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Archive for the ‘Chūbu’ Category

Small, but spooky… Hardly any abandoned place gave me the creeps as much as the Sanyo Securities Vault, a massive semi-underground construction inhabited by bats and gigantic bugs.

Sanyo Securities (not to be confused with the world renowned Sanyo Electric!) was a mid-size Japanese brokerage firm. Founded in 1910 it got into serious financial trouble after the Japanese price asset bubble burst in the early 1990s. In March of 1998 the financial situation was so dire that there were talks about Mitsui Sumitomo taking over, but that option fell through. Even a restructuring of the company in June of the same year couldn’t save it, and so all employees were sacked on August 31st.

Like many successful companies of the 1980s, Sanyo Securities owned a scenic countryside retreat and training center for employees, in this case with a massive semi-underground safe. The first thing my explorer buddy *Hamish* and I found upon reaching the premises were some tennis courts in really bad condition – it was more than obvious that the area had been abandoned for quite a while.
On the way back to the training center buildings I spotted a low dome like construction in the vegetation to our left. It took us no time to find the entrance, though I can’t remember seeing any sign of the metal door, except for its left-behind solid frame. The hallway behind was lit from above through the glass dome we spotted from the outside, the walls probably quite massive ferroconcrete – the thing looked like from a 1960s SciFi movie! And there it was, behind a corner, the biggest metal door I’ve ever seen in my life, open – as if a watching mastermind was just waiting for somebody to enter, so it could be slammed shut via a remote control. Some bored people with too much strength actually removed a panel on the back, so the locking mechanism was exposed; quite interesting! Behind that door was a narrow square hallway, surrounding the inner sanctum: a room about four by four meters, guarded by another set of inside concrete walls at least 30 centimeters thick and another massive metal door with a complicated lock. This must have been the safe for most prized possessions owned by the customers of Sanyo Securities; now inhabited by a few bats in the inner hallway and some huge bugs (giant grasshoppers, if I remember correctly) in the center room. Fascinating place, but creepy as hell!
The company retreat part was quite interesting in its own way. Built from various materials and partly in line with its surroundings, I especially liked the fire place and the huge windows in what must have been some kind of cafeteria / conference room. Sadly the upper floor suffered from arson – and whoever took care of that problem probably cleared / cleaned some of the building, as parts of it looked a lot more cluttered on older photos I’ve seen before my visit. The burned-out room offered a gorgeous few at the other building below and especially at the lake across the street. The other rooms were either tatami rooms that looked like regular hotel rooms – or carpeted dormitory style rooms with bunk beds. I guess not all Sanyo Securities employees were treated the same…
The training center below was quite unspectacular though; mainly conference rooms, from the looks of it. The upper floors were mostly moldy and rotten, the lower floor showed signs of severe vandalism – broken windows and graffiti. Usually I try to avoid showing graffiti to not motivate those “artists” vandalizing abandoned places, but the One Piece one kinda looked nice and almost suited the wall it was sprayed on.

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The Fuji 5 Lakes area consists of Lake Yamanaka, Lake Kawaguchi, Lake Sai, Lake Shoji, and Lake Motosu – forming an arch around the northern part of Mount Fuji in Yamanashi prefecture. Famous for hiking, mountain climbing, sailing, fishing, the Aokigahara Suicide Forest, Fujikyu Highland and local udon noodles, this recreational area two hours outside of Tokyo attracts about nine million visitors per year… and many of them enjoy a soak at an onsen in the evening. Of course not all of those public baths can be successful – bad for the owners, good for explorers like me and readers like you…
The Fuji Five Lakes Onsen is a surprisingly rare location and apparently virtually unknown to the Japanese urbex scene. It’s actually easier to find information about the time when it was open for business than about its current abandoned state; hence the rather vague fake name for it. The place was actually not just a day trip spa (charging 300 Yen for the time between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m.), it was also a ryokan, a Japanese inn for overnight guests. Located next to a river in a tiny mountain town, the Fuji Five Lakes Onsen turned out to be a hidden wooden gem, a glimpse at Japan’s simple past that is disappearing quickly.

