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Archive for the ‘Abandoned’ Category

Trains – most of us were fascinated by them when we were kids… and started to hate them when we had to take them to school or to work. I fell in love with trains again when I found a few of them fading away in sight of a still active line. Probably because they were the same models I remember from the 80s and early 90s.

I know that train aficionados are an extremely passionate and knowledgable bunch of people – and I have no clue about trains. As a history buff I know about their origins and importance for the industrial revolution, but when it comes to details… no idea! So there is not a lot I can say about the trains and machinery I took pictures of, maybe I even mislabeled one or two; my apology in advance for that!

The railroad system in Germany has a rather negative image – people love to complain about the prices, the lack of service, the frequency of trains, the (perceived) large amount of delays (interestingly enough the Deutsche Bahn counts trains up to five minutes late as “on time”…), the (lack of) cleanliness, and much, much more. And while there is no excuse for the often mediocre job the Deutsche Bahn does, one has to admit that they are still doing well in comparison. Overall the track network is rather tight and you can all big cities, most mid-sized cities and even a ton of small cities for reasonable prices – considering that there are no barriers to the tracks, which means a lot of people fare-dodge, which raises the prices for everyone who’s paying. From what I’ve experienced and heard (after working in international teams and various countries for about 15 years) the German system is much more reliable than let’s say in France, Spain or Italy and it is right up there with Great Britain and a bit below Japan. In many ways on par with Japan for international travelers – because as fun as it is to mock the rather poor English of the average Deutsche Bahn employee, at least they are trying to keep their international guests informed when something happens. In Japan? Nothing. If you are lucky a prerecorded message on the Shinkansen, but on the levels below or at train stations? Silence… between Japanese messages. Anyway – surely not a perfect system in many ways, but much better than its reputation among locals. (Which also applies for the country’s economy, politicians, bureaucracy, food prices, health care system, and much, much more…)

I explored the German Railroad Graveyard two years ago with my sister Sabine on an exceptionally bright and hot summer day. The access point was about a kilometer down the road from where we parked without a single patch of shadow, which wasn’t exactly a good start. Luckily the exploration itself was smooth sailing, despite the fact that the tracks next to the abandoned carriages and maintenance cars were still active – and you probably remember the *other time I explored along an active train line*… Kids playing on / near tracks is a rather common nuisance in Germany and often the official explanation when a line shuts down due to a suicide. Luckily we didn’t cause any problems and had a fun hour or two in and on the back of the trains. Despite rumors saying something different there is progress even within the Deutsche Bahn – and the trains changed drastically over time. The ones fading away were from the 80s / early 90s, the ones I grew up with – signs printed on paper within the cars implied that those carriages were used for training after being removed from active day to day duty. Then they ended up in the countryside, where some vandals had a go with them. Nothing too serious, but pristine would have looked differently. Overall a rather unusual exploration and a fun trip down memory lane.

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Bears are a growing danger to people in Japan – little did I know that one of them was waiting for me inside this abandoned school / holiday village!

Hokkaido, the great, wild north of Japan… The country’s second largest and by far coldest island is especially popular amongst outdoor and nature fans. Oh, and brown bears love Hokkaido, too. There are more brown bears in Japan than anywhere else in Asia besides Russia – and due to climate change they are becoming increasingly more dangerous to people; roaming the streets of small towns, killing one or two people per year, most often over a dispute about bamboo shoots (a.k.a. locals) or the right of way (a.k.a. hikers). Urbexers? Not (yet) on the diet of Japanese bears, but some abandoned places are definitely in bear territory, including the Haboro Green Village; the converted Taiyo Elementary School. Little did I know that one of them was waiting for visitors inside of the defunct and derelict building complex…
Like most urban explorers visiting Japan’s most famous abandoned school, my buddy *Hamish* and I started our day with the spectacular round gymnasium / auditorium. The Taiyo Elementary School (not be confused with a school of the same name in Hokkaido’s village of Niikappu – that one was auctioned off in 2009 for 30 million Yen, about a quarter million bucks) was built in 1940 for the children of the workers at the *Chikubetsu Mine*. In 1967 it was refurbished / rebuilt – and in 1971 it was closed, just a year after the mine; sad! After being without children for almost a decade, the city reopened the school as the Haboro Green Village, apparently a hotel / hostel / campsite for families and even larger groups. It ran from 1979 till 2000 – just before the internet and digital photography became really popular, which is probably why there is so little information about it out there.
Anyway, Hamish and I went to the round gymnasium / auditorium first and took all the usual pictures there, especially the most famous standard shot I called “Symmetry For Dummies”, because there are so many lines everywhere that you’d have to seriously shaky for whatever reason to mess up that shot… As far as school gymnasiums go, this was probably as good as it gets. Cleaner and newer? No problem! Bigger / more original? Probably not…
Since the wooden hallway connecting the gymnasium with the main building was slightly dilapidated, we decided to head outside and enter the former school directly through the front door. Usually I would have circled the school, but I guess it was a mix of time pressure, cold wind, drizzle, and false familiarity with the location that lead me to grab the doorknob, twist it, open the door… and stare right in the face of a big brown bear! Luckily it was a taxidermy one, so there was no harm done… 🙂
The Haboro Green Village was a rundown, boarded up, vandalized, moldy piece of something – with tons of surprises other than the bear “guarding” the main entrance probably 95% of people will enter through. First of all there were other taxidermy animals, a gigantic seal and a decently sized deer. Then there were quite a few Pokémon Trading Cards on the floor of boys’ restroom. The table video games / video game tables from the early 80s were amazing, including Championship Baseball by Sega. And the amazing (bust rusty and vandalized) Live Beer cooler by Asahi. The rest of the building offered some nice spots here and there, thanks to some decent patina due to 17 years of abandonment.

