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Archive for the ‘Demolished’ 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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Life is friggin weird sometimes: Not only is there a rather small city on Kyushu called Usa – it’s also home to several Japanese military ruins from World War 2!

At first sight there was nothing special about this old airplane bunker in the middle of rice fields somewhere in the Japanese countryside on Kyushu. It’s pretty much as rural as it can get and train stations were rather rare in this beautiful area, just a few hundred meters away from the coast.
I got off the train at a station called Buzenzenkoji on a gorgeous spring afternoon and got on again several hours later after dark at another one called Yanagigaura. Stories that the area was bustling with military 70 years prior intrigued me, but reports on the internet said that barely anything was left to see. The stories were about bases and bunkers, often kilometers apart, not visible on GoogleMaps, most of them even destroyed. Information about locations was vague, but what did I have to lose? Walking through the Japanese countryside on a sunny, warm spring afternoon was a treat by itself; always has been, always will be.
When I reached what I hoped would be the quarters of a naval aviation unit… I saw nothing. Nothing but some concrete foundations as well as gardens and fields at the edge of a small town. The Moriyama Emplacement and its moat probably had been levelled decades ago to help growing food for the hungry Japanese post-WW2 population.
So I continued along the road in hope to find the Shiroi Combat Group of the Usa Naval Aviation. I am actually not sure if I really found it, but I definitely found said airplane bunker. It was located right next to a house and it seemed like the owners were still using it – not to protect an airplane, but as a storage. I took a couple of quick photos and a short video before continuing my way as the sun started to set.
This time I was looking for Usa Naval Aviation’s motor workshop a few kilometers northeast on the way to the train station… and I found it after looking for a while in a rather new residential area, surrounded and broken up by fields. The workshop was in miserable condition, nevertheless it looked like it was still used by locals as storage space. I quickly took a handful of photos (most of them against the light…) and barely reached the Yanagigaura train station before it got dark – but not before stopping at a fourth location, a small wooden and completely boarded-up house that looked like it was from the late 19th, early 20th century.

To me this little stroll was barely more than enjoying a relaxing Friday afternoon on my way to some serious explorations (including *Shidaka Utopia*, but if you are into World War 2 history and do some research in advance, I am sure you can find some pretty interesting stuff in the area. To me even the airplane bunker was just an airplane bunker and the main reason this afternoon walk turned into a full article was… because after I returned home I realized that those World War 2 ruins were located in a town called Usa – exactly my kind of humor, I find that extremely funny… 🙂

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Abandoned or not abandoned, that’s the question more often than not in Japan – and sometimes the answer is “both”, like in the case of the Osarizawa Mine…

Now famous for its abandoned ice blue chemical pools, the Osarizawa Mine’s history spans more than 1300 years, dating back to the year 708, when mining began as a family business. Back then mining for gold began in small tunnels with children as young as five years old. Over the years the mine became bigger and bigger, especially after copper ore was found. The business began to explode, literally and figuratively, when the use of Gunpowder was introduced in 1865. In 1893 Mitsubishi took over and massively modernized the Osarizawa Mine, introducing a telephone system in 1894 and a hydroelectric power station in 1896. At the beginning of the 20th century the mine became essential for Japan’s expansion and war efforts – up to 4500 employees worked around the clock in shifts and carved up to 100.000 tons of copper ore per month from the mountain; the total tunnel length reached 700 kilometers around that time. Soon after the war the Osarizawa Mine became unprofitable; refinement stopped in 1966 and in 1978 the mine was closed altogether. But only temporarily!
Only four years later, in 1982, Osarizawa reopened as a tourist mine called “Mine Land Osarizawa” – complete with a museum, eateries and a gift shop. In 2008, the 1300th anniversary of the mine, the complex was renamed “Historic Site Osarizawa Mine” and continued to be a successful tourist attraction in the northern part of Akita prefecture.

When Ben, Mike and I first arrived there, we had a quick look at the lowest level of the mine, past a Japanese only “Do not enter” sign, where we found some buildings still in use, but also some massive abandoned concrete structures – a few of them already collapsed. 15 minutes later we were back in the car, looking for the already mentioned ice blue chemical pools… and instead found the also mentioned tourist attraction Historic Site Osarizawa Mine. Thinking that we could learn something about the mine and its layout we put down 1000 Yen and joined the (Japanese only) tour – which was quite interesting, but didn’t reveal anything about the layout. Hungry afterwards we enjoyed a tonkatsu burger with edible gold flakes at a reasonable 580 Yen; luckily even a bad burger is still good food…
Minutes later I spotted the pools and a passing group of people from the parking lot, so we jumped into the car and headed there. If a regular tourist group could ignore the “Do not enter” signs, so could we! Nevertheless worried that we could be stopped by one of the many employees of the historic site at any second, we quickly headed over to the pools and started shooting, but nobody cared about what we were doing. Every once in a while some random tourist at the parking lot had an eye on us, but that was it – so we headed further up the mountain. Sadly most of the interesting buildings in that area were demolished, so there was actually not that much to see and in the end the Osarizawa Mine turned out to be the least interesting one of the three big *Tohoku* mines. At least for us three sneaking people. Because since none of us had a look at the *official website* before the trip, I only found out minutes ago that there was not only a mining tunnel tour, but also a guided outdoor tour – we probably wouldn’t have gotten as close to the pools as we did, but we most likely would have seen more of the mine’s remains in other areas. Like the tourist group I saw leaving the premises. Instead we headed off after seeing the pools from above.

