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Archive for the ‘Chugoku’ Category

The Japanese Art School in the mountains of Okayama was one of those mysterious and legendary places I wanted to visit for years, but wasn’t able to find… and in the end I barely made it!

In spring of 2014 I was exploring the *White School* with my urbex buddy Rory when… Darn, I actually forgot the details of the story. We finished exploring the school and somehow we talked about the art school, though it wasn’t even on our schedule for the day. I think Rory’s wife, who helped me out finding the *Japanese Gold Cult*, pinned down the general area of the Japanese Art School the day before and we had to decide whether wanted to head to a mediocre *haikyo* I located exactly… or if we wanted to roll the dice and go for the unknown. So we headed north, deeper into the mountains. We knew that the school was near a very countryside train station (5 connections per day in each direction!), but that almost turned out to be a dead end. Rory tried to call his wife for more details while we spent about an hour or two on foot and by car looking for the art school. Running out of time we dared a most desperate move: We just stopped at a house near the train station and asked the people living there if they knew about the school. Not only did they in fact do, the lady of the house was even willing to escort us there! A kilometer can be near, but it also can be very, very far… especially when you have to turn half a dozen times and don’t know where.

The sun already started to set when we arrived at the school and I knew that time was of the essence. Access was surprisingly easy, though navigating was rather tough due to serious damage to the wooden floors. While I am still not 100% sure what the Japanese Art School really was, it turned out that at the end of its use it had been a private company – originally it was a local elementary school, closed in 1975. Japanese urbex blogs always portrayed it as an art school, but upon arrival (and based on what our lady guide told us) it was pretty clear that there was more to it. We entered through a massive hole in the wall and stumbled into some kind of warehouse I was never aware of. 40 years prior it must have been the main auditorium of the school, but now it was filled with boxes and crates full with all kinds of art supplies: colored pencils, oil colors, engraving knives, watercolors, little bottles and flasks and even models of pagodas and horses. Dozends, hundreds, thousands – depending on the item and its size. A lot more stuff than an art school could make use of in decades! One of the former class rooms was equipped with a heavy machine to help casting busts and masks, bolted to the wooden ground; the room next to it was a storage of those busts. The second main building was stuffed with all kinds of art equipment, too, including a room focusing on sewing. And one thing was pretty clear: There wasn’t enough space to house a full-blown art school, even if you would limit it to painting and sewing. The whole thing looked more like an art supplies company that manufactured busts and masks (some of which I had seen before at the amazing *Shizuoka Countryside School* and other places!) and probably offered hobby arts and craft lessons to the locals.

For a little under two hours I felt like a kid in a candy store… or a nerdy kid in an art supply store. There was so much to see, so much to discover! The auditorium alone would have deserved two hours, but I had to rush to see everything – I wouldn’t have had time to open boxes or drawers even if I would have wanted to. Interestingly enough this forced me to be creative with angles, focal lengths and exposure times. Overwhelming and challenging, the Japanese Art School was all I hoped for. And it left me yearning for more, which is one of the best things in life; having a great experience that makes you desperately wanting more… like a fantastic first date!
Sadly my heart was broken just half a year later, in September, before I was able to see the Japanese Art School again – it was cleaned out and most likely demolished…

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The Jonan Junior High School a.k.a. the White School is one of those abandoned places that are spectacular in very subtle ways.
Japan’s countryside is full of old schools, ranging from barely open for business to closed and preserved to closed and locked up to just abandoned to collapsed. But one thing all of them have in common – they are brown wooden buildings, inside and outside; at best they have a protecting frontage to prevent or at least slow down decay. (*A prime example for such a school you can see here.*)

At first sight the Jonan Junior High School was just one more of those schools somewhere in the Japanese mountains. From the distance it didn’t even look abandoned. Closed at best / worst. But upon closer look it became quickly evident that *Rory* and I found the right place. Fenced off by a rusty barbed wire metal construction, the back of the school revealed a partly collapsed wooden restroom building. After we found a way on the premises we were lucky to find a way in – a couple of boarded-up window were proof that somebody had taken care of the school for a while, and that vandalism is a problem even in countryside towns.
At first the White School is amazing – a large wooden hallway, almost looking endless through an ultra wide-angle lens. Whoever closed the school decided to take out the interior walls that made up the classrooms, so the wooden two-storey building basically consisted of two long hallways, two gigantic rooms with support logs and two staircases, plus smaller rooms on the upper floor. All painted white! But after about 15 minutes of excitement one quickly realizes that there is not much else. A photo on the wall on the lower floor, some rather random items left behind in one of the small rooms on the upper floor, that’s i t. And that’s usually all you get to see when the White School appears on the internet.
Luckily there was more to see. Several more buildings actually, but none of them were painted white, so I guess nobody gives them much attention. First there was the apartment of the caretaker. The kitchen was still in decent condition, but the floor of the living room collapsed and it was rather dark inside. And then there were three smaller school buildings, looking similar from the outside, but brown inside. And indeed, after being flashed by the white empty main building the common brown areas looked rather boring, almost dull.

