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Archive for the ‘Amusement Park’ Category

This is an Abandoned Kansai classic! First explored in late 2009 and published in early 2010, Arima Wanda Garden a.k.a. *Doggy Land* was one of the original original finds!

When I first considered giving urban exploration a try and make it a hobby in mid 2009 one thing was clear as day to me: I didn’t just want to follow other people’s footsteps and seek out places dozens of more experienced explorers have been to before me (more like hundreds 11 years later…). I wanted to look for places unknown to the internet, original finds! The first three original finds I’ve located have been the abandoned theme park *Expoland* (now demolished and replaced by the gigantic shopping mall Expocity), the *Hitler Surgical Hospital* (demolished and replaced by an apartment building) and dog themed park called Arima Wanda Garden.
Writing about abandoned places puts you under constant struggle between wanting to present beautiful locations and trying to keep them and their location as secret, so not every shmock goes there and tramples through – or even worse, steals from or vandalizes the place. Both Expoland and the hospital had already been under demolition by the time I ended taking pictures of them, so there was nothing to worry about. But Arima Wanda Garden and many places after that forced me to make a decision between writing about them and exposing them that way, even if using a limited selection of photos (for example not publishing anything with a logo) and a fake name – or not writing about them at all until they’ve been demolished or other people did the dirty work of exposing them first. In recent years I tended to choose option 2 – I have at least two dozen places in my vault that are truly spectacular, but publishing an article about them with all the photos and information I have would probably turn them into tourist spots, some of them actually really dangerous for a variety of reasons. In the case of Arima Wanda Garden I initially decided to write about it with a limited selection of photos, no video walkthrough, without references where it was, and under the fake name *Doggy Land*. Six and a half years and several recent appearances on Japanese blogs later I revisited the once pristine Doggy Land and found it severely vandalized – so I published an article about *Arima Wanda Garden* in 2017 with the full original photo set, video walkthrough, and real name; there was not much damage it could cause that hadn’t been done already. Almost three years later I finally publish the photos and video walkthrough of my 2016 revisit with this article…

Revisiting Arima Wanda Garden was bittersweet. During my first two visits in late 2009 / early 2010 it was in nearly pristine condition and I had to climb over a fence next to a rather busy road. In 2016 I was able to step through a low unlocked window and leave that entrance building through an open door on the other side. What I found was a much wilder, much more vandalized park. The first time around all the buildings were still locked, this time most doors were open and a lot of windows were broken. It was sad to see Arima Wanda Garden in that kind of state, on the other hand it looked so different that it almost felt like a new exploration. Usually I avoid revisits as I tend to explore locations fully the first time and only little things change from on year to another – but those six and a half years definitely made a difference! You can see for yourself and find out more about Arima Wanda Garden by *clicking here to get to the comprehensive article I posted in 2017*.

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Some things even millions of subscribers and a management that plans your urbex trips / pays feeble-minded sellouts to guide you around can’t buy – like access to the following demolished places. Since the start of Abanoned Kansai ten years ago dozens of well-known and not so well-known abandoned places in Japan have been demolished. This is my personal Top 10 of now demolished places in alphabetical order. (For more infos, photos and videos please click on the name of the respective location!)

Hokkaido Sex Museum
The “Hokkaido House of Hidden Treasures” was an eclectic collection of copulating taxidermy animals, interactive games, and bizarre displays (like the sexy Disney scene) spread across two floors – while the third one was a Korean BBQ restaurant and also home to the museum’s offices. Located on the main road in the onsen town of Jozankei just outside of Sapporo, the closed sex museum became too famous for its own good and was demolished after several years of increasing vandalism.

Irozaki Jungle Park
The Irozaki Jungle Park was a gigantic indoor flower park near the Irozaki Cape on the southern tip of the Izu Peninsula. Closed in 2003 after being in business for also 35 year the park quickly became an eyesore to the locals – but bureaucracy is as slow in Japan as anywhere else in the world, and so it took more than a decade for it to be demolished and replaced by… no, not a shopping mall… the next best thing – right, a parking lot!

Japanese Art School
The Japanese Art School had been a mystery even amongst explorers in Japan – nobody knew exactly what it had been (a school / art school / art supply shop?), hardly anybody actually knew where it was. One spring day in 2014 I was exploring the equally legendary *White School* with a friend – and his wife figured out while we were exploring that the art school must have been in the area… and gave us the name of a train station further north. After looking for the school on foot and by car for more than an hour we asked a local about it in a final desperate move – and they guided us there, several kilometers away from the station. We explored the location successfully only to find out half a year later that is had been demolished since then.

