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Archive for the ‘Hokkaido’ Category

The Round School is a classic urbex location in Japan – and probably the most unusual school in whole country!

What looks like an old, abandoned, partly demolished industrial complex in the forest is actually a legendary school, famous among urbexers even when I started back in 2009. Built in 1958 and partly razed about 20 years later, this old school dates back to 1906, went through several name changes and said rebuilt in the 50s (from wood to ferro-concrete) before it was closed in 1974, two years after a nearby mine – the reason this large school for more than 1500 students was originally built. There is little known about the wooden building, but the modern one consisted of two round structures with almost 30 meters in diameter, three floors / 13 meters tall. A few years after the school was closed the southwestern building was demolished – given the remaining one even more the looks of an industrial ruins. In the past the shutters visible on some photos actually opened to a connecting corridor; they weren’t loading docks or something like that. Also little is left of the nearby gymnasium. Almost 50 winters and total neglect left little more than the foundation and some bend iron. What makes the school visually even more interesting is the fact that the lower floor is almost half under water all the time, making it difficult to enter from spring to late autumn – and the snow from late autumn to early spring makes the whole structure hard to access the rest of the time; though accessible, because apparently the water freezes solid in winter…

I had the pleasure to explore this beautiful legend during a trip in early 2017. It was a rainy, damp day, the snow clearly not gone for long – the whole area was more or less slightly muddy and as far as explorations go, this wasn’t a pleasant one. Nevertheless well worth the hassle as the Round School is even more fascinating on location than on photos. It’s just surreal seeing that structure standing in the forest, at least several hundred meters away from the nearest private houses – though I’m sure the area has changed quite a bit in the past half century. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to get inside since I didn’t bring proper waterproof gear. Some kind of (fly) fishing trousers would have been in order, and even then I’m sure it wouldn’t have been a good experience given the water temperature and the unknown floor surface – one misstep… and the water was pretty disgusting overall. Not exactly a mountain well. There were some strange things swimming / growing in there! Nevertheless a great location, despite its limits. Personally I prefer places like the *Eyeball School* or the *Riverside School*, but overall it was a great exploration!

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Wind is barely ever a factor when exploring abandoned places, but it this case it made taking outdoor shots very, very uncomfortable…

Over last few weeks I already wrote two articles about my day in Haboro in early May (featuring the *Chikubetsu Mine* and the *Haboro Green Village*), so you probably remember that it wasn’t the friendliest of days to explore, but not the worst either. You also probably remember the history of the place, so I won’t repeat again (built in 1940, closed in the early 70s, yada, yada, yada…). Arriving at the Haboro Miners’ Apartments, just a few hundred meters away from the Green Village / elementary school, the wind picked up significantly. Usually nothing to worry about, but as you can see on the photos, the apartment blocks were surrounded by a lot of trees… trees that were massively affected by the strong winds outside – to an extend that I was quite worried one of them would fall down on me… although it would have probably enough if a branch broke loose and turned into a widow maker. In addition to that the almost 80 year old concrete buildings were in really bad condition, apparently losing bits and pieces every once in a while, especially from the dilapidated balconies and the roofs in horrible condition…
Inside, the apartment buildings looked similar to the ones I’ve explored before – massive concrete blocks with wooden floors and storage spaces; some of the floors were in rather bad condition, most of the apartments were empty. Since the mine didn’t close by surprise and people could move out at their own speed, there was probably little to nothing left behind. And more than 40 years of irregular visitors did the rest. Interestingly those apartments did not only have private toilets (a real luxury in 1940s Japan!), they even featured Western style toilets, which is a luxury a lot of Japanese train stations don’t offer to this very day! (And don’t believe the hype, hardly anybody uses the squatting toilets here, unless they have to. It’s the same with restaurants and sitting on the ground – if a place offers both, usually the counter and the tables are occupied first, then the rest fills up…)

Overall it was the strong wind that made this exploration rather memorable – the buildings themselves offered some interesting details (like that tree growing through a balcony rail), but they were no match to the *Landslide Mining Apartments* and especially the *Matsuo Mine Apartment Buildings*.