Overall visiting the Osarizawa Mine was an interesting experience, but also an unfulfilling and kind of rushed one. The chemical pools definitely were a highlight, the gold flake burger was a curiosity (so was the “Do not enter” sign in a pile of snow at the parking lot!), and the fact that all three of us bought Osarizawa Mine branded souvenirs was downright bizarre! If you are ever in the area, I recommend to have a look and spend 2000 Yen on both guided tours – it might spare you the feeling of slight disappointment I have right now…

And finally a fun fact at the end: There is actually a secondary mineral called Osarizawaite, IMA approved in 1961! It has rhombohedral crystals, a greenish yellow color and the chemical formula PbCuAl2(SO4)2(OH)6.

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Urbex is quite an unpredictable hobby, especially in Japan, where wrecking crews can demolish buildings in no time; abandoned or not. (It actually happened once that I went on vacation and when I came back a building in the neighborhood was turned into an asphalted parking lot…) But demolition is not the only enemy urbexers have. Sometimes you go to a place and you think you know exactly where it is, but it turns out that your research wasn’t good enough. Luckily that never happen to me, but I’ve been on trips with fellow explorers who carried wrongly marked maps – and in that case is can be enough to be off by a street or two and you will never find what you are looking for (it almost happened to me when looking for the *Amano Clinic*, a frustrating and time-consuming experience!). Sometimes buildings have been boarded-up and are therefore inaccessible now, on other occasions they are still locked and electronically secured, which explains why your source only had outside photos. Every once in a while you run into nosy neighbors who keep a close eye on you, and sometimes places are so trashed that it’s not worth having a closer look. The latest trend, at least in Germany, is turning abandoned military bases into solar parks – they get rid of the remaining buildings and use the vast areas of concrete and asphalt to set up some green energy. With no good videos and barely a handful of photos, those locations are not worth an own article, but as compilations they should be entertaining enough to carry this blog for a week. Welcome to the first issue of “Worst Of” – 14 disappointing locations on 6 exploration days!

The first dud of my trip to Germany in 2013 was the Türkenlouis-Kaserne (a.k.a. Quartier Turkenlouis) in Rastatt. Built by the French occupational forces in the 1950s and left behind in 1999, the barracks weren’t able to find a new owner, so they were demolished in 2011 – I had a hunch that it happened, but I wanted to see for myself and was (not) disappointed.
Just a few kilometers away I had a look at the vandalized entrance of the BWR, Bauknecht Werk Rastatt, founded originally as Waggonfabrik Rastatt (Rastatt Coach Factory) in 1897. The company struggled several times from the 1970s on, was split up and partly closed. Upon my visit, parts of the area were used by the BWR Waggonreparatur GmbH (BWR Wagon Repair Company) – and their employees kept an eye on the abandoned area.
Down the street in walking distance I found a partly collapsed, unnamed factory. Sadly the employees of a neighboring business had a company party on their parking lot…
On the way home I stopped at what supposed to be an abandoned gravel pit, but there were cars parked on the premises and a diving competition at the nearby lake prohibited any reasonable exploration.
But that’s not all! The fifth dud of the day (out of six locations!) was the Special Ammunitions Site Philippsburg, which actually looked quite active – it was probably used for training by the police or other groups. What a frustrating day, especially for my childhood friend Nina, who actually did all the driving. Sorry again, Nina – but that’s urbex sometimes… 😦

The next day I was going exploring with my sister Sabine. At the fortified Lampertheim Training Area I took a crappy photo through the fence – and the closed bunkers of the Panzerwald Viernheim were very disappointing in comparison to the awesome *Hochspeyer Munitions Storage*.
The HMS I explored with my friend Catherine and it was in walking distance of another former military base, which is still visible on GoogleMaps, but has been demolished more than a year ago to be replaced with one of said green energy facilities, in this case the Solarpark Metro Tango Ost.
Since my article about the *Cambrai-Fritsch-Kaserne* was a huge success I decided to go back there on a second day of exploration with my sister. We parked in the area and walked for like 10 meters, when a security guard stopped his car right next to us and forbid us to take photos. Straight ahead. No polite small talk, not friendly asking to refrain from taking photos. “I forbid you to take photos!” Well, I’m not a media lawyer, but as far as I know you can take photos on public streets pretty much wherever / whenever you want in Germany – hence Google’s Street View (though some people in Germany had their houses pixeled like Japanese porn, but they were not able to have Google remove the images completely). Since the guy acted like a stubborn a**hole right from the beginning of course I pretended to agree and just waited until he was around the next. He wasn’t even smart enough to come back two minutes later to see if we would really obey his rule. And nothing much had changed anyway, so I took a few snapshots and then we moved on to the Santa Barbara Village down the road and across the street – it was interesting to see though that they tightened security at the CFK instead of turning it into student dormitories, as the original plan was. The St. Barbara Village on the other hand is an example for successful privatization. Once a housing area for the surrounding barracks it is now a neat, quiet residential area and far from being abandoned.

