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Archive for the ‘Asia’ Category

What goes up must come down? In this case it was a rather close call…

Back in 2009, when I picked up urban exploration as a hobby, I was an avid hiker – spending most of the weekends in the mountains of Kansai; this blog could as well have become KansaiHiking instead of AbandonedKansai, but I quickly found exploring abandoned buildings much more interesting than being sent in the wrong direction by poorly marked hiking trails. A lot of my *early explorations* actually combined Japanese ruins, *haikyo* and hiking – and the Hira Lift was one of those haikyo hiking trips in mid-May of 2011; one of the last of those, for reasons soon to be obvious.
The Hira Lift was opened in 1960 along with a skiing area on the slopes of Mount Bunagatake, one of the most famous peaks in Kansai. In 1961 the Hira Gondola followed to connect the top station of the lift with the skiing slopes. Things were good for several decades, but the rather remote and not easy to access slopes started to suffer from lack of snow – and after a couple of bad seasons the skiing area shut down in 2004; and with it the lift and the gondola. Sadly there was little to nothing known about their status in 2011, so when my buddy Luis and I checked out the transportation up the mountain, it turned out that the valley station of the lift had been abandoned and the lift itself demolished. We arrived at the abandoned lift station reasonably early, at around 10 a.m., with light equipment and the intention to be back at the train station at around 3 p.m. for a trip to Costco – as foreigners living in Japan the happiest place on earth, at least to us. We took a couple of photos and then decided to hike up the mountain to have a look at the top station of the lift, and to find out what was left of the gondola. A nice hike on a warm, sunny spring day, but along some narrow paths with steep slopes; one of the more demanding hikes I did. Sadly the gondola station had been demolished, too, leaving just lots of concrete behind. We were still good on time, so we decided to get to the top of Bunagatake at a height of 1200 meters. The good old days, when I was young and in shape…
At the top of the mountain Luis and I made a crucial mistake. Instead of getting down the mountain the way we came up, we decided to look for another way down. Down, down, down… Soon we followed a runlet down the mountain, which grew bigger and bigger. The path started to disappear and we foolishly followed the small river clinging to the mountain slope until we finally reached the top of a waterfall, about three meters tall. No possibility of climbing down – at that point the sun was already Setting, we hadn’t eaten in hours and didn’t bring any food, and only small amounts of (drinking) water. We were probably at a height of 400 meters, rather close to the bottom of the mountain, so Luis had the brilliant idea to jump. Which I refused to, carrying my photo equipment and NOT KNOWING how deep the water was down there. The ice cold water, because in the shadowy areas, there were still patches of snow! It took me a while, but I was able to convince Luis to backtrack and return up the mountain to a plateau at about 1000 meters – to save time, we waded through the ice cold and at points more than knee deep river several times; me almost slipping once or twice… By the time we reached the plateau it was pizza time and dark, about 7 p.m.  – but we were far away from Costco; without flashlights, hungry, thirsty, alone, tired, pissed off, but with a great view at Lake Biwa on a mountain range… Luis suggested to stay the night at the concrete shell of an abandoned viewing point we found earlier, but me being hungry and wet, I was able to convince him again to move on. It took us a while, but we finally found the narrow, neck-breaking path we came up, first using the screens of our mobile phones, then the focusing light of my camera to poorly light the way down. By the time we finally got back to the train station we caught the second to last train back to civilization at something like 10:30 p.m. … instead of 3 p.m.

What did I take away from that day? Not much about urbex, that’s for sure, as pretty much everything of interest had been demolished between 2004 and 2011. But I learned to really respect the mountains, because even popular and populated hiking trails on sunny days can bring you in danger, if you stray from them carelessly and without proper gear / provisions. Overall just a horrible, horrible experience! But in hindsight a pretty good story, though I could have done without the cramps in both legs for two days – especially at night…

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You can’t always get what you want… Sometimes you don’t even get what you expect. In this case in abandoned school – which turned out to be an abandoned bungalow village…

