Archive for the ‘Gifu’ Category

When I first came to Japan in 1998 the country had only 4.1 million foreign visitors. I was in my second year at university, traveled alone and barely ever saw another tourist (despite being there during cherry blossom season!), neither the internet nor cell phones were common, and Japan had a reputation for being kind of “inaccessible” – and expensive. The good old days…

By the time I moved to Japan in 2006 the number of tourists had almost doubled to 7.3 million, but that didn’t really matter to me, especially since they kept going up and down. Being a tourist and being an expat (i.e. being a tax payer with a job!) are two completely different things, two completely different experiences; especially in Japan. It’s like visiting an amusement park and working in an amusement park! And as a new hire at a Japanese company I neither had the time nor the financial resources, so for the first two or three years all I saw of Japan was Kansai in day trips. Now, there is a lot to see and do in this area, so I didn’t feel restricted – I was just living my daily life and my vacation time I spent visiting family and friends back home.
In late 2009 I picked up urban exploration as a hobby and a few months later started this blog, Abandoned Kansai. Kansai, because that was my home, the area I was familiar with, the area I traveled well. Not Abandoned Japan, because I never expected that I would travel much outside of Kansai – I hadn’t for three years, so why start now?
Well, because I wanted to document certain abandoned places in other prefectures, as I realized rather quickly… Two months after the *Mount Atago Cable Car* I did my first exploration in another region (Chubu), three months later I went to another main island (Kyushu) – and eight years later I traveled so much that I covered all nine regions of Japan (Hokkaido, Tohoku, Kanto, Chubu, Kansai, Chugoku, Shikoku, Kyushu, and Okinawa) within one calendar year! Though it wasn’t until 2020 that I had visited and explored abandoned places in all of Japan’s 47 prefectures… (Ehime was last ؘ– by something like two years!)
For the first few years those urbex trips were more or less strictly urbex trips. I did them to explore certain abandoned places, *a lot of which don’t exist anymore as described in this article*, with little time for other things to do, except enjoying local food after sunset. And I didn’t think much about it, because I lived in Japan. I could go sightseeing at any time anyway! Meanwhile Abe and his monkey bunch decided that Japan should be a vacation destination (under his reign the number of tourists exploded from 6.2 million to 31.9 million visitors!) and aggressively pushed for overseas tourists by devaluating the Yen, propaganda campaigns and tax exemptions for shoppers from overseas while raising taxes on his own people, including doubling the consumption tax in two steps. Anyway, Japan became more and more popular worldwide, including among urban explorers, some of which came for hardcore trips with half a dozen locations per day, hardly any sleep, and definitely no sightseeing – which changed my attitude towards my own trips within Japan significantly around 2015/2016, because I felt so sorry for those poor souls who came all this way and experienced little more than moldy buildings similar to others in the rest of the world. Unfortunately for me around that time Japan had already passed the 20 million mass market mark, 5 times as many tourists as I was used to in 1998. Nearby places like Kyoto and Nara had already become unbearable as I found out on occasion when friends and family visited me in my new home country, but even in places like Otaru I heard more Chinese than Japanese in the streets as tourists from China went from 267k in 1998 to 9.6 million in 2019, the last full year of worldwide tourism before the coronavirus. To me overtourism is one of the ultimate turnoffs in life. And that’s a general thing. When I’m in Otaru I don’t want to hear Chinese everywhere, when I’m at the Great Wall I don’t want to hear Italian everywhere, when I’m at the Coliseum I don’t want to hear German everywhere, when I’m at the Berlin Wall I don’t want to hear Russian everywhere, when I’m at the Red Square I don’t want to hear French everywhere – and when I’m at the Eiffel Tower I don’t want Japanese to be the dominant language. So as much as I tried to implement touristic places into my urbex trips I mainly limited them to rather off the beaten track locations like Hirosaki or Lake Ikeda, because even places like Hakodate, Kanazawa, or Nagasaki had been overrun by the Eurasian hordes. (And it’s not just the amount of people and their constant yapping, it’s also the (misbehaving) type of people that visited Japan in recent years. When the country was still special interest, in the 20th century, people went to Japan for specific reasons; to see or do something, to educate themselves about a certain topic – nowadays it seems to be a cool Instagram location for dumb phonies with selfish sticks that book flights to Japan and then go through the Top 5 lists on Instagram, Tripadvisor, or some “True soul of Japan!!!” blogger to find out what they can actually brag about on social media with. The amount of signs EVERYWHERE about “How to use a toilet!” / “How to not misbehave!” in four languages has become ridiculous and should be embarrassing to every person visiting Japan. Unfortunately most tourists don’t seem to be bothered by those signs as they are too self-absorbed and busy taking selfies, but as somebody who lives here I feel bad that locals need to state the obvious so often as visitors have become a serious nuisance.)

