Archive for the ‘Animals’ Category

When you think of Japan which other country comes to mind?
Probably Korea since it’s a neighboring country and both countries share an inglorious common history. China, of course, a major influence for centuries – from city planning to food. Most likely the United States as no other country had more impact on Japan in the past 70 years. Maybe Germany due to 150 years of more or less intense friendship and a similar post-war history.
Japan and New Zealand? A rather odd combination. Surprisingly *Michael* and I visited not only one, but two New Zealand themed amusement parks while on a *road trip in southern Honshu*. A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the *Hiroshima New Zealand Farm*, a closed but not abandoned theme park in Hiroshima prefecture. This time I’ll present you the clearly abandoned Yamaguchi New Zealand Village – same concept, same company, but without the shadow of a doubt a “lost place”; BTW: I really dislike the term Lost Place, which is used for urban exploration locations in Germany – not as bad “Handy”, which is used for mobile phones (!), but nevertheless a term that makes me cringe.

Arriving at the huge deserted parking lot of the New Zealand Village, it was pretty clear that we wouldn’t run into gardeners or other caretakers. The wooden handrail leading up to the entrance area was getting brittle and all kinds of plants grew without any attempt to tame them. Opened in July of 1990 after spending 1.8 billion Yen (currently about 16.5 million Euros or 21.7 million Dollars) the park’s attendance figures peaked in 1991 at 428.000 – in the following years the numbers dropped to about one third of that per annum before Farm Co. Ltd. put an end to it in 2005 by closing the park. Initially the 30 ha (300,000 m2) large New Zealand Village was put on hiatus for up to three years with the intent of re-opening it again one day, but that never happened. I don’t know if somebody took care of it for a while like they do at the New Zealand Farm (which is in its fourth year of closing), but nowadays the New Zealand Village is clearly abandoned…
(Just for comparison: *Nara Dreamland* peaked at 1.6 million visitors a year and closed when the number was as low as 400.000 – Universal Studios Japan in Osaka welcomes about 8 million guests a year.)

Exploring the New Zealand Village couldn’t have been more relaxed. Located in the middle of nowhere Michael and I enjoyed a wonderful sunny day on the copious premises.
The entrance area was dominated by a gift shop called カンタベリー (Canterbury), vandalized, but still stocked with quite a few examples of fake food Japan is so famous for – in this case all kinds of sweets. We found replicas of mini cakes, both Western and Japanese (mochi), all made of plastic and therefore still nice to look at.
In close proximity was the Jersey Factory that produced and sold homemade bronzer… sorry… handmade butter! And pretty much next to this place with a name that has no connection to New Zealand was a huge building that had New Zealand all over the place: Restaurant Rotorua, Newzealand Farm, Kiwi Country. Why give it one name when you can give it three? Or four, since all to the left it said “Main Bazaar”.

This food dominated commercial zone of the New Zealand Village, which overall had way less of a village feeling than the New Zealand Farm, was followed by the wide, open landscape I knew from other versions of the nature themed parks. And I loved it! I usually don’t feel very comfortable in abandoned buildings, but open areas like mining towns and amusement parks I really enjoy (if they are really abandoned), especially on sunny spring days!

What made the New Zealand Village in Yamaguchi different from those in Hiroshima and Shikoku was the variety of strange pedal-powered vehicles. Cars, bikes and really unique constructions – they were scattered all over the park, a plethora of rental… thingies. I took photos of many of them and maybe one day in the future I will publish a special picture set about them.
Another thing that made this installment of the New Zealand parks special (but not in a good way!) was the already mentioned presence of vandalism. It wasn’t “ZOMGWTFBBQ!?” bad, but since vandalism is always uncalled for it was nevertheless sad to see. Call me old-fashioned and naïve, but I like my abandoned places easy to access and naturally decayed. Luckily the amount of vandalism decreased the further we got away from the entrance, so by the time we reached the stables and Sheep House with its museum of 19th century farm equipment and a couple of taxidermy items in the making, vandalism was nothing but a bad memory.

What really bugged me about exploring the Yamaguchi New Zealand Village was the time pressure. Like I already mentioned, this was part of a road trip to the south of Honshu and the schedule was kind of tight. A place like this deserves a whole day of exploring and taking pictures, probably with some hours after sunset for some special photos – a luxury not available to us. So when Michael and I left after 3 hours (which is generous for most places – *Sekigahara Menard Land* I left after about 20 minutes…) it was with a bittersweet aftertaste, amplified by a bunch of beatniks who entered the parking lots just before we left. Us driving away was accompanied by the sound of burnouts in the distance…

(If you don’t want to miss the latest article you can *like Abandoned Kansai on Facebook* – and of course there is the *video channel on Youtube*…)

Addendum 2014-07-11: According to a friend of mine all the buildings have been demolished – R.I.P.!