Nakagusuku Hotel Ruin
The Nakagusuku Hotel Ruin was one of the weirdest abandoned places in all of Japan – construction reportedly began on an old graveyard and without finished construction plan, resulting in several mysterious deaths, some really low ceilings and pathways as well as the owner ending up in a mental hospital (reportedly…). Being located right next to the UNESCO World Heritage site Nakagusuku Castle Ruin, the hotel ruin became too popular for its own good and demolition started in 2019.

Nara Dreamland
At one point probably the best (= most completely and least vandalized) amusement park in the whole world – basically the Disneyland of abandoned theme parks (fans get the reference…). After a few years of relative obscurity Nara Dreamland became one of the most visited abandoned places in 2015/16 after the previous owner had to sell the place by forced tax sale and therefore “security” went from rather tight to non-existent. After the new real-estate investor owner took charge, the theme park was demolished within weeks, removal of the rubble took another several months – and since then it’s a plain lot in prime location waiting to be used… Fun fact: The nearby Nara prison was closed around the same time Nara Dreamland got demolished – but don’t get too excited, it’s just closed, not abandoned! (Probably the location I miss the most since I went there since 2009 and of this list it was the closest to where I live. It’s also the location I explored more often than any other.)

Shikoku New Zealand Village
In the late 80s (rings a bell?) a Japanese company called Farm. Co. started to open up themed parks all over Japan. Yes, themed parks, not theme parks / amusement parks. They were literally country themed parks with a little village and all kinds of outdoorsy pay as you go attractions like rental bikes, hill slides, and all kinds of food related stuff (but no classic rides like rollercoasters). Four of those parks were New Zealand themed, with restaurants named Auckland, animal shows including sheep and exhibitions featuring museum grade 19th century farming equipment and pottery form New Zealand. And while Japanese people love being outdoors and having BBQs, apparently they didn’t love it enough to drive to the middle of nowhere and have at the places Farm Co. intended to – and so most of the parks were shut down in the early 2000s, a few years after the real estate bubble burst. The farm in Shikoku I explored twice… and was surprised to see a landslide fixed, part of the beautiful natural decay most of those parks were victims of. Suprisingly few urbexers and vandals… From the looks of it the park in Yamaguchi had more of those, but not the one in Shikoku. As for the fixed landslide: Turns out that the themed parks were never fully abandoned and always had an owner of some kind. Who fixed the park internal road in preparation of demolishing the whole thing to replace it with yet another solar farm…

Shiraishi Mine
In the early 2010s the Shiraishi Mine (White Stone Mine) was one of the most famous abandoned places in all of Japan – a gigantic abandoned limestone mine slightly off the beaten track that took at least a day to explore, probably even longer. One lucky day in 2010 I had a few hours to explore the mine shotgun style, despite the rumors of rather tight security. Since I ended up seeing only maybe one third of the mine, half at best, I always wanted to come back to explore more – unfortunately the Shiraishi Mine was demolished before I had the opportunity.

Shodoshima Peacock Garden
Despite being rather close to Osaka I’ve been to Shodoshima only once – years ago when I went on a little urbex trip with my Kiwi buddy Chris. Shodoshima was rather high up on my list due to a trip by my German friend Chris, who came across this strange closed peacock park when he was cycling the island for touristy reasons with his girlfriend – one of the few locations I found out about from friends / readers. And a super rare one in addition to that, because back then there weren’t that many urbexers in Japan, so finding a location on an island was usually coincidence. Well, after about a year I finally made it there with sound guy Chris and the place was everything I hoped it would be – a large tropical park, gigantic walk-through bird cage leading into a (now dry) round aquarium, peacocks (taxidermy and statues!), and quite an impressive gift shop that introduced me to olive chocolate (none was left, but the plastic samples were still there). A truly unique location off the beaten tracks, virtually unknow to the internet – and demolished a few years after my visit in 2012…

Tenkaen
The Flower Garden of Heaven was a China based themed park on the way between Noboribetsu (famous for its marine park) and Noboribetsu Onsen (famous for its hot springs and sulphur hell) on Japan’s most northern main island Hokkaido – and definitely ahead of its time. Built in 1992 during the real estate bubble it was more sophisticated than most other country themed parks, but rather high prices and snow for about five months a year caused it to struggle quickly – and so it closed before the millennium ended… The park was modeled after a garden court from the Qing Dynasty and in addition included a 5-storey pagoda with a height of 40 meters as well as a bell donated by China to commemorate 20 years of rather friendly diplomatic relations. I explored this wonderful location after a dozen years of mostly natural decay on a November day that saw weather changes every 20 to 30 minutes: sunny, overcast, cloudy, rainy, snowy – pretty much everything you can imagine, making that one set look like three explorations; spectacular explorations! 🙂

