Archive for the ‘Factory’ Category

This internationally active, award winning Japanese glasses company featured several interesting offices and meeting rooms, two large floors of manufacturing / repairing space – and a goddamn cat!

Approaching this unremarkable and rather well maintained building in the industrial suburbs of a mid-sized Japanese town, it became pretty quickly apparent that this exploration could turn out much more difficult than anticipated. Except for a damaged gate and some unkept plants, there was only one sign that this building wasn’t in use anymore – and it was literally a sign, put up by a realtor… which meant that depending how old this sign was, the building technically wasn’t abandoned.
Due to several active companies in the neighborhood it was out of question to try the front door – unfortunately the potential back entrance / delivery bay was in sight from the road AND a next door trucking company, which was surprisingly busy at the time of my visit, considering that it was a Saturday. But you don’t drive for hours on a day off and then get scared off by technicalities like that, so my friend Shota and I rushed to the back and took cover in the shade of what probably was the outdoor part of the company’s ventilation system. It was a hot spring day (and unfortunately not a hot spring day – those are so much more relaxing, especially in winter!) and pretty much every living creature was looking for a cool spot. Something we didn’t consider when we climbed up the loading bay (no steps or ladders…) to get inside the building though what looked like a pried open and slightly overgrown backdoor. All of sudden one of the most bloodcurdling scream I’ve ever heard and some furry thing sprinting at thunder speed between Shota and I, almost giving me a heart attack! A goddamn cat was lying in the shadow unnoticed, feeling the urge to run away instead of staying cool by keeping cool. Friggin hell, I’m getting too old for this shit!
Fortunately the back door was indeed open, so after making sure that nobody was alert by the little ruckus, we slipped through an opening and got inside.

The abandoned Japanese Glasses Company turned out to be a large building with a lot of empty space. Award winning in the early 90s (including at least two Good Design Awards of the Japan Industrial Design Promotion Organization / Japan Institute of Design Promotion) and bankrupt 20 years later, financial disaster apparently didn’t strike by surprise – almost all rooms were empty, which was especially disappointing in the case of the large production / repair spaces. Even the offices and meeting rooms were mostly empty. A couple of display cases here, some boxes with a few documents there… and three safes by three different manufacturers: Crown, Naiki, and Waco. Navigating some of the rooms wasn’t exactly easy as we could have been easily spotted from the outside through some large – and the possibility that a real estate agent could have shown up at any moment wasn’t a nerve-calmer either. My favorite part of this location was the office of the company’s president – thick carpet flooring, two heavy desks (one for work, one for small meetings), wooden wall paneling; and a large world with Japan in the center. Ah, the 80s… when Japan reached for world dominance once more, only to be stopped last second again… and without nukes this time though.

From an objective point of view the abandoned Japanese Glasses Company was a slightly above average exploration at best. Too much empty space, not a very good risk/reward rate, quite a long drive to get there. Nevertheless I liked the location quite a bit. I had never seen pictures of the location before (or since…), so it felt like a real exploration. Abandoned glasses companies are probably quite rare and the left behind stuff in the upper offices was interesting indeed – especially that large map. I knew they existed and I’ve seen them before on pictures, nevertheless it was quite thought-provoking to actually stand in front of one in an abandoned office that was in use for several decades. It’s always a pleasure to question your own views, in my case Eurocentric ones.

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Driving through the mountains in Japan is always a pleasure. Most of the time it’s just a relaxing ride – but sometimes you’ll find something unique, like a Scented Woodchips Factory…

Last week I was too busy to write even a short article for Abandoned Kansai – unfortunately the situation didn’t change much (and probably won’t for the next couple of weeks as spring tends to be the busiest time of the year in Japan for many reasons…), so please bear with me for a couple of smaller locations and shorter articles, like this one, about a barn-sized location I found by chance on the way to another location. In a more urban environment this not too shabby looking building most likely wouldn’t have stood out enough to even stop, but when you find something like that surrounded by abandoned stuff, people like me tend to have a closer look.
Upon entering I had no idea at all what I had found. The were a couple of machines, some “hidden” behind a large blue tarp as well as countless boxes, sacks, and other containers full of… stuff. The main area split up into a hallway leading to the back, a rather large kitchen to the left and another storage / machine room to the right. At first I thought it was kind of a restaurant, the machines maybe for candy cotton and other candy production, but thanks to my fellow explorer I found out that the machine in the main area was a dryer and that most of the containers were filled with woodchips. Through the door in the back was what looked like some kind of smoker and the machine in the sunny room was actually used to portion and bag the scented woodchips – probably to use in baths? Or under cushions? I don’t know, I’m not much of a wellness guy and unfortunately there was no final product left behind, only raw materials. (The newest calendar was from about 10 years ago, which kind of makes sense – other than that I don’t know anything about this company as there was no paperwork left behind nor were there any signs of signage.

