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Archive for the ‘Hotel / Ryokan’ Category

Wooden sculptures, old TVs and weird Japanese raccoon dog statues – if any abandoned hotel ever deserved the (obviously made-up) name “Tom Nook’s Hotel” it’s this one!

Tom Nook is without a doubt the most famous tanuki in the world. The shop owner and real estate mogul kind of stars in Nintendo’s amazing Animal Crossing game series, though some players consider the greedy turbo-capitalist, named tanukichi in the original Japanese version, a genuine antagonist. What Nintendo leaves out for good reasons: tanuki are also part of many of Japan’s stories and legends as the bake-danuki is a type of yokai (supernatural being), dating back to the nihon shoki (“The Chronicles of Japan”, finished in 720. They are usually described as upright walking and shape-changing (8 disguises!) with a foolish character. What makes them stand out visually to most people though are their massively oversized scrotums, most likely added to the character around 1200 AD when goldsmiths started to use tanuki pelts when hammering gold nuggets into leaves. The scrotums can be used to glide through the air, to trawl, and to use them as a drum. None of which Toom Nook would ever do, because he is not a bake-danuki! (Super Mario’s tanuki costumes from various games also missed the giant balls for obvious reasons – it’s impossible to jump and run if you need a wheelbarrow for your testicles to get around.)

The second I saw Tom Nook’s Hotel I knew two things: It was abandoned for sure and most likely not much fun to explore. One of those hotels you look at and know that it would be vandalized and damp. Fortunately the whole tanuki / bake-danuki thing came as a (positive) surprise, because the lobby confirmed all the concerns I had outside – it was mostly empty and pretty much vandalized. (In the rest of the article I only use the term tanuki for simplicity as the Japanese term in English commonly refers to the yokai version anyway; and if not you should realize from context.) A calendar behind a small bar from August 2010 implied that the hotel was closed almost 10 years ago and an omiyage sample box kind of confirmed that there must have been a little shop, probably in the lobby or nearby. Right after the lobby the guest rooms started… and the problems with the floors. Some were cluttered with furniture (maybe courtesy of some airsoft players?) others caved in when stepped on – and some were flat-out broken, so I had to step down half a meter on the dirt floor below to continue. So what do you do when you are exploring an underwhelming abandoned hotel like that? Right, you look for the shared baths, which tend to be the highlights of deserted accommodations in Japan. Unfortunately it was a rainy day, so everything was damp and dark, the kind of place you’ll expect to find a dead body at.
It didn’t get that bad, but fortunately the bizarre-o-meter exploded when I already had given up on the location. The rotenburo (outdoor bath) of the shared bath for men featured a strangely smiling tanuki statue. So far, so good. At least one somewhat interesting photo. Then I heard my friends laughing! “Florian, you have to see this! The tanuki in the rotenburo for women has a boner!” And indeed, there it was – as usual, the rotenburo for women was much smaller, but the tanuki’s penis was very happy to see guests! This was such a sexist dick move! (Pun intended…) Bad enough that the baths for women in Japanese hotels almost always are smaller / less elaborate, here they not only put tanuki statues in the rotenburo (which is not common at all!), but they chose the flaccid for the men’s bath and the erect one for the women’s bath. (To be honest, this is the first time I ever had to pay attention to the yokai dick as tanuki tend to have tiny penises, because the attention is on the balls, not the whole junk!)
Unfortunately the rest of the exploration turned back into the desperate hunt for at least somewhat interesting photos as nobody really wants to see rundown places – but in the end they can’t be all like the *Kanemochi Mansions*, so I took some of the quite nice view and of abandoned TVs; there’s something about those black mirrors…

In the end Tom Nook’s Hotel was a much better exploration than I expected thanks to the two tanuki statues and the three abandoned TVs, but overall it was average at best. When you hoped for a 9 in the morning, expect a 2 upon arrival and got a 5 when leaving it was just one of those days…

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With 77 years of history, dating back to the 1930s, this spectacular abandoned onsen hotel was one of the most surprising explorations I’ve ever made! Let me show you a place even experienced urbexers didn’t know existed…