Volcano Onsen Hotel
The most recently published location on this list I explored in late 2017 – StreetView dated June 2019 shows that the building has been fenced off and gutted since then. At this point I’m not sure if the building itself has been torn down or not, but the difference between the nearly pristine closed hotel I experienced and the shown state is much bigger that between the shown state and an empty lot – as far as I am concerned the Volcano Onsen Hotel is dead as a dodo, which is a real shame, because it was a really, really fantastic exploration and I hope the remaining interior was salvaged and put to good use… and not into a landfill. There are not that many spectacular abandoned hotels out there, but this was definitely one of them – and it seems like you’ll only see it on Abandoned Kansai in its abandoned state as it was also one that was overlooked by the urbex community.

Yamaguchi Sex Museum
The abandoned sex museum in the remote onsen town of Yumoto was the first one I ever visited, back in 2012 on one of my first urbex road trips. Located in what looked like a massive Japanese style storage house from the outside was an eclectic, rather artsy collection of exhibits. Tons of stone sculptures (including my favorite – dickface!), but also some blacklight paintings (I assume so, obviously there was no blacklight available anymore…), posters, a portable shrine and some mutilated mannequins as well as some stages for dolls already stolen. A truly unique location truly missed…

“But that’s eleven places, Florian!”, the more attentive people amongst you might say –”And rightfully so!”, I’d answer. If movie history taught us one thing, then that you go to 11 when you need that extra push over the cliff – because when you reached 10, where can you go from there?

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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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Short and sweet this week – an abandoned water park in the Japanese countryside, a small original find by yours truly and therefore probably new to the internet.

So, yeah… not much to write this week. A while ago I found this small water park in the middle of nowhere by chance, a bit later I took a couple of photos, and now here we are. I don’t know anything about its history – and even if I’d knew the name, I’d probably wouldn’t publish it for obvious reasons.
A quick and easy exploration, in an out in about 20 minutes. Hope you’ll enjoy the photos!

Oh, and if you want to see more abandoned water parks, you can click *here*, *here* or *here*.

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A blast from the past – another part of the incredibly popular Nara Dreamland hardly anybody cared to look for… the trains!

At the height of its popularity in 2016 the abandoned Nara Dreamland was visited by dozens of people every day, from babies carried by their mothers (all of them foreigners, at least the ones I saw…) to groups of Japanese senior citizens – but hardly anybody really explored that amazing location. Most of those thrill-seeking, bored adventure tourists (including those who call themselves urban explorers) came in through the tunnels underneath the train station, walked past the shops of Fake Street USA to the castle, had a look at the rollercoasters and disappeared again – a few put in some extra effort to check out the water park and / or the rides in the back, but most of them left with a selfie in front of a rollercoaster or the castle to cross off another item on their FOMO hipster list. Hundreds, probably thousands of people came to Nara Dreamland in 2015 and 2016, pretty much everybody saw the train station that dominated the entrance and was even visible from outside the park – yet pictures of the Nara Dreamland trains are super rare, despite the fact that one of the iron horses was waiting for the things to come in an open shed pretty much right next to Aska, the stunning wooden rollercoaster. (The other one was parked on the track in an artificial tunnel in the southeast “corner” of the park, overgrown most of the year…) On the other hand it was probably a blessing for those trains that they only had a handful of visitors in total instead of a handful of visitors per day – they were (mostly) spared the serious amount of vandalism that the monorail and other parts of the park had to suffer through; not to mention all of *Western Village* up in Kanto, which went to hell in a handbasket as soon as it became famous, thanks to a nearby train station and some assholes who can’t behave (pardon my French…).
The pictures in the gallery at the end of this article are mostly of the train in the shed, because it was easy to find, easy to access and easy to take photos of, though it was also next to a surprisingly busy side road and you really couldn’t say if the noise from a scooter was coming from outside or from a security guard on the premises (not counting the one year or so without any security at all, of course – during that time it was pretty clear…).
What happened to the Nara Dreamland trains? I have no idea. The last owner of Nara Dreamland blocked any attempts to make contact, so unless one or both of them show up somewhere in the future (three, if you count the monorail), I guess they’ve been sold for scrap – which would be a shame, because according to the builder’s plate on the train in the shed the locomotive was built by Vulcan Foundry in Newton-le-Willows in 1871. I’m not a train expert, so I have no idea how authentic the train and the worksplate were, but at least there was indeed a Vulcan Foundry Company building steam locomotives in Newton-le-Willows, England, at that time… (According to a Youtube comment by user SJ, who googled the engine gauge “1871 #614 2-4-0, 3’6”, this might have been the first train to ever run in Japan – which makes me hope even more that it was donated to a museum and not scrapped, but Nara Dreamland was bought for profit and I don’t think the new owner cared much about anything… Addendum 2019-02-12: According to Youtube user YannickGB the train at Nara Dreamland most likely was a replica as the original is in the Saitama Railway Museum.)

