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Archive for the ‘Amusement Park’ Category

Truly unique abandoned places are really rare – Japan is no exception from that rule. And sometimes the only way to protect those locations is to keep quiet about them… until they got demolished. Welcome to the Shodoshima Peacock Garden!

The Shodoshima Peacock Garden (SPG) was a 30000 square meter park on Shodoshima, the second largest island in the Seto Inland Sea, famous for its vast olive groves. Opened in 1970 on a small elevation in sight of the harbor in Ikeda it was closed on November 30th 2008 according to the Japanese Wikipedia; strangely enough I found a calendar from October 2009, but who knows who put it there… The SPG featured 3500 peafowls in its heyday during the early 70s, when up to half a million visitors per year were welcomed – a massive achievement, considering that Shodoshima is not connected to any other island by bridge; but due to its size, a motorized vehicle is kind of necessary, so you either need a rental or arrive by a car ferry with your own set of wheels. (Or you bite the bullet, like yours truly, and depend on the few public busses that make it around the island… but not all the way.)
Anyway, the years of plenty didn’t even reach the count of seven as visitor numbers plummeted quickly – by the mid-70s they were already as low as 150000 per year. The hatch rate of the peacocks also took a dive, which was the main reason why the number of peafowls in the park went down to 500 by 2002, when the park closed for one year for maintenance. In 2003 the Shodoshima Peacock Garden opened from April to November, but got rid of a main attraction that was quite popular before the break: 40 peacocks walked up a ramp inside Mount Peacock and then flew the 10 meters down into the park to the excited visitors – but despite 5 meter high nets and peacocks not being good flyers, every once in a while one them escaped, which was probably the main reason why the so-called Flight Show was cancelled; it turned out that the flight show was too much of a flight risk. By 2007 the number of peacocks went up again to 1000, but the number of visitors went down to a mere 50000 for the whole season; not nearly enough to cover the costs, and so the Shodoshima Bus Company, who owned the SPG, decided to close the park for good – especially since the aging facilities would have required additional investments soon. When the park finally closed in 2008, the remaining 200 peacocks were sold to other animal parks, including Shodoshima’s own Choshikei Monkey Park.

I first found out about the Shodoshima Peacock Garden from my German friend Chris a little more than four years ago. He was visiting Japan and traveled around a bit with his girlfriend, before we met at a Torikizoku in Osaka. We talked about this and that, when he mentioned that strange abandoned park he found on Shodoshima… with some taxidermy peacocks in a souvenir shop. I had never heard of that place before and was terribly intrigued… So I went there in September of 2012 with my friend Chris from New Zealand. First we (re)visited the *Shikoku New Zealand Village* and an abandoned transformer station, the next morning we took the ferry from Takamatsu to Ikeda. Approaching the harbor, we could already see the Shodoshima Peacock Garden on an elevation right at the coast. 20 minutes later we stood at the park’s entrance – filled with pure excitement upon entering a place we knew hardly anything about and had never seen pictures of before. This was exploration in its purest form. Don’t tell me that people going to *Nara Dreamland* these days are exploring it! At best they are looking for spots to recreate well-known photos they’ve seen countless times on the internet. But Chris and I, standing there, ready to go in, that was pure exploration spirit!
The entrance building featured a small shop and a ticket booth to the left as well as restrooms to the right – a net stretching above the building in an attempt to prohibit peafowls from fleeing the premises. The net actually surrounded the whole park, followed by a line or two of thick vegetation, predominantly massive palm trees. The former garden was mostly overgrown, but after about 100 meters there was the souvenir shop German Chris mentioned… and to the left was the entrance to Birdpia, basically the main attraction of the park, featuring huge outdoor bird cages as well as a building with a panoramic round aquarium and an egg exhibition. The exit of the building was locked, but it once lead to the monument near the coast line, the area Kiwi Chris and I saw from the ferry – from there you got to the gift shop and then to the exit. The outdoor area mostly overgrown and the indoor area mostly dark, this turned out to be one of the creepiest explorations ever – mostly because I had no idea what to expect. Once you’ve seen photos of a location somewhere, it gives you a certain amount of confidence and reassurance, because every once in a while you recognize things and places you’ve seen before; it’s comforting. Never knowing what’s behind the next corner is friggin nerve-wrecking, especially at an eerie place like that! At the same time it’s super exciting, because you are not walking on beaten paths and you don’t take the same pictures as dozens or hundreds of people before you.
The souvenir shop / restaurant was built above a slope and therefor a bit scary in its own way, despite being really well-lit for most of it. The restaurant featured a great view at the Seto Inland Sea, while the souvenir shop offered a wide variety of olive chocolate products. No kidding! Olive chocolate products! As I mentioned before, Shodoshima is famous for olives. But instead of selling canned olives and olive oil, people decided it would be a good idea to sell olive chocolate, olive chocolate cake and olive chocolate cookies. Since the shop was in overall good condition I kept taking pictures of the fake sample boxes… and since these sweets were so original, I think those photos deserve to be published. At least half of them or so… The rest of the building was far less interesting – a kitchen, some dirty toilets and a storage room on the lower floor. Outside again I took some pictures of Mount Peacock, the monument at the waterfront and of the park in general. It was then when I found a cage construction leading down a slope in the back. I followed it and finally reached the empty and cleaned out peacock stable – and from there I got to the internal ramp leading up Mount Peacock, after passing some really spooky concrete areas. Maybe the last photo of the set gives you a general idea…
When I originally planned the day on Shodoshima, I slated about two hours to explore the Shodoshima Peacock Garden. Because, let’s be honest: How exciting can an abandoned bird park be? Well, apparently very exciting, because Chris and I finally got out of there after about five hours! Which left me pretty much enough time to take a bus to Tonosho, say goodbye to Chris (who was continuing to Okayama), take another bus to Fukuda, and catch a ferry to Himeji – beautiful sunset on the water, a perfect ending for an amazing day.

