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Archive for the ‘Haikyo’ Category

Pidgeon Pachinko or Garbage Pachinko – quite suitable alternative names for this virtually unknown abandoned pachinko parlor…

Pachinko is probably one of the most sketchy businesses you can get yourself into in Japan. About 40% of the parlors are run by the yakuza, another 40% by exile Koreans with ties to the northern half of the motherland. And the majority of the rest is probably owned by large chains with gigantic parlors – and despite that there are quite a few abandoned pachinko parlors all over Japan, from inner cities to the middle of nowhere. A surprising large number of them are actually in rather bad condition – you would think that criminals, borderline criminals and corporations would pay better attention to their properties, but maybe the abandoned ones are all closed independent parlors; who knows? I don’t, that’s for sure. But I am not much of a gambler. Never even entered an active pachinko parlor and hated every second when visiting one of the highly regulated casinos back in Germany.

The Grazia Pachinko parlor though I will remember as by far the shittiest place I’ve explored, the biggest pile of garbage; unfortunately not only figuratively, but also literally – thanks to a flock of pidgeons living in the entrance area and a hobo filling the upper floor with trash.
I try to approach every exploration with the most positive attitude as possible as I actually look forward to every single one of them (except for revisits – I’m really not a revisit guy… except for *Nara Dreamland*, of course!), but when I was approaching the Grazia on this January morning (a chill winter bastard though dry), I kinda wished the weather were better – luckily it wasn’t, because I think these days, summer days, the parlor is borderline inexplorable. Partly covered by graffiti on the outside, quite unusual for Japan, the innards of the Grazia Pachinko parlor weren’t much more of a looker. The last owner basically removed anything of value and / or interest, the outdoor “artists” and / or their following did the rest. Even worse, several dozen pidgeons decided to occupy the entrance area (now the back of the parlor) and leave huge piles of scat everywhere – now I was grateful for the close to 0°C weather, because neither money nor pidgeon shit has much smell at those temperatures. Well, ground floors of abandoned pachinko parlors tend to be crappy places in general, maybe the living area above the parlor (not a lot of people know that, but most pachinko parlors have a whole apartment area on top!) would be more interesting? The vandalized staircase wasn’t very promising and the real thing fully lived up to the now extremely lowered expectations. The entrance to the boiler room to the left was blocked by a horizontal door and filled with trash, the almost empty kitchen to the right filthy to a level you wouldn’t expect of an empty room. The hallway was kinda darkish and cluttered, nevertheless I followed it down to the next door, where I was welcomed by a breathtaking surprising – the whole bedroom behind it was filled almost knee-deep with trash, most of it empty plastic food containers. Too bad that there is no thing as smell photography, because I totally would have used that technology in this case! And just to remind you, this was dry 0 degree weather in January. Now in July we often reach very humid 35°C during the days and still above 30° at night. At that point I had enough and didn’t even venture further down the hallway. I love exploring like hardly anybody else, but buildings that were turned into garbage dumps… seriously, nobody needs locations like that. Behind the parlor I had a quick look at the building where the few lucky winners could exchange their balls for prizes (locked) and a small bungalow building, but they were of little interest and it was still early in the day – there were other places to explore… more promising places!

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A legendary, shockingly dilapidated factory office and an old man with a sickle – this exploration could have gone wrong in more than one way…