When the coronavirus spread across the world in late 2019 / early 2020 Japan was one of the last countries to close its borders, desperately clinging to its Frankenstein’s monster tourism industry and the Tokyo Olympics. Despite that, the country was hit much less hard than most others due to cultural coincidences – Japanese people are not exactly affectionate in public / outside of the family, and wearing masks is a long-standing flu season tradition, so what prevented spreading the coronavirus (avoiding close contact and wearing masks) was common practice in Japan anyway. If kisses on the cheeks and drinking red wine would have prevented the disease, France would have done much better and Japan would have been screwed… Anyway, Japan did comparatively well (though it is currently hitting record high numbers!), so the overall terribly phlegmatic Japanese government imposed only few restrictions, most of them in form of “recommendations”. Since recommendations usually are considered orders due to preemptive obedience, I spent most of the summer 2020 working from home, a liberating and deeply frustrating experience at the same time as I didn’t meet any friends for months and left my hamster cage maybe three times a week for grocery shopping to avoid the second wave, that’s it; work, eat, sleep, repeat. The same for a few weeks around New Year’s Day – while Japanese people were visiting their families (recommendations are only followed unless people really don’t want to…) I sat alone at home and skyped with mine to get past the third wave.

February: Matsumoto, Nagano, Obuse, Gero, Takayama, Shirakawa-go, Kanazawa
In early 2020 things went “back to normal” in Japan with as few as 698 new cases per day nationwide (Kanto and Kansai being responsible for the vast majority of cases and some prefectures going down to 0 active cases and no new infections for weeks!), so I decided to jump on the opportunity and visit some places that had been unbearably crowed in the last five to eight years – especially since some of my regular co-explorers had become increasingly busy with fur and other babies. My first main destination on February 12th, after nights in Matsumoto and Nagano (where I had been years prior on the way to the abandoned *Asama Volcano Museum*), were the famous onsen snow macaques in the Jigokudani Monkey Park; a place so touristy and swamped that my buddy Hamish discouraged me from going there many, many years ago. Upon my arrival towards noon I shared the park with hardly more than a dozen people, and that number barely doubled during my hour long stay there – now that turned out even much better than I had hoped for in my wildest dreams! 🙂 So for the next weekend I made even bolder plans, for a place usually so overrun by busloads of foreign and domestic tourists that you could have offered me serious money to go there and I would have declined without hesitating – Shirakawa-go in winter! And to make it the ultimate challenge I added Takayama the day before and Kanazawa the day after, with a quick stop in Gero on the way to Takayama. What can I say? Gero was lovely, Takayama absolutely gorgeous, Kanazawa virtually empty (I was able to take photos in the old samurai district without people ruining them!), and Shirakawa-go… Shirakawa-go was still busy, but bearable. Already borderline too busy for my taste, but knowing that there usually were five or ten times as many people made me enjoy my visit much more than expected. (The car parking lots were rather busy, the bus parking spots basically empty – the lack of mass tourism saved my day!)

March 2021: Hokkaido, Yamaguchi, Kamakura / Hakone
March started with another touristy trip to Hokkaido. If you are a regular of Abandoned Kansai and paid attention reading my article about the *Toya-Usu Geopark* you already know that I had been up north in early November – too early for the drift ice of the Okhotsk Sea, so I went back just four months and a coronavirus wave later. Despite the unusually warm weather in Abashiri (10°C!) I was able to experience the drift ice by pure luck before moving on to Kitami and the peppermint museum, Onneyu Onsen and the fox farm, as well as the mostly closed Sounkyo Onsen and its ice festival (-9°C and strong wind!). Also worth mentioning was my stop in Asahikawa and its cross country ski track right behind the main train station in the city center. Gotta love Japan! Two weeks later I took advantage of the early cherry blossom season and went south – Iwakuni, Tsuwano, Hagi, and Akiyoshido / Akiyoshidai. All four places rather off the beaten tracks, but even more so in the spring of 2021. On both of those trips I didn’t see a single non-Asian person after my first stop (New Chitose Airport and Iwakuni respectively), which gave me serious flashbacks to 1998 – not only did I enjoy both of those trips tremendously, I felt young again! 🙂
Next a trip to Kanto (Kamakura, Odawara, Hakone) with a quick stop in Omihachiman on the way back – as expected full of ups and downs, both literally and figuratively… and with significantly more people than on the trips before. Overall worth the time and effort, but especially Hakone seemed terribly overrated to me (the Museum Of Photography is a joke, but the pizza at 808 Monsmare made up for that disappointment).