Hindsight is 20/20 and even I wish I would have spent more time documenting the locomotives of Nara Dreamland, but at least I can say that I’ve seen them both and have been on one of them. Unfortunately the general interest in Nara Dreamland died as quickly as it was demolished, but I hope the Abandoned Kansai audience is a little bit more hardcore than the average Instagram hipster out there and appreciates both the photos and the videos of this article. And if you have never seen the Nara Dreamland shrine, you might want to *check out part I of this series*.

(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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Over the years I’ve spent much more time in abandoned theme parks than in active ones – and the exploration of Wonderland in Fukui easily makes my Top 5!

In early spring of 2016 I found out about the imminent demise of *Nara Dreamland*, which reminded me of yet another pay as you go theme park I wanted to explore for a long time: Wonderland in the outskirts of Awara Onsen, a surprisingly active spa town with all kinds of entertainment facilities, including a boat race track and a now demolished driving range. Luckily I had a free weekend coming up, so the next opportunity I had I took a fast train up north and then a slow train even further north – yes, surprisingly nobody wanted to join me on that 4 hour long expedition to a virtually unknown theme park… which has advantages and disadvantages. 3.5 hours on two trains are a great opportunity to catch up with some sleep – or they can be boring as hell. You can explore on your own speed – or you never make it inside as you keep waiting for “the right moment”. Nobody else knows you’ve ever been there, but there’s also nobody to share the memories with. Almost two years later I avoid solo explorations as much as possible, and I think the abandoned *Bag Store* pretty much a year ago was the last one I did…

Even though I started my day rather early, it was already around 11 a.m. on this basically cloud free Saturday when I arrived at the Fukui Wonderland – a hot spring day, not a hot spring day (English sucks sometimes, doesn’t it?!) with temperatures around 30°C, and the first piece of shadow I was able to take advantage of, already almost grilled well-done by Japan’s horribly intense sun, was the tightly locked up main building of Wonderland right next to the large but empty parking lot. The pretty much untouched and tightly locked place featured karaoke rooms, batting cages, and several arcade machines as well as other games. The pay as you go amusement park was right next to it… and at first I was hesitant to get inside. The road next to it was quite busy and some rides were still in decent condition – and in the past it has always been the amusement parks where I got into trouble and either had to run or to explain my unexpected and unwanted presence. But of course after a few minutes and outside shots my curiosity won… and boy was I rewarded!
There was another large building complex with a restaurant and an arcade, including several abandoned machines (famous ones like Virtua Racing and rather unknown ones like Title Fight. There also was an outdoor kids’ train and an indoor one, disassembled and stored in the arcade. There was a rollercoaster and several merry-go-rounds, a kart track, some reverse bungee contraption and several other rides and items, like a couple of dinosaur sculptures. I was just about to get from the arcade to the restaurant part when I saw an older man driving a Segway into the park. After I picked up my jaw from the floor I witnessed him walking out of the park, only two come back on a Segway minutes later. At first I tried to stay out of sight, but that pretty much ruined my exploration / documentation, so I started to take pictures openly. Luckily the guy ignored me, so I was able to finish my tour through the park. Back outside on the parking lot I saw one car parked now – nothing else changed. No new sign, no banner, no nothing. How the guy expected potential customers to find him is absolutely beyond me, because there wasn’t even the slightest hint that one could rent Segways in what looked like a closed and probably abandoned theme park.

Overall exploring Wonderland reminded me a lot of exploring *Nara Dreamland* six years earlier, in 2010 – just a much smaller version… with easier access… and without sneaking in at night. As you can see on the photos and in the videos, Wonderland was in good condition when I went there in May 2016, just the right amount of decay and with only little vandalism… which is why I took advantage of exploring it solo and kept silent about it for almost two years. The last couple of weeks have been stressful and I feel like I posted a couple of sub-par locations recently, so this is my way of trying to make up for it – and I hope that you enjoy Wonderland as much as I did!

