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Archive for the ‘Hotel / Ryokan’ Category

Every once in a while I complain about all those rundown abandoned hotels in Japan, only to present yet another one that features an awesome pool, some arcade machines or spectacular brutalist architecture. But the Wakayama Mountain Hotel honestly was a real piece of shite! Well, except for the view and the unique saunas…

Mold, broken glass, mould, peeling paint and wallpapers, mold, rusty handrails, mould, dripping water, mold, endless staircases and hallways, mould, always the same looking rooms, mold, vandalism, mould, countless dark corners, mold – the list of reasons why to dislike abandoned hotels is seemingly endless. Luckily the Wakayama Mountain Hotel was located on a ridge and had seen more than its share of vandalism, so neither mold nor mould was a problem during this exploration thanks to generous ventilation. On the downside it meant that there was barely an intact window or door left at this rundown and severely vandalized accommodation and the next door onsen, probably run by the same people.
Exploring the Wakayama Mountain Hotel was rather unspectacular – especially after the Miffy plush with the cut throat in the lobby deeply rattled some of my one time co-explorers that day. Japanese women are so easily scared… Anyway. Lobby, bar, restaurant, banquet room, standard guest rooms – all a mix of vandalism and decay. The next door hot spring, most likely a combo deal for hotel guests, looked as unspectacular as the hotel at first. Luckily my all of a sudden utterly fearless friend Yoshiko followed me and made me aware of the cave or oven shaped saunas, that according to her were super special and the reason for a couple of newspaper articles on the walls of the dressing room. Unfortunately the lighting in there was far from perfect – inside the sauna it was almost as dark as a black steer’s tookus on a moonless prairie night; okay, I’m exaggerating a little bit for the sake of weaving a movie quote into this article. But the sauna shots were definitely the most challenging that day! And that’s pretty much it… The view from the hotel’s roof was pretty nice, too. Sadly we couldn’t find any access to the part with the water tower on top. That looked pretty neat, too… But overall the Wakayama Mountain Hotel was just an average abandoned hotel in Japan as you can find them a dime a dozen all over the country.

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Last week I wrote about Nara Dreamland, one of the best abandoned places in the world. This week I write about the Toyama Mountain Hotel, one of the most miserable places I’ve ever explored…

I have to admit that this spring day didn’t start well in general. The hospital my buddy Hamish and I intended to explore turned out not be abandoned (a car with license plates parked in front of it, a motion detector activated camera at the entrance, most likely somebody still living in the same building…), same with the skiing area we went too next… and another one that was probably already demolished; in any case, we couldn’t find any signs of it. Meanwhile it started to rain, which is pretty much always a downer on urbex days. Sure, SOME photos benefit from rain, but most don’t and the overall experience severely suffers. It’s just not fun being wet all the time while worrying about your camera equipment. And wet disgusting stuff tends to smell worse than dry disgusting stuff, too…

The Toyama Mountain Hotel was built on a slope and after trying a couple of doors, it became pretty quickly apparent that we would have to enter through the lowest floor; through a tiny emergency door, maybe half or even less the size of a regular door. But at least we found one that was unlocked. But that didn’t mean that we reached dry ground. Thanks to a lot of flat roofs and ongoing rain, the Toyama Mountain Hotel was probably the wettest place I’ve ever explored; water dripping everywhere. To a degree that I felt like it was actually raining inside the building! Because it kinda was…
Anyway, Hamish and I had to make our way up through the dark, wet underbelly of the hotel. The boiler room, storage rooms, empty rooms. After a while we found a staircase leading up to level B1 (we obviously entered via B2…) where we found the Chalet, a “drink corner” a.k.a. a bar. (Though in daily Japanese life “drink corners” are just vending machines; and not necessarily at a corner.) A dirty, wet bar with parts of the ceiling tiles already on the ground. Why three photos? Because I already had a hunch that this hotel wouldn’t be very photogenic and that I would need every single photo I could get at the end of the day… Around the corner were the shared baths that are so typical for Japanese hotels. Again, nothing special. Yes, rather clean and all the shower heads were still there, but nothing I haven’t seen bigger / better / with more character several times before (and after!).
The main floor with the front desk and the restaurant was one wet, moldy, slippery, smelly nightmare. The kind of places you only spend time at if you run an urbex blog. Standard tables, standard chairs, standard everything. Not a single area with anything special.
What followed were four floors (2F, 3F, 4F, 5F) with a total of 22 guest rooms – some Japanese style with tatami mats and a futon, some Western style with carpet and a bed; some in pretty decent condition, some vandalized, but all equipped with only standard items.

