explorations, like the one in *Furuichi*. It also was a good start into this urbex day as later on we explored the famous *White School* and the amazing *Japanese Art School*; two legendary locations and true classics in the Japanese urbex world.

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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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