Now, back home I was a bit of in a predicament. On the one hand I wanted to tell everyone about this amazing exploration I enjoyed so much, but that would have meant to reveal information about the location – and I was worried that the increasing vandalism hurting *Nara Dreamland* could also damage this nearly pristine location. Just the information that the SPG once was a peafowl park (without mentioning the real name or location) would have allowed people with minimal Google skills to get on its track, because there have not been many facilities similar to the Shodoshima Peacock Garden, let alone closed / abandoned ones. A fellow explorer once said that he has no problems revealing real names even of locations in fantastic condition as he is not in the business of protecting abandoned places – which I guess is true, but I am also not in the business of exposing abandoned places. And so I kept quiet, always hoping to come back one day – but I never made it, because new explorations always seemed to be more interesting. Last week Monday, when preparing the Nara Dreamland article, I was revisiting some abandoned places via the satellite view of GoogleMaps… and saw that the souvenir building has received some TLC while Mount Peacock and all other constructions (except for the monument) have been leveled. On the one hand I was terribly sad to see another abandoned place gone, especially a truly unique and amazing one like this, on the other hand I was as full of joy as I have been four years ago standing at the entrance of the Shodoshima Peacock Garden – because I knew I could finally write about it without holding back. And now I hope that you will enjoy looking at the photos and watching the videos as much as I enjoyed exploring this wonderful, wonderful place you’ll probably never see anywhere again…

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To the day 10 years ago Nara Dreamland closed forever without a single ride being removed. Since then it has become one of the most (in)famous abandoned amusement parks in the world, attracting both urban explorers and vandals from within Japan as well as overseas. Let’s have another look… 🙂

The first time I visited Nara Dreamland was back in 2009, when hardly anybody knew about this strange Disneyland clone – and of course *I almost got caught while exploring the ice skate rental / conference / accommodation building*. The next time I went there, in 2010, I actually got caught by “security”, in hindsight probably the then-owner or his son. While other people reportedly were slammed with a fine or even handed over to the police, I was lucky… because when I realized that I was facing the same fate, I was able to run away.
Since then I’ve been to Nara Dreamland at least once a year – sometimes inside, sometimes just at the rather safe entrance with the huge parking lot and the two mystery buildings. Sunshine, rain, even *snow*. Morning, afternoon, night – pretty much every hour of the day, except maybe 9 p.m. till midnight. I went there alone, with friends, with friends of friends, with strangers. At Nara Dreamland I had some of the best urbex times, but also some of the worst urbex times.
Sadly Nara Dreamland turned out to be the place where I was able to witness how vandalism literally and figuratively ruined a once amazing location… and that process is actually still continuing, probably faster than ever. “Boys go to Disneyland, Men go to Dreamland” – with ridiculous, snappy phrases like that some people publish their Nara Dreamland photos. But the sad truth is: tourists and vandals go to Dreamland, men have been there 5, 6, 7 years ago.
When I first arrived at Nara Dreamland, the entrance was completely unharmed, the pay booth locked. Now the sign is smashed, the kiosk broken open and in shambles.
When I first arrived at Nara Dreamland, there were no graffiti anywhere – at least I don’t remember seeing any. Now half of the park is tagged – including one of the parking lot buildings, the entrance to the Main Street USA clone… and of course the castle. Yes, even the castle!
When I first took a video of the monorail in 2011, it showed some early signs of vandalism – now it is completely covered in spray paint, with a sticker on top: FC St. Pauli, 7. Herren. Soccer fans and vandalism? What a shocking combination… Although that badge doesn’t really make any difference considering the insane amount of damage in total, it kind of hit close to my heart as those vandalizing mofos were not only foreigners, they were (most likely) Germans – so let me address them in a way they hopefully will understand, despite having underdeveloped birdbrains: Ich hoffe, dass euer beschissener Drecksverein auf Nimmerwiedersehen in der Versenkung verschwindet!

What else is there to say? To be honest, I feel a bit tired now. Being reminded of how much Nara Dreamland suffered in the past couple of years really makes me sad (and I am not used to curse in German anymore…). NDL was such a wonderful place in 2009/2010, now it’s just a shadow of its old glory. Unfortunately there is no way to keep a place like that a secret. It’s too big, it’s too well-known amongst the Japanese population and theme park fans worldwide. 95% of the photos taken there are very recognizable; because of the wooden rollercoaster Aska, because of the Screw Coaster, because of the general cheap Disney clone atmosphere. Luckily that doesn’t apply for all abandoned places in Japan – so next week I will present you a truly unique location you’ve most likely never seen anywhere else before, even if you are into Japanese urbex as much as I am! Until then I hope you’ll enjoy some more photos I’ve taken at *Nara Dreamland* over the course of almost seven years (if you have an eye for details, you’ll find the same motorbike on several photos; needless to say that I never even touched it…) – most of them unpublished before, the rest to illustrate the soaring amount of vandalism at this once pristine abandoned theme park…

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A trout farm / fairground about three hours away from the next really big city, along a small river deep in the mountains of Japan? I think I’d rather invest in a video rental store…

