Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Hokkaido’ Category

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!

(*Like Abandoned Kansai on Facebook* if you don’t want to miss the latest articles and exclusive content – and subscribe to the *video channel on Youtube* to receive a message right after a new video is online…)

Read Full Post »

“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*! 🙂

(*Like Abandoned Kansai on Facebook* if you don’t want to miss the latest articles and exclusive content – and subscribe to the *video channel on Youtube* to receive a message right after a new video is online…)

Read Full Post »

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*.

(*Like Abandoned Kansai on Facebook* if you don’t want to miss the latest articles and exclusive content – and subscribe to the *video channel on Youtube* to receive a message right after a new video is online…)

Read Full Post »

The two deserted Japanese sex museums in *Yamaguchi* and *Hokkaido* were instantly amongst my favorite abandoned places of all time when I first visited them in 2012. They were rare, unique locations, virtually unknown at the time, tough to shoot – far from your run-of-the-mill abandoned hotel smartphone exploration. And while the one in Yamaguchi prefecture disappeared quietly sometime in early 2014, the one in Hokkaido went through quite a bit of suffering before it was finally demolished in January 2015.

*When I first visited the Hokkaido House of Hidden Treasures in November 2012* it already showed some signs of vandalism – graffiti at the main entrance, two open doors, ransacked offices as well as a few pushed over exhibits and some stolen items. From the outside the museum looked rather eerie in 2012 – none of the windows were broken, but it had a really rundown look to it, nothing a person in their right mind would enter voluntarily. 😉
In spring of 2014, less than one and a half years later, I heard word that the Hokkaido Sex Museum was a total piece of trash and barely worth the visit – quite a bit of an exaggeration I thought. Sure, it wasn’t brand-new anymore when I had been there, but how much worse could it have become in less than 18 months? Since I was busy with my own spring explorations and the museum was about 1000 kilometers away from where I live, a revisit had to wait; but when I was able to get a rather cheap flight to Hokkaido for early November I took the chance and headed north. The museum was located in a mid-sized spa town called Jozankei Onsen and in walking distance of the famous and really amazing Hoheikyo Hot Spring, so I took a train from the airport to Sapporo and from there a bus to the countryside; a bus stop conveniently right in front of the “treasure house”. It was exciting to come back to this wonderful location I had so fond memories of, but even before I entered the “treasure house” or had a good look at the building, it became clear that my experience here this time would be quite different from the first visit. Two young women in their early 20s were standing next to their car parked right in front of the museum – one of them yelling something at a guy looking through a window of the upper floor, the yakiniku (grilled meat) restaurant; a broken window, of course, as hardly any of the panes up there was still unharmed. Slightly shocked I headed over to the side entrance, where I found several of the animal exhibits lying outside on the ground, exposed to the weather. Why the heck would anybody do this? And yet this was just the beginning…
Inside, the Hokkaido House of Hidden Treasures looked even worse than from the outside. Windows and showcases were shattered, the several dozen once copulating animals were either gone (for example the tigers) or scattered all over the place – the few remaining standing ones were ripped apart, for example the moose in the second room. The further I walked, the more severe were the damages. The shooting game with the three ladies was severely damaged, the demon and the nude female doll from the Disney window stolen, the on glass painted dinosaurs with the huge manufactured dicks smashed. Sadly the lower floor didn’t look any better. The strip area was ripped apart, somebody apparently threw a cabinet on the woman in the cum shooting game, the huge mechanical penis near the wall under the stairs gone; even the religious statues in the next room were scattered, some probably stolen. The worst I felt for the stallion in the third room – no more hung like a horse… castrated; penis envy to the max!
I’ve been to quite a few trashed places before, and I’ve seen vandalism progressing, for example at the *Maya Tourist Hotel* and especially at *Nara Dreamland*, but this was a whole new level. The Hokkaido House of Hidden Treasures (HHoHT) went from an amazing abandoned photo opportunity to a pile of trash in less than two years – a big building at the entrance of a busy spa town in a country with a reputation for little to no vandalism.