April: Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route, Tsumago / Magome
Which brings us to April and one more cliché destination for Instagram victims: the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route with the Tateyama Snow Wall and the Kurobe Dam. The latter is impressive, but in the end just a dam with little to see and do in spring, whereas the snow wall is only accessible / existing in spring as that part is closed in winter. Summer and autumn promises tons of nature, a boat cruise on Lake Kurobe, and heaps of hiking trails, but when you do the route in spring you basically only get the snow wall and lots of waiting in line without proper social distancing / climbing stairs. Really disappointing! Fortunately I was able to visit two gorgeous post towns called Tsumago and Magome on my way back to Osucka, which was absolutely lovely – I’d call them hidden gems, but Magome was already surprisingly busy, I can only imagine how insanely crowded the town has been and probably will be again soon.

May: Oga, Akita, Tsuruoka, Niigata, Aizu-Wakamatsu, Ouchi
Golden Week was my final opportunity to travel before most of Japan will turn into a hot and humid hellhole for about four months, so I went to Tohoku for the first time in three years, mainly for those locations: The Namahage Museum in Oga, Dewa Sanzan and the five-storey pagoda of Mount Haguro as well as Aizu-Wakamatsu for the Sazaedo (a 225 year old wooden temple with a double-helix staircase) and the Ouchi post town – and my really high expectations were fulfilled and partly surpassed. All of those places were absolutely gorgeous, especially the pagoda and the temple; both of which I had to myself for a couple of minutes between small groups of people supporting domestic tourism like I did. To get to Ouchi I took a tourist train to Yunokami Onsen that featured animations in dark tunnels and made special stops at Ashinomaki Onsen Station (as it “employs” cats as the station master and the rail manager…) as well as at scenic spots along the route. I was the only passenger that day, so the train driver consulted with the conductor that I had taken all the photos I needed before continuing, while the train’s shop lady (on special trains exclusive merchandising is often sold) was visibly amused by the situation; of course there were limits to that, bit apparently we had two or three minutes of wiggle room and weirdly enough they let me take advantage of that!

Final thoughts
Attached you’ll find a rather large gallery… the largest in Abandoned Kansai history. All photos are freehand snapshots as I didn’t bring my tripod or much time to any of those late winter / early spring trips, on some of which I struggled with the weather and lighting (wind, rain, snow, rather extreme temperatures, (lack of) clouds, darkness). Despite having done a lot less urbex than usual this year, this was definitely my most active and probably my favorite spring I’ve spent in Japan. Overtourism has become a problem for many countries and maybe this health crisis will initiate some change – domestic tourists should be more appreciated instead of alienated… and quality instead of quantity be attracted!
I don’t think anybody who experienced 31.9 million tourists to Japan in 2019 really wants to live through 60 million tourists in 2030… Not even the many of my friends who actually work(ed) in the tourism industry!

Oh, and if you are interested in specific locations or trips let me know – I might expand some of those quick sneak peaks into full articles. But first I will publish a spectacular abandoned place next week, one of my all-time favorites. Easily Top 10! 🙂

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Timing is everything… and in this case it allowed me to explore a closed shopping mall that was currently being prepared for demolition!

In spring of 2017 I went to Gifu to explore the *Riverside Mall* – more or less a failure as it was already under demolition and the place was crowded with workers… so I got kicked out after just a few minutes on the premises. While I took some additional shots over some fences my buddy Mark googled the mall and malls nearby and found out that there was another abandoned one just down the road, the LC World Mall. So of course we headed there to have a look, just in case.
Upon arrival the mall and the circumstances gave me a weird vibe. It looked like there were still employees in the back. Near the former main entrance there was some scaffolding a few fences, and a few cars parked – but nobody around. So we found a parking spot, too, and the main entrance open wide. Weird. I was hesitant to go in, but fearless Mark just headed inside. “I’m just looking for a toilet!” Yeah, that might work for some people, but I’m not much of a bullshitter (who looks for a toilet at a shopping mall under demolition when there is a kombini every 100 meters?), so I’m having a hard time telling stories like that. As a result I only took some photos of the closed supermarket near the entrance… and from the outside. And then I waited for Mark to come back… and waited… and waited. When he didn’t show up after a while I actually went in, too – looking for my lost friend. Not a BS story, but the honest truth. It took me about 20 minutes to find Mark, in which I shot two videos while walking around, plus I took a few photos – all freehand and without any prep at rather high ISO, basically quick snapshots to make the most of this… tricky situation… When I found Mark I urged him to get the f# out of there, which was probably a good idea as more and more construction workers showed up – heading towards (our) exit, we saw about 15 at the main entrance. Mumbling some standardized greetings we walked straight past the group towards the car, despite catching the attention of a foreman. (Grunts in Japan don’t care about anything, taking on responsibility is something nobody does voluntarily on purpose, so only people who have it had forced on them already speak up in situations like that.) We ignored the guy, got in the car and drove off as quickly as possible…
So, no. The LC World Mall wasn’t really abandoned, it was closed and prepped for demolition. Places like that usually don’t get abandoned at all, especially in Japan. Nobody gives up properties like that here! So we had lucky timing that we came between the thing being shut down and being demolished. Because thanks to the gutting crew the front door was open. And thanks to our very special timing, nobody guarded it. As it turned out we arrived at the mall at around 12:10 – enough time for the worked to leave for lunch or gather in the back! When I finally found Mark and we headed back, it was pretty much 13:00 (or 1 p.m.) – so we hit by chance the lunch sweet spot when nobody paid attention and nobody cared. (The vast majority of workers in Japan, be it blue or white collar, have a one hour lunch break between 12 and 1, often announced by bells or melodies. Who needs flex time when you can be treated like a school kid?) If we would have come 10 minutes earlier we probably wouldn’t have been able to enter, if we would have stayed 10 minutes longer somebody most likely would have called the cops – to least make sure that we didn’t steal anything…