I’ve seen my share of unusual abandoned places over the years, but the virtually unknown Amusement Park In The Woods was probably the strangest of all – even beating *Doggy Land*, a dog themed park all about man’s best friend. Imagine a beautiful little river in the mountains, a small road about three meters above it leading to a remote countryside shrine; picture perfect Japanese countryside, kilometers away from the next village, dozens of kilometers away from the next town – hours away from the next big city. And then there probably was a rich, but lonely farmer wading through his nearby rice paddy, hearing a voice saying: “If you build it, they will come!” It… it was the weirdest amusement park of all time. At least it said at the entrance that it was an amusement park, but to be honest, I have no idea what exactly this conglomeration of structures was, let alone who “they” could have been. Probably dads who couldn’t shake off their wives and kids when they wanted to go fishing at a pond in the suburbs – so they took the whole family to the mountains; I can’t imagine any other target audience.
After almost being scared away by a leery local (“Did you get lost? Down the road is only the house where I live!”) me and my exploration buddies Dan and Kyoko walked down the slope from the small parking lot to the little river. On the way I spotted a partly overgrown cage to the left, maybe an aviary? We continued and quickly reached the main area of this “amusement park” (yes, it really said amusement park at the entrance!). Wow, this was one messed up eclectic accumulation of buildings! Probably the most eye-catching objects were two white Suzuki Carry, rusting away and sinking deeper into the muddy ground of what once probably was the outdoor sitting area of the park’s café / bar; dozens of chairs fading to nothing in front of the bar. To the right were the toilets and a glass green house, up the hill were two lookouts / rest areas – one shaped like a mushroom, the other was kind of reminiscent of a pagoda. To the left I found the remains of what probably has been a sheltered tiki bar, followed by the outdoor trout fishing area, including the concrete pond(s) and benches, now overgrown by moss. In the back towards the slope were (now dried-out) shallow ponds with bridges – I guess one of the park’s staff members was a gardener… On the other side of the river, sadly almost completely overgrown at the time of our visit in June, was the playground / fairground / amusement part of the park; cages, swings and other metal objects were barely visible from the main side, but not accessible. And I was running out of time, so I quickly took two videos and a photo of the bathhouse where guests could change into swimwear – apparently the river had some deep, calm areas, so people could cool down during the hot summer months.
Nevertheless I wonder who those people were and when they visited the Amusement Park In The Woods. I am not a car expert by any means, but judging by a quick internet research I’d say those Suzuki Carry were fifth generation (L50/L60), built between 1972 and 1976, so this strange abandoned park was probably built in the 60s and used till the 80s – but this really is just speculation, sadly I found no information about this place at all. Too bad we ran into that suspicious neighbor before our exploration, not afterwards…

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The relationship between Japan and Russia has pretty much always been either non-existent or full of conflicts – so whoever thought that building a Russian themed park in Japan would be a good idea… probably was a moron with too much money.

When the Empire of Japan acted like the prototype version of current day *North Korea* from the early 1600s till the 1850/60s, it tried to keep out pretty much all foreigners, with the exception of a few Chinese and Dutch, who were strongly restricted in where they were allowed to go and what they were allowed to do (sounds familiar?). Back then most Russian settlements were too far away from Japan to make contact easily as cities like Khabarovsk (1858), Vladivostok (1860) and Magadan (1930) had yet to be founded – and so it was Yakutsk merchant Pavel Lebedev-Lastoschkin who first tried to establish a Russian-Japanese contact 1778 in Hokkaido. He was told to come back one year, only to be turned away again (sounds familiar?). In the early 19th century the Russians tried again several times without success – this time reacting with brute force when the shogunate stalled again; of course without much success. In 1860 Vladivostok was founded, but since it was not an ice-free port, the Russians were looking for a more convenient location and decided to seize Tsushima, an island under Japanese control, located between Korea and Kyushu. At this point the relationship turned really sour, and after being ignored by the consul Goshkevitch, the Japanese asked the British for help, finally forcing the Russians to leave Tsushima. Over the next few decades, Japan gave up its isolation policy and turned from an agrarian state to an industrialized nation; with the massive help of countries like Prussia, the United States, France, Great Britain and many more, of course. The Japanese-Russian relationships on the other hand didn’t develop for the better though, culminating in the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-05; the first time an Asian country significantly and surprisingly defeated a Western superpower. In World War 2 Japan fought less successful overall – and more than 70 years later, both countries are still arguing over the southern part of Sakhalin and the Kuril chain of islands. According to a 2012 survey, 72% of Japanese people view Russia unfavorably, a number that most likely rose since then, making Japan the country with the biggest anti-Russian sentiments of all participating countries.
So why a Russian themed park in Niigata? Because a banker said so! (Oh… so it was indeed a moron with too much money…)

Niigata Russian Village (1993 – 2003/04) was pretty much the borscht version of the *Tenkaen – Japan’s Lost China Themed Park* (1992 – 1999). Cultural exchange, “exotic” weddings, demonstrations of folk dances, sale of artisan craftwork… and carft beer. Financed with the help of and heavily supported by Ryutaro Omori, then president of the Niigata Chuo Bank, the Niigata Russian Village opened on September 1st 1993 and was heavily expanded in 1994… and then again in 2000 – a year after the financing Niigata Chuo Bank collapsed. The park closed in December 2003 for a winter break and didn’t open again as originally scheduled in April 2004.
The rather remote location of the Niigata Russian Village (6 km away from the next train station, 30 km outside of Niigata, almost 400 km away from Tokyo and therefore out of day trip range) was its downfall twice – first it wasn’t able to attract enough visitors / customers… and then it attracted too many visitors / vandals. Photos from 2008 already showed significant signs of vandalism, in September 2009 the hotel was partly destroyed by fire, and since nobody ever used a fake name for it, the Niigata Russian Village went to hell in a handbasket in record time.

