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Archive for the ‘Factory’ Category

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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Almost completely demolished, yet exploration fun for more than two hours – this Sumitomo Osaka Cement Factory delivered one last time!

Sumitomo is one of the oldest companies in all of Japan, tracing their roots back to Masatomo Sumitomo, who gave up his life as a Buddhist priest to become a businessman at age 45 in 1630. Starting with a shop selling books and medicine in Kyoto, he later became closely associated with copper – his brother-in-law Riemon Soga had learned from Europeans how to separate silver from unrefined copper in the late 16th century… and when Soga’s first son Tomomochi married one of Sumitomo’s daughters, the business expanded to Osaka under the Sumitomo name. In the following centuries the company diversified and became one of Japan’s four big conglomerates called zaibatsu; along with Mitsui, Mitsubishi and the now dissolved Yasuda.
After ignoring the cement market for decades, Sumitomo got into the business in the early 60s, when the demand for coal plummeted and the subsidiary Sumitomo Coal Mining was looking for new opportunities. In 1962 Sumitomo invested in one of Japan’s most successful cement producers, Iwaki Cement, and basically took them over in 1963. The new company soon opened / acquired more plants and in 1994 merged with competitor Osaka Cement to form the Sumitomo Osaka Cement Co., Ltd – one of their plants was in Shiga prefecture and ran from 1952 till 2003; shortly afterwards the demolition of the factory and partly new use of the premises began.

When my buddy Marvin came to visit from Berlin, it was pretty clear that we wouldn’t meet at a cute little café to spend 12 bucks on a piece of cake and a cup of coffee – instead we took the opportunity for a ride to the Shiga countryside on a lovely September Sunday; one of the first bearable days after a long, hot and humid summer. The Sumitomo Osaka Cement Factory was the second location of the day as its current condition was pretty much unknown to us, the area a blurry spot on GoogleMaps. All I knew was that demolition had started years ago and that there was at least one new company on the former factory ground. We approached from the south and it turned out that the area was a lot bigger than I expected – easily 400 by 800 meters, including the active looking part, most of it (sight) protected by partly overgrown fences; some fitted with barbed wire, some just plain fences of various kinds. When we found a section that looked like a possible entrance, Marvin was eager to get in, but I had a bad feeling and wasn’t ready to finish scouting yet; good decision as the area behind that fence was accessible from other places and still in use. About 15 minutes later I finally gave in at a gate we were able to pass easily. I still wasn’t fully convinced that it was a good idea, but most urbex noobs have an untainted enthusiasm that is infectious. We explored the former back of the now mostly demolished cement plant and actually found an open gate with no “Do not enter! / No Trespassing!” signs, which calmed me down noticeably. Still in the upper back part, all of a sudden I heard a heavy truck approaching – it turned out that they still loaded rocks on trucks there, they just stopped the production of cement. So Marvin and headed for cover and were just able to duck down before the truck rushed through. Phew, close call!
To avoid further run-ins with heavy trucks we headed down the slope to the concrete remains of the former cement factory, away from the main road crossing the vast premises. Technically there wasn’t much to see – one or two rusty machines here, some rusty packing devices there; but the atmosphere was just amazing. Very post-apocalyptic, like straight out of a Terminator or Mad Mad movie, the scorching sun on the almost clear sky physically supporting the feeling. Who would have thought that shooting a 90% demolished factory could be that much fun? There is just something about gigantic ferroconcrete structures I can’t get enough of…
Yet the most interesting part was actually a Hitachi transformer station, partly stripped, but still equipped with some switchboxes and all kinds of steampunk looking metal and ceramics parts. Sadly there were mosquitos everywhere, eating us alive and rendering some photos unusable.

Despite the fact that most of the plant was gone already, this was an amazing exploration – especially since at the time I didn’t know what kind of industrial complex the Sumitomo Osaka Cement Factory had been. I knew it under the name “Sumitomo Plant”, so it could have been anything. Just by looking at the remains and the surroundings, we figured out that it must have been a cement factory; later research at home confirmed our assumptions and revealed a lot more about the plant and its history. Good times!

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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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