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Even though the Fukushima Theme Park was never affected by radioactivity or the huge tsunami of the 2011 Tohoku Earthquake, it was nevertheless a victim of the circumstances caused by the costliest natural disaster in history…

The Fukushima Theme Park (not its real name…) dates back to the Japanese asset price bubble in the late 80s, when pretty much every part of the country saw itself as the next top tourist destination and money was spent with both hands. Two of the most popular investments? Theme parks and botanical gardens. So why not combine both and make it real big, as in something like 200 by 400 meters?
And so it was done… A large flower park with plenty of eateries (admission fee: 500 Yen) and about a dozen pay as you go attractions spread across the whole area – including a gigantic ball pit, with 2.5 kilometers the longest kart track in all of Tohoku, some murder mystery adventure in a converted trailer, a mini zoo, a 9 hole golf course, a 3D mini cinema called “Inner Space Vehicle”, a fishing pond, AND a… drumroll… big Ferris Wheel! Things apparently went well (more or less…) for a solid 20 years, when the Fukushima Theme Park closed in December of 2009.
In early 2011 a professional golf player invested 100 million Yen (1.2 million USD at the time) into the park to reactivate it – unfortunate timing, to say the least. Though not directly damaged by the earthquake or the tsunami, the Fukushima Theme Park of course must have been facing the same challenges as the rest of the region – blackouts, supply shortages, damaged access routes, locals with other things on mind, and the almost complete absence of tourist, both foreign and domestic. The now pretty much useless large parking lots for up to 1000 cars and 50 busses were used to build temporary housing for displaced people… Japanese people only, of course – no Syrians allowed, anywhere in Japan, at least not for humanitarian reasons. (Interestingly enough both crises started within only four days of each other…) The refugee camp existed till late summer / early fall of 2012, two years later the whole park reportedly was closed for good.
When I explored the Fukushima Theme Park with my friends Dan and Kyoko three years later, the parking lot had already been turned into a solar park. The entrance area with the gift shops and a dozen karts parked inside was in surprisingly good condition, but most of the site’s attractions were at the other end of the park. Unfortunately the area in-between was almost completely overgrown by thick vegetation… except for that piece of forest with what looked like a footpath. Well, usually I’m not the kind of person heading directly for the undergrowth, but it was getting dark quickly, I eagerly wanted to see the Ferris wheel, and I really thought I was onto something. Well, long story short: the path disappeared and the undergrowth got thicker. Giving up wasn’t an option though, and so I kinda talked my fellow explorers into following me (sorry again, guys!). About 10 minutes and several bruises and scratches later I found a way out, only to realize that the rest of the park was located on a steep slope. Darn! While Dan was scouting an easier way out I was pushing forward by myself, borderline desperate to take pictures of that darn Ferris wheel before it was getting too dark. On the way uphill I found some of the already mentioned rides and attractions, yet no sign of the Ferris wheel. Hmm… Maybe behind those big trees, following the kart track? While I was seriously considering heading out into the darkness after my friends had just caught up with me, Dan annihilated all hope of taking pictures of a Ferris wheel that day – he found the overgrown concrete foundations… though it didn’t make sense. And it still doesn’t! On Streetview from 2015 the solar park was just being built, on satellite view the park is complete and the Ferris wheel is still there, so… two years between visual confirmation and a location that looked like it had been abandoned for at least five years. Darn, darn, darn!

Well, you win some and you lose some – and overall the Fukushima Theme Park was an interesting exploration, even though the Ferris wheel was gone. And before you ask, because people ask me since March 12th 2011: No, I didn’t go nowhere near the nuclear power plant and I didn’t explore any abandoned places in the disaster zone. I’m generally not a big fan of exploring ((temporarily) abandoned) private homes, and it would feel especially ghoulish to me in this case, considering that there are still many people unable to return. This was my second trip to Tohoku since the big earthquake and again we focused on classic abandoned places, though this one here was indirectly a victim of the disaster. And don’t worry, we found some great spots – this time and last time (*Matsuo Mine*, *Taro Mine*, *Kejonuma Leisure Land*).

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Arima Wanda Garden is a place of many names: Japanese people know it as Arima Wanwan Land – and Abandoned Kansai readers as *Doggy Land*. Let’s have a new look at a canine theme park that has gone to the dogs quickly…