The Old Argonner Barracks in Hanau are currently under redevelopment – the housing area is getting renovated, the former school on the premises is now a special educational center to support kids in the areas learning, language development and physical development, called Elisabeth-Schmitz-Schule. (I took a quick video, but with a different camera, so please excuse the quality…)

The Ray Barracks in Friedberg are famous for one special soldier, Rock and Roll legend Elvis Presley, who was part of the 3rd Armored Division and met his wife Priscilla while being stationed there. The base was closed in 2007 and it seems like not much has happened since then – the grass kept growing and the surrounding fence was airtight, so my buddy Torsten and I left after a couple of minutes, realizing that it was a big mistake to suffer through a painfully long evening rush hour traffic jam…

Last on the list of failures in Germany 2013 was a three location streak with my old friend Gil.
The Quartier Castelnau, a former French military base south of Trier, was under redevelopment in its third year and one big construction site. We found a way onto the premises in a very remote part, but there was not much to see, barely worth spending any time on – so we didn’t and moved on.
The Quartier DeLattre, another French occupational military base, was definitely closed, but not really abandoned either. Parts of it were used by the municipal works, but it didn’t look like there was much activity on the premises. Much more so outside. Lots of kids and walkers, including an old French guy and his wife who wanted to have another look at the place he spent a couple of years at almost half a century prior.
Third and final flop of the day (and the trip) was the so-called Weingeisthaus (Spirit of the Wine House, an old mansion in the middle of a vineyard, famous amongst urban explorers for its beautiful exterior and the dilapidated condition inside. It seemed though that somebody invested quite a bit of time and money to keep intruders out, installing two lines of pretty tight fences. Running out of time that day and respecting the effort, Gil and I took a couple of shots from the distance before leaving.

And that’s it. Lots of short impression, but nothing really spectacular. What do you think I should do with small / failed explorations in the future? Ignore them completely and pretend they never happened, write collections like this one or publish individual small articles, but keep them as the lead for only a day instead of a week?

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Urban exploration in China is something I thought I would never do – and actually only did by chance. In October of 2013 I was on my way to a second trip to North Korea; not *Pyongyang and the southern parts* again, but North Hamgyong province and the Special City Rason in the north of the DPRK. To reach those areas you don’t fly into Pyongyang via Beijing, but you enter and exit by land. Meeting point for those trips is the Chinese city Yanji, an up and coming 400.000 people town quite close to Russia and less than an hour away from the North Korean border. The tour to Korea ended on a Monday evening… and since Korean Air doesn’t offer any flights on Tuesdays I was stuck in Yanji for a whole day. My buddy Nikolai, who spent a couple of months learning Korean in this town without any tourist attractions at all, told me about a half-abandoned amusement park in the city center. “Half-abandoned” sounded like a dying amusement park to me, one with fewer visitors than necessary, one that is supposed to close soon. Little did I know that he meant an amusement park where literally half of the attractions were abandoned. And that’s not even the weirdest thing about it!

The People’s Park (人民公園) in Yanji looks like a normal public park when entering from the south – a big pond full of water plants, a couple of peddlers selling food and plastic toys, some sculptures (including tasteful nudes), a few benches, and senior citizens playing games at tables. After a couple of minutes you’ll reach animal cages and stalls filled with all kind of more or less exotic animals… as the People’s Park features a free public zoo. But that’s not all! Right where the zoo ends is a small dump area with a couple of abandoned seats, small stands and parts of carnival rides – and at first I thought that was what Nikolai meant when talking about the half-abandoned park. Boy, was I wrong!