The Scented Woodchips Factory was a nice little exploration between two much more spectacular ones; interesting, unique remains you won’t see very often as an urban explorer – if at all. A very welcome change to all the hotels, hospitals, theme parks, and schools that usually dominate the exploration schedules!

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Nature loves Germany – no earthquakes, no hurricanes, no tornados, hardly any venomous animals or floods! So bricks as a building material have been popular and in high demand for centuries… just not high enough to save the Brick Factory Rhine.

The Brick Factory Rhine was built in 1965 and therefore was a rather modern and large scale brickworks. Business was good for about 30 years, but in 2001 the financials finally collapsed and a company collecting and disposing materials like dioxin and asbestos moved onto the premises, actually using the ovens to burn off some of the stuff – when it also went bust after five years, tons of special waste were stored all over the place. It took local authorities three years and almost 2 million EUR to get rid of the inherited waste and they took over in 2012 when the compound was finally foreclosed – and of course soon later a case of arson destroyed the offices (causing damages of about 50k EUR). Not much happened since then. The local authorities are trying to sell the property, but developing a legally binding land-use plan apparently takes forever, especially since the factory is on land that gets flooded regularly once every decade or so.
In Japan I try to stay away from “abandoned” properties that are owned by the state, because… of bad experiences, but in Germany state employees are much more relaxed than in post-Imperial Japan. When I grew up in Germany, the police was promoted as “Your friend and helper”, with the informal version of “your” – and I don’t recall a single bad experience with the guys. In addition to that, the brick factory is in the middle of nowhere, but along a somewhat busy road, so we parked out of sight and walked the remaining couple of hundred meters. Nowadays there seems to be a construction fence around the property, but back in 2014 you could just walk in and have a look around. Unfortunately I explored the factory after the place was cleaned out… and after the arson, so there weren’t a lot of items left behind. Nevertheless the Brick Factory Rhine offered quite a few photo opportunities just based on the fact that it was a big abandoned industrial site with all kinds of tanks, pipes and ovens – which is hard to find in Japan, for whatever reason; I guess here factories are used till they are held together by little more than chewing gum and duct tape – and then they turn into dust during the next typhoon. The lack of items also made the factory look much better than it actually did, because there wasn’t a lot of broken stuff lying around, despite the fact that pretty much everything left behind was actually broken. An unusual, handheld, quick (40 minutes + plus video) exploration. I’ve experienced worse… 🙂

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Small factory, but not small business – concrete is big in Japan!

Cement… concrete… Same difference, right? Well, not really. Cement is actually an ingredient of concrete – along with sand and gravel. That’s why cement factories tend to be much bigger and more rare than concrete factories. Just like most flour factories are much bigger than most bakeries… You can actually find concrete factories everywhere in Japan, because there are so many of them – barely ever abandoned though, because business is good. Despite being only 1/25 the size of the United States, Japan uses as much concrete per year! For buildings, bridges, and roads, of course, but especially for dams and Tetrapods – about half of Japan’s 35000 kilometers long coastline has been smothered with some kind of concrete. Business is good, especially since there seems to be a strong connection between politics and the cement / concrete industry – Asō Tarō, for example, the former Prime Minister of Japan, not only was previously the president of Aso Cement; his family owns the company… Since 2012 he’s the Minister of Finance under Abe – and partly responsible for the insane concrete fortification of the Tohoku coastal line in the aftermath of the 2011 tsunami…)
A couple of years ago I found and explored this abandoned concrete factory right next to a big road, which made maneuvering around not exactly easy, but I guess after a while I just ignored the heavy traffic. It was a rather open area with half a dozen ways in and out, so in case of somebody approaching me there would have been alternatives to talking it over. Fortunately that wasn’t necessary, despite me taking my time for something like two hours.