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Bears are a growing danger to people in Japan – little did I know that one of them was waiting for me inside this abandoned school / holiday village!

Hokkaido, the great, wild north of Japan… The country’s second largest and by far coldest island is especially popular amongst outdoor and nature fans. Oh, and brown bears love Hokkaido, too. There are more brown bears in Japan than anywhere else in Asia besides Russia – and due to climate change they are becoming increasingly more dangerous to people; roaming the streets of small towns, killing one or two people per year, most often over a dispute about bamboo shoots (a.k.a. locals) or the right of way (a.k.a. hikers). Urbexers? Not (yet) on the diet of Japanese bears, but some abandoned places are definitely in bear territory, including the Haboro Green Village; the converted Taiyo Elementary School. Little did I know that one of them was waiting for visitors inside of the defunct and derelict building complex…
Like most urban explorers visiting Japan’s most famous abandoned school, my buddy *Hamish* and I started our day with the spectacular round gymnasium / auditorium. The Taiyo Elementary School (not be confused with a school of the same name in Hokkaido’s village of Niikappu – that one was auctioned off in 2009 for 30 million Yen, about a quarter million bucks) was built in 1940 for the children of the workers at the *Chikubetsu Mine*. In 1967 it was refurbished / rebuilt – and in 1971 it was closed, just a year after the mine; sad! After being without children for almost a decade, the city reopened the school as the Haboro Green Village, apparently a hotel / hostel / campsite for families and even larger groups. It ran from 1979 till 2000 – just before the internet and digital photography became really popular, which is probably why there is so little information about it out there.
Anyway, Hamish and I went to the round gymnasium / auditorium first and took all the usual pictures there, especially the most famous standard shot I called “Symmetry For Dummies”, because there are so many lines everywhere that you’d have to seriously shaky for whatever reason to mess up that shot… As far as school gymnasiums go, this was probably as good as it gets. Cleaner and newer? No problem! Bigger / more original? Probably not…
Since the wooden hallway connecting the gymnasium with the main building was slightly dilapidated, we decided to head outside and enter the former school directly through the front door. Usually I would have circled the school, but I guess it was a mix of time pressure, cold wind, drizzle, and false familiarity with the location that lead me to grab the doorknob, twist it, open the door… and stare right in the face of a big brown bear! Luckily it was a taxidermy one, so there was no harm done… 🙂
The Haboro Green Village was a rundown, boarded up, vandalized, moldy piece of something – with tons of surprises other than the bear “guarding” the main entrance probably 95% of people will enter through. First of all there were other taxidermy animals, a gigantic seal and a decently sized deer. Then there were quite a few Pokémon Trading Cards on the floor of boys’ restroom. The table video games / video game tables from the early 80s were amazing, including Championship Baseball by Sega. And the amazing (bust rusty and vandalized) Live Beer cooler by Asahi. The rest of the building offered some nice spots here and there, thanks to some decent patina due to 17 years of abandonment.

The Haboro Green Village / Taiyo Elementary School has been on my list of places to explore for many, many years – mainly because of the impressive gymnasium and because it was a famous spot easy to find. Locations like that tend to disappoint, because they are known so well and taking the same photos as everybody else feels more like a chore than a successful explore. And to some degree this actually applied to the gymnasium – luckily the main building offered quite a few surprises, so overall I was very pleased with this exploration… and it was only the first one in Haboro (before the mine *I wrote about last week*)! More about the rest will follow soon – but first some completely different locations… 🙂

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Haboro is one of the most famous ghost towns in the world, thanks to both national and international attention, for example an episode of the paranormal reality TV series Destination Truth – and after almost eight years of exploring abandoned places all over Japan I was finally able to get to this rather remote and surprisingly time-consuming place myself…