How could this happen?
Well, one of the reasons is probably GoogleMaps. As far as I know they previously removed the names of closed businesses, but then they started to keep the names and just added a CLOSED remark – and even allowed users to add names of places. So if you knew the Japanese name of the HHoHT, you could find it by looking for it on GoogleMaps.
Another factor most likely was the fact that the HHoHT was on the main road in a somewhat busy spa town with thousands of cars passing by every day, especially on the weekends. The building was obviously abandoned… and I am sure once somebody broke the first window of the restaurant floor, the whole place went to hell in a wheelbarrow.
To mention the owner of the museum as a final factor might be a bit unfair as nobody should be blamed when other people trash their property, but in a country where you can keep people from entering by putting up a string of dental floss, whoever was responsible for the building didn’t put up any “Do not enter!” signs and allowed to be both main entrances to be open (to both the museum and the restaurant) – not to mention an unlocked side-door basically out of sight of the main road. During my second visit there was even a third open door… but also a handwritten cardboard sign that theft, vandalism and even trespassing would be reported to the police. The placement of the sign? At the vandalized shooting game IN THE MIDDLE OF THE EXHIBITION! Darn, seriously? After entering and walking through half the building you tell people that they should not do that? If the owner would have put a traffic cone in front of each entrance the whole collection would probably still be in good condition.

Instead it took me two rather well-timed blocks of five minutes to film the revisit walkthrough in two parts as I ran into so many people inside the museum that it was close to impossible to do a one shot walking tour without having people yapping in the background; a total of three groups during my two hour long visit – all of them Japanese, none of them in a hurry. Despite new light sources due to the massive amount of vandalism (including the open door next to the cum shooting game on the lower floor) it was a rather slow process to take pictures at the museum, especially with people running through set-up shots every now and then.
Revisiting the Hokkaido House of Hidden Treasure was one of the most heartbreaking urbex experiences ever. In 2012 I had such a great time there, exploring one of the few remaining examples of a dying Japanese subculture – in 2014 the museum was nothing but a vandalized waste of space. Not a fading reminder of a once glorious attraction, but a slap in the face of everybody being too late to see this wonderfully eclectic collection, compiled by a weird yet somewhat fascinating mind. Two month after my second visit, in January of 2015, the Hokkaido House of Hidden Treasure was demolished. On *Google Maps you can still see the building*. But believe me, it’s gone. It’s probably for the better – and if you want to remember it in its 2012 glory, *have a look here*.

(*Like Abandoned Kansai on Facebook* if you don’t want to miss the latest articles and exclusive content – and subscribe to the *video channel on Youtube* to receive a message right after a new video is online…)

Read Full Post »

When exploring abandoned places you are barely ever the first to visit, mainly because you have to find out about them somehow, which means that somebody had to write or tell you about them – so pretty much the best case scenario is that you haven’t seen too many photos and videos about a location before visiting it. That applied for most spots on my *haikyo trip to Hokkaido*, which is quite unusual, but Hokkaido isn’t exactly popular amongst foreign urban explorers (or Japanese haikyoists…) since it is rather off the beaten tracks. Those barely spoiled locations are especially exciting to explore, since there is only little known about them – how to get in, condition, size, dangerous parts, security…
Whether that’s a good thing or not lies in the eye of the beholder. I like my explorations with as little surprises as possible, to be honest with you, but at the same time I favor locations that haven’t been photographed to death; preferably places that are in the middle of nowhere with not a soul within a couple of kilometers. About 75% of the locations I visited in Hokkaido I knew little more about than their names and a handful of photos before exploring them myself – but the Mount Teine Ski Lift was special and stood out of even that group. Before walking up to the *Olympic Ruins Of Sapporo 1972* I had a look at the surroundings via GoogleMaps and saw a ski lift with two photos of abandoned constructions – but they weren’t named properly and I didn’t even know if they were just misplaced and in fact part of the Olympic Ruins. It turned out that they were a separate location, but although I know its name now researching it wasn’t exactly easy.

