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Archive for the ‘Hotel / Ryokan’ Category

Exploring abandoned hotels usually means looking for interesting items, baths or pools as most rooms look exactly the same – not only within a hotel, but across hotels all over Japan. The Mindfuck Hotel was different though…

When I first saw the Mindfuck Hotel, located a few hundred meters above the Seto Inland Sea along a gorgeous scenic road, I had a good feeling about it, as if we were in for a special treat. Unlike most other abandoned hotels I’ve been to, this one was not only abandoned – it looked completely gutted: no windows, no doors, no nothing. At least not from the steep angle below. The last road leading up to the entrance was clean, a rather new metal chain keeping unwanted cars away. Right behind the hotel was a small reservoir, which is why using that road was “strictly forbidden”. And that’s when the mood start to change slightly… even more so when we reached the same level as the hotel and finally had a good look at the ground floor and the surprisingly clean entrance area. Two thirds of the building still looked completely emptied out, but the last one looked fortified and kind of used. Some windows were secured by metal bars, others had rather modern, unbroken panes, heat shields usually used for cars used to prevent nosy visitors from having a look inside. The first sign I saw was a camera warning, the first door warned of a big dog. In Japan, both “warnings” are usually bluffs, but the Mindfuck Hotel had a camera directed right at the entrance… and an electric meter box outside on the ground level, so I kept out of sight of the camera and had a look at the meter to confirm that the camera was as dead as the rest of the building – only to be proven wrong, the meter was running. Something in that building was using electricity! I’ve seen active security cameras in Japan and I have seen active meters in Japan, but never have I seen an active meter right underneath a security camera at a presumedly abandoned building. What the heck was going on here? And if there was camera, were there alarms, too?
Luckily the entrance to the hotel wasn’t on the ground floor, you had to go up some steps to the second floor – and the camera was directed right at the entrance. Which meant that it was rather easy to avoid the area covered by the camera… and going around the building was only complicated by some early summer overgrowth (that was hiding the remains of a nice little outdoor pond area). Much to my surprise the first room I came across once had large windows that were missing now, which means that we were able to get inside just by stepping over a knee-high wall. But should we really? That was something Dan, Kyoko and I discussed ever since we found out about the running meter. What if there was an alarm system? What if there was somebody inside? Most likely a person, because the big dog we were warned of apparently wasn’t there.
So of course we went inside, we had a mystery to solve! The mystery of the Mindfuck Hotel. The hearts in our boots we climbed in, walked out a few steps in and into what once probably was the dining area of the hotel – a half-open two storey room with a big glass front. Pretty much empty, except for a solid gate at the end of the steps leading to the upper floor and warnings everywhere. About death, about traps, about anything under the moon. Feeling even more uncomfortable I walked a few steps further into the dining hall and froze – a room on the upper floor, featuring large window facing both inside and outside, had lights on! What the heck? A completely empty hotel… with four fluorescent lights on? I took a couple of more photos when we heard a car closing in – so we left the way we came, only to realize that there was no car coming. Or anybody coming. It was just traffic outside on the road below the hotel…
So we decided to fully circle the hotel first, to get a better impression of the whole damn thing. In the process we found three or four bungalows right next to the hotel, most likely rentals. All except for one looked abandoned – some dirt, some broken pipes. But one of them… we weren’t sure of. So we left them alone and returned to the hotel, only to find the outdoor staircase on the north side completely open. Some floors didn’t even have doors. So we went inside and started exploring from the top – it was a solid concrete building we circled before, so we didn’t have to worry about missing sections, like at the *Deathtrap Hotel*.
At first everything went smoothly, but then we heard voice outside. Two men… no cameras, but hard hats and overalls. Darn! Hoping they were inspecting the nearby reservoir, we decided to wait out the situation. Everything went smoothly again, until I heard voices inside the building, coming from the main staircase I was taking pictures of! I warned Dan and Kyoko, and decided to leave. On the way out the two guys saw us and we hurried back to the car. WTF was going on there? About 10 minutes later, we had a snack and some water and were just about to drive away, the two guys left, too. Since their car was unmarked, we came to the conclusion that they were either with the reservoir or had no authority at all on the premises, so we decided to go back in. I continued taking pictures in the staircase, Dan and Kyoko went ahead and had a look at the area the two guys went to… where they found a large tatami party room with a gorgeous view at the Seto Inland Sea. Reservoir or not, those two guys probably just entered the hotel (on the third of four floors, avoiding the dining area of floor #1 and #2, too!) to enjoy the view for a few minutes…
When we finally reached the second floor, the one with the entrance, the one with the mystery lights, we realized that the metal fire door leading to the main area was welded shut – so we circled the hotel one last time to sneak in from the side… or the back. Call it whatever you want. Since we were practically done exploring the Mindfuck Hotel, we all got a little bit more brave. First I took a rather blurry photo of the lit area by using my tripod as an extended arm, then we headed up the stairs again. It looked like somebody welded in extra metal bars to intruder proof not only the front, but separate areas on the second floor – the kind of area you expect to find some tortured kidnapped person in. It was a bright sunny day, but this main area was spooky as hell. The barrier / locked gate to get to the secured area was maybe 1.2 meters high, but since we were still unsure about alarm systems or what we would find back there and since I was still slightly impaired by an urbex related knee injury, Kyoko and I decided to stay back, while Dan had a closer look. No alarms, but the (locked) room with the lights apparently looked like somebody was building a bar in what probably once has been the breakfast room.
In the end we concluded that the hotel once had been abandoned (some graffiti there were more than 15 years old!), somebody rather recently managed to get electricity running again and started to fortify the entrance (for whatever reason) and build that bar. The security camera was probably as much of a bluff as the dog – but to keep people away, the current occupant kept the lights one when he was away… so people would conclude: Security camera + running electricity meter = active site with alarms.

I am not sure if I was able to convey how amazing this exploration really was, but I had the time of my life there. It was a little bit like being on “the island” (Lost… if you remember) – two good friends, a mystery building, strangers showing up, slowly piecing information together while running into new things that didn’t make much sense. And in addition to that I took some photos I absolutely love. Of the hallways, of the indoor staircase, of the views the hotel offered, of the top floor shared baths. An indoor exploration with an outdoor feeling, once used and yet empty again – colors, light, textures. Everything came together perfectly. And very rewarding, because I still explore about a dozen abandoned hotels per year and I am getting tired of them – but then I run into places like the Mindfuck Hotel, and they keep me going; keep me going even to abandoned hotels… because you never know what you will get. And the Mindfuck Hotel, in its own way, was as good as it gets – right up there with the *Nakagusuku Hotel Ruin* and the *Hachijo Royel Hotel*!

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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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