The LC World Mall definitely wasn’t my kind of exploration for a variety of reasons, but in hindsight everything went well, so it was totally worth it. And how often do you have the opportunity to see a shopping mall being prepared for demolition? So from that perspective it was at least an interesting exploration!

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People often ask me how I find all the locations I present here on Abandoned Kansai – and one of the answers is: Being lucky when driving around.

“Hey, over there. Kinda looks abandoned!”
“Shall be have a look?”
“Couldn’t hurt…”
“Oh, there is a handwritten “For Sale” sign at the entrance!”
“Shall have a closer look?”
“Well, there are roads on three sides of it… and the main area is lower than the streets, but we’re already here, so what the heck!”

Five minutes later we were in, constantly under the eyes of cars passing by, which was kind of nerve-wrecking, because you never know who actually sees you… and who might call the police or the number on the previously mentioned For Sale sign. Two foreigners at an abandoned factory? That wouldn’t sit well in any country, and two white guys stick out in Japan anywhere!
Usually I enjoy the luxury of shooting abandoned places with a tripod – for better framing as I don’t do enhancing post-production, for better picture quality as I can afford shooting on low ISO, and just for the overall experience. In generally try to lead a slow lifestyle, rushing things is something I dislike almost as much as pointless waiting. Considering the size of the Gifu Macadam Plant though, this really was a rushed exploration: 45 minutes including the video walkthrough. Luckily it was a very bright day, so I didn’t have to worry about exposure times for the most part, but the lack of a tripod also explains the rather low amount of indoor photos, though there wasn’t that much to see indoor in the first place. Despite the fact that the plant apparently was for sale, most easily accessible wires were already cut and stolen, rendering the plant useless; aside from all the rust and the clogged belts and… Metal thieves are a huge factor when it comes to urbex in Japan as they often do the dirty work of breaking into buildings. (Many years ago I found a newly abandoned hotel in the middle of nowhere, in excellent condition, probably with electricity still running – no way in. Last year I returned and found a jimmied door at the back. Everything was still in good condition, except that somebody stole all the ACs and looked for cable vents. I’ve never seen the hotel on any urbex blog and I still haven’t published my own exploration…)
Unfortunately I don’t know much about the Gifu Macadam Plant, except that it was still in use six years ago – thanks to Google StreetView. But I guess that’s not really a surprise… It belongs / belonged to a small local business with another plant. And this one actually looked pretty rundown. I’m no expert for industrial plants and I know a lot of them look beyond repair and still have a decade or two in them, but this one looked pretty busted. Being on the taller and heavier side I stayed on the ground anyway, but my more acrobatic co-explorer climbed some stairs and gave up after a while – and I’ve never ever seen him giving up. (Once he got two of us into an abandoned hospital after a circus worthy contorting performance…) It was nevertheless a fun exploration, a perfect snack on the way between two established locations – and a nice addition to the beautiful *Takarazuka Macadam Industrial Plant*, which I wrote about more than six years ago…

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With hanami parties everywhere, spring is officially conquering Japan, quickly ending skiing season in almost all parts of the country for the first half of the year – time to have a look at one of the most impressive abandoned ski areas I’ve ever visited!

Ski resorts are a dime a dozen in Japan; abandoned ones, too. Sadly not in the Kansai area, where I live. There are a few places where you can ski in day trip range, but serious skiers go as far as Hakuba (near Nagano) even for weekend trips. Abandoned ski resorts date back to the 1940s (that’s when oldest one I found was closed, not opened!), but there are not many of them. In the past I wrote about the *Kyoto Ski Resort*, the *Mt. Hiei Artificial Ski Slope* and one called *Alpen Rose* – this time let’s head north, towards Hakuba, but stop about halfway in Gifu prefecture.