The Haboro Green Village / Taiyo Elementary School has been on my list of places to explore for many, many years – mainly because of the impressive gymnasium and because it was a famous spot easy to find. Locations like that tend to disappoint, because they are known so well and taking the same photos as everybody else feels more like a chore than a successful explore. And to some degree this actually applied to the gymnasium – luckily the main building offered quite a few surprises, so overall I was very pleased with this exploration… and it was only the first one in Haboro (before the mine *I wrote about last week*)! More about the rest will follow soon – but first some completely different locations… 🙂

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Haboro is one of the most famous ghost towns in the world, thanks to both national and international attention, for example an episode of the paranormal reality TV series Destination Truth – and after almost eight years of exploring abandoned places all over Japan I was finally able to get to this rather remote and surprisingly time-consuming place myself…

Haboro was founded in 1894 and grew only slowly for the first 30-something years of its existence – located at the Sea of Japan it has a humid continental climate with strong winds and an average of 5 meters of snow per year; houses along the coast almost all are protected by tall fences made of wooden boards to break the wind, maling them look like little forts. During World War II (which was longer for Japan as the country started earlier than the rest of the world…) the former suburb of Tomamae grew from a few hundred inhabitants to almost than 30000, despite the harsh conditions of its remote location – thanks to two large coal mines in the mountains rising behind the coastal town. (The Chikubetsu Mine (opened in 1940), which we’ll have a look at today, and the Haboro Mine (opened in 1935), which I’ll present in a future article.) To avoid unnecessary commutes, everything the mines needed were built: apartment buildings, a hospital, several schools – basically a Haboro II. In 1970 both mines were closed and the population decreased from 28574 to 13624 in 1975 to 10102 in 1995 to 7253 in 2017. The tendency? Still going down by a couple of dozen people per year.
Today Haboro is a sleepy little coastal town again with the usual array of supermarkets, car dealerships and even a driving school as well as two museums. Nothing out of the ordinary, but not too shabby for such a small remote town. The train line, built in 1941 as the “Coal Line Haboro” to move the coal to places it was needed, once had two stops within the city limits – Chikubetsu in the mountains and Haboro at the sea. Chikubetsu Station was closed with the mines in 1970, Haboro Station followed in 1987 when the state owned JNR was privatized as Japan Railways – and got rid of the complete line between Rumoi and Horonobe. Which means that nowadays Haboro is only accessible by car… and maybe an obscure bus line running three times a day.
Then why is Haboro so popular amongst urban explorers and ghost hunters? Because the ruins of the mining area in the mountains are easily accessible – nobody seems to care about them anymore, there are not even warning or do not enter signs. Despite the fact that pretty much all of them are death traps and mostly demolished, the Haboro ruins are strangely fascinating. We’ll return to Haboro several times in the future (not only for the second mine!) as I spent a whole day there with my buddy *Hamish*, but today I’d like to focus on the ruins of the Chikubetsu Mine.
The first thing most people see of the Chikubetsu Mine is its large concrete hopper, still sitting next to the road, just a little bit more rusty than almost 50 years ago. Much more rusty. So rusty that metal pieces keep falling off. Pointy pieces… One of them piercing right through my shoe and thick hiking socks – if I would have walked just a little bit faster the bayonet shaped spike would have gone right through my foot – and with the emptied out and partly collapsed mine hospital down the road it would have been a painful return to civilization. Last stop of the former Chikubetsu mine – the former power plant, now mostly demolished; the impressively large chimney was still standing, so were couple of other structures and walls, but overall there was little to see on that extremely windy and slightly rainy day – though still better conditions than when exploring the snowy *Horonai Coal Mine & Substation* on a previous trip to Hokkaido.