Closed schools are a dime a dozen in Japan. About half of them are maintained for emergencies or local festivals, some have been converted into hostels or cafés. The rest, which I am after, is without supervision and slowly decaying or getting quickly vandalized. After exploring an abandoned hotel at the coast of Wakayama (soon to come to Abandoned Kansai!), my buddies Dan and Kyoko were heading to the mountains to explore said school… which not turned out to be what we expected. It was still there, but mostly locked and nailed up. Signs inside implied that it had been used as a café probably not too long ago – so did the roofed outdoor area in front of it, with countless tables and chairs. Since we came there in winter, maybe it was still used in the warmer months of the year? But most likely it was connected to the bungalow village above, consisting of about 30 huts. And while the former school was still in good condition (even still featured some hospitality related certificates and price lists on the wall), ready to be reopened as a restaurant or emergency shelter, the huts had suffered a lot more from the ravages of time and vandalism… and seemed to be out of use for much longer. But who knows, maybe people just showed the school more respect?
By the time we reached the school and the bungalows on top of a plateau in the mountains of Wakayama, the sun was already setting – and we couldn’t start exploring right away since we were followed by an old man in a kei truck, who obviously was suspicious of a car full of strangers from a strange city. So we parked the car and pretended to go for a walk, this was along the famous hiking trail kumano kodo anyway, while the guy was parking just a few meters from where left our car. After about ten minutes he had enough and drove away, costing us valuable daylight time…
The Wakayama Bungalow Village was another “better than nothing” exploration you probably won’t find on many urbex blogs, showcasing once again that there is indeed vandalism in Japan; especially when it can be done out of sight… The pool across the street turned out to be a pretty neat bonus, but overall the whole day was more about spending quality time with friends than exciting explorations. More about those hopefully soon again, when I have a little bit more time for elaborate articles as I am currently busy with a couple of… other things  – more about those soon, too! 🙂

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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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Hatsumode, the first shrine visit of the year, is one of the few religious traditions in Japan that is still going strong – though, much like going to church on Christmas, for most people it’s more of a social event… and it’s also big business!
Unless you are a sales person in a large chain store or work in public transportation, chances are good that you are off work from December 29th till January 3rd if employed in Japan. It’s the time of the year(s) when apartments are cleaned and debts are paid – and shrines are visited. Getting drunk senseless while hurting yourself with fireworks is just a New Years Eve tradition in Western countries only – Japanese people do that in summer! Here the turn of the year is more like our Christmas – family, maybe friends, maybe doing something “religious”.
Hatsumode either happens on New Year’s Eve around midnight with family or friends – or before going back to work on January 4th. On those three days a single shrine can have up to 3.5 million visitors (!), which is great for them in many ways. Unlike most Buddhist temples, the vast majority of Shinto shrines don’t charge entry fees, so hatsumode is THE opportunity to cash in by selling tons of protective charms (omamori), oracles (omikuji), and all kinds of other superstitious merchandise. A lot of the shrines have their grounds lined with the usual array of food / entertainment stalls you find at major festivals, so if you have an appetite for baby castella or want to catch small fishes with wet paper, hatsumode is the thing to do on January 1st, 2nd, or 3rd!
Unless you are anything like me. My hatsumode on January 1st 2016 was without food stalls, omikuji or millions of other visitors. Heck, during my visit of the Shiga Shrine on this beautiful winter day I was the only person there. Probably because the shrine had been abandoned for many, many years. How long exactly? I don’t know. Probably decades by the looks of it. The heavy stone steps were in bad conditions, half the structures collapsed, the ground covered by a thick layer of foliage. Nevertheless the Shiga Shrine offered some neat photo opportunities I happily took advantage of.
I’ve done hatsumode with family, I’ve done hatsumode with friends, I’ve done hatsumode with colleagues – I’ve done it at midnight and on the following days. Yet the most beautiful fake religious experience was spending one and a half hours of quiet time at the peaceful Shiga Shrine… 🙂
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Love Hotel, Japan’s favorite euphemism. A billion dollar industry, despite the country’s extremely low birth rate – and while Japanese girls pretend to hate them, foreign guys apparently are… intrigued.
Back in 2012 the abandoned *Furuichi Love Hotel* was one of the first original finds I made, spotted it from a train while on the way to another location. I wrote about it on Christmas Eve 2012, including a rather long and very subjective rant about relationships in Japan. *Check it out*, despite its age it’s still a fun piece to read!
If you have no clue what love hotels are and how big the business really is, you might want to check out my article about the *Love Hotel Gion* – it’s all in there, no need to repeat myself here…