Looking back at the photos of the Toyama Mountain Hotel, it probably wasn’t the worst hotel I’ve ever explored, but it was definitely a contender for the most boring one. Decent standard, but just standard. Everything felt damp and cold, outside were still some patches of snow. The end of a horrible day of explorations. We even returned the car two hours early as we decided to call it a day after this more than underwhelming experience. But, well, that’s urbex. The locations, especially the hotels, can’t be all spectacular – if you want to see some of those, I recommend the *Silent Hill Hotel*, the *Hachijo Royal Hotel*, the *Wakayama Beach Hotel*, and the *Nakagusuku Hotel*. Enjoy!

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“Why are there so many abandoned hotels in Japan?”, is one of the questions I am asked most frequently. The Santorini Hotel just added a new aspect to my answer…

One way to find abandoned places is to use the satellite view of GoogleMaps and look for stuff that seems to be deserted. I have to admit that it’s a very time-consuming and unreliable method (at least 50% of the things that look abandoned are actually still in use…), but it’s also a way to get away from the beaten urbex paths, where people take the same shots others have taken half a decade prior. The Santorini Hotel was one of the places I found that way – still marked as in business, but green hotel pools are always a good sign that something’s wrong. (Whereas green pools of public baths or schools don’t mean anything as they are in use for only six to eight weeks per year in Japan.)
Upon arrival it became clear pretty quickly that the hotel was heavily overgrown, but not at all vandalized – I guess the fact that it has a (different) name on GoogleMaps throws off both vandals and urban explorers on a regular basis. We checked the usual points of entries, like doors and windows, but everything was undamaged and shut tight – except for one boarded window, where apparently somebody tried to get in a while ago.
In my experience, most abandoned hotels in Japan are in that unfortunate situation for one or more of the following reasons: remote location, downfall of a once popular area (like the coast of the Seto Inland Sea), too much competition, or new competition with more modern facilities. Built in 1976, the Santorini Hotel wasn’t too old, it wasn’t exceptionally remote and the area in general was still popular with just the right amount of competition. So why was it abandoned? Well, technically it wasn’t. A note at the entrance explained the condition the Santorini Hotel was in: It was closed because of new earthquake resistance standards. I think the ones they referred to made it basically mandatory to execute a ground investigation – a more recent revision put addition pressure on hotels built before 1982 (1981 or earlier, to be specific) and at least three storeys tall. The Santorini Hotel was built on a slope next to water in 1976 on a total of four floors – boom, headshot. Even though probably nothing would ever happen, the owner closed the hotel as the necessary renovations / improvements would have been too expensive. (As far as I understood the situation, most of those regulations are not legally binding, but result in a low score, which results in worried travelers to not book those hotels – just delaying the inevitable…)
I took a few quick shots of the main area and the pool, but considered visiting the Santorini Hotel a failure, as we didn’t find a way inside – but then we figured out a way to the back of the hotel, where I took more photos and a video. Overall not a super impressive set, but I’ve seen much worse locations on other blogs… and they don’t even publish on a weekly basis. So I though in combination with the note from the front door, this would actually make for a neat little story. Especially since the latest update of those regulations resulted in a huge wave of hotels closed at the end of 2015 – and I am pretty sure that some of them will find their way on *Abandoned Kansai* soon…

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I’ve seen my share of “unusual” Japanese architecture over the past ten years, but never had I seen a hotel shaped like a crossbow; especially not an abandoned one! What a fascinating place – at least from a bird’s eye view…

GoogleMaps and its satellite view have been invaluable tools ever since I picked up urban exploration as a hobby almost seven years ago. Despite the fact that most of the used satellite pictures are several months (or years…) old, it’s still a great way to find and pre-scout abandoned places. The Crossbow Hotel looked absolutely fascinating from above… like a giant crossbow with some kind of greenhouse in the lower part of the stock. Hardly ever was I that excited to explore an abandoned hotel! Sadly it turned out to be another vandalized piece of crap…
I knew that I was in for a disappointment the moment that I saw the busted open entrance of the hotel and gigantic piles of plastic cable sheathing – metal thieves had ripped apart ceilings, bathrooms and some walls, graffiti “artists” started to take over some of the rooms still in acceptable condition (leaving behind candy bars with a Best Before date several months in the future!), and your average run-of-the-mill vandal had been there, too. And while the architecture looked really intriguing from above, it was rather confusing on location, featuring some unexpected turns and narrow hallways. Especially the stock part was kind of strange and tough to explain – I recommend watching the walkthrough video at the end of this article to get a better impression.
Sadly there is little to nothing known about the hotel and it features. Located on a small hill in walking distance of a sandy beach, it once probably was quite a nice place to stay at. And while the latest signs implied that the Crossbow Hotel was used as a love hotel (“rest” and “stay” rates…), the whole setup differed greatly from regular love hotels – so I am sure that it was a conversion after the initial regular hotel failed. Why did it fail? I can only make assumptions, but I am pretty sure it has something to do with the not yet mentioned bypass along the beach, built in the 1990s; a source of massive amount of noise and a serious eyesore. It’s easy to imagine how that can ruin a hotel within a season or two – unless you keep the windows and blinds closed, because you only came there to… fornicate. And even then success obviously wasn’t a given thing…