Haboro was founded in 1894 and grew only slowly for the first 30-something years of its existence – located at the Sea of Japan it has a humid continental climate with strong winds and an average of 5 meters of snow per year; houses along the coast almost all are protected by tall fences made of wooden boards to break the wind, maling them look like little forts. During World War II (which was longer for Japan as the country started earlier than the rest of the world…) the former suburb of Tomamae grew from a few hundred inhabitants to almost than 30000, despite the harsh conditions of its remote location – thanks to two large coal mines in the mountains rising behind the coastal town. (The Chikubetsu Mine (opened in 1940), which we’ll have a look at today, and the Haboro Mine (opened in 1935), which I’ll present in a future article.) To avoid unnecessary commutes, everything the mines needed were built: apartment buildings, a hospital, several schools – basically a Haboro II. In 1970 both mines were closed and the population decreased from 28574 to 13624 in 1975 to 10102 in 1995 to 7253 in 2017. The tendency? Still going down by a couple of dozen people per year.
Today Haboro is a sleepy little coastal town again with the usual array of supermarkets, car dealerships and even a driving school as well as two museums. Nothing out of the ordinary, but not too shabby for such a small remote town. The train line, built in 1941 as the “Coal Line Haboro” to move the coal to places it was needed, once had two stops within the city limits – Chikubetsu in the mountains and Haboro at the sea. Chikubetsu Station was closed with the mines in 1970, Haboro Station followed in 1987 when the state owned JNR was privatized as Japan Railways – and got rid of the complete line between Rumoi and Horonobe. Which means that nowadays Haboro is only accessible by car… and maybe an obscure bus line running three times a day.
Then why is Haboro so popular amongst urban explorers and ghost hunters? Because the ruins of the mining area in the mountains are easily accessible – nobody seems to care about them anymore, there are not even warning or do not enter signs. Despite the fact that pretty much all of them are death traps and mostly demolished, the Haboro ruins are strangely fascinating. We’ll return to Haboro several times in the future (not only for the second mine!) as I spent a whole day there with my buddy *Hamish*, but today I’d like to focus on the ruins of the Chikubetsu Mine.
The first thing most people see of the Chikubetsu Mine is its large concrete hopper, still sitting next to the road, just a little bit more rusty than almost 50 years ago. Much more rusty. So rusty that metal pieces keep falling off. Pointy pieces… One of them piercing right through my shoe and thick hiking socks – if I would have walked just a little bit faster the bayonet shaped spike would have gone right through my foot – and with the emptied out and partly collapsed mine hospital down the road it would have been a painful return to civilization. Last stop of the former Chikubetsu mine – the former power plant, now mostly demolished; the impressively large chimney was still standing, so were couple of other structures and walls, but overall there was little to see on that extremely windy and slightly rainy day – though still better conditions than when exploring the snowy *Horonai Coal Mine & Substation* on a previous trip to Hokkaido.

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Abandoned Kansai is reaching new heights by daringly exploring an abandoned ski-jumping hill… with brand-new technology!