The Gifu Ski Piste was actually part of a bigger resort, but closed down about half a decade ago, most likely due to the lack of customers, while the rest of the resort kept running; only 4 kilometers closer to civilization. Fully autonomous, the Gifu Ski Piste had its own lift(s) and its own rest house with a fully functional hotel and ski / snowboard rental. All the owner had to do to save money was shut everything down and have the few guests ski on the remaining slopes. And if business would have picked up again, it would have been quite easy to revive the dormant slope after a season or two. But business didn’t pick up and there is only so long you can wait before buildings suffer damages just from sitting there… and so the ski lift was dismantled, sealing the fate of this once fine place. Sometimes a 4 kilometer ride up and down rather narrow roads can make the difference between success and failure.

I had little to no expectation when arriving at the Gifu Ski Piste, mainly because the place is virtually unknown to the internet and has only appeared on a Japanese ski blog, but not on any urbex blogs, at least to the best of my knowledge. Furthermore I hadn’t seen any inside photos in advance, which is usually a sign for inaccessibility, alarm systems or security. This was urban exploration in its truest exploration form. (Quite a few abandoned places in Japan, and I guess it’s the same worldwide, are photographed to death – I prefer those rather unknown locations, where you can let your eyes wander to find new angles and new things to take pictures of.)
At first sight the rest house looked in really good condition, luckily the dismantled ski lift was stored in the former parking lot, so it was pretty clear that this ski area was abandoned. Yet no windows were broken, no doors were smashed… and after having a peek inside through windows, it was clear that this place was shut down on purpose with the option to reopen.
We finally gained entrance through an unlocked door in the back, but taking photos inside turned out to be much more difficult than anticipated, since the building was massive and didn’t have that many windows, except for the huge glass panels in the front. Strong light / darkness contrasts almost everywhere, and being in the middle of the mountains on a spring afternoon didn’t help either; neither did the lack of a tripod. Sadly most photos didn’t turn out nearly as well as I thought they did – because at the time of this exploration, it was definitely my favorite abandoned ski resort, and exploring it was a blast. (Since then I went to the *Gunma Ski Resort* and an even better one still unpublished…)

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Spring is the perfect time for hanami haikyo – exploring abandoned places while the plum and cherry blossoms are in full bloom. The window of opportunity every year is small, especially during cold and rainy springs, but this year I was luckily to hit one of those perfect days early in the year…

A few years ago I saw the remains of what appeared to be a playground on some random Japanese blog. Another source called it an abandoned amusement park. And then some photos of a golden Buddha statue appeared. It took me a while to piece all those pieces together – and afterwards I knew as much about that mysterious place as before… plus its exact location on a small mountain in Gifu prefecture; very countryside, and so I explored in Gifu and passed through Gifu several times before I was finally able to visit the Golden Buddha Park myself – most likely not its original name, but the fake names Japanese blogs used make even less sense, so mine is as good as theirs.
In the Japanese countryside GoogleMaps often is little more than a general hint, especially when construction is going on, so Dan, Kyoto, Spencer and I (big group this time!) knew where we had to go, but didn’t exactly know how to get there. After several twists and turns we reached a strange area where about a dozen regular cars were parked on what appeared to be an abandoned road with small abandoned houses – and one active apartment building at the end, much too small to house everybody parking there. We turned back again and parked at pretty much the last available spot, next to a partly collapsed house and an overgrown and dried-out pond. The paved street had turned into a cobblestone road, the condition getting worse and worse, so we decided to walk. Soon even the cobblestones were missing and we hiked up what appeared to be a dirt road getting narrower and narrower, becoming more and more overgrown. But we were on the right track as I remember a mushroom shaped resting area I saw on photos years prior. At that point there was a rift about half a meter deep splitting the road / wide path we were on. A strange place and probably creepy as hell on a foggy day. After a couple of minutes we reached some kind of plateau with a metal beam cage – probably for bird or maybe a small feline predator. There was trash all over the nearby slope and a vandalized bus was rusting away, offering the first good photo opportunity of the day. Opposite of the bus and mostly overgrown were several flights of stairs, some handrails and other concrete leftovers – it seems like there had been a now mostly demolished solid building once, but what it was… your guess is as good as mine. Next to the construction ruin we found a massive flight of stairs leading up the mountain, one huge concrete elephant statue on each side, with the weirdest plastic eyes I have ever seen; also worth mentioning: since the trunk was crumbling away we could see that there was a hose inside, so those statues were probably able to spray water…
On top of the mountain / hill we finally saw the golden Buddha in its white dome, lined with cherry trees. What a sight! But it was also guarded by two statues that probably were supposed to be dogs or lions, but looked more aliens – or alions… The statues with their weird eyes formed an unnerving contrast to the tranquil atmosphere of the Buddha and the countryside beauty. Such a strange place!
Upon closer look the base of the interesting looking concrete construction must have been hollow as we found a door on the back. Since it was locked we rather climbed the socket and had a closer look at the statue. Most of it was actually undamaged, but the gold leaves of lowest part, even in reach of small people, needed some refoiling.
Sadly there we no sign or other hints what this could have been, so after a while we hiked back down the mountain to our car. There we had a closer look at the dried out pond and the neighboring building, probably a conference center or something like that. The front was already collapsed and the interior had seen much better days, too. With that, our motivation to go through another half a dozen abandoned houses dwindled and we decided to call it a day – if Japanese explorers were not able to figure out what this strange setup was, we figured it would be rather unlikely that we will. And it was a good decision, because later that day we found the most amazing *abandoned ski resort* ever. But that’s the story of another time…