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I have to admit: Finding and exploring the abandoned poultry farm in Okayama prefecture was one of the most rewarding and exciting experiences since I started urban exploration. It was unusual in many ways and I’m so eager to tell you about it, that this has become the fastest published article in Abandoned Kansai history – the events, photos and videos are just 5 days old…
Gosh, where to start? Pretty much everything about this exploration was unusual. The whole thing started when in 2011 a *red factory* / mine popped up on Japanese blogs several times. Urban exploration usually means going to places where many men (and women) have gone before, so I did some research, but didn’t get more than the information that the red mine was supposed to be in Okayama prefecture. So when I kind of randomly looked at the satellite mode of GoogleMaps I found two places with red roofs in the mountains that might have been abandoned. While I found confirmation about the smaller one that it was really a factory, the larger one I had no lead on. A still quite blurry satellite image, that’s it. No information on other blogs, no marking on a Japanese haikyo map, no Streetview – darn, not even a link to a Panoramio photo nearby. Just a bunch of buildings with red roofs standing rather close to each other, kind of similar to the satellite image when you look at the *White Stone Mine*. I didn’t know what they were or even if they were still there as the satellite photos of GoogleMaps tend to be a couple of years old. Nevertheless I grabbed my equipment and a book (The Hunger Games, which I really enjoyed!) last Saturday early in the morning and boarded a train – and another one, and another one, and…
After I finally reached a small station in the middle of nowhere I left the tiny town it was in quickly and walked along a country road for about half an hour, reaching a small settlement close to where I suspected the red roof shacks to be. I was on my own for this exploration – it’s hard to find people to get up when it’s still dark outside to go to a cold place in the middle of the mountains, especially when you can’t promise a spectacular site; or in this case: anything at all. While I was walking past gorgeous little wooden Japanese houses with the stunning roofing tiles and neat gardens a small pickup truck with two senior citizens passed me and turned left down the road – where I suspected the red roof shacks to be. My heart sank almost as quickly as when Gil and I approached the *Deportation Prison Birkhausen-Zweibrücken* back in Germany. And like half a year ago I was right: Getting passed by a truck near an abandoned place is barely ever a good sign. When I reached the small gravel road that supposed to lead to the red roof shacks I found the street and the whole area fenced off. Not with a sturdy fence that is easy to climb. No, one of those half-ass ones you basically have to trample down to get across – unless you are willing leave and get home. But at that point it wasn’t the decision to be made. Because the previously mentioned senior citizens were there, early on a Saturday morning of all days… inspecting the fence and making sure that it reached about a meter over the little river so nobody can go around it – like *Enric* and I did at the *Iimori Mine* two years ago. Since those guys looked like they came to stay I climbed a nearby small mountain with a cemetery. My hope was to get a glimpse into the valley, to at least confirm that the red roof shacks were still there. But that didn’t work out either. Slightly frustrated I came down the mountain and made my way back to the train station when I realized that I will miss the once per hour train by about five minutes even if I’d run. At that point I became rather frustrated and angry. Why the heck did I get up early on a Saturday winter morning to ride trains for hours to go all by myself to a cold mountain valley where I didn’t know what to expect just to find it fenced off and guarded by two old guys? While I was silently cursing on my way through the settlement outside the little town I heard a small pickup truck behind me. When it passed I saw the two old guys sitting in there and I stopped… I had at least half an hour to kill and even then I would make the next train. Why not getting back to that stupid fence?
So that’s what I did. I hurried back to the fence only to find that Japanese planning never disappoints. Since I couldn’t make it around the fence I just followed it for a while. Up another mountain and another cemetery. And there it was, an opening in the fence, at least a meter wide, probably to allow hikers and mourners to reach the top of the mountain. I followed the fence back (on the other side, of course!), only to find a rather steep slope along a wastewater pipe or something like that. Luckily somebody set up a rope there, so it was quite easy to get up and down, ignoring the fact that I ripped my fingers on the cutting plastic, but well, small sacrifices…
Finally on the other side of the fence at the gravel road I hurried deeper into the valley. The road here was overgrown and barely visible, but to my left I saw a couple of shacks in abysmal condition. I was relieved. A lot! Whatever I saw on the satellite pictures was still here. But the feeling of relief didn’t lower the tension at all. At this point I was still visible from the street and being alone in a fenced off area in the Japanese mountains isn’t the best situation to be in. No need to worry about poisonous snakes in January, but I ran into both wild boars and wild monkeys before… and there are wild bears in Japan, too. I tried to ignore those worries and hurried deeper into the valley on this overcast, hazy winter morning. And there it was – the big red building with the intact roof. And at first sight it was clear: This wasn’t the red mine / factory I hoped it would be… it was better!
The first thing that caught my eyes was the small silo in front of the open, but rather uninviting building. When I entered I saw cages inside. Dozens, hundreds of them. With the roof still intact the building was pretty dark towards the middle, so I got outside again, circumvented the place and entered from the back. It seemed like nobody had been here in years. And there’s where I found a couple of Lyon Debeaker machines (to „stop losses from picking, cannibalism, fighting, and egg eating”). A silo, cages, debeakers… no need to be a modern Sherlock Holmes to conclude that this was an abandoned poultry farm. An abandoned poultry farm that, to my knowledge, hasn’t been mentioned on any urban exploration / haikyo blog. Ever. Not in Japanese, not in English. So this wasn’t the nth mine to visit – no, this was a unique place. An abandoned poultry farm in Japan!
Finding new places is always exciting to some degree, but in most Japanese prefectures you can’t throw a stone without hitting an abandoned private home or small business, so it isn’t actually that unusual. Finding a yet unknown gigantic abandoned animal farm in the middle of nowhere on the other hand… that’s kind of the urbex definition of “jackpot”. I was truly happy for a short moment, until I realized that I had only a little bit more than an hour to shoot the huge place – I could afford to skip a train, but I would have to catch the next one to make it on time to the second place on my agenda that day. Nevertheless I forced myself into taking my time at the mostly undamaged building. Doing some bracket shots and taking photos with long exposure time in the dark parts of the one room building.
Separating the one intact building from two dozen severely damaged shacks was a small, mostly dried out river. I followed it for a while back towards the fence to find a place where the river bank on both sides was rather low so I could make it on the other side. I had about one third of my time left to cover 80% of the area, so I decided to leave my tripod behind and take some freehand photos, which turned out fine; nevertheless I wish I had an additional hour or two, but there was this other mysterious red roofed building on my schedule. So I hurried a bit making my way through the poultry farm and took a video on my way back to the tripod. I then crossed the tiny river and walked carefully up to the fence, but nobody was in sight. Just to be sure I climbed the mountain again and ripped my fingers just a little bit more. Back down the mountain and through the settlement. This time with a big smile on my face. I had found a huge yet unknown unique abandoned place in the middle of nowhere without any help and explored it all by myself on a cold Saturday morning – the only thing making this experience even sweeter was the fact that I almost failed when the two old guys showed up at the fence at the same time as myself.
What an absolutely awesome adventure!
(If you don’t want to miss the latest article you can *follow Abandoned Kansai on Twitter* and *like this blog on Facebook* – and of course there is the*video channel on Youtube*…)