At 7,000 to 10,000 Yen per person and night the FFLO wasn’t exactly a cheap place to stay at, especially considering that it closed about 10 years ago. I am sure back then it was easily possible to get a more luxurious accommodation for a lower price – but probably with a lot less character. The main building of the Fuji Five Lakes Onsen was a narrow, but rather long wooden construction – followed by small apartments in the backyard along the river. After ten years of abandonment rather wobbly and squeaky, the main hallway wasn’t for the faint of heart, especially with road construction going on right outside. If we were able to hear them scavenge the street, they were able to hear almost any noise we made. Luckily they weren’t aware of *Hamish* and I being there, so they didn’t pay attention; a huge advantage on our side and a late reward for us approaching the Fuji Five Lakes Onsen carefully, avoiding any noises getting in.
The tricky part was the upper floor with its tatami party room. Regular readers know what kind of place I mean – the big one with the stage and the karaoke machine and stuff like that. What was so tricky about it? Well, the upper part was actually on road level, so the construction workers were able to look inside through some of the windows… if they would have paid attention, which they didn’t. Good for me, as the party room held some interesting items to take pictures of, including some 60s or 70s music devices and a Konami Hyper Shot controller for use with the smash hit Hyper Sports.
Down on the main floor again I took some photos of the pretty run down onsen part, the gender-separated shared bath. Surprisingly small, it must have offered a nice view on the river a few decades prior. Now the huge windows were mostly overgrown from the outside and vandalized by penis graffiti from the inside – the whole room felt rather cold and inhospitable on this beautiful autumn day.
The half a dozen guest “houses” in the back looked a bit like an afterthought and some were already in quite questionable condition. The eclectic conglomerate was big enough for about 30 people, with each hut hosting a family or a carload full of friends. Been there, done that… and the light was disappearing quickly.
What made the Fuji Five Lakes Onsen such a memorable exploration was the simplicity of the place. No shiny modern kitchen, no ten-storey concrete building, no spa area the size of a football field, no arcade, no elevators – just plain wooden buildings, a handful of guest apartments and an almost underwhelming shared bath. The most modern item probably was that controller for said Konami game, every other item there most likely was from the 70s, 60s or even 50s.
The last couple of places I presented on *Abandoned Kansai* were not very Japanese at first sight, especially locations like the *Western Village* or the *Hachijo Royal Hotel*… but the Fuji Five Lakes Onsen is as Japanese as it gets!

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The abandoned Love Hotel London was one of the most pitiful places I have ever explored and borderline worthy to become a part of the soon to come “Worst of Japan 2014” article (scheduled for December 30th!) – but it’s one of the most famous rotting places in all of central Japan; probably because of the name…

Despite being called London, this deserted and dilapidated love hotel apparently had nothing to do with Great Britain’s capital. It looked like a cheap, fake castle and the rooms had the usual array of themed rooms from all over the world. Like most love hotels in Japan, the London was actually more of a motel. You parked your car in some kind of garage on the ground floor and then went upstairs to… well, do what people usually do at no-tell motels.
In its heyday the London, conveniently located next to the Hamamatsu Air Base in central Japan, must have been quite a site – now there is not much left to see. Some furniture pieces outside, some vandalized, rotting rooms inside. Pretty much everything was busted open, all windows smashed, everything beyond repair.
If you ever wanted to know more about the love hotel industry in Japan I recommend *this old article*… and I also wrote about *my two cents on relationships in Japan* – both articles come with photos from other abandoned love hotels in better condition…

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Spring is the perfect time for hanami haikyo – exploring abandoned places while the plum and cherry blossoms are in full bloom. The window of opportunity every year is small, especially during cold and rainy springs, but this year I was luckily to hit one of those perfect days early in the year…