By the time I started exploring in 2009/10 people started rumors about tight security and demolition to prevent bigger masses from trampling through like Siberian mammoths, but at the time I never thought I would ever explore outside of Kansai (hence the blog name, *Abandoned Kansai*) – in addition to that, Niigata is probably the worst area to go to from Kansai as flights are insanely expensive (32500 Yen!) and trains take about 7 hours at a price of 22500 Yen… per direction! 700 bucks for one location? Hell no!
Speaking of hell: As satellite photos more and more confirmed the demolition of the Niigata Russian Village, I more and more regretted that I was never able to take a picture or two of that iconic church that was part of the park; apparently a copy of Cathedral of the Nativity of the Theotokos in Suzdal. Years later, in 2015, I was compiling locations for a three day urbex road trip starting in Tokyo. Of course there are plenty of great abandoned places around Tokyo… but Niigata is in perfect range for a three day trip. Exploring stuff on the way north, heading to the coast after dark, exploring Niigata Russian Village and some stuff on the way south, spending the night in Fukushima or Tochigi, continue exploring on the third day on the way back to Tokyo… Since satellite photos can be rather old and outdated I confirmed that the cathedral was still standing via a quick photo search and added Niigata Russian Village to our schedule – as the first thing on the second day!
Arriving at the Russian Village was exciting and sobering at the same time. The road up to the park was blocked by a massive gate fortified with tons of tree trunks and branches, all held together by barbed wire; signs informing about the start of further demolition work just days prior and the existence of camera surveillance. I traveled 650 km to fail 650 meters away from the church? Hell no! So my buddy *Hamish* and I went on to find an alternative way in, successfully… after a while.
As so often, the reality about the Niigata Russian Village lied between the reports of total demolition and the dozen buildings visible on satellite photos. At the time of our visit the lower area with the village part was pretty much gone already, little more than large piles of rubble and a small monument left behind. The upper area was missing several buildings, too – but the two most famous structures were still there, the church and the hotel. Despite the fact that 80 to 90% of the Niigata Russian Village had been demolished, it was still fun taking pictures there – especially the church was everything I was hoping for… and I don’t think I ever had as much fun in a religious building before or after! Overall for sure not nearly as spectacular as the *Tenkaen* or any of the *New Zealand Villages*, but still worth the detour…

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

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

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

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

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About four years ago there was a brief period of time in which there were three abandoned New Zealand themed parks in Japan; in Kagawa, Hiroshima and Yamaguchi – and to the best of my knowledge I am the only urban explorer to visit them all. One of them even twice…

There are many reasons to revisit abandoned places. At some I run out of time, so I come back to see more. At some mother nature prevents a full exploration with lavish vegetation in summer or snow in winter. Some I fell in love with and want to enjoy again. And then there are those nearby places I shoot several times in different seasons just because they are there and I have nothing better to do. The *Shikoku New Zealand Village* (in Kagawa prefecture) though I revisited for several reasons, despite the fact that I had been there just half a year prior: Different seasons (March vs. September), there was construction machinery parked nearby during my first visit, during summer I bought a toy drone that I wanted to try at a suitable place, and my friend Chris from New Zealand was interested in going – so we went.

Exploring a location a second time is equally different as exploring it with a friend. Exploring the Shikoku New Zealand Village a second time with a friend almost made me feel like coming home, showing him my old neighbourhood. (If you haven’t read the *article about my original exploration*, I recommend doing it now as I won’t repeat certain information in this article.) This time we entered straight away without scouting the perimeter, heading through a park like area straight to the barn – which was actually accessible this time. And people say there is no vandalism in Japan… Anyway, while I was still taking pictures inside, Chris headed towards the back of the barn where he found something I had overlooked the first time – a small museum like the one at the *Yamaguchi version* right next to what I assume was the sheep show; including information about different kinds of breeds. One of them was called “Romney”, which probably isn’t that funny anymore now, but 3.5 years ago, at the time of my visit, good old Mitt was running for president of the United States, so this made me chuckle at least a little bit.
From the small auditorium we continued to the little kart track and then deeper into the park, to the souvenir shop / restaurant called Oakland, with the landslide in front of it. (If you read the previous article, you know what I mean!) And to my total surprise… the landslide was gone! Right in front of the building was a brand-new road with a freshly secured slope, including a low fence. Now, why on earth would anybody repair a road at an abandoned themed park? We had no idea, so we continued to explore the park. Well, Chris explored, I just took some more pictures of the same old… and a video walkthrough of the Oakland House, which was accessible this time, too. Speaking of videos: Thanks to the nearby model plane airport I was able to fly my toy drone without making much extra noise, but the combination of me being a horrible pilot and the weather being overcast by the time I started filming created some barely watchable videos of which I chose the least eyesore one. It doesn’t have sound for obvious reasons… and the video is a bit choppy. But hey, what do you expect from a cheap five year told tech toy in this day and age? (Drones in general are not really urbex compatible, even modern ones with good or optional cameras – indoors they are hard to navigate and the rotors blow everything up / away, outdoors they tend to catch the attention of people passing by…)

And that’s pretty much it. Chris and I had a good time exploring the Shikoku New Zealand Village (again), and I was prepared to go back for a third round, but that never happened. Recent updates of the GoogleMaps satellite view though show that the construction work on the premises continued. All buildings except for the entrance and the Oakland House have been demolished, the pond has been drained, lots of vegetation has been removed, the ground levelled – the Shikoku New Zealand Village now is a huge solar farm… (And so is the nearby model plane airport!)