When I was walking up to the Mount Teine Ski Lift (which most likely was part of the still active Sapporo Teine Resort) I saw an old bus stop sign of the JR Hokkaido Bus line, although the staff at the JR Teine Station told me there were no busses running; maybe an old sign that was never removed… Not worthless though, as the sign had the name of the stop written on it: 千尺. The first kanji is common – sen, one thousand. But the second I couldn’t read, so I took a photo to find out later. Now I know that it means shaku, which is a traditional unit of measure in Asia, not in daily use anymore in Japan; about 303 mm or almost one foot. So the place was basically called “303 Meters”, although the slope was actually much longer; about 2 kilometers to be more specific. To get to the top you had to use two different lifts and it turned out that the mountain station of the second left was in proximity of the former start of the Olympic Bobsleigh track before it was dismantled, while the *Olympic Ruins Of Sapporo 1972* were the goal – it’s all connected…
If you google the term you’ll end up with links to the Gosenshaku Hotel, a rather high end accommodation in the Japanese Alps, about 1000 km away from the Senshaku ski lift. If you do some more googling in Japanese you might stumble across two year old photos on which the rest house is in way better shape. Now almost completely collapsed it was in decent condition just 24 months prior to my visit – and several (now unreadable) signs revealed more information; sadly the Japanese guys hosting those photos didn’t care to write anything about the place. It seems like the full name was “Teine Olympia Senshaku Highland”. Unlike the bobsleigh ruins, this ski lift didn’t show off the Olympic Rings, so it’s safe to say that it wasn’t part of the official venues; even more so since according to the Japanese Wikipedia the Olympia Highland was established in 1974 and opened in 1976, four years after the games were held. Instead it was a skiing slope for the general public – with lockers, rental gear, food and arcade machines. The chartered shuttle bus service was stopped in August of 2001 and 15 months later Kamori Kanko bought the place (they also own Noboribetsu Bear Park and Noboribetsu Marine Park Nixe near the *Tenkaen, Japan’s Lost China Theme Park*). And at that point I got lost a bit as I found contradictive information about combining two skiing areas, about places getting closed that still have active homepages, about areas that look the same, but have different names… Long story short: I still have no idea when Senshaku was closed!

All I know is that it was exciting walking up to the Senshaku area as I had little to no idea what to expect. While Sapporo itself was still basically snow free the 150 meters of additional elevation and not being in the city anymore made a difference of about 5 to 10 cm – just enough to be fun without being annoying. Of course a car was parked in front of the entrance upon my approach, but I decided to ignore the guy and just walked straight up the hill. I also ignored the mostly collapsed building to the left and had a quick look at the dilapidated ski lift to the right – being all by myself and already rather cold I refrained from climbing that death trap and made my way up the mountain to take some photos of the towers and to take some ultra-wide angle shots of the whole place. Up there I found a big cart with several ropes connected to it, probably used to transport goods up the mountain, though I didn’t find any information about it, even during the research I did for this article. While taking photos of the wagon I heard some wild noises that didn’t sound too friendly. I didn’t see any animals, but I wasn’t exactly eager to have any confrontation, so I grabbed my video camera and walked back down the hill. The video ended abruptly when I turned down the camera as soon as I saw a man standing between the lift and the rest house – preemptive obedience, Japan’s unofficial motto. It turned out that the guy didn’t mean no harm and just had a look himself, but it was good to stop anyway since him walking through the video several times or even talking to me wouldn’t have been good either. Obviously he wasn’t eager to talk to me… and left before I was done taking more photos of the ski lift.
The former rest house was in horrible condition and I only spent a couple of minutes exploring it – because it looked more dangerous than interesting, and because the sun was already setting behind Mount Teine and I still had to walk up the mountain to see the *Olympic Ruins of Sapporo 1972*

(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*…)

Read Full Post »