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The best way of getting in contact with the locals on Ikeshima seems to be leaving camera equipment on the side of a street. It worked in front of the apartment complex and it worked again about an hour later just down the road next to the school. I left my belongings behind to take a video of the apartment buildings next to the abandoned baseball field. When I came back I saw a guy in his mid-30s and of course I said “Hi!”. His English was actually pretty good, so we started talking about the school and he told me that it still has 9 students – and as many teachers (although this number might include other staff like secretaries). I asked him if he was born on Ikeshima, but he wasn’t. A Kyushu native he studied in Nagasaki and then was sent to Ikeshima by his company – and he didn’t seem to be very happy about it.
For all of you not familiar with big Japanese corporations: In Japan you usually don’t apply for a specific position within a company after graduation (from senior high school or college), you apply at a company in general and then the company decides what to do with you. Commonly this includes intense training from several months to several years, depending on the company you got into. Of course your classes at university kind of give that education a direction, but it’s not unusual that somebody with a degree in mathematics or French literature ends up in marketing or HR – getting into a university in Japan tends to be a lot tougher than actually graduating, so companies tend to start from scratch after 3 years of drinking, sports and art clubs. And just because you are fluent in a second (or third!) language doesn’t mean the company makes proper use of that. (But if you are female and good looking chances are great you won’t have to clean ashtrays for two years – instead you most likely will become some supremo’s secretary.) The same applies for your place of work. Just because your company has its HQ in Tokyo doesn’t mean you won’t end up in a subsidiary somewhere remote. Like on an island off the coast of Nagasaki prefecture…
After the guy told me that he worked for a recycling company on Ikeshima we split since he had to get back to work – and I was eager to continue my exploration.
I was actually starting to run out of time, so I went back to the apartment building area I shot in the morning, this time more to the east. Some of the buildings had new plumbing outside and people were actually living there. At this point everybody I saw gave me a short nod, which I interpreted as a sign of “Yeah, you are welcome here.” – it felt really good. At an abandoned house the window next to the entrance door was broken, so I took a few pictures of the bike, cleaning tools and mailboxes that were still there. When I got back to the main street, route 216, I actually found a house that was open for visitors (I guess… it was unlocked, clean and had a sign in Japanese outside saying something about a room on the 4th floor). All the doors were locked and the staircase kinda smelled funny, but on the 4th floor I was indeed able to look inside an apartment that was arranged like a museum room.
Outside again I followed route 216 to finish my circumnavigation of Ikeshima. I passed by the noisy Ikeshima Urban Mine Co., Ltd. and several apartment buildings before reaching the old loading plant. On the southern side of the harbor entrance was a scrapyard where a single worker was moving rusty stuff around. In continued following route 216, taking some pictures here and there, before I reached the apartments at the harbor again, where my explorations started about seven and a half hours earlier, making my visit to Ikeshima one of the longest photo shoots I ever did. But it wasn’t over yet…
Figuring out the ferry / boat schedule when planning the trip wasn’t exactly easy since all the information was in Japanese and not really clear. I got some help from friends who are Japanese natives and confirmed the schedule with the hotel staff in Sasebo – everybody told me the boat (it actually was a boat, not a ferry, also in the morning – sorry for that!) would leave at 4.09 p.m., so when my ride entered the harbor at around 3.55 p.m. I continued to take some photos and videos. But something felt wrong watching the activities on the boat, so I decided to hurry to the terminal – and of course the boat left right when I arrived, shortly after 4 p.m.; thank you very much, guys! The people arriving on Ikeshima of course saw what happened and told me that there was another boat leaving for Sasebo today, but they couldn’t tell me when. So I waited and thought about the day – my rocky start and how I didn’t even enter any of the huge industrial ruins at the harbor. 10 minutes passed, 20 minutes… Then some senior citizens arrived at the terminal and I felt a bit of relief – I wasn’t the only one wanting to leave Ikeshima. At around 4.35 p.m. the boat to Sasebo arrived. As I took a seat while the ship left the harbor I had a last look at the huge characters in the sand of the breakwater and I couldn’t have agreed more: „絆 池しま 大スキ“ – „Kizuna Ikeshima daisuki“ – „I / We like Ikeshima a lot“
(Since the inhabitants of Ikeshima consider their island a tourist attraction I added it to the *Map Of Demolished Places And Tourist Spots* and created *a new map just for Ikeshima*. If you don’t want to miss the latest postings you can *follow Abandoned Kansai on Twitter* and *like this blog on Facebook* – and of course there is the *video channel on Youtube*…)

