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Archive for the ‘Haikyo’ Category

Climate change is a hoax – and if it’s not, the problem will be fixed by God? Yeah, tell that to the countless companies who closed down their ski resorts in Japan…

If you travel to Sapporo or Nagano between December and March you’ll inevitably run into tourists from Southeast Asia, from early November on the online tourist message boards are full of “Where can we already see snow?” questions. Believe it or not, but quite a few people see snow for the first time in Japan, not in their home country; you know, the unfortunate ones who don’t have four seasons – which is unique to Japan, as every expat has been told at least half a million times… (No story about that yet, Rising Wasabi?)
But more and more ski resorts in Japan are struggling with age and the increasing lack of snow. There are dozens, maybe even hundreds of abandoned ski resorts all over the country – most of them of course in the northern half from the Japanese Alps to Hokkaido. The majority of closed / abandoned ski resorts are actually not worth the visit. Ski lifts are worth being removed, unmaintained buildings either collapse or rot rather quickly, if they don’t get demolished in the lift removal process – and since satellite pictures on the internet are not always the latest, there is a certain risk involved scheduling time to explore ski resorts.
I wasn’t able to find out much about the Nagano Ski Resort. Apparently it was closed in / after the 2004 season and brought back a year later after some management changes, but only for another season or so. The oldest pictures I saw were from 2009 – the lifts and all buildings still standing, it obviously took them a couple of years to come to the conclusion that there wouldn’t be a second revival.
Overall the Nagano Ski Resort turned out to be an average location – worth having a look when nearby, but not driving something like 300 kilometers from Osaka or Tokyo. Six buildings were still standing, the rest had been demolished. Strangely enough two active hotels were amongst those six buildings, probably because the slope is also one trailhead for hikers and mountain climbers. Unfortunately the lifts were already gone, but two massive metal frameworks with speakers and lights implicated that people there used to enjoy their après-ski! The two wooden buildings halfway up the hill were in even worse condition with their collapsed outdoor decks.
Exploring the half demolished area was good fun since hardly anybody else was around and the weather played along – on a rainy day this would probably be a rather miserable experience, especially if you were lucky enough to have been able to explore spectacular abandoned ski resorts like the *Arai Mountain & Spa* or the *Gunma Ski Resort*

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A little known fact about Japan is that the country has a surprisingly high number of water power plants, though hardly any of them are abandoned – and the status of the Tottori Water Power Plant one was questionable at best…

“He is inside!”
I was sitting on the rear bench of our tiny rental car when I heard those words from the front passenger seat – and my heart sank a little bit. Coming from a spectacular countryside clinic the three of us were on our way to the mountains for more explorations, when we made what supposed to be a quick stop at a site of historic interest. Japan was about a century late with its industrial revolution… and it’s a few decades late appreciating this time of fundamental change, but this small water power plant somewhere in Tottori prefecture somehow managed to be chosen as being worth of preservation – and so the building was cleaned out, partly bricked up, and provided with a few plagues. Especially the wooden ceiling / floor (depending on how you look at it…) that makes the otherwise massive stone building a two-storey construction was in quite bad condition and probably one of the main reasons why the former water power plant has been locked up tightly – until “he” found a way inside after “we” were already back at the car, ready and happy to move on…
Buildings between preservation and abandonment are one of the grey zones in urban exploration – and those under government management are the worst, because they don’t care about the electricity bill of an alarm system or having the cops showing up every once in a while, because, well, they are on the payroll anyway and small-time crime not really being a problem in Japan, those guys have more times on their hands than the night watch at a mental institution (a friend of mine had that job and put in more than 1200 hours on Monster Hunter Freedom Unite – during work hours!). So when I heard from Her that He made it inside I was only modestly happy, to be honest – but I knew that She would follow Him, so I put my hooded jacket on again and started to trudged through the snow back to the building…
Put into operation in 1919, the Tottori Water Power Plant had an output of 1000 kW. In 1977 power production ended and the plant was reduced to a substation. From 1984 on the substation was further demoted and became a training facility till 1990, when the then owner transferred the building to the local government – six years later its rise as an industrial monument worth being protected began.
Exploring the Tottori Water Power Plant you can only assume that it has a rich history as it was pretty much empty, except for a couple of boxes, a scale, a table or two, a sparsely furnished tatami room… and a large item partly covered by a big blue tarp. (The upper floor covering half of the building was empty and in rather bad condition, but offered some decent photo opportunities, including different layers of the wall…) Halfway through and me still being uncomfortable my two co-explorers decided to fully remove the tarp to reveal what looked like an old manually operated fire engine from the mid- or late 19th century – the kind you might have seen in Scorsese’s Gangs of New York. What a fantastic find! We were just about to have a closer look when a car outside honked. So I rushed outside to see what was going on / try to distract whoever was there, while my co-explorers covered up the precious hand-drawn machine. Fortunately the honking wasn’t directed at us inside the building, but most likely at our car parked at a narrow road – but by the time I was back there the other car was already gone… and soon later were we.