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All of the photos I publish with articles on Abandoned Kansai are without any form of enhancing post-production – I don’t even crop them; they either look good or they don’t. Every once in a while I like to play with an HDR tool or two. I wouldn’t call those photos enhanced or improved, I would barely call them photos anymore. That’s why I created a sub-page for them in the background. Today I added ten more of those little artworks to that page. *Please click here to have a look!*

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After leaving the first location of the Kasuga Mine (*Kasuga Mine A*) *Damon*, Andrew and I continued to the second site – much easier to find, much easier to enter, much more popular on the internet. Not so much amongst foreign urban explorers in Japan, the more so amongst Japanese. Nevertheless hardly anybody is willing or able to share some hard data about the Kasuga Mine (not to be confused with the still active Kasuga Gold Mine in Kyushu!). One of the things I found out is that the Kasuga Mine was a dolomite mine. Dolomite is used in the production of magnesium (as a source of magnesium oxide) and as a concrete aggregate – sometimes it’s used as an ornamental stone, but its physical properties (hardness, cleavage) doesn’t make it very popular for that use; it was one of the materials though the *reactor at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant* was filled up with after the catastrophe, so 25 years ago it probably saved mankind…

When we arrived at the second mine in Kasuga the sun was already pretty low and time was running out. The area was dominated by a huge complex made of steel and wood in rather questionable condition – this place was definitely abandoned. While I was cautiously taking photos Damon was fearlessly all over the place. At one point he was climbing through a collapsed building, not knowing if there was solid ground under the debris or not. He made it to the other side alive and found the entrance to a very old-style mine, so I was like “Screw it!” and followed him. Luckily I brought my flashlight, because it was dark in there – darker than a black steer’s tookus on a moonless prairie night. And luckily I was wearing hiking boots, because the water pipes in there were leaking. I know for sure, because I was able to take a photo of one of the leaks. Without a tripod. Modern digital cameras are wonderful!

What we found was indeed a very old style mine shaft. Surprisingly spacious as I was able to walk upright for most of the time, nevertheless claustrophobic, especially the parts where the wooden support logs were rotting away and already collapsed. If you liked the video I took at the *abandoned Japanese Sex Museum* you will love the one I took at the Kasuga Mine. It felt like straight out of a survival horror game. And since the mine could have collapsed at any time I guess it really was like straight out of a survival horror game – we actually saw dead ends where it already happened. The absolute highlight was… Well, if you really want to know then watch the video, I won’t spoil it for you here. But what I saw made the Kasuga Mine a very memorable exploration! (That’s the reason why the videos are first this time – the photos will spoil the third video…)

Nevertheless I was very happy to leave this abandoned mine shaft. It just didn’t feel right. Back at the main building we didn’t want to overuse our luck and it was almost dark already anyway. And this is how the exploration of three abandoned mines on a single day ended – on a high note!

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I love abandoned mines. Love them. And I can’t even say why. Maybe it’s the combination of brittle wood and rusty iron. Maybe it’s because I first got really interested in urban exploration when I was a university student and participated in a seminar that took place every two weeks at the Zeche Zollverein (in English known as the Zollverein Coal Mine Industrial Complex), which became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in December 2001. It’s probably because most of them are in the middle of nowhere, so nobody cares about them anymore. Or maybe it’s because they put the exploration in urban exploration…

After *Damon*, Andrew and I explored the *Tsuchikura Mine* in spring last year we continued to drive on countryside roads to go to another mine way less known than the rather famous Tsuchikura Mine – the Kasuga Mine.