A few years ago I saw the remains of what appeared to be a playground on some random Japanese blog. Another source called it an abandoned amusement park. And then some photos of a golden Buddha statue appeared. It took me a while to piece all those pieces together – and afterwards I knew as much about that mysterious place as before… plus its exact location on a small mountain in Gifu prefecture; very countryside, and so I explored in Gifu and passed through Gifu several times before I was finally able to visit the Golden Buddha Park myself – most likely not its original name, but the fake names Japanese blogs used make even less sense, so mine is as good as theirs.
In the Japanese countryside GoogleMaps often is little more than a general hint, especially when construction is going on, so Dan, Kyoto, Spencer and I (big group this time!) knew where we had to go, but didn’t exactly know how to get there. After several twists and turns we reached a strange area where about a dozen regular cars were parked on what appeared to be an abandoned road with small abandoned houses – and one active apartment building at the end, much too small to house everybody parking there. We turned back again and parked at pretty much the last available spot, next to a partly collapsed house and an overgrown and dried-out pond. The paved street had turned into a cobblestone road, the condition getting worse and worse, so we decided to walk. Soon even the cobblestones were missing and we hiked up what appeared to be a dirt road getting narrower and narrower, becoming more and more overgrown. But we were on the right track as I remember a mushroom shaped resting area I saw on photos years prior. At that point there was a rift about half a meter deep splitting the road / wide path we were on. A strange place and probably creepy as hell on a foggy day. After a couple of minutes we reached some kind of plateau with a metal beam cage – probably for bird or maybe a small feline predator. There was trash all over the nearby slope and a vandalized bus was rusting away, offering the first good photo opportunity of the day. Opposite of the bus and mostly overgrown were several flights of stairs, some handrails and other concrete leftovers – it seems like there had been a now mostly demolished solid building once, but what it was… your guess is as good as mine. Next to the construction ruin we found a massive flight of stairs leading up the mountain, one huge concrete elephant statue on each side, with the weirdest plastic eyes I have ever seen; also worth mentioning: since the trunk was crumbling away we could see that there was a hose inside, so those statues were probably able to spray water…
On top of the mountain / hill we finally saw the golden Buddha in its white dome, lined with cherry trees. What a sight! But it was also guarded by two statues that probably were supposed to be dogs or lions, but looked more aliens – or alions… The statues with their weird eyes formed an unnerving contrast to the tranquil atmosphere of the Buddha and the countryside beauty. Such a strange place!
Upon closer look the base of the interesting looking concrete construction must have been hollow as we found a door on the back. Since it was locked we rather climbed the socket and had a closer look at the statue. Most of it was actually undamaged, but the gold leaves of lowest part, even in reach of small people, needed some refoiling.
Sadly there we no sign or other hints what this could have been, so after a while we hiked back down the mountain to our car. There we had a closer look at the dried out pond and the neighboring building, probably a conference center or something like that. The front was already collapsed and the interior had seen much better days, too. With that, our motivation to go through another half a dozen abandoned houses dwindled and we decided to call it a day – if Japanese explorers were not able to figure out what this strange setup was, we figured it would be rather unlikely that we will. And it was a good decision, because later that day we found the most amazing *abandoned ski resort* ever. But that’s the story of another time…

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I love maps! I always loved *maps*. When I was a little kid, my grandma taught me the names of every capital in Europe, and my desk pad was a world map. To me, GoogleMaps is the best thing since sliced bread. Whether I need a quick two-minute break or have to kill a rainy day on the weekends, GM is one of my favorite websites of all time, especially since I picked up urban exploration as a hobby. Sometimes I just browse through Japan via the satellite view… and actually find abandoned places, like an abandoned ropeway station I yet have to write about, or the *Abandoned Poultry Farm* I mistook for the *Red Factory*. About two years ago I saw a red roofed building in almost Y shape that caught my eyes – and on Street View the entrance looked abandoned, yet in decent condition…