Overall the Crossbow Hotel was just another average hotel exploration with quite a bit of vandalism. No risks like decay, security or mold – but also not much to get excited about…

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Do you like beer? So much that you would like to bathe in it? No, because it sounds like a horrible idea?! If only somebody would have told the last owners of the Kurhaus Stromberg…

The history of the Kurhaus (“cure house”) or Kurhotel (“spa hotel”) in Stromberg began in 1909, when a teachers’ association revealed plans to build a convalescent home in the picturesque small town near Bingen, Germany. Planning and financing took five years (almost everything was a bit slower a century ago…), but on April 16th 1914 the laying of the foundation stone took place. After “the Great War” erupted, construction was put on hiatus, and finally finished in 1921 – mainly as a recreation home for the “Rheinischen Provinziallehrerverband” (that teachers’ association…), but also as a hotel and restaurant for the general public. In 1933 the Nazis took over pretty much all associations, including this one, and only years later the spa hotel became a military hospital. After the even less great war (WW2) and shorts stints under American and French military management, the Kurhotel was turned into a pulmonary health institute for released German POWs. State control continued in the 1940s, but switched from military to civilian use in 1948 when Rhineland-Palatinate’s ministry for social afairs took over… and finally returned the Kurhaus to the teachers in 1953. Turmoil continued as the hotel at first lost money and then was sold to the Deutsches Rotes Kreuz (DRK, “German Red Cross”). In the following year the institution apparently made money and was expanded several times, until it was closed in 1983. After six years of maintenance without being used, the Kurhaus Stromberg was repurposed as a transition dormitory for ethnic German immigrants to Germany, when the Iron Curtain came down in 1989. In the mid-90s the DRK sold the hotel to a private investor, who did nothing with it until 1997, when the Hotel- und Restaurantbetrieb Kurhaus Stromberg GmbH (Hotel and Restaurant Kurhaus Stromberg Limited) introduced the previously mentioned beer spa… The sobering awakening followed in 2001, when the beery dream ended once and for all.
Originally built in a style called Domestic Revival and equipped with a mansard hip roof, the Kurhaus Stromberg is now considered a national heritage site under monument protection – at the same time it suffered from almost a decade of vandalism and 15 years without maintenance, which means that it can’t be quickly demolished, but it’s also highly unlikely that anybody would invest in the rundown building and its ragged garden the size of a park.

Since I focus on urban exploration in Japan, looking for abandoned places in other countries doesn’t have high priority to me… especially as I usually don’t have much time to travel within a vacation anyway. When I’m back home in Germany for two or three weeks per year, I usually explore in the southwestern part as this is the area where most of my family and friends live. The Kurhotel Stromberg looked kind of interesting, but the information I found was contradictive – some said the place was inaccessible, some claimed it was completely vandalized. Well, it turned out that the latter was true. Upon arrival my sister Sabine and I had the place to ourselves, but it took less than half an hour for about a dozen teenagers to arrive – on the one hand claiming to be surprised that the hotel was accessible at all, on the other hand making noise like a wrecking crew. It got even worse after they dragged it some boxes and bags, and it turned that they were trying to shoot an amateur horror movie. I told them that I would shoot some videos and that they might want to be quiet if they don’t want to end up on Youtube, but much like the noisy tourists at *Nara Dreamland* and the *Former Embassy of Iraq in East Berlin* they claimed that they don’t care and that I should just shoot whenever I want…