Japanese doctors are the worst in the world! Well, probably not in the world, but most likely in the industrialized world. If you think that Japan is all about lasers and robots and modern technology… then think again! Sometimes it’s shocking how far behind the rest of the (industrialized…) world Japan already is – and it’s rather getting worse than better.
It’s a complex topic, so where do I start? Probably with the fact that I have never heard of a single doctor who just calls himself a doctor – every doctor in Japan seems to have a clinic or even a hospital, even if it’s just a general practitioner working all by himself. They work long hours (usually closing Wednesday afternoons and Sundays), but one of the reasons for that is the fact that they love to make patients come back as often as possible. Constant check-ups, even on rather long-term treatments like high blood pressure. The standard health insurance here covers 70% of the costs, 30% have to be paid by the patient right after each treatment – so when you get charged 15 bucks, the health insurance pays another 35. For minor things it beats the high insurance rates in my (almost) all-inclusive home country of Germany, but if you get seriously sick it can ruin you financially like in the States, especially since there are no sick days in Japan. If you spend a day in a hospital or at a clinic (or at home with a cold for that matter) you have to use a paid vacation day – and if you are running out, the missed day comes right out of your paycheck. But that’s an insurance thing and has little to nothing to do with the medical staff. So why was I bashing Japanese doctors right at the beginning? Oh, because they are terrible and have a bad reputation even amongst the obedient Japanese populace.
I am lucky for having a good constitution in general, but about 4.5 years ago I injured my ankle playing airsoft with a couple of colleagues. I was jumping into a ditch and heard a loud noise when hitting the ground, instantly feeling serious pain. My American colleagues were all like “Don’t worry, just a sprained ankle!” and continued to play instead of bringing me to a hospital while the Japanese colleagues couldn’t care less. I never had a sprained ankle, so I believed them. Two days later when getting ready for work I almost blacked out, but I though that’s normal. When the “sprained ankle” was still a bit swollen and hurting after two months (yeah, I’ve been naive…) I finally asked a Japanese colleague to accompany me to see a doctor – a “clinic” where they took X-rays. They confirmed that it wasn’t a sprained ankle (really?!), but were unable to say what it was and how to treat it. So they transferred me to a hospital, specialized on fractured bones and stuff. When we went there a couple of days later the doc in charge was really eager to talk me into surgery as quickly as possible after he told me that I fractured my ankle and had torn a ligament. (Yes, I walked to the office with a torn ligament for 2 months! I always knew that I was a tough cookie, but that was suffering through a lot of pain, even for a foreigner in Japan…) His way to solve the problem: A one week stay at the hospital, transferring bone material from my hip to my ankle! (The reaction of my Japanese colleague when I said that I didn’t like that idea very much: “Don’t worry, I can bring you work to the hospital!”) And if it would have been for the Japanese Dr. Frankenstein I would have started treatment right the next day. I asked for a couple of days respite and then the guy admitted that after 2 months it was not that urgent anyway. And that he couldn’t guarantee that I will ever walk without pain even with that operation. What the heck? Was that the island of Japan or the island of Doctor Moreau? My school education started a deafening alarm and all I was able to think of was Erich Maria Remarque’s “All Quiet On The Western Front”… That doc would never ruin my foot! Later that day an American ex-colleague told me how a woman at his new company did the same operation, except that they took bone material from her wrist. One year later she still wasn’t able to walk without pain – neither could she fully move her hand! And with that the surgery wasn’t even an option anymore and I relied on the natural healing power of my body. Half a year later I did 25km hiking day trips to the mountains (which I had never done before, because I was couch potato for most of my life…) and another six months later I started urban exploration. So if you ever need medical treatment while in Japan, ask your embassy for advice and get a second or third opinion. But even that might not be the solution in some cases – look forward to a future article where I will describe how a business trip to Germany probably saved my life when I contracted Lyme Disease, which seems to be undetectable and not treatable in Osaka, although it is native to the northern parts of Japan…