Well, it turned out that my first exploration in Yamanashi prefecture was a total dud and that the entrance was pretty much the only thing about the Sun Park Hotel Naito that was in decent condition. When my buddy Dan opened the door to the hotel’s bar (the front entrance consisted of massive automatic glass doors that wouldn’t move a millimeter…), I instantly knew that we were up for a disappointment – the smell of rotting carpets, wallpapers and all kinds of other materials was heavy in the air. While the abandoned bar still had a certain 1980s TV show retro charme, the rest of the hotel kept me wondering what the heck I was doing there.
We reached the reception area through a small hallway and went on a short walkthrough of the ground floor (or first floor, as it is called in Japan) – restaurant, kitchen, employee rooms / toilets, offices. The smell was bad and the air probably wasn’t healthy, but it got worse after climbing the sketchy main staircase to the second and third floors. The hallways were completely trashed, everything was rotting, except for the ripped-out yellow insulation that smelled like urine. What a disgusting, miserable place; and the rain outside didn’t help to lighten up the atmosphere. Since the third floor was less vandalized at least some of the rooms were accessible, though none of them contained anything out of the ordinary. The really kitschy telephones were kind of interesting, but that’s pretty much it. My favorite item though was a pillow in the hallway, rotting, partly overgrown by moss. It reminded me of the fading stack of tatami mats at the *Bio Center* in Hokkaido, still one of my favorite photos.
Well, not all abandoned places can be surprise super hits – and the Sun Park Hotel Naito definitely wasn’t a hit. It was just another abandoned countryside hotel, and those are a dime a dozen all over Japan. Luckily every once in a while a few of those mystery hotels turn out to be great finds, so you can look forward to some amazingly unique abandoned hotels on Abandoned Kansai in the future; and… well… some crappy ones, too…

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A lot of Japanese people are very proud of their country’s distinctive four seasons – summer, autumn, winter and spring. Yet a lot of them mention a fifth season, which explains why they are not very proud of their math skills… rainy season. Rainy season is a period that lasts for about two to four weeks, usually starting in early or mid-June, turning most of Japan (especially Honshu, Shikoku and Kyushu) into a humid hellhole for about three months. Personally I don’t think Japan has four seasons as it stretches too much for a general statement like that. Okinawa definitely doesn’t have a winter, and in my personal experience, Osaka has only two seasons: “Kind of nice” and “unbearably hot and humid”.
The period of rather intense rain began early this year, in the first week of June, starting to turn Osaka into a sticky place where you don’t want to wear any long clothes or do anything that requires even the slightest effort. Luckily my friends Dan and Kyoko weren’t eager to stay in Osaka either, so I planned a nice little weekend trip to Shikoku… which I had to re-plan after the weather forecast changed – Chubu instead! (Chubu is one of eight major regions in Japan, basically the central part of the main island Honshu between Nagoya and Mount Fuji)

Three days later I found myself sweating like pig hiking up a mountain in Shizuoka prefecture. A couple of minutes prior we passed through a small village on the slope, located in the middle of nowhere, where only one old lady was living, at least part time – she and her husband were tea farmers, but he passed away a few years ago, so she takes care of what is left; everybody else had died or moved away many years before…
We escaped Osaka’s rain and humidity, but central Japan’s countryside was surprisingly warm for early July. The hiking trail us three were on connected the hamlet with its school, closed in the late 70s and officially abandoned in the early 90s. Why it wasn’t built directly next to the settlement is beyond me, but farm land was probably more valuable than the place for an elementary school; and so the kids had to hike up that mountain every day, an elevation gain of almost 100 meters! Even after 30 years the path was clearly visible, yet partly overgrown and covered by several layers of foliage, making it a rather slippery climb these days. I was taking another break enjoying the beautiful surrounding and silence, when I heard Dan from above: “The school is up here!”