The last time I had the opportunity to explore an abandoned ski-jumping hill my then co-explorers were disinterested to such an extent that I basically had ten minutes to have a quick look while they had breakfast in the car. Back then I took a couple of quick photos, but I never wrote about the “exploration” as it really wasn’t one…
This time was quite different. I was on the road in Hokkaido with my friend *Hamish*, a professional landscape photographer and drone operator – and he loved the ski-jump from the moment he saw it as it gave him the opportunity to fly the drone. While Hamish was setting up his latest piece of equipment (which came in a suitcase bigger than mine!), I was taking pictures of the hill. One horizontally with both jumps, two vertically with one jump each. Oh, and one of the completely locked building down there. I was done taking pictures before Hamish was able to set up the drone and go through his checklist. My old urbex buddy asked me if I was already done taking pictures and I answered that there was only so much I could do from the foot of the hill, but that I had plans to maybe venture halfway up the mountain on the side (avoiding the seemingly endless staircases…) to take some pictures while he was exploring the sky. A few minutes later we had an eye in the sky and I was following the drone’s every move via the iPad on the remote control, when Hamish generously offered that I could use any photos (and videos, for that matter). An offer I greatly appreciated, but in the more than seven years since I’ve started Abandoned Kansai I’ve never published a single photo not taken by me or a single word not written by me; at least to the best of my memory. For insurance reasons I wasn’t allowed to fly the drone myself, so Hamish made another suggestion: He would fly the drone, I would direct him and press the shutter button of the camera. Hmm… It felt a bit like cheating, but at that point I only had taken four photos and the drone material was absolutely spectacular – so I gratefully accepted; not only for myself, but for all of you, too… 🙂
After taking photos with the drone I followed a barely visible trail in hope to get to the two buildings halfway up the hill. Instead the path lead me further to the right, away from the abandoned buildings and jumps, so I had to follow a sequence of other barely visible trails and even fight through some underwood – and when I finally saw something worth taking pictures of again, I was already at the top of the mountain, right underneath the upper lane. The view down from there was absolutely spectacular, but I knew that I would have to fight my minor fear of heights for even better photos, so I walked up the metal grid steps of the ski jump tower one at a time – only to find that the top platform had already been partly removed. I think descending that flight of stairs took me even longer than climbing it… After finishing shooting the 70 meter lane I went over to the 40 meter lane and took some photos there, too. It’s hard to describe how beautiful and rewarding this exploration was, and I hope the pictures do it justice. One and a half hours after I started my supposedly harmless short stroll I arrived back at the foot of the hill with memories far beyond my expectations…

Exploring an abandoned ski jump hill might not sound special on paper, but believe me, in reality it was one of the most rewarding and unique explorations I’ve ever done – elevated to new heights by the generosity and patience of my co-explorer *Hamish*. (Please check out his homepage by clicking on his name in this article.) Oh, and let me know in the comments what you think of the drone shots – any flaws you might find are exclusively attributed to my poor directing, not to Hamish’s impeccable flying skills!

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“Holy s#it, are you f*ing serious?!”, I thought to myself when I first arrived at the Hokkaido Hospital, a small orthopedic clinic and rehabilitation center in one of those countless rundown former mining towns on Japan’s most northern main island. It was a bright cold day in November, and the clocks were silent on this dry morning.

The building in front of me consisted of two parts, connected by a small hallway: A three-storey building, most likely brick, approximately eight by 15 meters, with the exterior rendering falling off in huge chunks – and a rusty metal container, about six by eight meters and 1.5-storeys tall, held two meters above ground by six metal pillars; the space underneath carelessly and recklessly used to park cars and store equipment. The hospital was underground famous for its well-lit, white tiled operation room in good condition, but from the outside the building looked like a deathtrap, a place that could collapse any second – not because of an earthquake, but because of a gust of wind created by a speeding car. I was finally about to explore an abandoned hospital on Japan’s fourth main island, but this was not at all what I expected…