“Kasuga Mine” is actually a collective term for several mines in the immediate vicinity of the small town of Kasuga, a former village in Gifu hardly anybody has heard of. This cluster of small houses and huts was so countryside that most roads were wide enough for only one car and so remote that GoogleMaps was completely useless locating any of those mines – luckily I was able to locate two of them otherwise.

The first mine we went to, I call it “Kasuga Mine A” for the sake of distinguishing it from the other one, still seemed to be active in parts, although we didn’t know that when we started exploring it. We found a clearly abandoned loading terminal halfway up the mountain. A gigantic conveyor belt on a steep slope indicated that there was more further up the hill. We climbed the slope and found the belt being fed by a metal construction at a wall at least three or four meters high. Why I’m more the cautious type loaded with photography equipment Damon is a honey badger with a pocket camera. Before I was even able to suggest finding another way up that climbing the ladderless metal construction he had already climbed it, Andrew (quiet and without a camera) right behind him. Slightly frustrated being left behind I made my way down over the overgrown stone steps back to the terminal. From there I continued walking up the mountain and, after ignoring a warning sign about poisonous snakes, I found the upper part of the metal construction and the entrance to a dangerously decaying mine – my fellow explorers nowhere to be seen. While I was still taking photos of the area Damon and Andrew came back and told me that this entrance is connected to complex of tunnels most likely still in use. They heard noises and turned around to avoid being caught. Not eager to run into trouble myself we decided to return to the main street (“main street”… funny… more like “dangerously narrow road in decent condition”) and to follow it on foot for a while. After a couple of 100 meters the road split – to the right was a chained off tunnel clearly still in use, to the left the road continued after warning signs letting people know that only authorized personnel is permitted hereafter. And at that moment a mini truck passed by going up the mountain. So we called it a day at this location and decided to continue to the other one. The sun was going down already anyway and we were running out of time…