Exploring the Small Concrete Factory was a decent experience at the time, given that industrial ruins are much more uncommon in Japan than in the rest of the world – unfortunately it was just a tiny facility in comparison to the *Sumitomo Osaka Cement Factory* or some of the places I explored in *Hokkaido*.

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Industrial ruins are rather rare in central Japan, so I was quite a happy fella when I had the opportunity to explore this little gem in the outskirts of a major city about two and a half years ago…

Abandoned hotels, schools, hospitals… some might even say theme parks… are a dime a dozen in Japan, but industrial ruins are rather rare, unless you go to Kyushu and Hokkaido, Japan’s former mining centers – and even though Japan has a gigantic concrete industry and therefore countless limestone mines, they rather seem to move on than being abandoned; leaving huge scars even on famous mountains, like Shiga’s Mount Ibuki.
On a warm autumn day about two and a half years ago I had the pleasure to explore Heiwa Factory – unfortunately it’s a pretty common name, and by the looks of it, this Heiwa factory had been abandoned long before the internet became popular… or was even invented. In other words: I don’t know anything about the history of this place and my best guess is that it was yet *another concrete factory*.
Despite the lack of information it was a pretty neat exploration. I love abandoned factories and this one was out of order for quite long by the time I finally explored it, resulting in vandalism free decay you don’t see very often – it looked like straight out of one of those “what if humans would disappear from one day to the next” TV features.

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Only a few things are more exciting to me than exploring abandoned places I found by myself – sadly not all explorations go as planned…

Urbex can be really frustrating at times. Some trips didn’t even start, because I was not able to locate a desired place. Others ended or almost ended due to broken equipment or injuries. Summers tend to be too hot and humid in Japan, winters can be rather cold – that usually doesn’t keep me from exploring, but I definitely go out there more often in spring and autumn. Another huge frustration factor are (possible) co-explorers. I think I spend more time talking about explorations than actually go exploring, because half of the people in Japan are oh so busy, the other half is just plain unreliable. Hardly a month without “Let’s go exploring together!” or “Let’s have dinner!” e-mails from strangers – maybe one or two per year follow through in the end, some even having the nerves to just not show up; which makes me appreciate my regular co-explorers even more! (Interestingly enough 95% of those efforts to get in contact with me are from or about Kansai – personally I am much more interested in possible collaborators in the south of Kyushu, south of Honshu, Shikoku or Tohoku…)
I was very excited about the weekend trip to Ishikawa: I found a handful of places I hadn’t seen on the internet before, knew a local expat I had been talking to for about two years via e-mail, the weather forecast was promising – no doubt a fun trip, despite the five hour long journey to the first location with a really early start after a regular week of work. And then my local contact went silent on the evening before the trip, after not being able to tell me if they were in the area or on a weekend trip themselves. Faaaan-tastic! Luckily the first day went as planned and I had a great day with great locations and great food – it was as good as solo explorations get. The second day? Not so much!
The weather forecast predicted sunshine for the whole weekend, and since this was only a two day trip, I tried everything to travel light, including leaving my folding umbrella at home. When I woke up to an overcast sky I didn’t worry too much. Mornings here often are overcast and then turn sunny, so I grabbed my backpack and my tripod and made my way to a small train station – so far in the countryside that there weren’t any open stores on a Sunday morning, not even a kombini; one of those 24/7 supermarkets that sell nearly everything. Long story short: It was raining upon my arrival. Within minutes the rain turned into sleet, and I still had a 25 minute walk ahead of me. Since the first location of the day was a large factory that looked extremely promising and accessible on GoogleMaps I pushed forward, only a thin towel between me and pneumonia…