Sankei Hospital

Of course I don’t know if the doctors at the Sankei Hospital were as bad as the ones I had to deal with so far, but they definitely had to deal with some serious problems. And by that I don’t mean their own education or their patients’ quirks, kinks and serious illnesses (the Sankei Hospital was a mental hospital!), but Mother Nature. As beautiful as nature is in Japan (or everywhere else in the world for that matter…) one thing is pretty clear: Nature hates Japan! If you ever spent a summer in Kyoto, a winter in Hokkaido, or if you look at all the typhoons, earthquakes and tsunamis… then it’s pretty clear that Japan isn’t God’s own country, nevertheless the Emperor still claims to be a descendant of Amaterasu, the sun goddess of the Shinto religion. (Although it’s more likely that he is of Korean descent…)
In 1910 the volcano Mount Usu erupted and lead to the establishment of an observatory under the leadership of Prof. Fusakichi Omori, a pioneer seismologist of his time. In 1945 the eruption of Mount Usu created Showa-shinzan, a volcanic lava dome next to Mount Usu – I took a photo of it and published it with the *haikyo trip to Hokkaido* article a while ago. When Mount Usu erupted a third time in the 20th century on August 7th 1977 the observation registered precursors up to 32 hours prior – luckily the hospital’s founder and director Kazuo Kato wasn’t mental at all. He came up with an emergency plan involving both his staff and officials of Sobetsu, where the hospital was located. When the eruption started at 9.12 a.m. the prearranged evacuation program kicked into gear and all 230 inpatients were taken to safety at a former school 12 kilometers away. At first the hospital suffered only minor damage (some small cracks here and there) when the northern flank of Mount Usu was severely deformed, being thrust 200 meters to the northeast. The process continued for months and due to magmatic intrusions the cracks widened further till the building finally collapsed almost a year later. (It goes without saying that the Sankei Hospital is famous amongst Japanese ghost hunters. Nobody was even injured during the evacuation, but a collapsed and abandoned mental hospital? That is as good as it gets if you are into that kind of stuff…)

Going Mental

By the time *Michael* and I arrived at the hospital, via a forest road since we had no clue that we were approaching a publicly known spot, the sun was already really low and behind a mountain range, so I took a quick and rather ugly video from the outside before it was too late to shoot any video at all. Michael was already entering through the back and by the time I jumped the fence and was ready to get in myself I received the advice to climb in through the front to avoid the vegetation in the back – nobody would show up at that time of the day anyway; and nobody did. Running out of light it was a quick exploration – the first part felt like walking in a picture by M. C. Escher as the floor was completely twisted; the fact that the Sankei Hospital was a mental hospital made the whole thing even more bizarre. Thanks to the level function of my camera all the floors on the daylight photos should be perfectly horizontal – but they aren’t, because they weren’t. When it got dark I left the collapsed eastern part and strolled through the (mostly) not collapsed western part. Not a pleasant exploration, especially when Michael was on the floor above me – it sounded like he could crash through the ceiling at any time, as if the whole building could come down at any time. The fences outside were there for a reason and I strongly recommend to respect them and to not enter the Sankei Hospital. That’s why I won’t add it to *my map of abandoned places*, although technically it was another tourist attraction, much like the *Horonai Mine* or the wonderful island of *Okunoshima* – fenced off and equipped with several large information signs in both Japanese and English, nevertheless way more dangerous than all the other locations on that map.
Given that we were running out of time the Sankei Hospital was a nice way to end the second day of explorations in Hokkaido. There wasn’t much to see, but it was a truly unique place and in the end way more interesting than the Xth abandoned hotel with the same moldy rooms and the same interior…

(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*…)

Read Full Post »

More often than not I barely have any information about the places I visit in advance. Sometimes I only saw a photo and have a general idea where to look for the location. It was like that when visiting the *Bibai Bio Center* – and the Horonai Substation was not much different. A red brick building somewhere in the middle of nowhere – and a road leading there. That was it. I didn’t expect a spectacular location… and I didn’t find one. Nevertheless it was a good exploration with an interesting history, the first one on my *haikyo trip to Hokkaido*. *Michael* thought so, too – although he almost paid a steep price for making a snow angel…