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Abandoned train stations along closed lines are not that unusual anywhere in the world – an unfinished and abandoned station along an ACTIVE line on the other hand…

Finding unusual locations is pretty tough when running a weekly urbex blog for several years, especially when living in a country where the majority of abandoned places are schools and hotels. When I first heard about an abandoned train station along an active line, I knew I had to check it out sooner or later – the station is accessible by public transportation (obviously…) and a not too long walk, but I happily took advantage of the opportunity to get there by car when I was in the area with my friends Dan and Kyoko.
The Unfinished Train Station is located pretty much in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by fields and forests, about a kilometer away from the next houses – it’s instantly apparent why the station was never finished, though it was supposed to open in 1980; but since then, the most nearby settlements didn’t expand much towards the station and the area stayed as rural as it was in the 20th century.
Exploring the Unfinished Train Station took a total of 15 minutes – luckily there were no warning signs, and the barriers weren’t effective against pedestrians at all. After about 10 minutes a scheduled train passed by and I was sure the conductor saw us, so I took a quick video at the platforms before walking up to the railway tracks for some photos from the distance. And then I saw it coming… the maintenance car. Luckily it was a railway maintenance car, so it was stuck to the tracks, but it was pretty clear that this was not a coincidence, so I ran to our car, while the track vehicle slowed down and came to a halt. Looking back I saw somebody getting out and looking after us while we were speeding away, but luckily the guy didn’t make any efforts to get a hold of us; neither short-term (car description to the local police) nor long-term (via the license plate).
Unspectacular, but unique – I guess that’s the best way to describe the Unfinished Train Station. Not exactly a location you can or want to spend a long time exploring, but at the same time a location you don’t want to miss out on, just because there are not that many of them…
Oh, and if you are following *Abandoned Kansai on Facebook* you were probably expecting another location this week, but the article got longer and more complex the more time I spent on it – until it was pretty clear that I wouldn’t be able to finish on time, leaving me with the options of either cutting down on quality or moving on to yet another small location with little to say about. I decided to do the latter and hope you’ll appreciate the decision when the originally planned article goes online; hopefully next week or the week after… Thanks for your understanding!

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This one is for the ladies – an abandoned bag shop, much of the merchandise still in its original packaging!

Every once in a while one of my non-urbex friends (or a very kind reader of this blog!) comes through and tells me about closed or abandoned places they found out about by chance – years ago my German friend Chris stumbled across the *Shodoshima Peackcock Garden* when he was cycling around the island with his girlfriend. And in spring my Canadian friend Jean-Yves showed me this bag shop / wholesaler / depository he found when he was scouting a new route for his jogging group…
Located in the outskirts of a rundown onsen town, the Bag Shop was partly overgrown even in spring – in summer and autumn it’s probably neither visible nor accessible unless you know where it is located. The history of the place? Unknown. I’m not even sure what it was exactly. All I know is what it is now – a building made from corrugated iron and wood, partly collapsed, covered by vines and foliage… and filled with hundreds of bags and probably some suitcases. School bags, hand bags, leather bags, plastic bags – some of them still in their original plastic wrappers, others even in the cardboard boxes they probably were delivered in decades ago. Judging by the way the “building” was put up, it was probably erected close to post-war. And judging by the amount of leaves and uncontrolled growth it was probably abandoned in the 1980s. No way to say so for sure as I couldn’t find any information about the Bag Shop inside the building or the internet.
Exploring the Bag Shop took me about an hour – it wasn’t a very big building and given that it was partly collapsed and smelled rather rotten, I didn’t venture inside deeply; especially since Jean-Yves moved on after 10 minutes or so to prepare the route he scouted when he found the Bag Shop. Overall an unspectacular exploration, but in a lovely area on a lovely day. My first exploration in weeks and a good way to start off the spring urbex season. I hope you’ll enjoy this little gem, too!