A few minutes later I saw the school near the top of the mountain myself – a surprisingly big wooden building with a living quarter annex; probably for a teacher or two to live in. The main building consisted of two classrooms and an office (all wooden floors), plus a tatami room right next to the office. Outside was a small playground with a slide and leftovers of some swings and a soccer goal. And there was a shrine with a wooden building, empty according to the old lady…
What made the Shizuoka Countryside School quite special was its authenticity. While a lot of “abandoned” schools in Japan are still maintained by the local community (like the *Kyoto Countryside School*), it was pretty clear that this wasn’t the case here – yet there were barely any signs of vandalism, with small exceptions like the pink painted nipples of the female gypsum bust or the smashed wooden metronome. There were signs of visitors though – not only did I find a Sony lens cap in the grass, you could see that certain items were staged for photos and that some explorers crashed through the wooden floors when they were not cautious enough. Most of the rooms had plenty of interesting items left behind, like a chair and table combination, a table tennis plate, books, posters, chalk, and whatever you think should be at an abandoned countryside school – considering that it was basically a two room school I think it was rather well equipped and I really loved some of the tacky items, like the National manufactured red record player. The icing on cake, of course, was the location itself. Near the top of a mountain, with a shrine next to it, on a lovely late spring / early summer day… quite magical. Sadly I had to share one of the rooms with a suzumebachi a.k.a. Giant Asian Hornet. There are a lot of them at abandoned places these days and usually I avoid them, but in this case that would have meant not taking pictures of one third of the school. Half the time it was trying to leave through a window and failed, half the time it was flying around the room, causing me to hastily leave. After a few rounds of hide and seek I got most of the shots I wanted to take and called it a day.

Just getting out of Osaka for another two days was a blessing, exploring an abandoned countryside school in good condition and being able to share that with friends… priceless!

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Sex sells. Especially in Japan. Well, sex and quirkiness sell in Japan – and the latter one actually a lot more, at least in advertising. But despite having one of the lowest birth rates in the world (220 out of 224 according to the CIA World Factbook), Japan is obsessed with sex. Not at first sight though. At first sight the country is all about temples, shrines, concrete buildings and neon lights. But if you dig deeper and have an eye for details, you’ll understand why Japan is famous all around the globe for bondage, tentacle sex, bukkake, (the not existing) worn underwear vending machines, *love hotels* (that alone is a 50 billion USD business!) and the borderline child pornographic lolicon – not to forget the *quirky sex museums*!
Mostly untouched by puritan Christian morals for centuries (until Japan sucked up to the West during the Meiji Restoration and succumbed to the Allied Forces in 1945) today’s Japan is widely oversexed and underfucked, a prime example being the co-called herbivores; young men with “a non-assertive, indifferent attitude towards desire of flesh” according to freelance writer Maki Fukasawa, who coined the term in 2006. Yet there is this 50 billion dollar love hotel industry… Which makes Japan the North Korea of sex lives – mysterious, full of contradictions and with some serious amount of covered-up pain!

Anyway, let’s focus on the century old traditions for now – one of them being the Hōnen Matsuri (or hounen matsuri, 豊年祭), literally the „prosperous year festival“, celebrating the blessings of a rich harvest and all kinds of prosperity and fertility in general; and for promotional reasons often called penis festival, because… well, sex sells better than harvest and fertility. Who cares that it is actually not the phalli that are worshipped, but the power of the earth to regenerate? Symbolized by penises, because… well, probably nobody would travel for hours to look at a pile of dirt being carried through a small town.
Like the number of sex museums in onsen towns, the number of those fertility festivals is declining, the most famous one being celebrated at the Tagata Shrine in Komaki, a suburb of Nagoya, just a short walk away from Tagata-jinja-mae Station. (There are also similar festivals in Kawasaki on every first Sunday in April (Kanamara Matsuri at the Kanayama Shrine) as well as the slightly less phallic Bonden Matsuri in mid-February in Yokoteand and the Kawatari Bonden Matsuri in mid-May in Tagawa.)
The exact history of the Tagata Shrine and the Honen Matsuri lie in the dark, but it is assumed that shrine is more than 1500, the festival at least 650 years old.