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In mid-December of 2011 the North Korean “Dear Leader” Kim Jong-il died coincidentally at around the same time I wrote my article about the abandoned *K-1 Pachinko Parlor* (about 30 to 40 % of Japanese pachinko parlors have ties to North Korea)  – and the whole North Korea thing came back to my mind. You know, my urge to visit North Korea being limited by my unwillingness to support the system by spending money on it.
I’ve been growing up in a divided country myself (Germany) and I’ve been fascinated by dystopian literature and movies as well as the aesthetics of run down architecture for about two decades, so I guess a certain interest in North Korea was only natural – especially when living in a neighboring country, Japan, for more than 5 years now.
Exploring abandoned buildings in North Korea will most likely be off-limits for quite a while; unless you are North Korean, of course, but I guess then you have other and more serious problems…
So what’s the next best thing when exploring abandoned North Korean buildings in North Koreaisn’t an option and pachinko parlors are too obscure? Right, you look for abandoned institutions once run by North Koreans close to where you live. While the Republic of Korea (= South Korea / 대한민국) has one embassy and nine consulates in Japan, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (= North Korea / 조선민주주의인민공화국 / 朝鮮民主主義人民共和國) doesn’t have any of those institutions, let alone abandoned ones. But since Koreans are by far the biggest minority in Japan (in 2005 more than 900,000 Koreans lived in Japan, only 285,000 of them naturalized Japanese citizens – most of the rest are Zainichi Koreans, Koreans with a permanent residency) they are pretty well organized to get their interest represented. Of the 610.000 Zainichi Koreans about 65% are members of the Mindan (Korean Residents Union of Japan / 민단) with ties to South Korea, while another 25% are members of the Chongryon (General Association of Korean Residents in Japan / 총련 / 總聯) with strong ties to North Korea. Interestingly enough there is a Japanese group called Zaitokukai (在日特権を許さない市民の会, Citizens against Special Privilege of Zainichi) who opposes both groups – and sometimes even more: On October 31st 2009 some members protested foreigners in Halloween costumes with a sign stating “This is not a white country”. Whenever you thought you’ve seen and heard it all…
But let’s get back to the Chongryon. In addition to offering support and various services to their members (including issuing North Korean passports) the Chongryon not only controls a serious chunk of the Japanese pachinko money, it also runs about 140 schools (朝鮮学校 / 조선학교), kindergartens and a university in Japan. While it is said that all the classes and conversations at those schools are conducted in Korean I am not 100% sure about that since the few leftover books I saw at the abandoned school I visited were (partly) in Japanese. So, yes, some of the North Korean schools in Japan are deserted now. Which isn’t a surprise given the fact that the number of students enrolled in those schools went down from 46,000 in the 1970s to about 15,000 in 2004.
The abandoned North Korean school in Gifu prefecture I visited rather spontaneously in late December of 2011 must have been victim of that loss of interest. Half an hour by foot away from the next train station the school was located on top of a small hill, overseeing the surrounding countryside. With about half a dozen classrooms plus special rooms for sports, physics, chemistry and music it’s quite easy to understand why this Chongryon institution was one of the first candidates to become a modern ruin. Opened in 1975 it closed in 1998 already – its students being transferred to another Chongryon school in the suburbs of Nagoya; 20 minutes away by train, but closer to a railway station.
Exploring a North Korean School on Japanese ground was nothing like I expected. The school looked nothing like I expected. No North Korean flags, no propaganda material, no socialist style architecture. Quite the opposite. The layout of the school was full of nooks and crannies, its level of decay reminded me of *my trip to Pripyat and Chernobyl*. I was actually so fascinated by it that I walked around for maybe half an hour to see every last bit of it without taking a photo – and then I took a 19 minute long video. Usually I try to break up buildings by floors or other units, but this school felt so organic I had to turn into a poor man’s Michael Ballhaus and film the whole abandoned and quite seriously vandalized building in one shot. Always having Sting’s “Russians” in the back of my mind.
Do the North Koreans love their children, too? Having the physical distance of living in Europe, the States or Australia the problem might not sound so serious and North Korea might appear as that wacky little state with its funny looking leaders, but living in a neighboring country there are quite a few people here that are worried about what will happen in the upcoming weeks and months – and given the fact that South Korea and the States placed their troops under high alert I guess there is a serious number of people who are having serious thoughts about that “bonsai Cold War”. Personally I’m not much of a worrier. I actually still like cracking jokes about North Korea being reunited with South Korea and East Korea. (East Korea being Japan, based on a theory that around 300 AD a Korean cavalry army conquered Japan, and therefore the rulers of Japan are actually of Korean descent till this very day. Especially Japanese people don’t think my quirky humor is funny…)
I have no doubts the North Koreans love their children, too – sadly this deserted school was no indicator. I wish there would have been more signs that the school actually was a North Korean school. I found a couple of washed-out pieces of paper showing past school festivities, describing them in Korean, having the cliché level of formality and stiffness you would expect of events like that. In the lobby was a smashed “World Atlas” with several destroyed clocks on top – interestingly enough the people in charge included Moscow, but chose London over (East) Berlin; Pyongyang of course had its own row. Also in the lobby I found several boxes of a sexual stimulant called Samboso. Yes, a sexual stimulant in a school… (Insert clergy joke here!) It seems like the main ingredients were ginseng and honey, but even the crude English text didn’t reveal much information. Neither did the internet. But it gets even stranger: The text on the bottle as well as on the package stated in Roman letters “Pyongyang, Korea”. So here I had a sexual stimulant from North Korea, labeled in English and Korean in a deserted North Korean school in Japan. Finally I have a good answer when somebody asks me “What is the strangest thing you’ve ever seen when exploring abandoned buildings?” – can it get any weirder than that?
(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*…)

Addendum 2014-03-02: Since I wrote this article, I’ve been to the real North Korea twice. Not for urbex, obviously, but those vacations were nevertheless extremely interesting. *You can read all about them here.*

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After Michael and I finished shooting the Doctor’s Shack we walked about 30 meters along a small, dusty street to get to an abandoned house he found during his first visit to the Doctor’s Shack; Michael ran out of time back then and therefore didn’t have the opportunity to explore it.

The place looked like a typical Japanese countryside house built maybe in 70s and abandoned in the 90s, although both dates are pure guessing on my side. One floor, no basement, wooden floor and tatami mats, plastic lamps and chandeliers, walls you can punch through with your fist, and most important of all: quite spacious. Judging by how (hardly) known it is on the internet I guess it attracts way less visitors although it’s actually easier to find. But if it isn’t in a book and doesn’t have special things (like many bottles with chemicals in them…) I guess most people consider it uninteresting. And while the house of the doctor’s neighbours really wasn’t a haikyo highlight by any means it was interesting to go through a “normal” abandoned building, especially since it was already getting dark (thanks to an approaching rainstorm) and therefore shooting the place became kind of a challenge since neither of us had a (working) tripod. Luckily there were lots of places to put down the camera and I learned quite a bit about shooting under bad lighting conditions at Nara Dreamland, so I got at least a couple of decent shots. Decent, not spectacular, since it seems like the place was inhabited by normal people – there was nothing special to shoot, although somebody brought over some medicine vials from the Doctor’s Shack.

Next to the main building was a smaller one, most likely used for storage. And while Michael still had the patience to play around with some boxes and his headlight I got the heck out of there trying to finally escape the mosquitos…

(Michael combined both locations into one posting and you can read all about it here.)

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