Whether or not the Tottori Water Power Plant qualifies to be featured on a blog about abandoned places is a matter of what you consider abandoned, but given that nobody ever complained about me prominently featuring *Nara Dreamland* (which at no point in time was abandoned!) time and again, I guess most of you can live with this grey area location. Personally I could have done without the excitement of exploring such a place, but I really enjoyed seeing that old hand-drawn water pump – and as it turned out it was the last exploration of the day anyway as all of the other locations we checked out were in the middle of a horrible snowstorm…

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With a history of almost 150 years the Yamanashi Elementary School was by definition a very special location. But wait till you see what I found inside!

The sky was unusually grey for a Japanese autumn day – at first sight the weather was quite reminiscent of your average fall day in Germany, but then then relatively high humidity and temperature reminded me quickly that this was just another early October day in the mountains of Japan, about six weeks too early to enjoy the autumn foliage this part of the country is famous for. Hidden behind a line of large, lusciously green trees on a gentle slope the Yamanashi Elementary School can be easily missed, especially since it is completely out of sight driving along the nearest bigger road. The institution dates back to 1872, unfortunately the current school building is not nearly as old – it was built in 1957 and closed in 1985. Since it was maintained for about two decades it was used in 2004 for a Japanese dorama (ドラマ) on Kansai TV, but it looks like after that the long 2 storey construction fell into disrepair.
Since I tend to explore on sunny days (because grey days are rather rare on mainland Japan, there are like five of them per year – it either rains or there is sunshine; grey for the sake of having a grey day is really, really unusual) exploring the Yamanashi Elementary School was kinda eerie, borderline spooky. I started at noon, but it felt like sunset time… and there were actually dark corners. Plenty of them. Since it was a wooden school, the floors were creaking with every step – and then there was Mr. Innards… a mutilated life-size anatomic model of a (skinned) human. Luckily he waited for me in a tidy, well-lit classroom – him in a dark corner or hanging from the ceiling would have creeped the beep out of me! His feet looked like they were tied together with wire, the toes as if they were frozen off in an attempt to climb Mount Fuji in winter barefoot. And the rest of it looked “a bit off”, too… Just bring a camera on a cloudy day and shoot your horror short – everything you need is already on location; including some instruments for the score, including a piano and some drums.

Arriving at the Yamanashi Elementary School I was a bit disappointed since I had mostly seen bright, colorful pictures of the school, and I was expecting to experience the same warm, welcoming atmosphere as the people before me. Due to the overcast sky the colors of my photos didn’t nearly pop as much as usual – but the whole thing turned out to be a blessing in disguise, because it allowed me to literally capture the school in a different light. 🙂

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Another hotel high on a mountain overlooking the Seto Inland Sea… and guess what – it was abandoned! 🙂

Spring is one of the most beautiful times of the year to travel in Japan, especially after the cherry blossom season is over and the roads and rails are back to “terribly crowded” instead of “completely congested”. It’s also the perfect season for some urbex, because wildlife is still starting to get into gear – spiders and snakes are still small, overgrown buildings are still accessible and not in the death grip of vines.
It was on a spring weekend trip a few years ago that I explored the Seto Sea Hotel a little bit outside of a rather touristy town. Too far to walk from the closest station I took a bus to spare myself a two hour walk and just hiked the last two kilometers or so up a mountain. Considering my efforts to get to the hotel I wasn’t surprised to see two mid-sized buses parked in front of the building; license plates still on, but slightly vandalized. The back entrance and with it an alternative escape route was quickly found, so I made my way to the main entrance and… entered.
The Seto Sea Hotel turned out to be one of those boring hotel ruins I tend to complain about every once in a while – the views were spectacular, even on this overcast, humid day, but the rest of the place was just meh. Slightly vandalized, slightly moldy, slightly dirty, slightly boring. My favorite item left behind was a snack vending machine that offered takoyaki, fried onigiri, French fries, hotdogs, yakisoba and okonomiyaki – those machines are quite hard to find in general, and I’ve never seen one at a hotel, abandoned or hot.

Exploring the Seto Sea Hotel was such an average experience that I almost forgot about – it’s been close to six years since I went there and I only rediscovered it yesterday when I was looking for an abandoned hotel to write about. The last couple of days and weeks have been quite busy here, so I needed a location with not so many photos (as I didn’t have time to go through hundreds of them) and a generally unknown background story – because I didn’t have time to research dozens of sources. And in those regards the Seto Sea Hotel fully delivered – there wasn’t that much to see, and the only thing I know about it is that it closed in 2003. It was just another abandoned hotel in Japan, one of hundreds, nothing like the *Wakayama Ryokan* or the *Hachijo Royal Hotel*!

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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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Over the years I’ve spent much more time in abandoned theme parks than in active ones – and the exploration of Wonderland in Fukui easily makes my Top 5!