Both the Kurhotel Stromberg’s changeful history as well as the grand structure with its gorgeous white exterior reminded me of the *Maya Tourist Hotel*, probably the most traditional abandoned place in all of Japan. Both places are pretty much empty and quite vandalized now, both are used for photo and video shoots, both offer a couple of interesting angles, yet both are only shadows of their former glory. It’s a shame what happened to the hotel, but I guess that is what happens to the low hanging fruits. So if you ever wondered why I more and more often use generic names like *Kanto Hospital* or *Japanese Luxury Spa Hotel* – places like the Kurhotel Stromberg are the answer…

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You didn’t like the *Tsuyama Plaza Hotel* very much? Well… I can beat that… and not in a good way! So let’s start this year with one of the worst locations I ever explored. One I only took pictures of, because I already had climbed the friggin mountain it was located on and had nothing better to do after shooting the neighboring, partly demolished and now completely gone *Misasa Plateau Family Land* – welcome to the mostly demolished Misasa Plateau View Hotel!

I am sure at one point in time the Misasa Plateau View Hotel has been an awesome accommodation. Located on the slope of a mountain plateau, it was actually kind of cut in half by a street leading to a country club further down the road. But the street didn’t go through the hotel… When the hotel was planned and constructed, the main building was on top of the mountain, but the annex was down below on a small ridge along the slope – and both buildings were connected by a tunnel for guests underneath the road! That it had been surrounded by its own amusement park was just another awesome perk… Sadly, by the time of my visit the main building already had been demolished to make space for a now finished solar park, but the lower ridge part was still standing – and completely vandalized. The view from the small balconies was gorgeous, but the building had turned into a bit of a death trap. Some exits sure weren’t safe anymore… Despite its elevated location, the hotel most likely featured some really nice public baths, not for nothing the floor plan I found showed the name “Misasa Plateau Radium Garden”. The most interesting part though was the old outdoor pool, though I am not 100% whether it was part of the hotel or of the theme park. It was located on the side of the main building / family land, but a bit lower, probably the same height as the annex building. Two pools, a slide and a pool building with some sponsored benches in front… Morinaga HiCROWN chocolate. Nothing special by any means, but photography gold in comparison to the rest of the location.
So here you are, another vandalized hotel in Japan. Shot in 2012 and totally not representative for the mind-blowing explorations I did over the course of the past 12 months. I would even go so far to say that 2015 has been the best year of explorations ever for me – some of those locations I have already written about (for example *here*, *here* and *here*), and I am looking forward to showing you some more in 2016! 🙂

Happy New Year everyone!

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I am getting a bit tired of hearing stuff like “Oh, there is no vandalism in Japan!” and “Japanese people are so much more respectful towards things that don’t belong to them… and nature!” – yeah, you might get that impression if you’ve never been to Japan or never left a bigger city here, but overall those almost quotes are highly exaggerated in my experience. So now I finally post a location I should have posted years ago… the Tsuyama Plaza Hotel.