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Misasa is a small onsen town in the mountains just behind Tottori’s coast line, famous for its radon rich spring water and the Sanbutsu Temple, a temple complex with one of its buildings built into a cliff. Interestingly enough, radon is a decay product of radium – colorless, tasteless, colorless, but radioactive. Despite being generally considered a health hazard, radon rich waters are keeping several spa towns all over the world alive; and Misasa is one of them, avoiding the demise other second tier onsen towns are fighting against for decades now. Well, the city center of Misasa does… the Misasa Plateau, about 200 meters above the city on a mountain ridge, was less lucky though. While the Misasa Country Club survived Japan’s rough 1990s, the Misasa Plateau View Hotel and the Misasa Plateau Family Land, combined known as Misasa Plateau Radium Garden did not – and neither did several company and family retreats in the area; while some are still frequented by their owners, about one in four are not, decaying on steep slopes along scenic mountain roads and paths.
My trip to Misasa in the spring of 2012 marked the end of a rather *bad Golden Week* – and even though the *Sand Dune Palace* and the *Saikaibashi Corazon Monorail* weren’t exactly highlights of my exploration career, they were still better than what waited for me at Misasa. It took me hours to locate both the hotel and the amusement park on the then blurry GoogleMaps, but I went there with high hopes – otherwise I wouldn’t have made the long trip, including a costly train ride, a bus ride and a long hike up a friggin mountain along vaguely labelled hiking trails. Finally reaching the plateau, I only found some roads, some rubble, some debris and some more or less intact structures here and there. It took me a while to figure out on location what happened and how the pretty much gone hotel (part of a story for another time) and the pretty much gone theme park were related. Both looked really interesting the one time I saw them on a Japanese blog, but now they were gone. The upper area with the three storey hotel, all the arcade machines and the go-kart track were carefully leveled and I took quite a long rest in the shadow on that brutally hot spring day, barely a cloud in the sky. After taking photos of some of the smashed leftovers (piled arcade games, UFO catchers and pachinko machines), I made my way down some wide, but rather overgrown steps, past a rotting totem pole and several signs indicating that the Misasa Plateau Family Land had been a pay as you go amusement part. The final couple of steps were on a sketchy looking metal construction, but since it was the only way down to the lower area, I took the risk – though it turned out there was not much left to see. Basically just a wooden hut, filled with all kinds of left-behind stuff, and a huge parking lot, mostly covered by various kinds of debris and garbage. At one point I saw a guy in a car there, but he seemed to mind his own business, later harvesting some roots or whatever.
Overall the Misasa Plateau Family Land was a really disappointing exploration, given the amount of time, money and effort I put into it. But that’s urbex – sometimes you are the windshield and sometimes you are the bug. Not every abandoned theme park looks like *Nara Dreamland*… But to end this article on a lighter note – when I had a look at the area on GoogleMaps again recently, I found out why the upper area was neatly leveled… solar panels! The Misasa Plateau Family Land is a solar park now, which is absolutely fantastic news. Japan has an energy problem, and this is definitely a step into the right direction!

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Some of the Japanese teenagers tried to flee in panic, others froze like deer in headlight when the beam of my flashlight hit them without a warning – but they all screamed like little girls, proving that a real scare doesn’t need sound or gore, just the right atmosphere and a decent torch with enough lumen. 🙂

10 days ago I spent another night at Nara Dreamland, for the first time since I was one of the pioneers to do so five years prior. Back in 2010 Nara Dreamland was a rather unknown abandoned amusement park in top condition, with a reputation for tight security – spending the night there meant avoiding security, but also taking photos in darkness and during daylight… a win-win-win situation for the few insiders, barely a handful of people.
A lot has changed since then. Nara Dreamland rose from obscurity to one of the most famous abandoned theme parks in the world, leading websites like GoogleMaps and Wikipedia revealed its exact location thanks to careless users adding the information… and I continued exploring other places. My personal relationship with Nara Dreamland was a bit difficult right from the start anyway, as it gave me a serious headache twice when I was an inexperienced explorer back in late 2009 and early 2010. During my first visit I had to hide while a security guard checked the hotel / administrative building I was in on the main parking lot. Not a pleasant experience. Even worse: two months later I had a very unfortunate run-in with security in the actual park. Ever since I was reluctant to revisit Nara Dreamland, turning down to accompany quite a few friends and fellow explorers. In autumn of 2010 I stayed overnight for said first time, 15 months later I did a day time exploration / engagement shoot with a British couple. And that’s it! The more famous Nara Dreamland became, the less interesting it was to me – but it was easy for me to say as I took pictures and videos long before most people even found out about Dreamland’s existence. After 2011 I checked up on Nara Dreamland about once a year from public roads, but I never entered any building or the premises of the main park again – especially after Japanese explorer friends advised me not to go anymore, mentioning some court case.

Nevertheless there always was a strong connection between Abandoned Kansai and Nara Dreamland – if for nothing else than internet search engines. For years now hardly a week passed by without people asking me about Nara Dreamland via e-mail or in the comments sections on Abandoned Kansai, *Facebook* or *Youtube* – since I have little time and don’t answer questions about access / security in general, most of those contact attempts remained unanswered, nevertheless some people contacted me again after their visit, a few even sent photos. I also talked to Japanese and Western explorer friends, and they all told me the same thing – tons of graffiti, tons of vandalism… still good, but not nearly as good as on the photos I published so far. At the same time Abandoned Kansai readers kept dropping lines like: „I am surprised that there is no vandalism at Nara Dreamland!“ – definitely a misperception based on the fact that I explored Dreamland in 2009, 2010 and 2011… and never again since then. After 3.5 years of exploring abandoned theme parks all over Japan, it was about time to revisit the one in my backyard, the one that keeps attracting new readers to Abandoned Kansai on a daily basis, the one that got me my first hate mails after I wrote an *April’s Fool* article about it, the one I am most conflicted about as I REALLY love and REALLY hate it – the one, the only… Nara Dreamland.