In early spring of 2016 I found out about the imminent demise of *Nara Dreamland*, which reminded me of yet another pay as you go theme park I wanted to explore for a long time: Wonderland in the outskirts of Awara Onsen, a surprisingly active spa town with all kinds of entertainment facilities, including a boat race track and a now demolished driving range. Luckily I had a free weekend coming up, so the next opportunity I had I took a fast train up north and then a slow train even further north – yes, surprisingly nobody wanted to join me on that 4 hour long expedition to a virtually unknown theme park… which has advantages and disadvantages. 3.5 hours on two trains are a great opportunity to catch up with some sleep – or they can be boring as hell. You can explore on your own speed – or you never make it inside as you keep waiting for “the right moment”. Nobody else knows you’ve ever been there, but there’s also nobody to share the memories with. Almost two years later I avoid solo explorations as much as possible, and I think the abandoned *Bag Store* pretty much a year ago was the last one I did…

Even though I started my day rather early, it was already around 11 a.m. on this basically cloud free Saturday when I arrived at the Fukui Wonderland – a hot spring day, not a hot spring day (English sucks sometimes, doesn’t it?!) with temperatures around 30°C, and the first piece of shadow I was able to take advantage of, already almost grilled well-done by Japan’s horribly intense sun, was the tightly locked up main building of Wonderland right next to the large but empty parking lot. The pretty much untouched and tightly locked place featured karaoke rooms, batting cages, and several arcade machines as well as other games. The pay as you go amusement park was right next to it… and at first I was hesitant to get inside. The road next to it was quite busy and some rides were still in decent condition – and in the past it has always been the amusement parks where I got into trouble and either had to run or to explain my unexpected and unwanted presence. But of course after a few minutes and outside shots my curiosity won… and boy was I rewarded!
There was another large building complex with a restaurant and an arcade, including several abandoned machines (famous ones like Virtua Racing and rather unknown ones like Title Fight. There also was an outdoor kids’ train and an indoor one, disassembled and stored in the arcade. There was a rollercoaster and several merry-go-rounds, a kart track, some reverse bungee contraption and several other rides and items, like a couple of dinosaur sculptures. I was just about to get from the arcade to the restaurant part when I saw an older man driving a Segway into the park. After I picked up my jaw from the floor I witnessed him walking out of the park, only two come back on a Segway minutes later. At first I tried to stay out of sight, but that pretty much ruined my exploration / documentation, so I started to take pictures openly. Luckily the guy ignored me, so I was able to finish my tour through the park. Back outside on the parking lot I saw one car parked now – nothing else changed. No new sign, no banner, no nothing. How the guy expected potential customers to find him is absolutely beyond me, because there wasn’t even the slightest hint that one could rent Segways in what looked like a closed and probably abandoned theme park.

Overall exploring Wonderland reminded me a lot of exploring *Nara Dreamland* six years earlier, in 2010 – just a much smaller version… with easier access… and without sneaking in at night. As you can see on the photos and in the videos, Wonderland was in good condition when I went there in May 2016, just the right amount of decay and with only little vandalism… which is why I took advantage of exploring it solo and kept silent about it for almost two years. The last couple of weeks have been stressful and I feel like I posted a couple of sub-par locations recently, so this is my way of trying to make up for it – and I hope that you enjoy Wonderland as much as I did!

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Don’t judge a book by its cover – or an abandoned building by its front. It’s all about the content…

My last exploration of 2017 was a chance discovery. After successfully exploring an abandoned onsen hotel and an abandoned pachinko parlor we, a group of experienced urbexers with a total experience of about 40 years, were on our way to check out one or two places for future explorations, when we spotted from the car what looked like an abandoned factory and some kind of administrative or apartment building. After a quick discussion we decided against writing down the coordinates and for checking out the places right away – after all we were basically there already, short on time, but also 2.5 hours away from home.
We chose to not approach from the busy highway, but from a small residential area behind the two potentially abandoned buildings… and ran straight into a local taking care of some fruit trees. In a combined group effort we ignored the guy as much as he did us (luckily!), and a few minutes later we confirmed that there was no way to get inside the factory, that it might actually still be used.
The other building on the other hand… we had more luck there. What looked like a typical 1950s/60s apartment building in Japan actually turned out to be one. The setup we all knew from countless similar explorations before – staircase on one end of the building, balconies facing the sun, a hallway on each floor with windows to the north and apartment doors to the south. But the inside was in much better condition than any of us could have ever imagined… and held more than one surprise for us. Hands down my favorite part was the communal bath on the second or third floor. 60 years ago most Japanese apartments didn’t have private baths or private bathrooms. You had your small one or two room apartment with a tiny kitchen – and shared installation somewhere on your floor… or the building! (Other than rich people it was actually *miners* who were among the first to “enjoy” a private (squat) toilet in their apartments, a benefit to lure people to the remote snowy areas where back breaking jobs were waiting for them…) By the time I got to the bath, the sun was already setting, flooding the whole area with beautiful orange afternoon light; the atmosphere was kinda magical there. But even before and after it was an exploration full of surprises. For example the two pianos in the hallway of the ground floor. The vintage coke machine in one of the rooms. The mostly still furnished rooms. The many items left behind – from cutlery to posters to toys and charms.

While intense and very rewarding, exploring the Factory Dormitory was also a rushed job (hence no video!) done in 45 minutes instead of the 2 or 3 hours it deserved – but the last location of the day almost always doesn’t get enough time… and this was the last location of the year. Nevertheless is was a successful conclusion of a tremendously successful year of explorations, most of which have yet to be published; especially the unique and hard to find locations.

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