After exploring the *Asuka Quarry* on a hot spring day (= hot day in spring, not a day enjoying hot springs…) the afternoon was still young, so my exploration buddy for the day Colin and I went on a nice long walk over to a lovel hotel area. Unlike most people having sex, love hotels barely ever come alone – and chances are good that at least one of them has been closed and abandoned when bigger and shinier ones opened as time passed. Having done some research beforehand, I was actually pretty sure in that case, so it took us not long to find the love hotel Guest House; a rather dull name for an establishment like that. Short time lovers paid 2500 Yen for the first hour and 600 Yen for every 30 minutes of overtime (per room, not per guest), overnight stays were 5800 Yen – obviously outdated rates as current ones are about 30 to 50 percent higher; at luxury establishments you can easily spend 20k per night…
Sadly the Guest House was not and never had been a luxury establishment – it looked more like your average run-of-the-mill love hotel; actually on the lower end when it comes to privacy. While most love hotels outside of big cities feature private access to the rooms directly from the car, the Guest House was built like a regular hotel, which means that there was a risk of meeting other couples in the lobby or the hallways. Soooo embarrassing in a society where pretending is more important than being… and probably one of the reasons why the Guest House went bankrupt.
As of now, the whole building is branded as “piichinakibun”; Peach Feeling; maybe more like “feeling peachy”? I actually only found out about the Guest House name, because somebody started peeling off adhesive foil on rate signs. The peachy approach was definitely more casual: offering free food (as known from a lot of manga cafés), advertising longer stays (like at regular hotels) and implying that pets are welcome. Sadly it was not much more successful. Probably because people who like regular hotels don’t want to spend their nights amidst a bunch of active love hotels next to a highway and away from all the amenities of a tourist destination. Since this deserted love hotel was located next to a baseball field, it had seen more than its share of vandalism – at the same time I had to be careful not to be seen or heard; which admittedly wasn’t exactly a task for Solid Snake or Sam Fisher…

Since I found this fruity location in a Japanese data base about love hotels, I am pretty sure it was still active in the 00s – the oldest photos of the abandoned place apparently were taken in 2012, so your guess is as good as mine when it closed exactly. The Guest House was an interesting exploration overall, thanks to the unusual architecture and the unusual type of deserted location, but I’ve been to more interesting abandoned love hotels in better condition before… Especially the *Furuichi Love Hotel* was quite a find.

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The perfect abandoned place, I finally found it – at least when it comes to deserted driving ranges in Japan… Partly overgrown, the right amount of natural decay, no signs of vandalism (or any other visitor) at all; an original find, as good as it gets!

Every once in while I spend a couple of minutes with the satellite view of GoogleMaps and look for abandoned places. I know, it sounds a bit crazy and like a huge waste of time, but if you know what to look for it’s actually more fun than most mobile games – and only the beginning of something potentially great. About half of the places I think I found and checked out turned out to be duds. They were either still in use, perfectly locked, in horrible condition or even already demolished, since the satellite view of of GoogleMaps isn’t exactly updated on a daily basis.
Sometimes I follow hints – for example, when I was looking for the *Japanese Luxury Spa Hotel*, all I had were some spectacular indoor photos, a single shot of the coastline (taken from one of the rooms), and the name of the prefecture the spa was in. So I went up and down that darn coastline until I found the hotel… It’s a good way to find rare locations people are secretive about. Collect every piece of information you can get… and start looking. Sometimes you might find other places in the process. Almost five years ago I found and explored an *abandoned poultry farm* while I was looking for *The Red Factory*; I found and explored one and a half years later. That poultry farm wasn’t the most spectacular location in the world, but to the best of my knowledge it still hasn’t been found and published by any other urban explorer…
The Japanese Driving Range on the other hand was spectacular in ways I never expected. As most of the time, I wasn’t even 100% sure if it was really abandoned or not, as I only saw it on the satellite view of GoogleMaps, not via StreetView. Since I’ve been to a partly demolished driving range and an abandoned two-storey driving range (as part of *Kejonuma Leisure Land*) before, I actually wasn’t too eager to head out there, but of course I went when the opportunity arose as part of a weekend trip. In my itinerary I scheduled an hour for the Japanese Driving Range – in reality I left more than 2.5 hours after my arrival, spending most of it in an area of about 3 by 20 meters…