Early June was probably the perfect time to spend a night at Nara Dreamland. The temperatures were moderate and the sun rose early – less than two weeks later the weather already feels a lot more humid, and soon countless mosquitos will turn Dreamland into Nightmareland, thanks to do dozens of puddles and ponds all over the park.
When, how and where Yuko, Takanobu and I entered Nara Dreamland is something I won’t discuss, but less than ten minutes onto the premises (and before we were even able to take a single photo!) we saw some flickering lights and heard people talking over at the water park. To avoid a night long game of cat and mouse I decided to approach the group for a friendly chat, but as soon as they realized that they were not alone, they scattered into the darkness like a bunch of roaches. Well, at least it wasn’t security!
To get an idea of what had changed in the 3.5 years since my last visit and to show Yuko and Takanobu what to expect in the upcoming couple of hours, we did a quick walkthrough of Nara Dreamland before heading to its main attraction, the wooden Aska rollercoaster. The partly overgrown beast was already barely accessible, but I found a way through the green hell that once was the line up area, up the stairs to the coaster’s track / main platform. Yuko is a professional photographer and quickly set up her first camera for a nightly time-lapse sequence – the moon rising over the main part of Aska. The first time I went to Nara Dreamland at night was the first time I ever took pictures at night, a steep learning experience back then. Since then I occasionally shot in dark rooms, but outdoor night photography was still a challenge. While the three of us took pictures, the clicking sounds of our cameras were the loudest sounds we made. Soon we saw two or three groups of visitors passing by below us – smecking away, and not caring about the wicked world one bit. One of those groups tried to get to higher ground (i.e. our hideout), but they failed miserably in the green hell, allowing us to ignore all of them completely.
From Aska we moved over to the monorail station, only to find the train completely in graffiti. Sadly it was too dark to take a decent picture of it, so we used the elevated level of the platform for more shots of the surroundings.
On our way to the moonlit Sleeping Beauty Castle we heard yet another group of noisy teenagers strolling through the park. Their voices came closer quickly and soon we saw the beams of their flashlights, maybe 30 meters away. They had no idea we were there, because we behaved appropriately in a situation like that – low voices and relying on the light of the waning moon. All of a sudden I felt mischievous, so as soon as group came around the corner I pushed a single button. Some of the Japanese teenagers tried to flee in panic, others froze like deer in headlight when the beam of my flashlight hit them without a warning – but they all screamed like little girls. We quickly made sure to let them know that we were not security and after a few seconds most of them were smiling again, so we had a little chat about us being photographers and them doing… whatever.
Like pretty much every other building in Nara Dreamland, the Sleeping Beauty Castle now had an extra layer of (spray) paint, which was quite disappointing to see. It’s one thing to vandalize Main Street U.S.A., but it’s another to scribble all over the castle – a fugly piece of architectural art in its own way as it was. Well, not all over the castle, but enough to turn it from unintentionally ugly to just nasty ugly. Around the same time we finished shooting the castle, the group of teenagers we just met minutes before returned, proving once again that they were a bunch of immature morons, basically yelling at the top of their lungs while playing hide and seek with a second group. I asked my fellow photographers to tell the buggers to be quiet as the neighbors of Nara Dreamland have a reputation for calling the police when they see or hear people on the premises. The warning helped a little bit, but not really…
Minutes later dawn was breaking, at around 4 a.m. (!), so we moved on to the water park. By the time the sun was rising (before a quarter to 5!) I stood in the water fountain in front of the castle. Surreal. Such a surreal experience. The amazing light, the colors of the castle, the statues, the drained fountain, the total silence… except for yet another group of kids breaking glass and smashing wood in the background somewhere. Bunch of friggin savages in this town! In moments like that one wishes for regular raids and severe punishment of those little bastards! Altogether we saw about 20 people during our visit – all of them Asian (the ones we talked or listened to were all Japanese!), all of them most likely between 16 and 25, 80% guys… not one of them visibly carrying a camera. No vandalism in Japan? Yeah, right! Of course we all have the same right to be at Nara Dreamland (none!), but in my humble opinion it makes a huge difference how you behave. I can guarantee you that Yuko, Takanobu and I took nothing but photos and left nothing but footprints – a lot of other people though seem to vent their frustrations there, giving ALL visitors a bad name. Before I really start to rant, let me give you the Japanese answer to that problem: shoganai, “it can’t be helped” / “there is nothing one can do”. While it’s usually an excuse to avoid a problem by not talking about it any longer, in this case it’s actually the right attitude – Nara Dreamland has reached a point of no return and there is nothing a regular person can do to stop it.
And so our little group of three continued its tour through the park, stopping here and there to take a photo before finally calling it a day… or a night… or a new day. After all, Nara Dreamland still has security. Not only did we saw patched spots of fence, new barbed wire obstacles and warning signs from outside of the park – even inside somebody left “strong worded” notes (as Takanobu worded it), mentioning the police… and if you know anything about Japanese culture and language, you know that you have to be very careful when somebody stops to be extremely polite and threatens you with the authorities…

I have to admit that I went back to Nara Dreamland hesitantly and with mixed emotions… but I am glad that I did, because it gave me a much better grasp of the current situation. A lot has changed there in the past couple of years, but it is one thing to hear about those changes and another thing to see / experience them myself. I go to an average of about 70 locations a year, big and small; exploring some of hours, leaving others after seconds. And in the past almost six years I met about as many people overall at abandoned places in Japan as I did that one night 10 days ago. I wasn’t aware that Nara Dreamland was that popular / well-known. During my first visit most of the damage there was very selective – rather small holes in windows and doors to get access to buildings, panels removed with a screwdriver. Now some buildings look like they were busted open by an explosion, despite the fact that they had already been accessible. In 2009 / 2010 there were hardly any graffiti at Nara Dreamland. Now they are everywhere. Not nice graffiti by aspiring artists, like at the *La Rainbow Hotel*. No, just smearings every vandalizing moron with a spray can do. Thankfully there still is security… and it seems like every once in a while some people get caught. I just hope those people are vandalizing teenagers, not harmless photographers / urban explorers trying to take a few interesting photos. So maybe this is one of the few instances in which a Japanese person in charge actually takes actions and isn’t hiding behind shoganai…