When I picked up urban exploration as a hobby eight years ago it was still kind of an underground thing to do. Now you find articles with photo sets on pretty much every mainstream site, but back then it was tough to find any information at all about it (especially in Japan(ese)) as only a few people were familiar with the term… and rather tight-lipped about it. I never had the urge to break into those secret societies as I always had the feeling that the total freedom of exploring abandoned places strongly contradicts those groups, where a few or even a single person often dictates the behavior and knowledge of many – yet I happily followed two basic rules: “Take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints!” and “Do your own research – and if you find a place, don’t reveal its exact location!”
To this very day people send me message like “I envy you that you can explore that many abandoned places. Where I live there aren’t any!” – and I thought the same about Japan in general and especially the area that I live in, Kansai. For three long years I envied people in Kanto and Hokkaido, where the few famous abandoned places in Japan were. And then I started to do research myself. Not only was I able to locate the few already known places (like the incredible *Maya Hotel* and the mostly demolished *Koga Family Land*), I also found several places yet unknown to the internet – like the now super famous *Nara Dreamland*, the demolition in progress *Expoland* and a still underrated theme park named Arima Wanda Garden; all of which I explored in December of 2009 for the first time. By the time I wrote about Expoland it was completely gone – and by the time I wrote about Nara Dreamland I knew that it would be impossible to hide its location and real name; it was too big, the rides were too iconic, it was even visible from one of the most famous tourist attractions in all of Japan, the Todai Temple in Nara. Arima Wanda Garden on the other hand… Arima Wanda Garden was small enough to keep a secret, but interesting enough to present on Abandoned Kansai – so I gave it fake name (*Doggy Land*) and refrained from publishing revealing photos, like those of the entrance (showing the name) or of certain buildings, showing the logo of the park. And of course I withheld certain information, like the Arima part of the name, as it refers to Arima Onsen, where Doggy Land was and is located.
Much to my joy those efforts were rewarded – it took me until 2014 or 2015 till I first saw Doggy Land on other urbex blogs. And apparently it also contributed positively to my reputation within that urbex community I never considered myself part of. It wasn’t until 2016 that I started to have direct contact with Japanese explorers on a regular basis, but I’ve been told by common friends that I enjoy much respect amongst both foreign and Japanese explorers for the way that I treated Doggy Land and many places afterwards, for example the *Abandoned Dynamite Mine*, the *Japanese Sex Museum*, and the *Kyoto Dam*; just to name a few.

Sadly most visitors after me didn’t treat the Doggy Land with the same respect as I did and wrote about it mentioning either the official English or the official Japanese name – with the expected consequences, but that’s a story for another time. Now that the cat is out of the bag I can finally revisit my first two explorations of the Arima Wanda Garden from late December 2009 and early January 2010.
While the Japanese name Arima Wanwan Land makes kind of sense (wan is a Japanese onomatopoeia meaning woof, the barking sound of a dog), I always disliked the English name Arima Wanda Garden. Wanda… woof + is? Wonder? Wander? Probably a mix of all of those, resulting in a horrible, horrible play of words. (Oh, and if you ever expressed gratitude by writing 39: Shoot yourself in the head with a large caliber bullet!)

The story of the Wanwan Land is quickly told: Built as an additional tourist attraction in the outskirts of the traditional hot spring town Arima Onsen, the Wanda Garden opened in August of 2001, saw a drop in visitors from 2006 on, and closed in August of 2008. The concept of the park was a bit strange, even by Japanese standards – it was dog themed. You could ride a little dog themed train, you could rent dogs and take them for a walk (up to 15 bucks for 30 minutes!), you could mingle with other dog walkers, you could pet dogs, watch dog races – or get an education there: the Kobe Pet Academy offered a 2 year specialty course and a 3 year course for high school graduates from 2004 on. Oh, and there was the Wanda Theatre, an indoor stage for trained dog shows – not sure if it was related to the school… Aaaaaand that’s pretty much it. If you don’t count the two or three eateries, but who does? Why people would consider that eclectic collection of… things… a tourist attraction worth spending time and money on is beyond me… and probably beyond a lot of other people, given the place’s (lack of) success.
As horrible of a theme park Arima Wanda Garden must have been, as great was it to explore this original find with my Spanish buddy Enric – darn, it was actually fantastic. Just over a year into the abandonment we actually had to climb tall fences / gates to get inside, and the only signs of vandalism were some plastic balls from a few airsoft matches. Other than that the Wanda Garden was in almost pristine condition – which also meant that none of the buildings were accessible, including the large escalator bringing guests from the main area back to the entrance / parking lots at the top of the slope. Nevertheless a great experience – and with 2.5 hours we probably spent more time there than the average paying visitor.
When I first wrote about the Woofwoof Land back in early 2010 I had to hold back some photos for reasons already explained, so please enjoy the following mix of old and new pictures plus a never before seen walkthrough of the whole park…