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“There is no vandalism in Japan!”
Oh yes, there is, plenty of it! Just have a look here…

On the last two weekends I went exploring on 3 out of 4 days – 5 of the 7 places I actually explored on those 3 days were abandoned hotels… and only 1 of them was exciting, the other 4 were vandalized pieces of garbage; virtually every window broken, every vending machine cracked open, half of the rooms destroyed (and the other half looking like the ones I’ve seen at dozens other hotels before…), all places smelling like mold… Sometimes I wonder if exploring those places is a waste of time. My time, your time, everybody’s time. But then again, you never know what you find. Even some of the most rotten places offer surprises like unusual items or spectacular views. Not the Hiroshima Sports Hotel, a large accommodation for active people featuring a 25 meter pool, half a dozen tennis court and access to the 18 hole golf course right across the street. Rumors had it that the hotel was inaccessible and under constant supervision of the golf course staff, so I was a bit worried not to get inside, but at the same time had high expectations in case I did. Sadly it was pretty apparent upon arrival that I was a victim of outdated information – countless open and broken windows indicated that the hotel had been severely vandalized over the last few years, despite the fact that the golf course and the road leading there were as busy as ever. Luckily access was rather easy, so it was only a matter of timing to get into the hotel without being seen / being seen by as few people as possible.
Sadly the Hiroshima Sports Hotel turned out to be a vandalized piece of garbage, as I mentioned before, sorely afflicted by both metal thieves and your average vandals. The entrance floor (technically 2F) with the lobby, the kitchen, some conference rooms and an office were pretty chaotic, but at least featured a nice graffito at one wall and bird’s nest inside a partly emptied switch box (which I only saw because my fellow explorers Dan and Kyoko told me about it). The promising ground floor (1F) lead outside to the pool and the tennis courts, which I couldn’t take proper photos of because I would have been spotted from the outside within 30 seconds. It also featured two underwhelming public baths, some wet and moldy party rooms as well as a pitch-black and smelly bar – and tons of broken glass, machines, furniture, … Nothing I haven’t published many, many times before on this blog. And the rest of the hotel? Well, 3F to 7F were just average hotel rooms. In surprisingly good condition, given the vandalized two lowest floors, but still nothing you and I haven’t seen many, many times before.
And that’s why I am a little bit conflicted about the Hiroshima Sports Hotel and similar places – on the one hand it sometimes feels a little bit like a chore to take enough photos for a full set at places like that (especially knowing that they attract a lot fewer viewers than the spectacular places that will follow in the upcoming weeks, starting on Tuesday!), on the other it still beats sitting at home watching TV… What do you think? Are you tired of abandoned hotels and maybe even skip them when they appear on Abandoned Kansai? Or do you agree that it still beats watching TV? 🙂

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There are hot springs all over Japan (even in Okinawa!) und there are water parks all over Japan (even in Hokkaido!), but a hot spring water park? Those are surprisingly rare…

About two years ago I was able to convince my Japanese friends Yuko and Takanobu to do some real urbex after spending a night taking pictures at *Nara Dreamland*, which was basically already a tourist attraction at the time, with more visitors than many a temple in Nara…
We headed for the mountains, which isn’t exactly an unusual move in Japan, where mountains are hard to avoid when you drive for a while. After exploring two rather large locations, bothg of which I yet have to write about, we arrived at the Hot Spring Water Park just outside of a generally rather rundown onsen town, probably the home to an abandoned hotel or two – but we didn’t even have time to check that, because the sun was already setting and we were quickly running out of time. The curse of most urbex days… on 90% of them you run out of time at the last location of the day. Because if you don’t, you do your best to rush to another nearby place, no matter how low your expectations for it are. But I had rather high hopes for the Hot Spring Water Park, because back then I had never seen it anywhere else before, and even nowadays it barely ever pops up. Anyway, we parked the car at the road above the water park and then rushed down to snap some shots before it was getting too dark.
Japanese water parks have always been a mystery to me, as they are open for just a few weeks in July and August, no matter how hot (and humid!) the weather is in June or September. The dates are set and people stick with them. Back home in Germany those kinds of entertainment facilities open and close depending on the weather, usually starting in May and ending service in September. If you have a rainy May, the bath opens rather late in the month, if there is a heat wave in early May, it opens right away, to take advantage of the weather. Everybody involved brings a certain flexibility to the table to serve locals as good as they can, despite the fact that Germans love to bitch about how bad service is in their country. (And sometimes it is, especially when shopping, but that’s the result of their “Geiz ist geil!” (tight is right) mentality. If you press for some of the lowest food and clothing prices in the industrialized world, you gotta live with the consequences… service costs money!
Anway, the Hot Spring Water Park – a cute little thing in the mountains that could have been the pool area of a large resort hotel. But since it wasn’t, I understand why it failed. If your money making season is between six and eight weeks long, you better grab as much wonga as you can while you can; though being located in the middle of nowhere next to a small onsen town surely didn’t help. Nevertheless it was good fun exploring this rarely seen location, even though an hour clearly wasn’t long enough…

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