Whenever I plan exploration days, I try to start with a big ticket item and fill the rest of the day with original finds (which can be hit or miss) or locations I don’t expect much of – because sometimes one location can be enough and keep you busy the whole day. Unfortunately no region has exceptionally promising locations for several days when you are an experienced explorer with hundreds of explored places under your belt – so some days become filler days with filler locations. Stuff you know about for years but never checked out, because other places looked more promising at the time. The Volcano Onsen Hotel was one of those locations – it was big, yes, and being located on an active volcano made it interesting by definition… but nobody seemed to care about it. I have never seen inside pictures before I decided to explore it – and I have not since then. I even drove by on a previous trip to that region and couldn’t be bothered to stop and enter. On paper it was just another large abandoned hotel, status unknown, but from the looks of it in decent condition. Most likely vandalized inside… or maybe with locked rooms, two unspectacular shared baths and a moldy lobby.
Well, to this very day I still don’t know what the guest rooms looked like. I didn’t even try to open a single one. After three exhausting hours of shooting riches in sparsely lit rooms on that overcast grey autumn day I was just happy and grateful to leave with some surprisingly interesting photos.

When my buddy, award-winning filmmaker *Hamish*, and I arrived at the Volcano Onsen Hotel it became apparent quickly that entering through the front door wasn’t going to happen… as a car was parked next to it and the hotel was located on a busy road. Said car actually made us wonder if an exploration was possible at all, but upon closer inspection it wasn’t clear if it was parked recently or if it was part of an abandoned ensemble. There was only one way to find out – finding another way in, preferably from the back. After passing through a small gate and past what looked like a somewhat maintained garden we had to chose Way A (leading stairs upwards to a terrace) or Way B (leading downwards along an overgrown path to the underbelly of the beast).
Out of sight, out of mind – so of course we chose Way B, which lead indeed down the slope the hotel was built on and past large locked windows of the former indoor pool. We then reached a sketchy construction of wooden stairs as well as under- and overpaths, maybe still somewhat solid a decade prior, but not after several years of abandonment under these harsh seaside conditions. Every step felt like a potentially broken ankle (or worse), but we finally made it to a variety of doors – all locked, but the area was strangely hot and humid as the hotel was still fed by slightly leaking hot water pipes. Not exactly inspiring confidence that the hotel was really abandoned for sure.
Faced with two or three dead ends we risked our ankles and necks again to get back up the slope, and after some discussions about whether it was really worth risking to set off an alarm over yet another dull abandoned Japanese hotel I realized that the terrace door was actually unlocked. Not a guarantee for an alarm free entrance (we once triggered an alarm causing security to show just reaching through a broken door and past a curtain – they didn’t catch us, but we saw them and it means that they just turned off the alarm and let other explorers run into the same trap over and over and over again; a story for another time!), but confidence inspiring enough for two no risk explorers to actually walk in and… enter the breakfast room with a view.
Everything was still in good condition, so I was tempted to start taking pictures right away, because part of me still expected that this could end at any second. No inside photos anywhere on the internet, no vandalism at all (not even metal thieves!), no animal droppings anywhere. Something must have been wrong here, right?
But in the end it was just a breakfast room / restaurant, which turned out to be the least interest part of the exploration, so I held back, left the room, turned right and stood in front of an indoor shrine. Yes, you’ve read right: indoor shrine. Next to the chow hall was an indoor shrine the size of… well, about my apartment, maybe?! Friggin huge, at least by hotel standards, where you don’t expect things like that. We’ve all seen the smaller ones, some public, some even in the corner of some backoffice – but a shrine the size of a room between the lobby and the restaurant? Never seen that before anywhere in Japan. (But I usually stay at business hotels as places too formal and exclusive make me feel uncomfortable.) A first of many surprises…
Since the lobby was at the front of the hotel with a huge glass front towards the road, we tried to stay in the back of the hotel and right next to the indoor shrine was a lounge with several chairs, sofas, very heavy tables… and all kinds of art. Pictures, sculptures, art books – you name it, it was there to entertain guest. An open door lead outside to a now overgrown garden; a sign of abandonment and the cause of some mold, but pretty much the only damage I saw during my visit.
The next couple of stops were almost dreamlike: The large bar with the empty bottle on the counter and the overgrown garden outside. The hotel’s art museum wing – partly empty glass cabinets, partly untouched religious items. The large lap pool. The classic gender separated onsen, one of the most beautiful of its kind thanks to its stunning simplicity. The outdated, but ready to be used breakfast room / restaurant. The former entertainment area with several modular karaoke boxes. The still fully stocked gift shop – too dark and risky to take pictures at, but only the second completely untouched abandoned gift shop I’ve ever seen; while this one only featured the usual array of sweets and tourist crap, the other one was stocked with necklaces and other jewelry – but that, too, is a story for another time…)