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It’s been almost five years that I explored the abandoned and partly demolished Kawatana Onsen Land. Since then I haven’t seen it pop-up anywhere on the internet, so I guess it’s time to write about it myself…
Kawatana Onsen Land was a pay as you go amusement park in the outskirts of a small onsen town. No “pay once, enjoy everything” – you had to pay for each ride individually. Either cash on location or with “tickets”; which was the cheaper solution as a ticket was worth 100 Yen at the rides, but you got a dozen of them for 1000 Yen (Q1: How much money did you save when you paid with tickets and used all you had? – Just kidding, you are not supposed to learn anything here… ever!) Attraction included pedal boats, a cycle coaster (those are almost as much fun as real coasters… you know, the ones your mum asks you to put under your glass?), a go-kart track, an artificial bobsleigh track and minigolf. In case you still wonder why Kawatana Onsen Land shut down, please read the list of attractions again…
By the time of my exploration the go-karts had already been removed, the cycle coaster (wheee!) had been demolished, so the visually more interesting parts were the artificial bobsleigh slope, basically a hill covered in green plastic mats, the minigolf area (with a tree growing at one of the Par 4 courses) and the pedal boats… most of which were sinking. By now I have visited more abandoned theme parks than active ones, and I had much more fun at abandoned theme parks than at active ones. Sadly I have to say that Kawatana Onsen Land isn’t one of the reasons for that statements. While it was easy to access and take pictures of, it wasn’t exactly an exciting location. I kinda liked the miniature golf area. That one was cool. The rest was rather meh. No *Nara Dreamland* for sure!
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The demolition of Nara Dreamland has always been something I’ve been worried about ever since I first visited this wonderful place back in 2009 – and now it has begun…

The abandoned Dreamland, an originally barely touched and most recently quite vandalized deserted amusement park in Japan’s former capital Nara, had been a lost place too good to be true for most of its existence – well, except for security, which most likely was in fact the previous owner and his son, who had their offices in the blue City Hall building right next to the entrance and did occasional rides through the park to catch them some trespassers to hand them over to the police. Nobody seems to know exactly the line of ownership, but before the current owner SK Housing and the last operator, the supermarket chain Daiei, there was at least that father and son duo… and probably somebody else as over the years I saw variously labelled signs trying to scare urban explorers away, including LA Investment (エルエーインベストメント) and KK Dreamland (株式会社ドリームランド) – the latter being rather ridiculous as a kabushiki kaisha is a stock company, and I doubt that Nara Dreamland ever had been one.
But this is about the downfall of the abandoned Nara Dreamland and in my estimation that part began about two years ago, when the park was foreclosed and first put up for public auction – since then “security” sightings went down (guess why…), vandalism skyrocketed (guess why…) and everybody and their cousin went there to take selfies with phones smarter than themselves (though I have to admit that I met some nice people, too, especially recently). About a year ago Osaka based real estate company SK Housing bought the lot for 730 million Yen (I reported) and things went from bad to worse – whole groups of people strayed through the park and neither they themselves nor SK Housing apparently gave a damn about anything; young parents with their barely walking toddlers, teens screaming like little children while playing tag, twens grinding stunt bikes on benches and rails, barely walking senior citizens… In spring and summer of 2016 you could actually literally walk into the park without jumping a rope or a fence, or even passing a sign. Seriously, just watch the first video at the end of this article! And then the dormant SK Housing, claiming that they have no plans with Nara Dreamland upon being asked by Japanese friends of mine in late 2015, woke up!