Nevertheless it was a great experience to finally explore the White School. It came to my attention quite a while ago and due to circumstances out of my control it took me a while to finally have a look myself – and I enjoyed it as it is such a unique place to see. Not worth to spend a day trip on, but perfect when on the way to an even better location, borderline mind-blowing, to be honest… But that’s a story for another time! 🙂

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Merry XXX-Mas everyone!

The Love Hotel tinna is one of those locations that are giving me a headache. On the one hand I am happy about every exploration, on the other hand… this was barely an exploration and I have hardly enough material for an article. About 20 months ago I was walking along a countryside road on the way to an abandoned place I was looking forward to explore, when I came across the tinna Love Hotel by chance. Not sure how the rest of the day would turn out I passed without a closer look, but considered having one on the way back. If it wouldn’t have been for the ropes blocking off the car entrance I probably wouldn’t have even realized that the place was abandoned or at least closed.

Two hours later I was on my way back to the train station – and since I wasn’t in a hurry I indeed had a closer look. Entering the premises and getting out of sight was quick and easy, the ropes were more or less symbolic. Luckily the sensors at the entrance must have been for triggering lights back in the days, because they surely didn’t cause an alarm to go off.
The back of the love hotel looked a little more abandoned, but just barely. Each room came with a separate garage – you drove in and shut the plastic curtain to get your car some privacy. The room rates (rest / stay) were written at signs next to the doors – which were all locked. That fact makes this article even duller, especially since I don’t know anything about the history of the Love Hotel tinna. I guess it was abandoned just weeks or a few months prior to my visit, but it’s hard to tell for sure. On the other hand: a lot of westerners don’t know much about love hotel, so here you can finally see some exterior shots. For interior shots you might want to have a look at the two articles about love hotels I published in 2011 and 2012. The one about the *Love Hotel Gion* is all about love hotels in general and how big the business is (a whopping 50 billion $-US!), the one about the *Furuichi Love Hotel* is more about dating in Japan and why some Japanese women were once called “Leftover Christmas Cake”…

And that’s it for this week – Merry XXX-Mas!

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Tottori is famous for its sand dunes, vast natural parks and pear omiyage – not for urban exploration. Located in the Chugoku region at the Sea of Japan (a.k.a. Korea East Sea and Japanese Sea) and therefore at the northern coast of Japan, Tottori is a little bit off the beaten tracks – most tourists travelling south of Tokyo continue via Kyoto, Osaka and Kobe to Himeji, Hiroshima and Kyushu along the Seto Inland Sea. Only a handful of Western tourists switch to one of the express trains from Kansai to Tottori (city), the capital of Tottori (prefecture) – there is no Shinkansen service as a northern line connecting Osaka and Shimonoseki via Tottori and Matsue was proposed in 1973 and then shelved indefinitely. The least populous of Japan’s prefectures (3.5 million inhabitants, less than the city Yokohama) is generally rather rural and agriculture is the most important economical factor – pears, scallions, yams and watermelons from Tottori are famous in all of Japan.

One thing Tottori is not famous for is urban exploration. Nevertheless I had plans to go to Tottori for almost a year, but for some reason I never followed through. The places I wanted to visit there were not that spectacular, the weather wasn’t consistent for a whole weekend, the season wasn’t right or I simply had other plans. In spring of 2012 everything came together finally, so I hopped on the first of eight special direct trains to Tottori and enjoyed the 2.5 hour long ride through the stunning Chugoku Mountains. After finding and checking into a hotel I did some haikyo hiking to another location and finally arrived at the gorgeous Tottori Sand Dunes in the late afternoon – running out of time, as so often.
The Sand Dune Palace turned out to be quite a rundown building secured by rusty barbed wire, only worth taking pictures of thanks to its relative fame and the round viewing platform which gave this old rest house (built in 1965) a little bit of an edge by making it more round… The salty sea air was gnawing through anything metal, especially lamp posts and handrails. All the bells and whistles, like door handles and lamps looked so 60s that it almost hurt the eyes. Really nothing special, so I headed over to the dunes to find my way to the beach in order to take some sunset photos. On the way back, late into dusk, I made another quick stop to take a couple of night shots, but then I had to leave to catch the last bus back to the city – it was an exhausting day and sadly not everything lived up to my expectations; for example the Sand Dune Palace – the pear sweets on the other hand were divine and if you ever go to Tottori, make sure to try the “nashi usagi” (literally “pear rabbits”, mochi filled with pear jam).