Tohoku isn’t exactly famous for its abandoned places. Mostly mines (*Taga*, *Matsuo*, and *Ozarisawa*) and of course the vast area for (mostly foreign…) Fukushima catastrophe tourists. Most popular among local explorers is probably the Ironworks Office Building, which you can see on the first photo of the gallery. It’s a pretty gorgeous wooden structure at the site of a mostly demolished smeltery dating back to 1881, when Japan’s industrial revolution caught up 150 years of development within a couple of decades. Access was surprisingly easy when I explored the place with my friends Dan, Kyoko and Heather in autumn last year during a partly touristy road trip, so we took our time to have a look outside first – with not much success as most of the buildings on the premises must have been demolished around the time business closed in 2001. Yes, 2001! It’s hard to believe that the company was active until rather recently, but apparently it’s true… I’m still baffled by that fact and you probably will be, too, after looking at the photos. The last remaining building of the main area was the former office building, which also included a room for drafters / technical drawers as well as a laboratory, though the back part of the building, including the hallway leading to the lab, have been collapsed a couple of years ago. (And the rest of the building probably won’t make it another decade either. The wooden staircase leading to the upper floor was so… wobbly that I didn’t dare to go upstairs as I was afraid that it would collapse under my weight and probably bring the whole building down. And wouldn’t that have been embarrassing? (In addition to being most likely deadly…)
Before that another strange story happened. The four of us just entered the Ironworks Office Building through a door or partly collapsed wall (it was hard to say what it was…), when one of the girls spotted an old man outside, appearing out of nowhere from where we just came from. He was dragging one of his feet, kind of like a zombie, and was wearing rather worn clothes, holding an old sickle in one of his hands. Combine that with the rundown wooden building and the somewhat rainy weather and you have a perfect horror movie scenario. With four people it was kinda hard to hide in that part of the building, and we didn’t want to go much further inside, worried that we might cause some noise with all that rusty metal, brittle wood and broken glass around, so we carefully and anxiously watched the sickle zombie slowly scuffing his body past the 130 year old dilapidated structure we were in. Luckily he didn’t see, hear or smell us, before he finally turned right, leaving the premises. That’s when we finally relaxed and explored the building, at least the lower floor, because… well, you already know about the staircase.
As you can see on the photos, the interior of the building was quite eclectic, with probably at least one item from each decade between the 50s and the 00s – interestingly enough the calendar near one of the desks in the private office was from 2007, six years after the ironworks closed. Why? Your guess is as good as mine. Maybe the office was still used to deal with the aftermath of closing, maybe it was used for other purposes, maybe somebody unrelated left it behind. The atmosphere in there was actually kind of spooky – rather dark offices, vines growing in, the worn interior, the kind of dangerous state of the building.
On the way out I took a few quick shots through the window of the laboratory, basically because none of us was eager to find a way inside across an ankle-breaking field of slippery debris. Sometimes you have to cut your losses and move on, because there is almost always another location to explore…

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It’s amazing how fast things can go to hell in a handbasket in Japan – sometimes even twice or three times…
From the looks of it, the Seto Onsen Hotel dates back to the 1960s and has been abandoned for at least 15 or 20 years. But looks can be deceiving. For example: While I don’t know when the hotel was closed, it was definitely not abandoned for 15 years or more as I’ve seen pictures from about 2011, just six years before my visit, when it was standing there in decent condition, ready to be demolished, no shrub or tree anywhere near to be seen – pictures from the inside confirmed the good condition with plenty of items left behind, including some coin-operated children’s rides. When I explored the hotel with my buddies Dan and Kyoko, it was a fight just walking along the overgrown road leading up to the hotel, which was also almost swallowed by the surrounding green hell. Unfortunately the place wasn’t exactly a looker, except for one of the staircases and the amazing view from the roof. The rest was rundown and partly prepped for demolition, but it looked like they stopped halfway through the process – and whatever they left behind has been stolen or vandalized since then. I’m sure though in the 70s it was quite a neat place, despite its plattenbau kind of construction.
Since the Seto Onsen Hotel wasn’t famous or special in any way, there is basically nothing known about it – it’s just one of those rundown, vandalized dime a dozen abandoned hotels you can find all over Japan; not even the onsen part was interesting at all. I guess the only reason why we or anybody else goes there, it’s because the place is right next to the *Mindfuck Hotel*, which in many ways was the opposite of this one…

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Golf is one of the most popular sports in Japan – there are country clubs everywhere, often several next to each other, but after a century of growth their number seems to be rapidly shrinking recently… yet only a few of them end up abandoned!

