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Archive for the ‘Factory’ Category

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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An abandoned TV factory and electronic devices repair center with hundreds of displays still sitting around in their original boxes – sounds too crazy to be true? Well, you better believe your eyes…
While last week’s article about the *Yakuza Love Hotel* was definitely story driven, this one is all about the photos and videos as there is little to nothing known about the factory and its history. It just sits there abandoned. Probably since 2008, according to the calendars. While the assembly lines have been removed, leaving rather large floor spaces behind, some of the repair stations were still more or less intact – spare parts sitting on shelves at the walls. (It seems like one of their customers was Sega, most likely with their arcade machine business.) The really mind-blowing part though were the stacks of brand-new merchandise all over the place – large TV screens, no-name 12 inch green displays (!), 15 inch color monitors by iiyama! It seems like the company was focusing 100% on CRT technology and was wiped out when the world quickly moved on to flat-screen LED displays and TFT-LCDs.
Exploring the Japanese TV Factory And Monitor Repair Center was an absolutely amazing experience. While it’s always great to explore famous locations like *Nara Dreamland* or the *Nakagusuku Hotel Ruin*, it’s the unique hidden gems I am really after – and this factory is as unique and hidden as it gets; much like the now demolished *Japanese Sex Museum* and the still Abandoned Kansai exclusive *Wakayama Beach Hotel*.

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The Internationale Baumaschinenfabrik AG (IBAG, „International Construction Machinery Inc.“) in Neustadt, Germany, was a large manufacturer of building site equipment – from rock crushers over transit-truck mixers to revolving tower cranes, the IBAG built it all… until 1997, then they went bankrupt.

For about 1.5 decades the 6 hectare large area wasn’t used at all due to inherited waste, rundown structures and the lack of interest of potential investors – a fact that didn’t keep the state from declaring the old machine hall a cultural monument in 2001; which meant that the main structure had to be preserved and couldn’t be demolished. (It was built in 1910 by Wayss and Freytag, a famous German construction company.) From 2005 on the city started to develop a… development plan, deciding how much of the area could be used commercially and how much had to be residential. Since the former IBAG plant was located right next to a commuter train station (Neustadt-Böbig), an investor was found and rehabilitation work / cleaning up started in 2012 – soon after I explored the area with my sister Sabine in a last chance visit.
Due to the (de)construction activity the area was fortified with barbed wire and high fences, reports about security made the rounds, but nevertheless we found a way in. After just minutes on the premises, we just had left a room with a rusty waggon and went into one of a main halls, a young man ran past by us, completely ignoring us, leaving the site as if chased by the devil himself. Quite rattled by the surreal event we followed the guy outside, but weren’t able to catch him – nor was he followed by security, the police or guard dogs. After a few minutes we went back in, passed through another hall and heard noises again… voices… somebody singing… the radio of a security guard? No, somebody was singing live in the hall next to ours; the IBAG Hall, the one under monumental protection. We finished exploring the massive hall we were in (including a wall with a graffiti, collapsed / brought down after the artist was done with his work) and headed over to the IBAG Hall, the name still in large rusty letters above the half-opened roll-up door. The singing voice belonged to a gorgeous blonde of casting show age, but she and her filming companion were about to wrap up and left soon thereafter – once again leaving us alone on the risky premises on a workday afternoon. The IBAG Hall and its extensions to the side were absolutely beautiful, but thanks to large windows and big gates we were exposed almost all the time despite being inside a building. I addition to that we were running late for an appointment, so we wrapped up ourselves and left – if you are interested in the IBAG Hall, you’ll find more interesting shots in the video than in the gallery; sorry about that.
About a year after Sabine and I explored the Internationale Baumaschinenfabrik AG (in the summer of 2012) all the buildings on the premises were demolished, except for the IBAG Hall. Redevelopment of the area began soon after, including a supermarket, a drug store and 130 residential units; split across detached houses, duplex houses and row houses. The first project, the supermarket, was planned to open in summer 2015…
Sadly I didn’t find out much about the IBAG’s pre-bankruptcy history, probably because the company existed before the age of the internet – and while it was a big one with international ties all over the world, it wasn’t a brand of worldwide recognition; especially in its later years.
Exploring the IBAG was quite an unusual experience. Usually I avoid places with construction activities and security, but in this case I was just too curious – and of course the exploration turned out to be as nerve-wrecking and surreal as feared; from the runner just minutes after our arrival to the singing blonde towards the end. Since there are not many huge abandoned industrial sites in Japan, I was happy to finally explore one, though in the end there was not that much to see. Most rooms were already cleared and the two or three buildings we didn’t enter looked extremely dilapidated; potential death traps. But overall it was an interesting exploration – nothing mind-blowing, like the *Abandoned Dynamite Mine*, but still a good exploration…