(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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After more than 400 explorations only a few things wow me anymore. The Irozaki Jungle Park did, more than once; continually actually!
The first thing that wowed me was the extremely bad weather upon arrival: March 1st, but heavy rain like in late June / early July. Urbex isn’t fun like that, especially when the first things you find are the former gift shop and another building boarded up! A few minutes later we reached the main entrance, patched up, too. Wow, damn, no easy access! I decided to have a look outside first, only to realize that the buildings of the Irozaki Jungle Park stretched across an area of about 200 by 400 meters (wow!), while my friends decided to find a way in closer to the main entrance. The back of the gigantic botanical theme park was roped off, the main building complex sealed tight, a car with license plates parked on the premises. Wow, this former urbex paradise definitely had been more welcoming before the city of Minamiizu took over to re-develop the area about two years ago.

The Irozaki Jungle Park opened in 1969 on 12,000 square meters, developed and run by the Iwasaki group, a conglomerate of about 50 companies, dealing with communications, transportation and tourism; hotels and resorts as well as artificial sightseeing spots like this humongous botanical garden. The park was an instant success, peaking at about 750,000 visitors in 1973. But instant success is rather easy to achieve in Japan, where everybody is on the hunt for the newest, the shiniest, the trendiest – long term success on the other hand is a real challenge, one that the IJP lost. The numbers of visitors went down significantly as the buildings aged. When less than 100,000 people visited the park within a year, Iwasaki pulled the plug and closed the Irozaki Jungle Park on September 30th 2003. Interestingly enough the JNTO (Japanese National Travel Organization) is mentioning / recommending the IJP in an old version of their official tourist guide to the Izu Peninsula, which is still available online. WOW, that’s a whole new level of expert fail! (According to the guide it is “containing well over 3000 species of tropical plants. Open daily: 8:30 – 16:50. Admission: \900.”)

Upon my return to the main entrance I found my friends were able to gain access to the first huge structure without breaking anything, so I joined them to have a look inside. About 15 meters wide, 50 meters long and maybe 7 meters high, this first greenhouse made quite an impression on me (wow!), though that doesn’t mean a lot given that I am not exactly a regular visitor of botanical gardens… Despite the park being closed a dozen years ago, some of the plants inside of the conservatory were in pretty good condition. There was plenty of foliage on the ground, so I had to choose my steps wisely, especially since the greenhouse was located on a gentle slope. The path split and reunited several times before leading into a pitch black and pretty much empty area, connecting the first greenhouse with a slightly wider one of almost the same length, followed by a 15 meter long Rainforest Zone, connecting the middle part with a third greenhouse; about 20 meters wide and 60 meters long. The height inside the halls varied between maybe 4 meters and probably 7 or 8 meters, before we finally reached the end of the tube like biosphere looking complex. There we found some restrooms, a rest area and lots of pamphlets of other nearby tourist attractions. Wow, I knew that the Irozaki Jungle Park was big, but this was much larger than I expected, even though I had already seen the entire place from the outside! The park’s mascots apparently were two slightly dumb looking white “jungle explorers” equipped with helmets, guns and binoculars as well as a dark skinned “jungle dweller” wearing rings around his ankles, his neck, through his ears and through his nose (!) – the three interacted in “funny” ways, for example when the jungle man was drumming, he used the white guys’ helmets, too. I guess you don’t have to be overly sensitive to find this at least slightly racist, and of course we were cracking jokes that the only plywood cutout scene missing was the black guy boiling the white guys in a big cauldron.
And so we headed through a pair of sliding doors – not the exit, but the connection to a huge last greenhouse, a rectangle of about 50 by 70 meters, probably 10 meters high. WOW, WOW, WOW! This gigantic hall featured several ponds of various sizes, several food stands, sculptures made from different materials, and two large glass containers with specimen; the kind you’ve seen in several of my articles about *abandoned schools* before – a ray and some kind of eel, maybe. Wow! Some of the ceiling panels were broken… pretty much in all halls, but especially in this one, so the vegetation here was especially lush. We could even see and hear a couple of birds inside the greenhouse. This place would be amazing to film a 1970s style science fiction movie or some kind of horror flick – gosh, I bet you could scare urban explorers shitless by playing John Barry’s The Black Hole theme when they enter the last gigantic greenhouse! 🙂
Overall the Irozaki Jungle Park was a really mind-blowing location! There was so much to see, so many paths to explore. Sadly we had to leave around lunch time already as we had to return our car before 5 p.m. in Mishima, with traffic being unpredictable due to nearby hanami festivals, the first in all of Japan this year – and we also lost quite some time finding a way inside the gargantuan structure, so taking photos was kind of a rushed job, nevertheless I enjoyed my visit to the Irozaki Jungle Park tremendously. The last thing I did, as always, was filming the walkthrough, and for that we looked for the official former exit of the park. And guess what… There it was, the plywood cutout of the black guy boiling a white guy in a large cauldron, tasting the “soup” with a scoop! WOW…