History

The Horonai Mine has an incredibly and unusually long history, dating back to the early years of the Meiji Era (1868-1912). Back then it was a time of new departures and Hokkaido still was kind of unknown territory. Japan recently opened itself to the world after more than two and a half centuries of information and immigration control, relying heavily on foreign experts to accomplish in a couple of decades what Europe and the States took about a century – industrialization. Just a decade prior Hokkaido was still known as Ezochi and for its renitent inhabitants, but the new government in the newly appointed capital Tokyo pushed for the development of Japan’s most northern prefecture… and population rose from 58.000 to 240.000 in the mere ten years of the 1870s. Agriculture and mining became the prefecture’s most important industries – and while agriculture is still important (especially wheat, potatoes, pumpkins, corn, raw milk, and beef), mining isn’t. The amount of abandoned mines in Hokkaido is incredible, but since most of them are in extremely rural areas, often hours away from bigger cities, we decided to visit the Horonai Coal Mine as an example – because it wasn’t completely out of the way, came with an electrical substation and, to our surprise, with the Horonai Shrine.
It wasn’t until writing this article though that I found out that the Horonai Mine was actually Hokkaido’s oldest modern mine and that Hokkaido’s first railroad, the Horonai Railway, was built to establish and operate the Horonai Mine. It’s said that in 1868 a local resident discovered coal in Horonai, but it wasn’t until 1872 that the village received any attention, leading to a survey in 1873. Expecting massive amounts of high quality coal in Horonai plans were made concrete in 1877 and money was raised through industrial bonds in 1878 after important statesmen like Ito Hirobumi and Yamagata Aritomo visited the area in previous years and campaigned to establish a mine. Further surveys were conducted in May of 1878 and the mine was opened on December 18th 1878, reaching full production almost four years later in June of 1882.
Plans for the Horonai Railway, necessary to transport the coal mined in Horonai to places where it could be used, were finalized in December of 1879, so construction of the railway began in January of 1880, installation began in July of the same year – technology and knowledge was imported from the United States by J.U. Crawford, who oversaw the railway construction project for the Japanese government; the line was officially opened on September 13th 1883 and was used for the transportation of passengers as well as coal.
In 1889 both the mine and the railroad were privatized, probably for little money, as both of them were not profitable at all. This happened a lot in the late 19th century in Japan, strengthening the so-called zaibatsu (gigantic family controlled holding companies, amongst them still famous corporations like Mitsubishi, Mitsui, Sumitomo and Kawasaki), but also countless mid-sized companies (although sometimes even profitable companies were given away for a fraction of what they were worth…). Business continued for another 100 years and ended in 1989, when most of the buildings were demolished for security reasons – and because back then industrial heritage wasn’t considered worthy of preservation. (The Völklingen Ironworks in Völklingen, Germany, and the Zollverein Coal Mine Industrial Complex in Essen, Germany, were actually spearheading the idea of maintaining old industrial buildings, becoming UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 1994 and 2001 respectively.)
A not so fun “fun fact”: Like many other mines in Hokkaido, Horonai was taking advantage of prison labor. Not only during times of war, but in the early years, both before and after privatization. In 1883 250 prisoners worked next to 228 general laborers. In 1890 there were 1.043 prisoners and 183 normal workers “employed”, the forced labor accounting for more than 80% of the work force, extraction and transportation almost exclusively relying on prison labor! (It was actually thanks to the prison laborers that the Horonai Mine survived the first couple of years. From 1882 to 1888 the mine was deep in the red with only one profitable year and couldn’t even afford to implement mechanized coal transport – that actually happened only after it was privatized and exploited prisoners as cheap labor for years. And after the extraction costs per ton of coal were cut down to one sixth over the course of six years till privatization in 1889.)
The Horonai Mine also gathered some local fame in Japan when it was used as the setting of the second Season of Survivor (サバイバー) in 2002 – after Palau, but before the Philippines and North Mariana. Probably the most original setting ever and by now much more exotic than all those islands in the Pacific Ocean; they look all the same to me anyway! (I usually don’t link to other people’s Youtube videos, but *here is the intro to that season* in 240p. Don’t miss the *video I took at mine in late November* in 720p!)