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All of the photos I publish with articles on Abandoned Kansai are without any form of enhancing post-production – I don’t even crop them; they either look good or they don’t. Every once in a while I like to play with an HDR tool or two. I wouldn’t call those photos enhanced or improved, I would barely call them photos anymore. That’s why I created a sub-page for them in the background. Today I added ten more of those little artworks to that page. *Please click here to have a look!*

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June is probably the worst month to spend in Japan. While the temperatures are still at a bearable level (25 to 30 degrees Celsius / about 75 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit) the humidity goes crazy thanks to the rainy season. Six weeks of rain, probably on five days a week. Not fun when you like to spend your time outdoors.
Four weeks into the 2012 rainy season the weather forecast announced a whole weekend without rain and I got excited. Finally some urbex again, even an overnight trip for two days. Of course on Friday the forecast changed from two days of sun to sunny on Saturday and rainy on Sunday, but one day of exploration is better than none, so decided to finally visit the “Red Factory”, a favorite of Japanese blogs in the first half of 2012. It was in day trip range, but nevertheless a pain in the ass to get to due to its remote location. The closest train station was about 11 kilometers away, with buses running twice a day on weekends, at 12.30 p.m. and 5 p.m., going back to the station at 7.30 a.m. and 1.30 p.m. – which meant a pretty long walk on the way back…

At least I was able to sleep in on Saturday, only to find the weather wasn’t sunny at all. Not even cloudy. It was overcast, pretty much the worst weather for photography. June in Japan…

3 hours later (2 hours on several trains, then half an hour waiting for another 30 minutes on a bus) I finally reached the Red Factory on this hot and humid, but not sunny, Saturday – and I was a bit disappointed, to say the least. The place was not nearly as big and not nearly as red as I imagined it to be (I picked the “most red” photos for this article…). And the road there was impassable for cars due to a retractable road block I hadn’t seen on any photo before. The first factory building, empty on old Japanese blog entries, usually not to be seen on newer ones (a fact I didn’t realize during my research, of course) was filled with all kinds of canisters, tools and cars with white and yellow license plates – which means privately, not commercially, used vehicles. It looked like somebody started to use the factory as storage buildings. Great… infiltration, not exploration.
Cautiously I continued to walk up the mountain. Next building – a brand-new midget tractor. All the other buildings were pretty much broom-clean. Not exactly what I expected. And what about the partly overgrown house on the other side of the small river running through the factory area? Hastily I quickened my pace to reach the top of the factory area, not sure anymore if it was still abandoned. 50 meters of elevation gain later I reached the end of the factory area. Nobody there, so at least I was sure no human surprises were waiting for me in the back. An animal surprise was there though. A dead animal. Well, more than dead – the skeleton of a deer, most likely a Sika Deer or Japanese Deer, cervus nippon nippon. At least a dozen Japanese urban explorers went to the Red Factory that year and none did care to mention that the place was in use and that parts of a deer skeleton were lying in front of one of the buildings. What the heck…?!

From that point on the exploration was pretty much easy going. Of course I was still worried that somebody would show up, but I was way too busy to avoid spiders, snakes and other animals in the buzzing summer season.

Sadly there is not much I can tell you about the history of the Red Factory. In Japanese it is usually called the Red Ochre Factory, so given the looks of the factory it’s safe to say that the facility was used to produce red ochre from yellow ochre. Captain Obvious strikes again!

Aaaand… that’s pretty much it. Unspectacular exploration, getting there and back took much longer and was much more of an effort than actually exploring the Red Factory. A bit disappointing since I had great expectations, but after sitting at home for several weeks due to the weather it was a welcome change… (The walk back though wasn’t fun at all. Jeans, hiking boots, full camera equipment on an extremely humid day along a river – 11 kilometers in under two hours or I would have missed the train, running every 60 to 90 minutes.)

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I planned to publish a video with this article, but Youtube seems to be a bit bitchy again on this computer – I will upload it most likely on August 26th.

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The abandoned Okayama Hospital is a place of many names. Okayama Countryside Clinic (like the *Tokushima Countryside Clinic*) would have been an appropriate name, too, but Japanese blogs usually call it the Setouchi Clinic – which I think is a rather risky name as, in my humble opinion, it gives away too much about its location…

I was trying really hard to write an entertaining text about the Okayama Hospital Haikyo, but sadly there is little to nothing known about the clinic – and the current humid heat here in Osaka (up to 37°C and up to 84% humidity) didn’t exactly help either. Judging by the mansion-like looks of the estate it must have been built during the Meiji or Taisho era – a traditional Japanese style complex with massive boundary walls. I don’t know when the clinic was abandoned, but I guess it was about 20 years ago. Overall it was in good condition, but nature was claiming back the living room and I saw a decently sized hole in the floor of the reception – probably a previous explorer crashing through the wooden planks.
The owner definitely moved out, but left behind quite a bit of both medical as well as everyday life items. Since I visited the clinic, well hidden by a completely overgrown garden, on a rainy summer day, it was quite uncomfortable to explore – not nearly as bad as the mosquito ridden hellhole known as *Doctor’s Shack*, but still bad enough. It obviously also affected the lighting in the clinic, so I decided to publish this set in monochrome. For some reason monochrome works well with abandoned countryside clinics. (If you watch the video and think “But the sun is shining outside!” – yeah, for about ten minutes while I was there… and then for the rest of the day right after I left the clinic!)
Since the weather is killing me and there is not much to say about the clinic anyway, I will keep it short this week – overall it was a good location with some neat little details (I love the clock, the two phones and the katakana eye test!), but the *Tokushima Countryside Clinic* is still unrivaled when it comes to abandoned village doctor houses…

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