Within earshot of the rusty remains I spotted small Ferris wheel, blasting some music into the silence of this sunny Tuesday noon. Customers? None. Potential customers? Only a few more.
The (not so) big wheel was surrounded by 15 to 20 other carnival rides. Two or three of them were also open and running, half a dozen others looked more or less well maintained – and the rest of them were actually abandoned, except for the single demolished one; paint flaking off, weeds growing through a mini roller coaster, seats weathering, concrete crumbling.
This place was so friggin weird! It looked like an abandoned pay-as-you-go amusement park, but it wasn’t, because every other minute you would run into some sweethearts looking for entertainment, and there was music playing in the background all the time; some of it being karaoke sung by a few senior citizens further up the hill. It was so creepy and bizarre – and calming yet very exciting at the same time! Usually I have to sneak around and jump some fences, especially when exploring abandoned theme parks… but not this time! Relaxed I made my way from attraction to attraction and took pictures of whatever I wanted at my own speed, not worrying about anything. When I thought it couldn’t get any better (except for being there on a misty day!) I hit the weirdo jackpot!
I’ve seen a haunted house or two in my lifetime, but none with a naked female torso breaking through the wall on the upper floor, a big hand trying to hold her back, partly covering one boob – next to a monstrous mutant face. But that’s not all! To the left and mid-air was a nude couple (male and female) in a grotesque pose, attacked by two gigantic green snakes – the guy’s face full of panic, the girl’s face barely visible, but clearly in agony, one of the snakes biting into her left shoulder and half of the exposed torso.
The back of the abandoned haunted house wasn’t a tiny bit less bizarre and probably my favorite area in the whole park. There I found a couple of concrete or gypsum animals lying on the ground and standing around, the greyish material spalling off in huge chunks, revealing steel wires underneath. Next to a path nearby was a huge Buddha statue rotting away, made of a Styrofoam looking material – accompanied by the concrete statue of a naked Chinese fairy, right in front of a white rabbit with red eyes carrying a gigantic mushroom… which at this point I felt I must have smoked earlier!

The *second abandoned Japanese sex museum* meets *Nara Dreamland*… with no security standards whatsoever. One of the remaining running rides was a monorail through half of the park. It’s height? About two meters – and no protection at all. I was able to touch the rail at any time and even smaller people carelessly stretching could get hurt seriously by one of the monowheel looking cars. Trash, broken glass and mirrors, rusty metal, brittle animal figures – everything was scattered in the woods around the park and nobody seemed to care about it.
The carnival section of the People’s Park in Yanji was one long bizarre exploration and one of my favorite abandoned amusement parks overall. Deserted theme parks are generally creepy, but the fact that this one was only half-abandoned took it to a whole new level!

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The Inagawa Trap Shooting in the suburbs of Osaka was one of Japan’s hottest urbex locations back when I started with urban exploration four years ago – huge overgrown buildings with lots of interior and tons of shotgun shells everywhere. It took me a while to figure out its exact location, but then I went there straight away on a sunny winter day…
Osaka is surrounded by several mountain ranges and the burbs often spread into other prefectures, especially Hyogo – the Inagawa Trap Shooting was located in one of those nice, a little bit remote neighborhoods full of single-family houses – and course I got lost, despite photos of the map on my camera. But I was inexperienced and pictures were not detailed enough… Luckily I found my way to a pond I had seen on several Japanese *haikyo* blogs and from that point on it was easy. I followed the partly overgrown path only… to find out that the Inagawa Trap Shooting was demolished!
What a downer… It took me quite long to find the place, so I was looking forward for weeks to visit it – and then it was just some small piles of rubble in the backyard of an ordinary suburb neighborhood. I clearly made another beginner’s mistake – I didn’t look hard enough for information about the location’s current state. To prevent other urban explorers from making the same mistake I created this *GoogleMap of demolished haikyo in Japan*. There you can have a look where you don’t need to go anymore… (Some of the locations of that map I was able to visit before they were demolished, so it’s worth a look even if you don’t plan on doing urbex in Japan yourself.)
With the Inagawa Trap Shooting almost completely gone there was not much I could do – but since the area was rather vast and I was pretty much an urbex noob (one of the first 20 explorations), it took me 1.5 hours to have a look at everything and to take some rather average photos. The most interesting part was a bit in the back – a couple of shacks, one of them filled with countless empty shotgun shells, another one being some kind of rest room and / or command hut; all of them in really bad condition. As I found out later, the shooting range was closed in 1989 and demolished in November 2007 – two years before I even began with urban exploration. Japanese blogs though kept reporting about the Inagawa Trap Shooting with photos of the intact buildings till at least 2012! But well, it took me almost four years to write about it, too…

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Festivalgate was a post real estate bubble amusement park in the city center of Osaka, just down the street of the famous Tennoji Zoo and right next to a transportation hub combining two railway lines at Shin-Imamiya Station with the tramway stop Minamikasumicho and the subway station Dobutsuen-mae (literally “in front of the animal park”) on the city’s main line Midosuji – although “amusement park” doesn’t really nail it, since the park part was missing. Festival Gate was more like an amusement building with all kinds of arcades, shops, a cinema, restaurants and a rollercoaster on eight floors with a total floor space of more than 5700 m². Though located in a densely populated area with perfect connection to public transportation Festivalgate offered parking space for 380 cars and 120 bikes. Nevertheless it failed twice within 10 years…

I guess the planning of Festivalgate started during the bubble (1986-1991), when the Osaka Municipal Transportation Bureau got rid of the Tennoji Streetcar Garage (大阪市電天王寺車庫). The then leveled lot was split into two parts, A and B – A was the location of the now demolished Festivalgate, on lot B the still operative Spa World was built (a spa wonderland with saunas, waterslides, a gym and themed areas from all around the world). For that the city founded a joint venture with the Mitsubishi UFJ Trust and Banking Corporation and the Chuo Mitsui Trust and Banking Co. (two of Japan’s biggest companies) to raise 50 billion Yen, back then about 290 million Euro / 350 million US$, nowadays 400 million Euro / 532 million US$ (not adjusted for inflation).