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The remains of the Nakagawa Brick Factory are a conglomerate of old bakestone buildings dating back to the Meji era (1868-1912), Japan’s questionable return to the global community. As mentioned in several articles before, back then the Imperial government hired hundreds of foreign experts to turn the agricultural society into a modern industrialized country (much like North Korea currently does in Kaesong and Rason). Back then one construction material barely known and used in Japan was bricks – because brick buildings are heavy and vulnerable to earthquakes; which are not a problem in central Europe, where bricks were quite popular. Nevertheless bricks were introduced to Japan, mainly to build previously unknown, modern western buildings like train stations (like the famous one in Tokyo), ballroom buildings, beer breweries, and all kinds of industrial installations, like transformer stations (the one in *Horonai, Hokkaido* comes to mind).

The Nakagawa Brick Factory dates back to the year 1883 when Nakagawa Hisao of the Koto Group founded the factory in Omihachiman, back then famous for trading and pottery. The heart of the factory was a so-called Hoffmann kiln, a huge oven for the perpetual baking of bricks and other pottery, invented by German master builder Friedrich Hoffmann. 14 meters wide, 55 meters long and with a chimney 30 meters tall the kiln at the Nakagawa Brick Factory is the largest of four remaining Hoffmann kilns in Japan – at one point in time there were more than 50… From 1886 on, the factory produced bricks for the Lake Biwa Canal (under construction from 1885 till 1890), which connects Lake Biwa with Kyoto and was essential for the modernization of the former capital – the first public hydroelectric power generator provided electricity for Kyoto’s tram, the canal itself provided tap water, and until the 1940 the canal was important to transport goods; interestingly enough about 10 years ago I wrote a paper at university about “The Modernization of Kyoto in the Meiji Era”, little did I know that one day a kiln providing bricks for the Lake Biwa Canal would be part of my urban explorations…
After the canal was finished, the Koto factory was officially named Nakagawa Brick Factory and continued to produce and sell bricks until 1967, although the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 once again proved that bricks weren’t good construction material for Japan; that and the rising cement industry were the downfall for brick producers.

Today most ways to enter the kiln are blocked by sandbags or wooden planks, but of course you can imagine that there is always somebody to get rid of blockades like that – which doesn’t mean that you are allowed to enter. When *Rory* and I did for the second or third time, a woman called a guy who politely asked us to leave as it was way too dangerous to be in there. So of course we left, especially since we had more than enough time to take photos and a quick video. (Technically the factory isn’t abandoned and belongs to the Township of Red Bricks nursing home close to the kiln.)

Right next to the Hoffmann kiln we found another brick building in terrible condition. With the roof and one of the walls gone, the machine inside was exposed to the elements 24/7 – only people were barred from entering by a solid fence. The huge metal machine, made by Ishikawa Iron Works of Aichi prefecture and rusted beyond repair, once must have been used to form bricks to be burnt in the kiln.
There are other buildings associated with the Nakagawa Brick Factory in Omihachiman, but none of them is in good condition, although the factory was selected to represent the industrial heritage of Japan by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry – much like the *Shime Coal Mine* in Fukuoka, a.k.a. the Anti-Zombie Fortress.

It was a rather short exploration and doing research for this article actually took much longer than exploring the Hoffmann kiln in Omihachiman, nevertheless it was an interesting place to see. Like I mentioned earlier, I studied Japanese history when I was young, but in this case I even wrote about a canal built with bricks that were made at this very kiln almost 130 years prior – and that’s why I love urban exploration so much. Because even not so spectacular places can provide you with a unique experience, that connects you with history in a way books or movies never can…

BTW: These days the city of Omihachiman is famous all over Japan thanks to a local bakery named “Club Harie”, which, by common opinion, makes the best Baumkuchen in the whole country – and therefore in all of the world. As you may or may not know, Baumkuchen (tree cake) is of German origin… and so the beautiful old city of Omihachiman is fuelled by German engineering and inventions for more than 130 years now.

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