While I was checking out the exterior, a neighborhood dog apparently became aware of my presence and didn’t acknowledge me “leaving” (inside) for at least half an hour; a fact that just added another layer of uneasiness to this uncomfortable and rather cold exploration.
The ground floor was in bad condition, there is no other way to describe or even sugarcoat it. About half of it was dark and moldy, wood and ceiling panels rotting, paint flaking off the walls – unfortunately it was the most interesting part of the floor… or maybe even the whole hospital; the part with the X-ray machine. At least I assume it was an old X-ray machine, judging by the left behind blue lead-weighed jacket and the control panels in that tiny neighboring room. I spent almost an hour in this dark area, taking photos all by myself in an extremely eerie atmosphere – wondering if I found the right hospital, because this rundown piece of something surely didn’t look like it was still home to a surgery. And when I finally moved on, the staircase leading up didn’t exactly reinforce my confidence in the structural integrity of the building or raise my expectations on the higher floors!
But as we all know: Books shouldn’t be judged by their covers – and some of them not even by their first couple of chapters. About 1.5 hours after my arrival I finally found the operating room… and it was almost as bright and shiny as I had hoped it would be. Now please keep in mind that I am writing about an exploration that happened 18 months ago – since then I’ve been to a couple of abandoned hospitals with fully stocked operation theaters, but back then I was only used to countryside clinics run by small town doctors, like the legendary *Tokushima Countryside Clinic*. In hindsight (and visible in the photos) the surgery room had some flaws – a lot of instruments were scattered all over the floor (signs of other visitors…), pretty much all of them were rusting away, and the operation bed / stretcher had seen better days, too. But it was nevertheless an exciting place to be after the dark, nerve-wrecking rooms on the ground floor! (Especially since the neighborhood cur was finally quiet…)
Not much of an exciting place to be was the metal container past the staircase. The darn thing was obviously leaking and a good part of the floor was under water, especially the room with the abandoned rehabilitation equipment. The whole area smelled of mold, it was visible almost everywhere… and I also was a bit worried about crashing through the floor and ruining a car parked underneath, so I left as quickly as possible; which explains why some of the photos are not aligned well and tend to be a bit too bright or dark.
Back in the main building I went up to the third floor – interestingly enough by far in best condition, but not interesting enough to spend much time there; mostly patient rooms with little furniture and other interior left behind, but I already had spent 50% more time there than allocated anyway, and I was swiftly running out of it.

Exploring the Hokkaido Hospital was a pretty amazing experience, especially since I knew little to nothing about it beforehand – two or three photos of the white surgery room and a recommendation… that was all I had. How to get there, how to get inside, finding the good parts? That was up to me, and only up to me. Over the course of the past 18 months this little gem has appeared here and there, and photographers still seem to be fascinated by the operation room… but my favorite part was the X-ray area. It was dark, it was old, it was spooky – the kind of place you just want to get out off, but then you stay for “just one more photo” in hope to take another good one… Luckily I had the chance to explore the Hokkaido Hospital before it became too well known – and so I was able to move on to other abandoned hospitals, some of which I liked even better… like *this one here*! 🙂

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Abandoned race tracks tend to be rather unspectacular – which isn’t much of a loss when they are part of an amusement park, like most of them are. Two or three decent photos and you can move on to the next attraction. An abandoned go-kart track as a standalone article kind of stretches it a little bit though, but… well… shoganai, eh? 🙂
It seems like the Jozankei Go-Kart once had been part of a bigger sports park called Leisure Land, but little to none information is available on this often and rightly overlooked location. I paid this virtually unknown place a short visit after I bid farewell to the once amazing *Hokkaido House of Hidden Treasures* one and a half years ago – and there is actually not much I can tell you about it. Located a bit outside of Jozankei Onsen, the atmosphere around dusk on a late autumn day was rather spooky, as if wildlife could attack any minute. Sadly there was not much left to see. The track, marked by old tires, was covered by several layers of foliage and severely overgrown. The former restrooms were vandalized, some small shacks held office furniture and other garbage. A bit further up the hill I found a collapsed house, most likely a restaurant gift shop – and a rather big boat, also overgrown. Since it was getting dark and I was increasingly worried about ending up as dinner for a bear, I hurried up and got the heck out of there after less than half an hour…
Leisure Land obviously had nothing to do with the fantastic *Kejonuma Leisure Land* – but unlike the *Kart Pista Hiroshima*, Jozankei Go-Kart was actually 100% abandoned! Nothing worth traveling to Hokkaido for, barely worth stopping for when you are in the area; which is rather unlikely, given that *the infamous sex museum just down the road has been demolished in January of 2015*.

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