Festivalgate opened together with Spa World on July 18th 1997 with an underwater / Atlantis theme – little did they know that they would drown in debt soon…

The opening hours were rather long – 10:00 to 20:00 for stores, 10:00 to 22:00 for amusement facilities, 10:00 to 23:00 for eateries. To give Festivalgate a financial identity you were able to buy discount tickets at vending machines; for 1000 Yen you received a 1100 Yen card, for 3000 Yen you got a 3400 Yen card and for 5000 Yen you were able to enjoy 5800 Yen worth of fun. This was what the floor plan looked liked:
B1 – Underground walkway to Shin-Imamiya Station and Dobutsuen-mae Station.
1F – Miracle Gate: Entrance and main floor.
2F – Plaza Festa: Eateries and shopping.
3F – Festival Pier: Eateries and shopping with a West Coast theme.
4F – Oriental Festa: Eateries and shopping with a Marco Polo theme.
5F – Festa Mosque: Eateries and shopping with a Bazaar theme.
6F – Festa Lab: Arcade game zone (Sega World) with a Jules Verne theme.
7F – Cine Festival: Cinema complex with 4 screens for up to 600 guests total.
8F – View Festa: Restaurant area with a stunning view.

Since Festival was considered an amusement park (no entrance fee though!), of course there were pay as you go attractions scattered all over the floors 2 to 6 – for example 2F had the Mermaid Carousel, 3F had the entrance the parachute tower “Tower of Teos”, 4F had a cat petting zoo and a Chinese Ghost house, 5F had a kid’s land, an airgun museum and the entrance for the iconic rollercoaster and 6F was full of arcade machines run by Sega.

At the beginning Festivalgate was a huge success – in the first year (1997/98) 8.31 million visitors had a look, but in the following year the Asian Financial Crisis hit Japan and numbers dropped significantly. Four years later, which is one year after Universal Studios Japan opened in the south of Osaka, Festivalgate had only 3 million visitors – none of which paid an entrance fee… Shops and restaurants started to drop out and the downwards spiral could not be stopped – in January of 2004 the banks withdrew from the project, driving the Festival Gate Corporation into bankruptcy and leaving the city of Osaka with 20 billion Yen of debt. Orix, a financial service provider most famous for owning and sponsoring the baseball team Orix Buffaloes, stepped up in 2005, but dropped out when it became clear that Festivalgate was a bottomless pit. In January of 2007 the city of Osaka concluded that Festivalgate would cost 200 million Yen per year for maintenance and decided to get over with this unfortunate and highly unprofitable project – the remaining businesses were given notice and Festivalgate closed officially July 31st of the same year. After some back and forth with potential Korean investors the Japanese entertainment giant Maruhan (bets, pachinko parlors) bought Festivalgate in a third auction on January 30th 2009 with a winning bid of 1.4 billion Yen, announcing reconstruction plans soon after. The demolition of Festivalgate began in 2010 and it turned out to be a surprisingly time-consuming process given that Japanese wrecking crews usually are faster than a bunch of piranhas dealing with a chicken…
When I first went to Festivalgate on November 3rd 2010 there was little to nothing to explore, although it seems like the building was still accessible from 2007 till 2009, despite all shops and restaurants being closed. Demolition had already begun, but at least the underground passage and the entrance area on 1F was still accessible with signs announcing that this would change December 17th. Active Japanese construction sites usually are fortified – solid high fences all around, guards in front of every exit, sometimes with small lightsabers to stop pedestrians when vehicles are getting in or out. The Festivalgate deconstruction site was no exception. All potential entrances (including windows) were locked solidly, security was patrolling (probably to keep homeless people away since Festivalgate was in an area that has a rather bad reputation… by Japanese standards), fences were even higher than usual – 3.5 to 4 meters, not the normal 2.5 meters high ones. But not high enough to block the view from the elevated Osaka Loop Line! So I took a couple of photos… and again when I was visiting a friend for a Christmas party later that year. And again whenever I passed by – which wasn’t that often, but still enough to give you a general idea how things progressed. To my surprise it took more than two years to get rid of the ill-fortuned Festivalgate. Good for me (and you) as this article was only possible thanks to that… BTW: Sorry for the quality of the photos – they are not artistic at all, shot from crowded, moving trains, but I think they nevertheless are interesting.