A group of British expats established golf less than 120 years ago in Japan by founding the country’s first club in Kobe in 1903. Ten years later the Tokyo Golf Club was opened by and for native Japanese, who learned about golf on their trips to the United States. The sport grew very slowly in the following decades – to 7 in 1924, when the Japan Golf Association was founded, to 23 in 1941, when Japan attacked the United States, and to 72 in 1956. In 1957 Torakichi Nakamura and Koichi Ono won the World Cup of Golf, held in Japan that year for the first time – and BOOM!, golf started to become a huge success: 195 courses in 1960, 424 in 1964, more than 1000 in the early 70s and more than 2400 courses in 2009.
Over the past decade thought the number went down to about 2300 courses, rather less – market saturation was probably finally reached, and it surely doesn’t help that Japan’s population is shrinking. Some facilities most likely got too old, but since country clubs / golf courses tend to be quite pricey, I guess most of them closed because they just didn’t make money anymore; the main reason why businesses close… Though there is indeed another factor specific to golf courses that make owners reconsider their business plans: alternative energy sources. Over the past decade, solar panels dramatically dropped in price, and despite Japan’s plans to cling to nuclear energy, the amount of solar parks all over the country skyrocketed since the Fukushima Disaster in 2011 – and closed golf courses are perfect for solar parks: Get rid of the club house and a few sheds (or keep them as utility buildings!), fill up the sand traps and remove some trees and shrubs… and you get a large flat area on even ground or a gentle slope. Good examples for completely converted country clubs are here: 34.958362, 135.852641 and 34.950899, 135.795164 – and those two former golf courses are less than five kilometers / three miles away from each other! (Unfortunately they have been transformed before I realized it, so it would be pointless to go there…) The problem from an urbex point of view is that it takes a couple of years to give a closed golf course an abandoned look. I checked out several recently closed ones in the past year and they all were either still maintained or looked like they were – pointless to take photos there. But now that turning them into solar parks has become popular, it’s really tough to find the right timing to check out those closed country clubs in Japan. If you are too early, there is nothing interesting to see… if you are too late, you are standing in front of the highly secured gate of a solar park. Luckily I was already able to explore two or three really good abandoned country clubs / driving ranges (like the gorgeous *Japanese Driving Range*, another original find you’ll probably never see anywhere else other than on Abandoned Kansai), some of them yet unpublished – unfortunately the Solar Park Golf Club wasn’t one of them.
Nevertheless the Solar Park Golf Club was quite an unusual location, because the former club house was still standing there accessible on top of a mountain, offering a good view at most of the transformed golf course – usually the view you get is horizontal and through a barbed-wired fence. Yes, I was too late, but nevertheless I was able to take some unusual photos… which this blog is all about.
The Solar Park Golf Club was established in 1973 and closed something like 40 years later. On the latest satellite view of GoogleMaps you can see that the earthworks of the transformation have already begun, but the solar panels haven’t been set up yet – which leads me to believe that the satellite view of that area must be about two or three years old now. (Just in case you wonder: GoogleMaps doesn’t use current satellite images for the most part – I’ve seen areas that must be about six years old now. StreetView often is more current than the satellite view…) Overall it was a very relaxed exploration – we drove up there, we took photos, we left. Nothing worth flying for to the other end of Japan for, but interesting enough to stop by when you are in the area…

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A lot of abandoned places leave an impression because of what they have been, not what they are now. The Hiroshima Hospital is one of those places…

Japanese urban explorers are quick labeling as haikyo, ruins, their common term for abandoned places – but very often they are just closed, or even worse: they just look abandoned and are actually still in use; especially “abandoned” schools. So whenever I see an “abandoned” place popping up on a Japanese site and it doesn’t feature inside photos, I become worried / skeptical. Was the location really abandoned or did the explorer not bother to have a closer look? Did they have a closer, but couldn’t get inside? Did they try to, but cause an alarm? Were they maybe even caught? (It happens to the best of us…) Did they get inside, but decided against publishing photos, because the interior was too spectacular or not interesting enough? There are a million different possibilities, and they all run through my head whenever I see outdoor shots only of a potentially abandoned place.
The Hiroshima Hospital was one of those places – all I knew about it was its location in a residential suburb of Hiroshima City, all I’ve seen about of it were a couple of outdoor shots, showing massive barricades. It’s quite a drive from Osaka to Hiroshima (between four and five hours, depending on the route and the traffic circumstances), so Dan, Kyoko & I made the hospital the first location of the second day, exploring along the way the day before.
At first all the things I worried about came true: The main entrance of the hospital was barricaded, people were walking their dogs, and even from the outside the places looked kinda vandalized. But coming a long way kinda makes you persistent, so we kept looking for a way in and found a weak spot after a while. Sadly our second impression of the Hiroshima Hospital wasn’t much better than the first one. Except for a couple if items here and there the clinic had been cleaned out when it was closed – as it should be. I still can’t believe the kind of equipment, tools and drugs I found in various other abandoned hospitals over the years, so it’s hard to complain that somebody did the right thing for a change. Unfortunately that person didn’t think things fully through. As confirmed by StreetView, the Hiroshima Hospital wasn’t boarded up at first, which explains the serious amount of vandalism – broken windows, graffiti, airsoft pellets… the whole shebang.