And so it began…

First SK Housing placed a ton of scaffolding on the parking lot at the main entrance, probably in May 2016… and they protected them with two new solid construction fences. Then barely anything happened for another four months, they didn’t even care to close the open gate. How do I know? Because I was alarmed and curious, so I went to Nara Dreamland more often than ever before. Much more often. At first about once a month from May on, from September 3rd till October 23rd every weekend, except for that one in early October, when I caught up with my old friend and occasional co-explorer Hamish – and it was during those two months that things got interesting! VERY interesting…
During my first couple of visits I realized that the amount of stored scaffolding was changing, yet none of it appeared in the park. (What happened to it? I have no idea, they probably took it to another construction site.) So I used the time to document areas of Nara Dreamland I hadn’t been to before, some of them I haven’t even seen anywhere else on the internet. I climbed water slides, had a closer look at the castle, went inside fake Mount Matterhorn, and even found a whole new building nobody seems to know about.
On September 9th SK Housing started to become really active by putting up office containers and porter potties at the lower end of the parking lot, the large construction fence with the main gate. A week later I saw heavy machinery inside the park, yet it was still possible to walk right in – so I took the already mentioned last chance video. When I came back on September 24th, I realized that prep work had begun in the week of September 19th. The previously mentioned office in the City Hall was cleaned out, so were several other buildings of the fake Main Street USA. And while I was taking photos, I got yelled at and shooed away by an older Japanese dude wearing a pink shirt, who was showing the entrance area to a business woman in her early 30s. So I left as they were most likely there on official business… and got right back in after I watched them leaving – staying till it got dark, shooting a video on the way out. A week later I saw that the removal of the plants along the main road had begun and that the gutting of Main Street USA was almost completed. What really shocked me was the fact that they destroyed the iconic Dreamland entrance sign there, without removing the arch-like building though. It turned out that this was my last relaxed exploration of Nara Dreamland as I spent the next weekend catching up with said old friend.
Upon my return on October 15th I was stopped by a French guy just out of sight of Nara Dreamland – he told me that demolition had begun and that he already talked to security and a construction worker; no way inside! It turned out that demolition indeed had begun on the previous Monday, October 10th, a national holiday. And while the prep work was limited to regular work days (Monday to Friday), a crew with heavy machinery was really active on that Saturday, demolishing the Main Street USA (probably because of the national holiday that week?) – most of the vegetation along the road had been completely removed during my absence, too, so everybody could have a good look from the outside at what was happening… At the same time gates were fortified and holes in the fence were fixed. Even old ones that had been there for years! According to large new signs in Japanese AND English, SK Housing had finally taken full control over Nara Dreamland, threatening to sue every unauthorized person caught on the premises. A Japanese only sign also stated that the construction site would be there till December 2017, which sounded like a reasonable schedule to demolish a large amusement park the size of Nara Dreamland. Boy, was I wrong – in more than one way!
So the next weekend I returned on a Sunday, in hope of finding the demolition site unstaffed. I wasn’t that fortunate. Instead pretty much all of Main Street USA was gone – security on scooters guarding both gates, the one on the upper street and the one at the main entrance. In the background you could hear machines smashing the merry-go-rounds to pieces. Not only did the crew work seven days a week, it turned out that they moved much faster than I anticipated. Much, much faster. In the two weeks since October 23rd the demolition crew not only got rid of the massive metal Screw Coaster, they literally tore through the wooden Aska roller coaster. I was expecting that they would dismantle it, probably scaffolding it first. But no, they just ripped through and tore it apart. (In German we fittingly say “Kleinholz machen”, turning it into small pieces of wood / firewood.) Same with the monorail station – and before you ask: No, I have no idea what happened to the monorail train. Probably “Final destination: junkyard!”. If the crew keeps up that speed, there will be little to nothing left of Nara Dreamland by the end of the year – which means that I either misread the sign at the main gate, or SK Housing will finish construction of whatever they are planning to build on the former site of Nara Dreamland. What that will be? I have no idea. When my buddy Hamish made a call just before SK Housing started prep work (in early September), their answer was that they are not talking to anybody about anything. Not photographers, not urban explorers, not the media – not future plans, not schedules, not people involved; not to anybody, not about anything. (Later I heard stories that even NHK was so desperate that they ran up to people and tried to interview them on the street, when they were just leaving the park; before the demolition phase, when it was still possible to explore Nara Dreamland in late September / early October – the NHK people obviously couldn’t enter themselves for legal reasons…)

It ain’t over till the fat gentleman sings…

Believe me, nobody is more devastated about this demolition news than yours truly! I started exploring Nara Dreamland before I began writing this blog; actually before I even considered writing it. Nara Dreamland is amongst the first dozen locations I’ve ever explored, it had been with me my whole urbex career – it’s in the background of my avatar (in the form of Aska). I’ve been one of the first urban explorers to go there… and I’ve been one of the last ones to go there. But just because the world’s most famous abandoned  (closed? 😉 ) theme park is currently under demolition doesn’t mean that you’ve seen the last of it! As I mentioned previously in this article: I have tons of material for more blog entries. Material you haven’t seen anywhere else before and now for sure won’t see anywhere else… Even this rather long article feels kind of rushed and contains only a fraction of the photos and videos I took in September and October. So there will be more in-depth updates about the last weeks of Nara Dreamland, about the demolition preperations, about the demolition progress… and about whatever is going to happen on the premises in the future. Abandoned Kansai always has been and always will be your #1 source for all things Nara Dreamland!
(Speaking of which – if you use information from this or any other article on Abandoned Kansai for your own work, please have the decency to link back; thanks a lot!)
Last but not least I would like to use the opportunity to draw attention to a location that did get much less than its share when I first wrote about it a few months ago, so if you have another couple of minutes, please have a look at the ultra rare *Shodoshima Peacock Garden* – you won’t regret it!

(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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