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One of my favorite things about urban exploration is travelling. Most of the time I do day trips within Kansai, but every couple of months I go on mini vacations to other regions. *Okinawa*, *Kyushu*, *Hokkaido*, *Shikoku* … and a couple of more that will be revealed in the future.
I lived in Japan for several years before I started to visit abandoned places – and in those first years I barely travelled within Japan. Kansai has plenty of castles, temples and shrines, some of the most famous in all of Japan. More than enough to get templed out, shrined out and castled out, so I didn’t feel the urge to spend hundreds of bucks on train tickets – and then a similar amount on hotels. Only to see more castles, temples and shrines that look similar to what I can see down the street. Abandoned places on the other hand are unique – and some of them are actually worth spending a couple of hundred bucks, at least to me.
The spring of 2011 saw my second overnight trip to Shikoku. *During the first one* my favorite location on Japan’s least populated main island was the spectacular *Tokushima Countryside Clinic*, a small town doctor’s house, barely harmed by vandals and the ravages of time. My friend Gianluigi, an avid photographer for almost two decades, loved the photos I took at the clinic, so I convinced him to go on a road trip – I would show him that wonderfully spooky gem if we would stop on other abandoned places along the way…
If you are a regular reader of Abandoned Kansai you might remember two articles I wrote about really unique haikyo about half a year ago – the abandoned Japanese spa *Shimizu Onsen Center* and the giant Buddha statue / viewing platform *World Peace Giant Kannon*; both of them were actually part of this second trip to Shikoku.
So here is a complete list of all the locations:
Amano Hospital
Daiwa Pottery
Kuroshio Lodge
Shimizu Onsen Center
Tokushima Countryside Clinic Revisited
World Peace Giant Kannon

One of these places has been demolished since I visited it two years ago – you’ll find out soon which one… and then I’ll add it to my *GoogleMap of Demolished Haikyo*.

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Every once in a while you come across words in English that are actually German. Some of them you might know, like kindergarten or rucksack, others are not that well-known, like schadenfreude (malicious joy). Given that Great Britain is the home of modern rail transportation I didn’t expect to find a German term that doesn’t have an equivalent in English, but here we are: Ausbesserungswerk (composed of Ausbesserung = repair / correction and Werk = plant / facory). I never found a spelling with a lower case A, so I guess unlike the previous examples Ausbesserungswerk never became officially an English term, but there is an English Wikipedia entry, so that’s good enough for me…
So, what’s an Ausbesserungswerk? Well, an Ausbesserungswerk is a repair and upgrade shop for railway vehicles and their components. While the so-called Bahnbetriebswerke (train yard / depot / engine terminal – you get the idea…) take care of maintenance, small repairs and cleaning, the Ausbesserungswerke are responsible for bigger repairs, general inspections and modernization. Originally there were 84 Ausbesserungswerke all over Germany, but today there are only 18 left.

One of the closed, abandoned and partly demolished one is / was in the lovely town of Schwetzingen, famous for its palace Schloss Schwetzingen.
On October 14th 1912 the citizen’s committee of Schwetzingen unanimously decided to build an Ausbesserungswerk northeast of the train station. Construction began in 1913 and was finished in 1917 to be opened in 1918. Perfect timing, because due to World War I there was a huge demand for the repair of railroad vehicles and from its opening on the Ausbesserungswerk was the biggest employer in the Schwetzingen area for decades to come, with about 1100 people in 1920.
During World War II the Ausbesserungswerk was fortified with bunkers, some of them are still in existence today. Armored observation towers against air raids were installed on the top of some buildings and in late 1943 a shooting range was built on the business premises – resulting in air raids by the Royal Air Force on March 19th 1945, damaging the buildings and killing 22 employees.
From the 1960s on the Ausbesserungswerk Schwetzingen was in decline. The German post-war economic miracle was in full bloom and a lot of employees switched to more lucrative jobs. At first they were replaced by guest workers, but when there was less and less work the amount of employees was continuously reduced from 1974 with the objective to close the Ausbesserungswerk; against the will of the staff council and the works management. But resistance was futile and on October 11th 1983 the Federal Minister of Transportation signed a document to close the Ausbesserungswerk Schwetzingen. In April of 1987 some employees were relocated to the Ausbesserungswerk in Karlsruhe (closed in 1997, mostly demolished by now) and on December 31st 1989 more than 70 years of railroad history ended in Schwetzingen…
In the following years some of the buildings were used as a half-way house for ethnic German immigrants and applicants for asylum, but most of them were just left to decay and rot – kind of insane, since a couple of buildings of the Ausbesserungswerk were put under monumental protection, which means that they can’t be torn down just like that. That came into effect when in Mai of 2011 all the other buildings were demolished, to make room for a logistics center of the manufacturer of sports equipment, Decathlon, scheduled to be opened in April of 2013. The protected buildings were handed over to the city of Schwetzingen for free, shifting the responsibility (and cost…) to the general public. The federal state of Baden-Württemberg granted 1.5 million Euros in 2010 to redevelop the protected area in the southern part of the Ausbesserungswerk and the city of Schwetzingen is deciding these days what to do with the money and the buildings – most likely a mixed use for both residential and commercial purposes. Those plans might have been affected by a case of arson committed by an 18 year old homeless guy on March 21st 2012, causing damages to the amount of 100.000 Euros, but I’m not sure how or if at all.

