Archive for the ‘Driving School’ Category

And now to something completely different – an abandoned driving school in Japan. Well, since it’s abandoned and in Japan I guess it’s not that different, but how many abandoned driving schools have you seen? Especially since it’s so much more than just a driving school, at least by what I’m used to.
In Germany a driving school more often than not is a two room “office”. One small real office room and a bigger seminar room where the driving instructor is having his lessons several times a week. Not much more space needed, because German driving schools tend to be small, at least when I got my driver’s license more than 15 years ago. The one to three driving instructors usually are out on the road, because that’s where the real money is for them. Pretty much all driving school cars in Germany are manual / stick-shift cars – probably because there is only one license (no separate automatic-only license!). Most cars in Germany, except for taxis, have manual transmission anyways. A lot of Japanese people are surprised when I tell them about it, even more so when they find out that you don’t have to renew your driver’s license in Germany. It’s lifelong unless you mess up by violating traffic rules too often.
In Japan (and probably your country) the situation is a bit different. First of all: Most cars in Japan have automatic transmission, which kind of makes sense since traffic here can be nerve- and ankle-wrecking. So when you enter a driving school you have the choice between a “general” manual license and a “limited” automatic-only license. And a surprisingly high number of Japanese people actually have a automatic-only license – which feels totally wrong from my German point of view since I would never give up that kind of control over my car; to me shifting gears manually is part of the fun and it (usually…) reduces fuel consumption. Even worse: In Japan you have to renew you license every 3 years, which costs time and money – if you managed to not violate any traffic laws for 5 years you get gold status and have to renew your license only every 5 years. But it gets worse! New drivers have to put a yellow and green sticker to their car denouncing them as beginners. If you are a senior citizen age 75 or above you need a orange-yellow sticker – guess why. (None of that bullshit in the land of the Autobahn!)
The biggest difference between a driving school in Germany and a driving school in Japan is what we would call a “Verkehrsübungsplatz” in German. It seems like there is neither an English nor a Japanese term, but the literal translation would be something like “traffic training location” – a place that has roads and traffic lights and crosswalks, but is on private property, separated from normal traffic; and therefore you are allowed to practice driving there without having a license (if you at least 16 years old, have an experienced co-driver with a regular driver’s license and are able to pay an hourly fee). In Germany those place are separate from driving schools and usually run by automobile clubs. In Japan those traffic training locations are part of the driving school, which is kind of ironic given the fact that Japan has oh so little space… But it gives the students the great opportunity to practice safely in a driving school car. Worst case scenario in Germany: After a couple of theory lessons and a general instruction by the driving instructor you are pushed right into traffic…
About 2 years ago I spent quite a lot of time researching new places. Nowadays you can find at least 50% of the locations popping up on blogs on one map or the other, but 2 years ago that was a dream! (Now it’s actually a nightmare since urban exploration is going to become a victim of its own popularity soon. Maybe not this year or next, but soon…) Japanese blogs have the funny tendency to obscure names by leaving out kanji in the text decriptions, just to show the full name on the photos coming along with blog entry. Happens all the time. In late 2009 I found the blog of a guy showcasing an abandoned driving school, but of course he wasn’t willing to give up the name or even the location. He just said it was a driving school in Hyogo and that the company is bankrupt now, but has a succession company with a similar name. So I did some research with Google and found out about the Daikyo Driving School and its successor. Sadly the original Daikyo school went bust before the internet got popular, so there was no way to find out about the exact locations of the old schools, just the cities they were in. Luckily the same guy was bragging about his GoogleMaps skills – showing different zoom levels of the same place, which turned out to be the driving school. The guy was pretty smart not showing any train stations and other landmarks, but since I narrowed the location of the school to a couple of towns it took me about 20 minutes to compare his screenshots with the current GoogleMaps satellite images and then I knew where it was…
Abandoned driving schools are pretty rare, especially in Japan. Usually they are rather close to train stations since their customers are depending on public transportation. But land close to railroad stations is rather expensive – and driving schools take up a lot of space since they have that huge training area, so I’m sure realtors can’t wait for them to go bust.
The Daikyo Driving School I went to was located in the same distance of 3 train stations, all about 30 to 40 minutes away by foot; forest on one side, surrounded by fields on the other three. Only a few farm houses in sight. And of course the owners of the closest one had to have a big party exactly on the day that I wanted to explore the Daikyo Driving School. Cars were coming almost constantly, parking up to the only entrance of the driving school. So I took my time circling the place, looking for other ways in, but there weren’t any. So after about half an hour I thought “Screw it!” and just went in, not sure if anybody saw me and how they would react if they did. Luckily nobody was able to see or hear me once I was inside since the driving school was slightly elevated with a beautiful view at the surrounding area.
Abandoned places in Japan have a reputation of being mostly undamaged due to the lack of vandalism – which isn’t true. My experience with urbex outside of Japan is limited to Germany and Luxembourg (*Pripyat / Chernobyl* in Ukraine is kind of a special case), but I can’t say modern ruins in Japan are in better condition overall than back home. Some are, some aren’t. The Daikyo Driving School was not. A couple of the inner walls were smashed in, the more solid outer walls were smeared with graffiti. Furniture not bolted to the ground was dragged outside and / or severely damaged, electrical installations were ripped out. Overall the building was in pretty bad shape and I was kind of surprised that the really rusty chairs and tables of the one “modern” lecture room weren’t smashed to pieces. For a rather remote and virtually unknown place abandoned for only about 15 years the school was in pretty bad shape, especially in comparison to other similar locations like the *Jumbo Club Hotel Awaji Island*. It was actually way more beautiful from the outside than the inside. Since it’s getting dark rather early in Japan the training area was equipped with floodlights, now as overgrown as the school building and most other installations on the premises.
Overall the abandoned Daikyo Driving School was a nice and unspectacular exploration, which I appreciate now, two years later, way more than back then – once you’ve realized that a lot of deserted places in Japan are either hotels or mines a unique deserted place like an abandoned driving school is a welcome change.

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