Exploring the abandoned Volcano Onsen Hotel took a little less than three hours from the first photo to the last and a little over three hours in total – and it wasn’t until we left that I realized that we hadn’t even entered a single guest room. I’ve had my share of strange moments exploring abandoned places in Japan, but this exploration almost felt like one long strange moment. As you can see at the end of this article’s photo gallery, the Volcano Onsen Hotel looked as unspectacular as a hotel closed for five years can look like. If you still have high expectations after seeing that exterior (twice) you must be really easily excitable! Well, and then we entered and the exploration took off like a space rocket – and despite several signs of abandonment there was always this uncomfortable feeling of somebody showing up at any moment or somebody watching us from an still active control room. It was a true exploration as neither of us had seen indoor photos of the hotel before or after on the internet, so there was this increasing nagging pressure to get the heck out of there and get to safety what we were able to ban on memory cards. And despite not having seen the whole building in the end, I assume we covered most of it – and what a unique place it was! Overall my favorite abandoned onsen hotel, without a doubt. The complete lack of vandalism in combination with regular wear and tear as well as barely any natural decay made it a sight for sore eyes, the unusual rooms / areas in combination with the complete lack of previous documentation and the uncertain ownership made it exciting to explore. Overall quite reminiscent of the *Nishiwaki Health Land Hotel*, a location of comparable quality which I explored under similar circumstances and that was closed at around the same time in 2012…

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An abandoned ryokan (Japanese inn), consisting of two buildings. The main one was in dilapidated condition – exterior walls were bending, the floors inside were brittle, overall it was far beyond repair. The second building was in even worse condition, looking like it was hit by a gigantic weapon. The exploration felt uncomfortable and took only about half an hour in total. Nothing I would normally explore these days, especially since I had no background story at all, but I guess it’s still a good filler for a busy week, like this one. Nothing in comparison to the spectacular *Wakayama Ryokan*!

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In early 2017 I was able to do an unplanned revisit – now the Nakagusuku Hotel Ruin is under demolition.

Okinawa’s tourism industry suffered quite a few setbacks recently. First two cactus theme parks closed (*this one* and *especially this one*), then plans for a proposed Universal Studios Okinawa fell through. In the summer of 2019 the demolition of the Nakagusuku Hotel Ruin began (you probably think I’m kidding, but it actually became kind of a tourist attraction, much like *Nara Dreamland*) – and on October 31st parts of the famous Shuri Castle in Naha burned to the ground. A series of unfortunate events that might be a blessing in disguise, because if cities like Kyoto, Nara, and even Osaka are any indication, the mass tourism of recent years isn’t always a good thing – especially for the people who live there. (Or just ask the people of Venice, Italy, what they think. I found it terribly crowded and when I went there as a teenager during a family vacation in the late 80s, early 90s – I can only imagine how nightmarish the situation has become in recent years…)