The Ausbesserungswerk Schwetzingen was the first urbex location in Germany I ever visited. My trip back home in 2011 was rather rainy and disappointing in general, so when there finally was a sunny day I took my chance and had a look. It was a weird feeling though, since everything felt a bit “more real”. In Japan I can always pretend to not being able to read signs, that I got lost, that I don’t understand a word. In Germany those excuses are a lot harder to make, especially since I am not a good bullshitter in the first place. (On the other hand some things are a lot easier – on later explorations I was able to ask people passing by about the history of places and even ask for permission to take photos, both rather impossible for me to do in Japan…)
Sadly there wasn’t much to see anymore. Most buildings were either in really bad condition or completely bolted up with metal plates. There was an abandoned TV, some instructions signs on walls and a rule book regarding laundry and other aspects of daily life living in the half-way house, but that’s pretty much it. A nice stroll, 1.5 to 2 hours, the most interesting part probably the small playground for children in the back of the half-way house – nothing spectacular, but far from being a disappointment…

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More often than not I barely have any information about the places I visit in advance. Sometimes I only saw a photo and have a general idea where to look for the location. It was like that when visiting the *Bibai Bio Center* – and the Horonai Substation was not much different. A red brick building somewhere in the middle of nowhere – and a road leading there. That was it. I didn’t expect a spectacular location… and I didn’t find one. Nevertheless it was a good exploration with an interesting history, the first one on my *haikyo trip to Hokkaido*. *Michael* thought so, too – although he almost paid a steep price for making a snow angel…

History

The Horonai Mine has an incredibly and unusually long history, dating back to the early years of the Meiji Era (1868-1912). Back then it was a time of new departures and Hokkaido still was kind of unknown territory. Japan recently opened itself to the world after more than two and a half centuries of information and immigration control, relying heavily on foreign experts to accomplish in a couple of decades what Europe and the States took about a century – industrialization. Just a decade prior Hokkaido was still known as Ezochi and for its renitent inhabitants, but the new government in the newly appointed capital Tokyo pushed for the development of Japan’s most northern prefecture… and population rose from 58.000 to 240.000 in the mere ten years of the 1870s. Agriculture and mining became the prefecture’s most important industries – and while agriculture is still important (especially wheat, potatoes, pumpkins, corn, raw milk, and beef), mining isn’t. The amount of abandoned mines in Hokkaido is incredible, but since most of them are in extremely rural areas, often hours away from bigger cities, we decided to visit the Horonai Coal Mine as an example – because it wasn’t completely out of the way, came with an electrical substation and, to our surprise, with the Horonai Shrine.
It wasn’t until writing this article though that I found out that the Horonai Mine was actually Hokkaido’s oldest modern mine and that Hokkaido’s first railroad, the Horonai Railway, was built to establish and operate the Horonai Mine. It’s said that in 1868 a local resident discovered coal in Horonai, but it wasn’t until 1872 that the village received any attention, leading to a survey in 1873. Expecting massive amounts of high quality coal in Horonai plans were made concrete in 1877 and money was raised through industrial bonds in 1878 after important statesmen like Ito Hirobumi and Yamagata Aritomo visited the area in previous years and campaigned to establish a mine. Further surveys were conducted in May of 1878 and the mine was opened on December 18th 1878, reaching full production almost four years later in June of 1882.
Plans for the Horonai Railway, necessary to transport the coal mined in Horonai to places where it could be used, were finalized in December of 1879, so construction of the railway began in January of 1880, installation began in July of the same year – technology and knowledge was imported from the United States by J.U. Crawford, who oversaw the railway construction project for the Japanese government; the line was officially opened on September 13th 1883 and was used for the transportation of passengers as well as coal.
In 1889 both the mine and the railroad were privatized, probably for little money, as both of them were not profitable at all. This happened a lot in the late 19th century in Japan, strengthening the so-called zaibatsu (gigantic family controlled holding companies, amongst them still famous corporations like Mitsubishi, Mitsui, Sumitomo and Kawasaki), but also countless mid-sized companies (although sometimes even profitable companies were given away for a fraction of what they were worth…). Business continued for another 100 years and ended in 1989, when most of the buildings were demolished for security reasons – and because back then industrial heritage wasn’t considered worthy of preservation. (The Völklingen Ironworks in Völklingen, Germany, and the Zollverein Coal Mine Industrial Complex in Essen, Germany, were actually spearheading the idea of maintaining old industrial buildings, becoming UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 1994 and 2001 respectively.)
A not so fun “fun fact”: Like many other mines in Hokkaido, Horonai was taking advantage of prison labor. Not only during times of war, but in the early years, both before and after privatization. In 1883 250 prisoners worked next to 228 general laborers. In 1890 there were 1.043 prisoners and 183 normal workers “employed”, the forced labor accounting for more than 80% of the work force, extraction and transportation almost exclusively relying on prison labor! (It was actually thanks to the prison laborers that the Horonai Mine survived the first couple of years. From 1882 to 1888 the mine was deep in the red with only one profitable year and couldn’t even afford to implement mechanized coal transport – that actually happened only after it was privatized and exploited prisoners as cheap labor for years. And after the extraction costs per ton of coal were cut down to one sixth over the course of six years till privatization in 1889.)
The Horonai Mine also gathered some local fame in Japan when it was used as the setting of the second Season of Survivor (サバイバー) in 2002 – after Palau, but before the Philippines and North Mariana. Probably the most original setting ever and by now much more exotic than all those islands in the Pacific Ocean; they look all the same to me anyway! (I usually don’t link to other people’s Youtube videos, but *here is the intro to that season* in 240p. Don’t miss the *video I took at mine in late November* in 720p!)