My good morning mood dropping with every step, I finally reached the factory; its gate wide open. Yes! I walked up the wide driveway and reached a large asphalted yard. To the right a medium sized storage building, in front of me the factory complex, to the right a 2-storey administrative building. The whole setup reminded me a bit of the industrial revolution – some (wannabe) tycoon in his Western style office welcoming potential customers, people slaving in the large manufacturing halls below and behind him. And the building actually lived up to it to some degree. Just big enough for a handful of offices, including what seemed to be a first aid station to quickly treat urgent work injuries. Sadly the building was mostly empty, except for a large, rather modern safe I wasn’t able to open – that thing was definitely not 100 years old…
But parts of the factory could have been. The front door was locked, nevertheless I was very motivated to find another way in, despite the fact that it was still sleeting. And that the whole factory was surrounded by undergrowth; about half of it of the thorny kind. It turned out that the factory consisted of more than half a dozen connected buildings of different age. After a while I found access to a really old and quite small part – unfortunately the door connecting it to the rest of the complex was stuck or maybe even welded shut. A few minutes later I was outside again, not only tired, scratched up, and wet, but also dirty from head to toe. Soon the undergrowth became so thick and nasty that I had to give up, so I tried to circle the factory the other way, which ended at a rather high open window and a steep slope. I took a photo through said window and called it a day, deeply frustrated. The second location of the day would have been outdoors and about an hour away on foot, something I really wasn’t in the mood for on this extremely disappointing day. Fortunately I only had to wait 20 minutes for the once an hour train, but guess what – 20 minutes into the 4 hour long ride back to Osaka it finally stopped raining and the sun came out. Lucky me, eh?

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We all know that Britons are peculiar when it comes to tea, and I hope my British readers forgive me for saying this out loud, but… who cares? Half of Asia already had a highly developed tea culture at a time when your island was still up for grabs – and half of Europe actually gave it shot! Nevertheless I couldn’t resist giving this abandoned Japanese tea factory a pseudo-early modern British name… in honor of you guys doing something very Japanese at the time: taking a foreign food item and just totally owning it! 🙂

Why did I give that abandoned tea factory a made-up name? Well, mainly because there is no official name known to the best of my knowledge. Japanese people usually call it the equivalent of “Abandoned Tea Factory next to Kowada Station”, which is terribly uncreative and way too descriptive for my taste.
The history of the place is rather interesting, though pretty much none of it is confirmed as Ye Olde Tea Factory is indeed quite an old tea factory. Located just below Kowada Station on a rather steep slope at the banks of the Tenryu River in an area famous for tea plantations, the factory is said to be founded in 1950. Back then it was just another small business in a rather remote area. That changed drastically seven years later, when the Sakuma Dam downstream started operating – the water level of the Tenryu River rose significantly, apparently not only setting some houses under water, but also cutting both the factory and the train station off the road network. Yes, neither the factory nor the train station are accessible by car anymore – a fact I was unaware of one and a half years prior to my successful exploration, when I passed through the area and failed to reach the dam(n) thing. I am not sure if that cut-off was part of the plan, but since construction of the dam began in 1952, the owners of the factory probably weren’t aware of it – and most likely neither were the people living a couple of hundred meters up the river or the people running the restaurant / inn (?) next to the tea factory… all abandoned now, too. Since the trains kept running (south to north: 7 connections per day, north to south 6 connections) and the area was / is beautiful for hiking, people apparently continued to live in the area till the late 1970s / early 1980s. (The nearby Azuki Station was built in 1955 as a result of rerouting the Iida Line, while Kowada Station remained where it was originally established in 1936.) About 30 years ago that part of the Tenryu River bank, including the factory and the soon to be written about building next to it, was finally abandoned and the number of passengers using the Kowada Station dropped to six per day in average – given that I used it to arrive and to depart, I most likely counted as two passengers. You can access the area by hiking and mountain bike, too, but the remaining roads and paths are narrow and worn out, some of them are completely overgrown, others suffer regularly from falling rocks and tree parts; some sections even require climbing ladders! Originally I considered hiking to the next station north or south, but after checking out the remaining infrastructure and the fact that I was exploring solo, I decided not to for safety reasons – just scouting the area I considered dangerous enough…

Exploring Ye Olde Tea Factory was rather easy and relaxing though, despite the fact that the wooden shack probably will collapse during the next bigger earthquake. It was basically three levels carved into a slope and covered by some slabs of wood and corrugated iron… and then stuffed with all kinds of machinery. As you can see in the video, it was a rather small factory, but the heavy metal objects left behind all looked very unfamiliar to me. I am not an expert on tea or industrial machines, and if I wouldn’t have known that it was a tea factory, I probably wouldn’t have guessed it; especially since I didn’t see a single tea plant in the four hours I spent in the area. (Yes, I skipped a train…) Overall a fun day outdoors, though the more than five hours it took me to get there was a major turnoff!

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