Last year the Honen Matsuri started at around 10 a.m. at the Tagata Shrine with some preparations and celebrations, including the usual array of festival food stands. While chocolate bananas are popular at public festivals all over Japan, you can imagine that they sell especially well at a penis festival – especially at those stands going the extra mile by carving the tip of the banana and adding two marshmallows to the bottom. Sex sells, especially at a phallus festival! And of course 95% of those bananas were used as accessories for photos before being eaten… and so were tons of other penis shaped items for sale, like candy dicks and phalli carved out of wood.
At 1 p.m. celebrations began at the Kumanosha with the blessings of the procession participants as well as the portable shrines (mikoshi, 神輿 or 御輿) and the gigantic wooden penis (280 kg heavy and 2.5 meters long) carved out of a cypress. At 2 p.m. the parade to the Tagata Shrine started there, lead by chanting priests carrying banners and followed by a demon called Tengu; musicians playing traditional gagaku music also join the procession. And if a gigantic wooden penis carried by chanting and dancing men wouldn’t be enough to go nuts, the centerpiece was accompanied by countless helpers handing out free snacks and sake to everybody who wanted a cup… or two! Traditionally clothed women carrying 60 cm long wooden phalluses proved to be extremely popular amongst the watching crowd, altogether thousands of people. All of those women were 36 years old, which is considered an unlucky age that requires spiritual intervention. (The men carrying the giant phallus were all 42 for the same reason.)

The parade was supposed to arrive at the Tagata Shrine at 3.30 p.m. in 2013, but with all those happy people it took a little bit longer, so the who schedule was delayed by about 20 minutes. At around 4 p.m. people came together at a central square of the shrine, where the mochi nage was about to begin; a rice cake throwing ceremony, in which the crowd was showered with special mochi. You might know table lychee sized mochi as small soft sweets, but those at the festival had the consistency of clay and looked more like a big dumpling with the diameter of a CD – nevertheless the crowd went crazy over catching one of them. Sadly I have to say that this was mainly the fault of the countless foreigners attending the festival. While most Japanese attendees kept standing in place just trying to catch one of the dangerously heavy sweets thrown by officials from elevated platforms, a lot of the foreigners kept pushing and shoving; some even starting arguments. It was quite embarrassing to watch, to be honest – just because you’re at a penis festival doesn’t mean you have to act like a dick! (Officials actually asked women, children and elderly several times to leave the area to avoid getting hurt by the impact of the rice cakes or the rest of the crowd!) In the end there were rice cakes for maybe one in four people, yet when the ceremony was over, I saw single foreigners with up to seven of them, some of them carrying them in plastic bags… (It was also very apparent that the amount of foreigners attending the festival was a lot higher than the nationwide average of three percent.)

When the mochi nage ended, so did the festival – most people hurried to the nearby train station, others (like myself) had a last minute snack… or got their injuries treated at one of the ambulances. Most people who were actually there for the serious aspect of the festival, not the spectacle, prayed for successful pregnancies and bought good luck charms in the morning, but the shrine continued to offer those services to the remaining guests, while about two dozen helpers stored the gigantic wooden penis in the main shrine…

But why in the world did I write this report now, after spending several weeks on writing about North Korea? Because the Honen Festival is held every year on March 15th, which means that the next one will be in less than two weeks from now – just in case you are in Japan and interested in joining. Going last year I actually had to take a day off to attend as the 15th was a Friday in 2013, but that also means that the Penis Festival will be held on a Saturday in 2014 and on a Sunday in 2015; which won’t hurt the numbers of people joining for sure!

Finally a word of warning – the following photos and videos will show quite a few phalli, but there is absolutely nothing pornographic about them. Traditional? Yes! Commercial? For sure! Artistic? Definitely! But not pornographic… Enjoy!

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