When I first arrived at the Japanese Driving Range, alone and on foot, I slowly realized that the premises hadn’t seen many visitors since it closed down. The office / entrance building in the front was locked and in really good condition – everything inside still in its place, no signs of trespassing whatsoever as I found out looking through the front and the back doors. Usually even in “there is no vandalism in Japan” Japan the window panes of those doors are smashed when a location is rather remote, but not in this case. Locked and left behind, as if mankind just disappeared from one second to another. The surroundings though were overgrown with all kinds of twiners and thorny plants, luckily most of them were already rather dormant for seasonal reasons; I guess in summer it would be much tougher to get access to the back, where the actual driving range was. I mostly ignored the wooden shack next to it as it only contained random stuff and started to take pictures at the driving range, literally inch by inch realizing that I actually found one of those extremely rare places that have been spared bored youth, vandals, graffiti “artists”, airsoft players (not a single plastic pellet on the ground!), and even eager explorers. Aside from a handful of moved around items the place really looked like it hadn’t been visited by anybody since it closed business – except for that darn cat that almost gave me a heart attack when it looked around the corner while I was focused on taking a photo of something. It didn’t even make a noise, but it surprised me so much that I flinched, which in return made the cat cringe and disappear. Never saw it again for the remaining hour of my stay…
I’m not a golfer myself, but the accessible area of the Japanese Driving Range (part of it was wind protected and still very much alive…) was full of all kinds of interesting views and items (in case you wonder: the Taiji Hotcabi was a device to keep small wet towels, oshibori, hot). While I was setting up for a photo, I already had ideas for two more, probably forgetting some in the process. Abandoned electronic tee devices (the northern half overgrown, the southern half just rusty), seats, some machinery, switches, peeling paint, shoes, waste baskets, a large mirror, the range itself with the large nets to catch ball, the holes in those nets… I know, even now “abandoned driving range” probably doesn’t sound too exciting, but I barely ever had that much fun shooting a location – at that point actually knowing that I found the Holy Grail. Or at least one Holy Grail. Even if you see a location first at Abandoned Kansai, most of the time other people had been there before me – or they were with me. In this case I felt like I was the first person there in years. A lot of other abandoned places look like from a post-apocalyptic movie or novel, this place actually felt like it – and as much as I hate exploring alone, in this case it was the cherry on top, the one factor that elevated the experience from world class exploration to unique. If you imagine the perfect abandoned driving range… This was it. Sure, access to the main building would have been nice, but the locked doors were part of the authentic experience, so I didn’t mind missing out some abandoned office photos. Sure, I’ve been to visually more exotic and stunning places, but when it comes to urban exploration as an experience… the Japanese Driving Range was as good as it gets!

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Bungalows, a conference center, employee housing, a BBQ area with a playground and rest rooms, tennis courts, a miniature golf course, and a baseball field – all abandoned and connected!

Quite a while ago I found the Holiday Village In The Mountains when I was aimlessly following random roads on GoogleMaps. All of a sudden I saw this deserted looking sports area, followed by partly overgrown buildings and empty parking lots. The complex looked like it hadn’t been used in years, but in Japan you never know – I’ve seen abandoned buildings that looked brand-new and active buildings that looked like they could collapse any second. Sadly what turned out to be the Holiday Village In The Mountains was hours away from where I live, deep in the mountains, so I couldn’t check it out right away – I had to wait for a weekend trip to that area… which I finally did in the spring of 2014, almost three years ago.

Since the Holiday Village In The Mountains is a barely known location, there is little known about its history. I’ve mentioned before that large companies in Japan tend to operate their own retreats in the form of company hotels or even resorts – assuming that the *Sanyo Securities Training Center* was one of them. Well, it seems like the Holiday Village In The Mountains falls into the same category, just for state employees; which explains the enormous size that must have offered space for dozens of stressed office workers at the same time. According to a memorial stone in the main building the resort was built in 1978 and according to a Japanese hiking blog it was closed in early 2001 after a series of budget cuts. Other than that I wasn’t able to find out much about it, most likely because those company resorts are a rather private thing you don’t talk about much in public… like any other benefit you receive from your company.
Exploring the Holiday Village In The Mountains was quite an experience. While most of the area, about 500 by 300 meters, was accessible, most of the buildings were not – some of them were actually quite fortified, like the club house near the tennis courts. The bungalows were inaccessible, too, but some of the buildings we could explore turned out to be quite dangerous – for example the massive concrete toilets, where I accidentally stepped onto a rusty nail that went straight through my hiking boots – luckily not into my foot, but between two toes. Yep, I had killer aim that day! 😉
A pinkish building I assumed was once occupied by employees of the resort and their tools / vehicles looked pretty much bolted shut, but I found a way into what looked like a neat apartment and what looked like a much less neat caretaker apartment. And guess what! The Holiday Village In The Mountains had a porn stash! These days I find less and less of them, but back three years ago there was hardly any abandoned place I explored without a porn stash. Paper and VHS though. Yes, VHS… good old tapes. Don’t worry, I put a black square over the one visible nipple on the cover so you can have a look at the photo gallery without blushing, but I’ll probably never understand why certain countries show the most violent scenes on prime time TV, but blur ass crack and side boobs…
Anyway, I had a good time at the Holiday Village In The Mountains, but I always had a thing for large outdoor locations on sunny days… I’m not sure if the photo gallery does the location justice (I could have sworn that I took photos of the mini golf course and other parts, but apparently I haven’t…), so you might want to have a look at the videos to get a better impression of the size and the variety the place offered.

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