In early 2017 I went to Okinawa for a relaxing long weekend, escaping the “winter” in Kansai for a couple of days in pursuit of eating and drinking as much shikuwasa-related food as possible. No urbex on the schedule, I didn’t even bring my trusted tripod. Nevertheless I found myself next to the Nakagusuku Hotel Ruin just hours after my arrival in Japan’s most southern prefecture when visiting the Nakagusuku Castle Ruin, a UNESCO World Heritage site I rushed through during my first visit to Okinawa about five years earlier. I did my best to enjoy one of the few remaining tourist attractions on the island, but in the an a leopard cannot change his spots – especially after observing several foreign and local tourists walking past the warning signs and heading towards the hotel ruins.
The first time I explored the Nakagusuku Hotel Ruin it was an eight hour long endeavor on a sunny spring day with full equipment – this time I came during 20°C weather on an overcast, slightly rainy and overall rather gloomy day without a tripod and probably even without a second lens. Not a big problem for outside shots, but everything inside was quite tough. Sometimes the lighting situation was so difficult that I had to put down the camera and improvise to avoid blurry photos. In addition to the high humidity and the overall situation (a LOT more warning signs than five years prior!) a rather unpleasant experience I didn’t drag out much beyond the 1.5 hour mark (including video, but plus outside shots), though I kinda had the feeling that this would be my last visit to one the most amazing locations I’ve ever been to.

If you want to know *more about the mind-boggling background story of the Nakagusuku Hotel Ruin, then please click here*. *More about my first exploration you can read by clicking here.* Both articles contain dozens of photo and some lengthy videos, so they come highly recommended!

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A small onsen hotel hidden in the mountains, the entry area almost completely overgrown – a neat little find and a great way to end a day of exciting explorations!

On paper this small abandoned onsen hotel in the mountains was barely worth visiting. It only had about a dozen rooms, it was build from wood on a super steep slope (making it a potential deathtrap), it was a long drive from anything else and there was nothing about it that screamed “explore me!” – which actually made it surprisingly attractive. Since the construction used a lot of wood, the hotel and therefore this exploration felt very warm and comfy – the welcoming “handmade soba” creating expectations that wouldn’t be fulfilled anymore. The entrance hall was surprisingly high and narrow, the reception desk tugged in a corner opposite the kitchen. Behind: A party room and some guest room. To the other side: A rotenburo on the same level and two gender separated bath overlooking the mountains in the back – surprisingly spectacular views, no doubt about that. Hardly any signs of natural decay, only a little bit of vandalism. The guest rooms and even the baths were in overall good condition, though the wooden floors felt a bit soft and squeaky here and there, which was quite uncomfortable in the “above the slope” parts.

Overall a relaxed exploration of a nice little hotel I would have loved to stayed at when it was still open – I’m sure the handmade soba was delicious!

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The abandoned Trump Hotel was as pompous as “The Donald”, as fake as his tan and as forsaken as most of the people who voted him into office…