Exploration

When we arrived on location the initial situation wasn’t promising. Several hundred meters before we reached the substation we had to park the car as the road was completely snowed in. Luckily there were tire tracks (we were able to walk in) from a more suitable vehicle, but the road itself wasn’t accessible with the small car we rented. As we got ready to walk up the hill we saw a guy and his dog coming back to their car. Nothing unusual, until we saw that the guy was carrying a rifle. Not the usual BB guns you have everywhere in Japan. A real friggin rifle! Even if he wasn’t shooting trespassers we were wondering what he was hunting in the forest ahead of us… and if his prey might want to get a shot at hunting us…
Nevertheless we followed the previously mentioned tire tracks deeper into the valley. To the right we saw several concrete ruins of the Horonai Mine, abandoned in 1989, when the mine was closed after 110 years. Everywhere along the road we found information signs (Japanese only…) and it seems like the area was converted into a “coal mine scene park” in 2005. It turned out that the first abandoned place on our trip wasn’t actually that abandoned, more like a tourist attraction – like the *Shime Coal Mine*, a.k.a. the *Anti-Zombie Fortress*. Of course there were no tourists seen anywhere, so I guess the place is only of interest in the snow-free summer months… and basically inaccessible the rest of the year. Michael of course was eager to head over to concrete remains, but given the deep snow and the unknown terrain I was able to convince him to look for the substation first – especially since the grey leftovers didn’t look like they contained anything interesting.

It took us about half an hour to walk from the parking lot to the substation and the tire tracks ended a couple of dozen meters before reaching our destination thanks to a collapsed tree on the road – from that point on we had to walk through the snow which was about 30 centimeters deep.
The Horonai Substation, a two-storey brick-clad concrete building, was built in the 1920s, more than 40 years after the mine was opened, and received its electricity from a coal fired power plant in Shimizusawa. That plant, which was fuelled by coal from the Yubari Mine, not the Horonai Mine, is still in existence and closed in 1991, but was not visited by yours truly as the roads leading there would have required a separate day trip.
Sadly there wasn’t that much to see: The metal constructions of the transformers and the brick covered building – locked by a solid chain, but luckily Michael found another way in. The building clearly was in use during summer months, featuring some kind of exhibition with lots of exhibits and huge control panels from the good old days.
More interesting was the Horonai Shrine, which obviously was completely covered by snow, too, and probably as half-abandoned as the Horonai Substation. Located right next to the substation on a small plateau up a slope, the shrine offered a nice view at the remains below. At that point it started to snow and I don’t know why, but there is an amazing peacefulness about deserted snow-covered shrines. Michael was still down at the substation, so all I heard was snow falling – perfect tranquility.
Overall the Horonai location wasn’t spectacular, but at that point I hadn’t explored many snow covered (more or less) abandoned places, so it was a good start into the trip!

Snow Angel

Oh, after all those paragraphs about the mine’s history I almost forgot about the snow angel! It seems like either Michael or I have a serious amount of bad luck when exploring together. In spring I broke my D90 on our *haikyo trip to southern Honshu* – and I already mentioned Michael’s misstep at the *Hokkaido Sex Museum*. His bad luck started earlier though, when he insisted on making a snow angel on the way back to the car. I thought it was a bad idea in the first place as it was cold and he was jumping spine first onto unknown ground (concrete, rocks, metal, …), but everything went fine until the point when Michael first took off his glasses and then stood up shortly after, realizing that his glasses were gone. In a comedy movie kind of situation he asked me to watch my steps – the last words barely left his mouth when he moved one of his legs and we both heard a crushing sound. The spectacle frame under his boot wasn’t only bent, but broken. Well, bent and broken. Michael, the designated driver on this tour since my license isn’t valid in Japan, had some contact lenses with him, but they would have only last for two or three days – shorter than the trip. So on the way to our second hotel we were looking for a glasses store. 5 minutes to 8 p.m. (i.e. closing time) on a national holiday (!) I spotted one. Not only were they able to fix Michael’s glasses in a miracle operation taking almost half an hour, they did it for free and also give mine a new polish. Quite a few people complain about the (lack of post-buy) service in Japan (and I admit that sometimes it can drive you nuts!), but the glasses shops here are amazing and saved not only the day, but kind of the whole trip…

(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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