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The Przewalski’s Horse (Equus ferus przewalskii, Dzungarian Horse), named after the Russian explorer and geographer Nicolai Przewalski, is a rare and endanger kind of wild horse and was first described in 1881 by L.S. Poliakov. The current world population of about 1500 animals are all descendants from nine horses kept in captivity in 1945 (total population then: 31). At one point extinct in the wild Przewalski’s Horses have been reintroduced to their former native habitat in Mongolia as well as to Hungary, China and Ukraine; the latter one offering space for the wild horses in Askania-Nova and the Zone Of Alienation.
On the first day, on our way from the 30km checkpoint of the Zone Of Alienation to Pripyat, Maxim told us how scientists returned several dozens of Przewalski’s Horses to the wild in the late 80s. The Exclusion Zone was already kind of a natural preserve, so the horses did well and their number raised to about 120. Nowadays, Maxim told us with some sadness in his voice, they are a rare sight since their number is down to about 60. Officially they migrated to the Belarus part of the Zone Of Alienation, but Maxim had a different explanation that involved bored militia and rifles…
On the second day, when we were driving from the monument at reactor #4 of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant to do some more exploration in Pripyat, Maxim and our driver all of a sudden had a quick conversation in Ukrainian. Close to a building in the middle of nowhere they stopped the car, got out and pointed to the road in front of us. Przewalski’s Horses. At first I had no clue what they were talking about, but then a horse’s head appeared behind a tree about 80 meters in front of us. The horse was carefully stepping on the street, followed by about half a dozen more. Maxim and the driver (sorry dude, forgot your name!) were really excited, taking pictures with their cell phone cameras. Luckily I had my 18-200mm lens mounted, so I was able to take some quite nice shots of those shy creatures. I’ve never seen wild horses before and it was very interesting to see how they behaved – they kept us under constant surveillance. While some of the horses nibbled on some grass now and then, at least half of them always had their eyes on us, making sure that we didn’t get too close.
Having urban exploration as a hobby I ran into all kinds of rather unusual wild animals before – snakes, boars, monkeys… but the Przewalski’s Horses were by far the most impressive ones. Another experience that took me completely by surprise.
After we got back into the van to continue our way to Pripyat Maxim told us that he hasn’t seen any Przewalski’s Horses in more than three years – and he spends half his life in the Zone Of Alienation as a guide…
(If you would like to know more about my trip to the Zone Of Alienation please *click here* to get to the “Chernobyl & Pripyat” special. For a map of the area please *click here*.)