When entering an abandoned place you always want to be fast and inconspicuous to not gain any attention – and while we didn’t fail as miserably as I did at the *Japanese Mental Hospital*, we had a surprisingly hard time to find a way in, especially considering that some of us had already been there; and if you remember one thing about an abandoned place it’s how you got inside. Apparently somebody was still taking care of the building and so we had to almost fully circumvent it before finding a damaged door through which we could enter on all fours. A couple of rather dark corridors and rooms later we found ourselves in the main dining / entertainment room of the hotel – the luxurious old-fashioned interior of the main areas (not the disappointingly dull room hallways) beared some resemblance to kitschy classics like a Ritz-Carlton; just brighter, introducing some (but not too much!) lightness. White columns every couple of meters, large chandeliers and beautiful mirrors on the ceiling, heavy upholstered armchairs, marble floors, painted walls and ceilings in a style I associate with in early modern France / England – but I’m not an art historian, so if somebody knows more about the style of the paintings and the interior, please feel free to leave a comment.
Unfortunately this gigantic abandoned luxury hotel was not the first, but the last location of the day, so we quickly ran out of time – resulting in a highlights tour of the large complex. Next stop: 9th floor. Why? Nobody would tell me. A combination I was not happy about, because of course the elevators didn’t work anymore and pretty much every floor had high ceilings, so the 9th floor here was more like the 12th or 13th floor at a regular hotel. The hidden and not very well-lit staircase got back to the public area with red carpet and more wallpaintings, but also large piles of cable insulations (yep, the place was mostly stripped and therefore vandalized) and pigeon poo – disgusting!
But then the climb all of a sudden was worthwhile. A small staircase lead up half a floor to the left and into the most spectacular shared bath I have ever seen anywhere. Sure, kitschy as an 1980s rom-com, but absolutely fascinating – red and gold interior, painted walls, marble, large, colorful tiles… and in the actual bath a series of large sculptures, Roman / Greek style, reminding me of a quadriga or something like that. So much to see, so much to take photos of… so little time.
And upon closer look everything was fake. The place looked a bit like the standard photo of Trump’s apartment in New York (hence the name Trump Hotel for this location – the moron had nothing to do with the place as far as I know… and it’s really unlikely that he did, of course!), but the gold of course was poorly painted on, not beaten gold; the painting on the other hand weren’t painted, but printed photo wallpapers; the columns weren’t massive stone, but poorly carved plastic veneer; and I’m sure all the tiles and marble weren’t imported, but just cheap “in the style of” fakes. At first look everything was spectacular, at closer look a lot was actually quite poor craftsmanship. And a bit rundown, too. After all the hotel was 65 years old at the time of my visit.
Nevertheless this was an exciting place, so we rushed back down again. Since the whole top floor was one big shared bath, there had to be another one… there always was another one from back when we only had two genders… and it was on the 7th floor of the other hotel tower. No connection on that floor, of course, so we had to go ALL the way DOWN and then ALL the way BACK UP again… *sigh*
The second shared bath (they probably switched between use for men and women on a weekly or maybe even daily basis) was a lot less pompous and included more traditional Japanese elements, like an outdoor bath (rotenburo) and an outdoor stone hot tub with a wooden deck in now rather sad condition. It felt a lot more like a high-class onsen than a Spa World type of place – really, really nice, with spectacular views.
I was ready to call it a day when one of my friends dragged me away from the group and down a series of labyrinth-like stairways and hallways. Our final destination: A lower rooftop pool area between the hotel’s two towers – with two waterslides connecting an upper area with a lower area. Since it was already pretty much dark outside and our other friends were waiting for us, we only had time for a few quick shots, but the detour was definitely worth almost getting lost.

Despite spending a good two hours at the abandoned Trump Hotel, it was one of the most rushed, yet exciting explorations I’ve ever done (maybe with the exception of the *Japanese Mental Hospital*). Like the namesake I chose for the location it was big, fake, somewhat rundown, yet strangely exciting and fascinating in a way that you just can’t look away. At the same time I was glad that we found a way out when we almost got lost after reuniting with the rest of our small group after dark. What a nightmare… just to imagine having to spend four or even eight years there!

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Strength lies in calmness – but when the clock’s ticking you have to make quick decisions… and some of them might not be the smartest!

I hate being rushed, in every aspect of life – whether it’s working, eating, or exploring. In times when more and more people become more and more unreliable, addicted to their own vanities locked behind black mirrors, I like to decelerate my life on purpose; not wasting time, but consciously deciding what to spend it on – planning ahead instead of making rushed decisions on short notice, that cost money and reputation at best, at worst even time in addition. I prefer slow food over fast food, a chair over a back seat, rewrites over first drafts, well-laid plans over rushed decisions, quiet time over a constant stream of IM ping sounds. I rather explore two or three locations a day thoroughly than rush through five or six – I live a busy life, still way too fast and busy for my taste… but I’m not on the run!
Back in 2013 I was on my way to Nagoya and I stopped at a rundown onsen town to explore a couple of places, more or less successfully. Despite being rather small, the village featured some large abandoned hotels. Hotels so rundown that I rather enjoyed the surrounding nature than breathing mold half the day. Back in the onsen town to catch a bus back to civilization I had about 15 minutes to kill, so I made the spontaneous decision to speedrun explore one of those rundown pieces of… decay. Walking inside as far as I could in 10 minutes, taking as many photos as possible freehand on high ISO (the sun was already setting…) – filming the three or four minutes on the way back before heading to the bus stop. For comparison: 10 minutes usually get me two decent shots using a tripod when exploring regularly; sometimes even less.

The result you can see below: A bunch of crappy photos and a rushed video. I probably would have spent those 15 minutes better by visiting an omiyage shop or enjoying a cold beverage while waiting for the bus. In addition to that the exploration was dangerous – because I rushed it, because I was alone. Overall a stupid idea. One I never repeated, because: Strength lies in calmness.

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