Long story short: I’ve been to three, four, five abandoned hospitals in Hiroshima prefecture, but the Hiroshima Hospital is actually my least favorite one. It didn’t taint a great exploration weekend at all, but to be honest: I was kinda hoping for another *Wakayama Hospital*, and by that standard it was definitely a disappointment.

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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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A mystery building with countless and no purposes, but quite an unusual design – the Tang Dynasty Envoy Mansion raised more questions than it answered…

Most deserted places are abandoned for the same reasons: Usually they either ran into financial problems… or the owner died and nobody wanted to take over. It’s an unspectacular, but very, very common explanation. But it most likely doesn’t apply to the Tang Dynasty Envoy Mansion – a name so eclectic as the items left behind.
If you don’t know where it is exactly, you can easily miss the Tang Dynasty Envoy Mansion. Located at a remote road, after kilometers of seeing no other buildings, one just doesn’t expect one – especially since this one is separated from the road by a large parking lot, both the entrance to the lot and the building itself partly overgrown. I passed by with my dear friend Hamish and almost missed it… and then we considered skipping it, because it was heavily raining and we didn’t know anything about the location anyway. But to us abandoned buildings are like mountains to climbers – we just have to go because they are there… In the five minutes that followed we didn’t gain an iota of real knowledge, but we became significantly more wet on this damp and overall quite uncomfortable November day. It turned out that the building was C shaped and one of those brutalist constructions – raw concrete, which was still in pretty good condition. Doing research for this article I found some old satellite pictures from the 1970s, where neither the mansion nor the road were visible, so I guess both must have been built in the early 80s or maybe even later, probably another one of those bubble economy projects. “Hey, we have money or can borrow it cheaply! Let’s build a museum / library / whatever in the middle of nowhere!” And so they did. Two floors in one part of the building (consisting of a library with a restaurant on top of it) and a one storey part with a wavy ceiling that was labelled memorial hall… of some monk. Probably a state run institution to honor / study the Tang dynasty envoys to China about 1200 years ago – unfortunately my research about that ended with no results, so I assume that the building wasn’t used with its original purpose for very long and probably ended before the age of the internet. Which is kind of supported by the fact that it was lastly used as a storage for all kinds of things, including banners to advertise a local festival in 2005… and it’s more than likely that this was the last year of the repurposed use, not the first one. Sadly the part of the building with two floors was still tightly locked and inaccessible, but the other part offered a strange “collection” of all kinds of items. Glass showcases, lacquer boxes, banners, an old TV, library cards, a tape recorder, a porn magazine (don’t worry, they are censored in Japan anyway… and I added four black squares for all you faint of heart Americans who love to watch the most disgusting mutilations at prime time, but freak out over a nipple…), and many, many, many more random items – so signs of any library or institute allowing historical or social studies.

Even after all this time I still don’t know what to make of the Tang Dynasty Envoy Mansion. It was probably build in the mid to late 1980s and did whatever it was supposed to do for about 10 to 15 years before being used by the local authorities as a storage and finally shut down completely. Surely not an abandoned place one would travel far for, but it was definitely interesting to have a closer look, even though in the end we left puzzled and hoped that the next location would be more mainstream urbex… like the *Hachijo Royal Hotel*.

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