Before I get to this vandalized rundown piece of sh…ub-dee-doo, let me say a few words about vandalism in Japan… and why the problem is a bit more complex than “Because it’s Japan”!
Yes, I am aware that the average place presented on Abandoned Kansai probably is indeed in better condition than the average place presented on a weekly blog about urbex in Europe or the States. One of the main reasons probably is that I am holding back locations like the Tsuyama Plaza Hotel, because I rather show you more interesting places. And when I go to rundown, vandalized buildings, I still try to take interesting photos, presenting even those locations in the best possible way. “But most urbex blogs do that!”, you might say, and you have a valid point there. Which bring us to an urbex related reason why there is less vandalism / damage to abandoned places in Japan: There are a lot less urban explorers in Japan than Europe and the States! I know, urbexers don’t damage, don’t steal, and don’t reveal places – in theory… But every visit, even when executed as carefully as possible, contributes to the downfall of a place – you bring in dirt and humidity, some people move items when looking for hints about a location’s history or to create more interesting photos… and when those are published, they attract more people to those locations, not all of which are (serious) urbexers. Speaking of attracting more people – geocaching is not a thing in Japan; not at all! I know, I know, geocachers treat every place with the highest respect and would never damage anything… in theory. But they actively lure people to deserted places by publishing coordinates. Just google “lost places geocaching” and I am sure you’ll find tons of abandoned places in the German speaking parts of Europe, despite none of those search words are German. And please don’t get me wrong, this is not an attack against geocachers – they have the same right to be at abandoned places as urbexers (technically: none…), though I’ve never heard of a place being torn down due to too many careful, serious photographers, while I was given the “too many” reason about geocachers by the demolition crew tearing down the *Deportation Prison Birkhausen*. Long story short: a lot less urbexers, hardly any geocachers in Japan. But in my estimation a lot more abandoned places per square kilometer. Japan is a country with very densely populated and rather remote areas and a distinct “out of sight, out of mind” mentality – outside of city centers, places are rather abandoned than demolished, especially since there is (was?) a tax break for built-up land, which means abandonment not only avoids demolition costs, but also taxes in the years to come.
Which brings us to “the Japanese people” – and as much as I hate those generalizations, I guess they are kind of necessary in this case. First of all: the average Japanese person is a lot more superstitious than the average European person. It’s actually mind-blowing how many of them believe in ghosts and stuff like that – which probably can be explained by the indigenous Shinto religion and its relationship with spirits and purification in general; abandoned places, especially those where people died, are absolute no-go zones for those people. In addition to that, Japanese people are a lot more subservient to authority than most Americans and Europeans, at least in my experience. They tend to follow orders by higher ranking people without questioning them, kind of in a Prussian way. Do you remember that Simpsons episode in season 20 where Lisa is standing in front of the Springfield Bell Tower with a sign stating “Keep out”? Below is another sign: “Or enter. I’m a sign, not a cop.“ Well, in Japan a sign, a rope or even a traffic cone usually is enough to keep people from entering places thanks to that general obedience. I’ve been to abandoned places with Japanese people and they didn’t dare to pass a sign or step over a rope – which is nothing in comparison to what urbexers all over the world do to get past barb-wired fences or avoid security to take pictures of places they consider “abandoned”. (But if somebody pays for security, is that place really abandoned? Or just currently not used to its full potential?) Which brings us to another major character difference – Japanese society is still about (large) groups, while urbex tends to be a rather individual hobby; especially when you are interested in taking photos. In my experience, Japanese people love big groups. 15, 20, 30, 40 people. But that doesn’t work for urbex. Even 5 people can be too many for some locations, especially if the place is small and / or access is a bit more complicated. Big groups also support another thing Japan is great at – social control and public shaming. Even in a group of 15 people there is always a snitch happy to rat out the rest… All of that combined explains why there are a lot less urban explorers / geocachers / individualistic people in Japan.
As for vandalism in general… in my opinion / experience it’s quickly on the rise in Japan. Sure, there is not nearly as much graffiti and pointless destruction in Japan as in Europe or the States, but there is infinitely more in comparison to when I first came to Japan almost 20 years ago. And when there is the opportunity, there is lots of vandalism in Japan, too. Just look at the *Rape and Death of an Abandoned Japanese Sex Museum* article I wrote a few months ago. That place went from awesome to completely vandalized in less than two years. Why? Because it was located on the main road in a busy spa town just south of Sapporo and somebody marked it on GoogleMaps. Plenty of bored people of all ages after dark – 4.45 p.m. in winter, 7.30 p.m. in summer. The *Tuberculosis Clinic for Children* in the south of Osaka went from “completely locked with running machines inside” to “completely trashed” in less than three years. Why? Opportunity! The clinic was out of sight and out of hearing from any neighbors, yet still in walking distance of a train station. If you went there at any time of the day, even with the intent to smash windows and furniture, chances were close to zero that anybody would have heard you. And those are just two examples for trashed places (both have been demolished in early 2015). And sometimes they literally get trashed. With trash. Because getting rid of electronics can be expensive in Japan, a lot of people just dump their old TVs, fridges and other equipment somewhere in the woods or at abandoned places – so much for the nature loving population mentioned in the intro… (I once took a very special photo in the middle of nowhere – a sign stating in many words “Don’t unload your garbage here!”… and in the background a huge pile of garbage bags and electronics…)
I’m not trying to be “anti” here, I just wanted to share my experiences / observations of living in Japan for almost 10 years. Maybe I am wrong and there really is significantly less vandalism in Japan. Who knows? But if there is, I am pretty sure the explanation is much more complex than “because it’s Japan”.

Now, let’s finally get to the Tsuyama Plaza Hotel… and get it over with. According to the calendars on the walls, the hotel closed in June of 2000 – and neither time nor people have been nice to the building ever since. It was (and probably still is) basically a prime example for a large, boring vandalized hotel with nothing special about it. Graffiti everywhere, broken glass everywhere, interior and everything not screwed or bolted lying around everywhere… and even some of the screwed stuff got screwed. Heck, I don’t have anything nice to say about the place either, except that the view from the lounge on the top floor was rather nice during sunset; but that’s something not even the most violent vandal would be able to destroy. I was bored exploring the place and I am kind of bored writing this part of the article. So I’ll stop – please enjoy the photos and the video. I’m outta here! 🙂

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