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Living in Japan days off are a valuable thing. And long weekends, even if they are only three days long, are a perfect opportunity to go on vacation.
This time my buddy E and I went to Kyushu to enjoy some days of photography, food and haikyo. Fukuoka, Nagasaki, Sasebo. Not everything went according to plan, we had to cut down the haikyo locations from four to three, but in the end the trip turned out to be great. Great food, great locations, great comradeship.
This posting is accompanied by photos that are not necessarily haikyo related – the haikyo locations deserve three postings of their own, so please keep coming back for more. One of them will be about the Shime Coal Mine, one about the Katashima Training School and the last one… well… it will be about Gunkanjima, the most awesome ruin complex in Japan.

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My first visit to the “Doggy Land” in early December was abruptly ended when the police showed up to re-enact a car accident. Seven weeks later I came back to finally have a closer look at that strangely fascinating dog theme park that was opened in the summer of 2001 and closed in the summer of 2008.
Entering “Doggy Land” is as easy as it can be, at least by theme park standards. Unlike other parks “Doggy Land”‘s fence has no spikes or barb wires, so there are several locations where you can enter easily and out of sight of the surrounding streets. Overall the park is in great condition – no vandalism and only a few rusty spots here in there. Since it’s closed for only about 1.5 years and barely known to the internet there are no graffiti, no broken windows or mirrors. 
But what is “Doggy Land” exactly? Well, it seemed to be a theme park for people who love dogs. There is a dog cinema, a dog train, a dog racetrack, a restaurant and a snack bar, several educational signs – and even a place where you could rent a dog to take a walk with. I’m not sure if you were allowed to bring your own dog as information about the place is almost nonexistent. 
But I seriously wonder what people would do there. Sure, you can rent a dog for 2000 Yen / 30 minutes and go for a walk. Watch a dog race at the awfully small racing track. But what would you do for the rest of the day? If you combine the amounts of eateries and restrooms they almost outnumber the attractions “Doggy Land” had to offer! I guess people thought the same and that’s why the place closed down after only 7 years…

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Urban exploration usually means visiting places that many people have been before – in most cases those ruins are off the beaten tracks and therefore hard to find. Some places are well known on the internet, some are not. But in the end most of them have pictures and maybe even a description online or in a book – and that’s the way most explorers find out about them.
When I did the bulk of my haikyo research in late 2009 I followed all kinds of hints on the internet to find places I could go to. Sometimes I found names, sometimes descriptions. Most of the time pictures, barely ever the whole package. With “Doggy Land” (not the real name) it was even harder. I had barely any information about it, not even what kind of place it was, but thanks to GoogleMaps I had a vague idea of where it was – so I went to the Hyogo countryside to find out. And I guess I was lucky as the place still existed and was nowhere covered with pictures and reports on the internet, neither the English speaking nor the Japanese speaking. Not even from the time when it was still open for business.
Although the next city is a bit away, “Doggy Land” isn’t easy to enter as there are several roads surrounding more than half of the place, all offering a good view at the whole site – and there is a toll road exit not far away, so cars are passing by almost constantly. Right when I finished checking out the surrounding area the police showed up – I literally had to get my hands off the fence I was about to climb over. Luckily they didn’t come for me, but to re-enact a car accident or something. Since there was no end in sight after 20 minutes I gave up and went home – but I’m looking forward to going back there. Until then I’ll share some pictures I took from the outside.
EDIT: For more “Doggy Land” please click here. (Yes, I went back…)

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