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As of a week ago, one of my biggest urbex regrets had been not exploring the abandoned Western Village before its demolition. I found out about this Wild West amusement park many years ago, long before it was picked up by Japanese urbex blogs, but it was far away from Osaka, nestled in the mountains of Tochigi prefecture, giving it a Rocky Mountains-ish vibe. A trip rather time and money consuming, I kept postponing my visit, until I heard in autumn of 2014 that Western Village had joined the long list of famous places demolished last year. Apparently that news was rather exaggerated, as I read by chance last week – heavy machinery had been put into position and a locomotive was removed, but the main park was still there… at least during the Japanese winter break, ending on January 4th 2015. So I did what every upstanding person with regrets would have done: I tossed all concerns about money and time out of the window and headed up to Tochigi to explore Western Village before it was gone for good! (Which is probably, but not necessarily, happening as you read these lines…)

Western Village emerged from a family owned guest ranch with a few horses and a fishing pond called Kinugawa Family Ranch, started in the early 1970s as an additional attraction for visitors of a nearby hot spring – there were metal cups labelled that way all over the premises, most likely around 40 years old and once sold in gift shops. Kenichi and Masayuki Ominami’s uniquely themed leisure park was divided into several zones, the last one added in 1995 for about 25 million USD, featuring a three-floor building with a 1/3 scale replica of Mount Rushmore; the latter earned Western Village a few awards, from the Mount Rushmore Society and Northwest Airlines, making the park’s then-president Kenichi Ominami a honorary governor of South Dakota. Main attractions included said Mount Rushmore, several (now removed) locomotives and cars imported from the United States, and a live Wild West show – minor attractions were an arcade, two haunted houses, and lots of smaller buildings with western content. In addition to that, Western Village was often used as a film set for promotional videos and movies.
From 2003 to 2006 visitors were able to rent Segways, and in its later years of existence the entrance fee was lowered from 2400 to 1500 Yen, but all of that didn’t stop the demise of Western Village. In 2006 the official website announced that the park would be closed from December 6th till late March 2007 (the end of the business year) for maintenance, but the park never opened again as announced in February of 2007. In April 2007 the Sankei Shimbun, one of Japan’s biggest newspapers, reported that the creditor NIS Group filed for foreclosure of land and buildings in the Tokyo District Court in September 2006, deciding that it would be financially impossible to re-open the park. Since then Western Village has fallen into disrepair, suffering from metal thieves and vandalism, despite reports of security on patrol and the Tochigi police training on the premises. In the second half of 2014 Japanese explorers reported that the demolition of Western Village had begun. Usually something like that takes only a few days in Japan, a couple of weeks max, if the crew is small or if ferroconcrete buildings are involved. So everybody believed Western Village was no more and none of the visitors since then cared to debunk the rumors… until last week.

Every year around New Year’s Day Japan shuts down for about a week, coming to a near standstill on January 1st. On that day only basic services like trains, taxis and 24/7 supermarkets are running, even most bank ATMs are shut down – the perfect time to get out of the country or to welcome visitors without having to take sparse paid days off. In my case, my sister was visiting, so I was super busy planning and executing day trips, dinner with friends and stuff. By coincidence I saw a friend posting on Facebook that he just came back from Western Village and that heavy machinery was still in place, idle during winter break. Without time to plan anything, I packed a small bag with some clothes and my camera equipment, actually forgetting my ultra-wide angle lens. On Friday morning I accompanied my sister to the airport for a proper farewell, headed back to Osaka (without stopping at home) and took several trains north – continuing to Western Village on Saturday, spending more than six hours till sunset on the premises.

While a good portion of *Nara Dreamland* was just false front, Western Village was actually a full-blown Wild West town. All buildings were accessible, all of them had a purpose. The fully stocked arcade was surprisingly big and featured a custom made animatronic shooting game as well as classic video games like Space Harrier, Alpine Racer and Crazy Taxi. Two gigantic restaurants were able to feed hundreds of customers at the same time, not to mention the saloon next to the gift shop. There was a fake hotel, a barber, a bank, a black smith, and a sheriff office; interestingly enough the fake looking church was real, imported from California. Several attractions costing extra money included a haunted house, the now almost empty Mystery Shock with its messed up floors and walls, a shooting game featuring futuristic looking guns (long before Cowboys & Aliens!) and a photographer’s shop, where you could dress up in cliché outfits. Some of those buildings were “inhabited” by animatronic characters like a clerk, a bartender and a Pony Express employee, giving the now abandoned park a really spooky Westworld vibe, especially since most of those animatronics were built to match the likenesses of movie icons. (The older among us remember Michael Crichton’s movie with Yul Brunner and James Brolin, the younger will get a star-packed HBO version produced by J.J. Abrams and Jonathan Nolan soon.)
Western Village has suffered quite a bit from vandalism and natural decay over the last couple of years. Animatronics and mannequins have been moved all over the park, so were clothes from the photographer’s shop and several single items. Some people clearly had fun positioning large teddy bears (from an exhibition at the Mount Rushmore building) behind partly smashed doors and lurking creepily through windows. The auditorium at the foot of Mount Rushmore was rather overgrown even in winter, and the veranda of the hotel was on the brink of collapse – but overall Western Village was still in decent condition, considering that it consists largely of wood and is one of the most popular *haikyo* in all of Japan. It’s totally beyond me that *Nara Dreamland* is super popular and Western Village is completely overlooked; the latter one is actually in much better condition (well, probably because of it…). Sure, it lacks the rollercoasters, but it’s stuffed with tons of interesting items and animatronics. It’s a lot easier to access and has a unique subject matter, especially considering its location… Japan. Overall a fantastic exploration – and I really hope that somebody will hold back the heavy machines for a while, so more people will be able to explore Western Village!

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