Exploration

When we arrived on location the initial situation wasn’t promising. Several hundred meters before we reached the substation we had to park the car as the road was completely snowed in. Luckily there were tire tracks (we were able to walk in) from a more suitable vehicle, but the road itself wasn’t accessible with the small car we rented. As we got ready to walk up the hill we saw a guy and his dog coming back to their car. Nothing unusual, until we saw that the guy was carrying a rifle. Not the usual BB guns you have everywhere in Japan. A real friggin rifle! Even if he wasn’t shooting trespassers we were wondering what he was hunting in the forest ahead of us… and if his prey might want to get a shot at hunting us…
Nevertheless we followed the previously mentioned tire tracks deeper into the valley. To the right we saw several concrete ruins of the Horonai Mine, abandoned in 1989, when the mine was closed after 110 years. Everywhere along the road we found information signs (Japanese only…) and it seems like the area was converted into a “coal mine scene park” in 2005. It turned out that the first abandoned place on our trip wasn’t actually that abandoned, more like a tourist attraction – like the *Shime Coal Mine*, a.k.a. the *Anti-Zombie Fortress*. Of course there were no tourists seen anywhere, so I guess the place is only of interest in the snow-free summer months… and basically inaccessible the rest of the year. Michael of course was eager to head over to concrete remains, but given the deep snow and the unknown terrain I was able to convince him to look for the substation first – especially since the grey leftovers didn’t look like they contained anything interesting.

It took us about half an hour to walk from the parking lot to the substation and the tire tracks ended a couple of dozen meters before reaching our destination thanks to a collapsed tree on the road – from that point on we had to walk through the snow which was about 30 centimeters deep.
The Horonai Substation, a two-storey brick-clad concrete building, was built in the 1920s, more than 40 years after the mine was opened, and received its electricity from a coal fired power plant in Shimizusawa. That plant, which was fuelled by coal from the Yubari Mine, not the Horonai Mine, is still in existence and closed in 1991, but was not visited by yours truly as the roads leading there would have required a separate day trip.
Sadly there wasn’t that much to see: The metal constructions of the transformers and the brick covered building – locked by a solid chain, but luckily Michael found another way in. The building clearly was in use during summer months, featuring some kind of exhibition with lots of exhibits and huge control panels from the good old days.
More interesting was the Horonai Shrine, which obviously was completely covered by snow, too, and probably as half-abandoned as the Horonai Substation. Located right next to the substation on a small plateau up a slope, the shrine offered a nice view at the remains below. At that point it started to snow and I don’t know why, but there is an amazing peacefulness about deserted snow-covered shrines. Michael was still down at the substation, so all I heard was snow falling – perfect tranquility.
Overall the Horonai location wasn’t spectacular, but at that point I hadn’t explored many snow covered (more or less) abandoned places, so it was a good start into the trip!

Snow Angel

Oh, after all those paragraphs about the mine’s history I almost forgot about the snow angel! It seems like either Michael or I have a serious amount of bad luck when exploring together. In spring I broke my D90 on our *haikyo trip to southern Honshu* – and I already mentioned Michael’s misstep at the *Hokkaido Sex Museum*. His bad luck started earlier though, when he insisted on making a snow angel on the way back to the car. I thought it was a bad idea in the first place as it was cold and he was jumping spine first onto unknown ground (concrete, rocks, metal, …), but everything went fine until the point when Michael first took off his glasses and then stood up shortly after, realizing that his glasses were gone. In a comedy movie kind of situation he asked me to watch my steps – the last words barely left his mouth when he moved one of his legs and we both heard a crushing sound. The spectacle frame under his boot wasn’t only bent, but broken. Well, bent and broken. Michael, the designated driver on this tour since my license isn’t valid in Japan, had some contact lenses with him, but they would have only last for two or three days – shorter than the trip. So on the way to our second hotel we were looking for a glasses store. 5 minutes to 8 p.m. (i.e. closing time) on a national holiday (!) I spotted one. Not only were they able to fix Michael’s glasses in a miracle operation taking almost half an hour, they did it for free and also give mine a new polish. Quite a few people complain about the (lack of post-buy) service in Japan (and I admit that sometimes it can drive you nuts!), but the glasses shops here are amazing and saved not only the day, but kind of the whole trip…

(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*…)

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »