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Archive for the ‘Hotel / Ryokan’ Category

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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A quiet mountain ridge. A rather new looking, but closed hotel. Fog creeping in from every direction – and all of a sudden an unexplained noise…

When I started taking photos at abandoned places six years ago, I went all by myself on sunny weekend days, using public transportation. Then I started to involve friends, recently we rent a car – that required more planning and allowed for less flexibility, yet most of the time we were lucky with the weather.
This wasn’t the case on a weekend in June… and not really a surprise, given that it was the middle of rainy season. And boy did it rain! Sometimes it only drizzled, there were even short breaks without any precipitation, but overall it was a pretty rainy weekend; especially in the mountains. After a few hours of driving, Ruth, Chelsey and I finally reached the mountain ridge we were looking for, welcomed by light drizzle. We parked the car next to a small shrine and headed over to some run-down abandoned buildings so moldy that we left after checking out the lobby. Time started to be of the essence as it was afternoon already, so we headed over to the rather new looking building – a closed hotel according to a Japanese travel blog, inside condition unknown as the guy didn’t dare to enter. At this time the drizzle stopped and fog started to creep up the steep mountain slopes. Surprisingly quickly we found an unlocked door to an untidy office room that looked like somebody stayed there for a while. At this point everybody’s general uneasiness went from “Should we really enter?” to “We probably shouldn’t have entered…”, yet we all tried to play it pretty cool.
On the ground floor of the Silent Hill Hotel (obviously a fake name, I could have called it Abandoned Hotel In The Fog or Eerie Fog Hotel, but it really reminded me of the famous video games series, especially in hindsight) we found the lobby, tatami party rooms, shared baths for men and women, a pretty messy kitchen and several offices / dorm rooms, probably for employees. On the upper floors were the guest rooms, western style with beds. Since the hotel offered little to nothing I hadn’t seen several times before, I rather rushed taking photos, much to the delight of my female companions. When it started to rain again and the fog almost swallowed the hotel, Chelsey and Ruth decided they had enough and returned to the car. I stayed behind on an upper floor since I wanted to take a couple more photos and the video tour – but I heard them leave and saw them outside. About five minutes later I heard a noise coming from the ground floor. Not a window closing in the wind or something. More like the door opening and closing again, definitely something rather heavy snapping shut. I assumed the girls came back, so I continued taking photos, kind of expecting them upstairs any second – but they didn’t show up. When I was done I decided not to wait any longer and get the heck out of this eerie building, so I started the video walkthrough… which turned out to be an unnerving experience, because not only did I go to the known areas I was already uneasy about, stupid me headed over to the back, the dark area, where the kitchen was – a part of the hotel the girls had seen, but not me as I was too busy taking photos; walking through the hotel all alone felt extremely weird, as if something was lurking in the darkness. Leaving an abandoned place with a camera full of good photos is always the best moment of an exploration to me, no matter how easy it was or well it went – but never was I happier than when I left the Silent Hill Hotel!

After returning to Osaka the next evening, Chelsey, Ruth and I had dinner at a local restaurant, recalling the weekend – and we agreed that the Silent Hill Hotel was by far the creepiest place we ever visited. Ruth said that she almost grabbed a crowbar lying on the reception desk shortly after we entered. I mentioned the second noise coming from the ground floor and asked if they returned to the hotel for a while – they said no, but confirmed that they had the same unwell feeling that something or somebody was lurking in the dark. If you don’t understand what I mean, watch the video at the end of the article, especially the second half. I only watched bits and pieces again to make sure that the quality was at least somewhat presentable – that’s all I was able to stomach. Even my solo exploration of an *abandoned mental hospital near Tokyo* wasn’t nearly as nerve-wrecking as this harmless looking hotel in a very scenic area of the Nara mountains… on a sunny day.

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“Japan has four seasons, you must know, which is unique!”
Without warning you just got hit over the head with an example of nihonjinron, “theories about the Japanese” – a conglomerate of BS rooted so deeply in Japanese society that most people in the land of the rising sun don’t even realize how stupid the majority of those theories are… and yet they are a popular conversation topic; especially when somebody tries to impress you with how unique Japan is. Not only are there plenty of other countries with four seasons, Japan stretches across several climate zones from the Kuril Islands to close to Taiwan, and therefore the weather differs drastically depending on where in Japan you reside. In my personal experience, living for more than eight years in Kansai, Japan has only two seasons – “nightmarish hot and humid” and “kind of bearable”. The beginning and the end of “kind of bearable” are marked by two periods of about 15 days each, which are really lovely… other countries would call them spring and autumn, but in my book those phases are way too short to be called seasons! (Hey, the Japanese have nihonjinron and I have my own set of theories about this country!)
Anyway, for about one month per year it’s actually really nice outside – then the sun feels like a warm hug instead of a laser beam trying to kill you, and people are having lots of BBQs. Those four to five weeks are also the best time to hike… and one of my favorite hikes is up Mount Atago in the outskirts of Kyoto.

Mount Atago Cable Car Revisited
Before I picked up urban exploration as a hobby, I enjoyed hiking a lot – and so it was no surprise that my first exploration ever in November of 2009 was the *Mount Atago Cable Car*, basically combining *haikyo* and hiking. Almost a year later, in October 2010, I went back as I really wanted to see the cable car station in full green, also taking advantage of the beautiful weather during that time. Walking along the abandoned track was still tiring, but the steep climb around the collapsed tunnel #5 was a lot easier then, because somebody strained new ropes. On my third visit in total I took some time to have a closer look at some of the bridges leading up the mountain, and I have to say that they were in pretty bad shape after almost 70 years of abandonment. I got that feeling walking along the uneven and sometimes dangerously eroded track, but having a look from below didn’t exactly make me feel more comfortable. One of the bridges had already collapsed in parts and I guess more damage by natural decay follow since then – especially at those parts not protected by trees and therefore at the mercy of wind, rain and snow.
The still existing cable car station at the top didn’t change a lot in those 11 months, although the weather (and maybe some people who couldn’t leave their hands off the concrete pillars) contributed to the progressing decay there. This time I shot most of the station with my ultra-wide angle lens I didn’t have last time, which allowed me to explore the place with a different set of eyes.
Going to the Mount Atago Cable Car again wasn’t spectacular, but I didn’t expect it to be any other way – it was a nice autumn hike with some wonderful views and a trip down memory lane, a perfect way to start a day at Mount Atago.

Mount Atago Hotel Revisited
What a surprise: The ruins of the *Mount Atago Hotel* were still just a stone’s throw away from the Mount Atago Cable Car – and again nothing had changed, except for the lens on my camera. The mosaic at the entrance seemed to be a bit more loose than during my first visit… and the pile of broken dishes in the back was more spread out, partly covered by freshly cut trees. Woodworkers in action, I guess…

Ryokan Mizuguchi
At first I wondered if I should write about the Ryokan Mizuguchi at all, as there was little to nothing of it left – but then I came up with this 4 in 1 idea, and now I am really happy that I took some photos back in 2010. While the Mount Atago Hotel and the Mount Atago Cable Car are all over the internet, barely anybody bothers with this couple of concrete walls a few hundred meters away from the hotel, towards the famous Mount Atago Shrine. I saw the remains last time I went up the mountain, but since I was tired and running out of time then, I didn’t have a closer look. During this visit I was more relaxed and took a few rather vacuous pictures… until I found a bottle that caught my eyes. What really intrigued me about it was the fact that it had a metal cap that looked like it was never off. An old unopened bottle at the top of a mountain isn’t something you find every day! If it ever had a label, of course it was long gone, but on the lower end of the bottle the glass had some kanji – later I found out that the company (日本麦酒鉱泉株式会社 – something like “Japanese Beer Mineral Spring Company”) only existed from 1922 till 1933, before becoming part of Mitsuya Foods – nowadays famous in Japan under the name Asahi and for brands like Mitsuya Cider, Bireley and Wonda (coffee). Since the hotel and the cable car both opened in 1929, it’s rather likely that this water hole went into business around the same time, which means that the bottle I had in my hands was up there for about 80 years, manufactured at a time when my grandmother went to elementary school or middle school.
The few Japanese pages on the internet covering the Mizuguchi Ryokan speculate that the place must have been made of wood with only the cellar being cast of cement. There are no pictures, no blueprints and hardly any information in general, and therefore I can only assume that the place closed down together with the hotel and the cable car in 1944. So while the pictures still might not be that spectacular, it was just an awesome feeling to hold that bottle in my hand – and I hope somebody will have a similar experience when the bottle is 90 or 100 years old…

Mount Atago Ski Resort
The fourth and final stop of my haikyo hiking at Mount Atago was the Mount Atago Ski Resort; one of the reasons the hotel and the cable car were built in the first place. Located about 45 minutes away from the hotel, the Mount Atago Ski Resort would be almost impossible to find nowadays, if it wasn’t for a few signs that were put up in 2006 and that direct hikers to the middle of nowhere – although I doubt many people will walk 190 meters up an earth wall and along an overgrown plain. While the area with its gentle slopes looked perfectly suited for a ski area targeting beginners, there were barely any hints left that the place once was populated by hundreds of sport freaks. You really have to explore thoroughly to find signs like red plastic posts, concrete sockets, scattered china and even some solid ramune glass bottles (ramune is a Japanese lemonade – the opening gets blocked by a marble when you drink, making it extremely popular amongst kids). Construction of the ski resort began in 1928 and like the hotel and the cable car, it opened in 1929 and closed in 1944, when the latter was demolished for scrap in a last futile attempt to support Japan’s war efforts.
On my way back to the Mount Atago Shrine I found some collapsed shacks and a Komatsu D205 bulldozer, though I can’t say for sure if they were in any way related to the ski resort.

The Ruins Of Mount Atago might not be the most spectacular ones in Japan, but if you enjoy hiking and are interested in (pre-)WW2 history, this is the place to visit in Kansai on a sunny spring or autumn day. You probably won’t get an adrenalin kick (unless you get lost bypassing the two collapsed tunnels of the cable car track), but you’ll return from the mountain with a deep comforting feeling of accomplishment. (Oh, and don’t be as stupid as I was – bring at least one friend, because the cable car part of the hike really is quite dangerous!)

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The Aso Kanko Hotel (Aso Sightseeing Hotel) has been an urbex legend for many, many years. Japanese bloggers were excited about its size, its beauty, its famous former guests – and after the abandonment: its security and its function as a movie set. They came up with abbreviated or even fake names to keep it a secret, but of course sooner or later somebody spilled the beans… without mentioning some essential information!

When Kyoko, Dan and I arrived at the Aso Kanko Hotel on a warm spring afternoon, we were in need of a successful exploration. Earlier that day we wanted to explore abandoned onsen hotel with an amazing water park, only to find the demolition crew wrapping up their work – the onsen hotel was gone, but the heavy machinery was still there… Next on the list was the *Bungomori Railyard*, and you know what happened to that one! So after another 90 minutes in the car we finally arrived in the Aso area, famous for its active volcano(s). The road leading up to the Aso Kanko Hotel was in good, but not perfect condition, and soon the distinctive roof was appearing between the treetops. Everything was going according to plan…
… but then the hotel turned out to be not nearly as big as I expected it to be. Not small, but mid-size at best. Long, but narrow; only three storeys tall. And it was vandalized! Not just slightly, but pretty much beyond repair. They shot a movie here? Really? Even though that was ten years prior to our visit, the hotel was in really bad condition. Well, average abandoned hotel condition, the kind I really loathe to explore by now. But given that the first two destinations were total duds, this wasn’t too bad… We quickly scouted the surroundings and found another small, but extremely rundown house plus a couple of rusty shacks, so we headed back to the main building. As you can see in the videos and on the photos, most of the windows and doors were smashed, the whole thing was just wet and rotting and moldy. I am sure both the outdoor and indoor baths for men and women were gorgeous 30 or 40 years ago, but now they were just part of this depressing sight. The rooms were pretty much standard, just some kind of bar next to a huge terrace showed original 70s style. Overall a rather disappointing exploration, but the background story of the hotel is actually quite interesting.

The Aso Kanko Hotel was opened in July of 1939, built with government funds. It made quite a splash those days as it was designed to be a Western style hotel with several features very unusual in Japan at that time, like a revolving door, flushing toilets, a Western style bath and a big dining room with a bar. After World War 2 ended, the Aso Kanko Hotel, much like the gorgeous *Maya Tourist Hotel in Kobe*, was used by the American forces for rest and recuperation – to make the stay even more comfortable for the exhausted soldiers, some billiard tables, a golf course and a trapshooting facility were added.

When the American military occupiers left, the Aso Kanko Hotel was taken over and renovated by a predecessor company of today’s Kyushu Industrial Transportation Holdings Co., Ltd. – a move that lured one of the most controversial people in Japanese history to visit the hotel: Emperor Hirohito.
The elder amongst us might remember the Showa Tenno as an older, tiny man with a friendly attitude towards everything but the Yasukuni Shrine… an image bestowed on him by both the American occupational forces as well as the Japanese Imperial Palace. Yet much like the image we have about the samurai, our impression of Hirohito is mostly wrong – he might have underwent a Damascene conversion after the end of WW2, but up till that point he was responsible for one of the most costly war of aggression in human history, and was only spared being tried as a war criminal due to the forceful powers previously mentioned; especially McArthur, who saved countless high ranking Japanese war criminals for political reasons, including surgeon general Ishii Shiro, one of the worst human beings in history. But don’t let propaganda fool you, Hirohito was actively involved in Japan’s wars during the 1930s and 1940s, even authorizing the production (on *Okunoshima*, now known as Rabbit Island) and use of chemical weapons – unique during WW2! And he at least knew about and condoned the horrors his military spread over Southeast Asia, including the vivisections on humans conducted by Unit 731. Oh, also I am sure you’ve heard stories that many Japanese rather committed suicide than being taken prisoner towards the end of the war – that was based on Imperial orders to civilians (!), released by Hirohito from as early as June 1944 on! Please keep that in mind and stop contributing to the myth that Japan was one of the main victims of WW2… especially later this year at the 70th anniversary of the end of the Pacific War. (Sorry for getting distracted, but Japan’s unwillingness to take responsibility for its actions from the Meiji era till 1945, especially for the last 13 years, makes me sick to the stomach every time the topic comes up. 70 years of history-falsification are enough!)
Okay, so it was back in 1957 when “I honestly had no idea what was going on during my reign…”-san visited the Aso Kanko Hotel with his family… and apparently he liked it so much that he came back twice in the following years, making the hotel one of the most famous ones in all of Japan.
Sadly that didn’t prevent the resort from disastrous events. On July 9th 1964 for example, 3500 square meters of the hotel, including the lobby, went up in flames. Nobody got killed, but an exhibition of paintings by Ebihara Kinosuke became a victim of the fire. Renovations took a whole year, but afterwards the complex of three main buildings and several annexes continued to thrive and quickly became the most popular summer retreat in all of Kumamoto. Three main buildings? Yes, three. It seems like back in the heydays the Aso Kanko Hotel was a much bigger resort than it is a ruin now. Nobody seems to have documented what happened exactly, but as the complex grew older, it became less popular. In December of 1999 it was decided that the AKH would be closed in February 2000… and so it happened. After five years of (undocumented) abandonment, director Shimizu Takashi (inventor of the Ju-on / The Grudge movie series) shot most of his Japanese flick Reincarnation on location. Back then the complex must have been still intact as you can see much more of the Ono Kanko Hotel (as it was called in the movie) than on any urbex photo of the Aso Kanko Hotel. The oldest photos I’ve seen of the abandoned AKH were from 2007 and showed the hotel pretty much in the same state as it is now, so I assume most of the other buildings were demolished shortly after the movie shot wrapped up.
That explains why the Aso Kanko Hotel was much smaller than I expected upon arrival. It also leaves us with the question why Japanese explorers glorified the place so much that they left out the fact that 70 to 80% of the hotel already had been demolished upon their arrival. But then again, if there is one thing you should have taken from this article, it’s that Japan has a long history of idealizing history…

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Abandoned accommodations are the biggest group of deserted places in Japan. Hotels, love hotels, ryokan, youth hostels. There must be hundreds of them all over the country – some of them are absolutely amazing, others are the worst moldy, vandalized dumps you can imagine. My first indoor abandoned place I ever explored was a hotel, the *One Dragon Hotel* in the south of Osaka – one of those vandalized dumps, but I didn’t care, because when you start urban exploration, EVERY place is super exciting. After a while though all of them start to look the same, and it takes exceptional examples like the *Hachijo Royal Hotel* or the *Wakayama Beach Hotel* (still only on Abandoned Kansai!) to remind you that some of them are actually pretty amazing. Back in 2011 though I couldn’t even imagine that world-class places like that existed in Japan!
At that point in time, less than two years after I picked up urban exploration as a hobby, I was tired of deserted accommodations… and standing in the backyard parking lot of the Jingoro Hotel, contemplating whether or not I should enter the rather big hotel all by myself after I already crossed two other places off my list that day. On the one hand I was tired, it was afternoon already, and I had to go inside without company – on the other hand: it was right in front of me… and there were some arcade machines in the lobby. Back then I had barely ever seen abandoned arcade machines, so I was really curious. I walked down the staircase to the semi-basement ground floor, the door to the kitchen open wide enough for me to get inside. And I instantly regretted that move as the typical “abandoned Japanese hotel smell” hit me. It’s hard to describe, but if you ever smelled it, you won’t forget it. This very special mix of rotting tatami and moldy wallpaper… Nothing that makes you wanna puke, but it smells nasty and you know that you don’t want to be exposed to it for hours… or even minutes. Since I was already inside the hotel, I had a look around and hoped that the smell wouldn’t be that bad throughout the whole exploration.
As three and a half years have passed since I last saw the Jingoro Hotel, my memories of that exploration are rather fragmented. I remember that it was a nightmare to take photos of the arcade machines in the lobby (Namco’s Final Lap and Jaleco’s Gran Prix Star) as everybody passing by outside was able to look inside through the huge windows, basically ground to ceiling. I also remember that parts of that floor suffered severely from arson (adding a whole new layer to the smell, lucky me!) while other parts looked like on the day the hotel was closed. On the upper floors the hallways and rooms were littered with airgun pellets, but the biggest surprise to me were the amazing shared baths, of course gender separated – back then I hadn’t seen anything like that, especially since both bathing areas featured outdoor bathtubs offering stunning views at the mountain and sea surrounding.
Back down on the main floor though I almost suffered a heart attack. I was hiding from a group of Japanese who were taking a photo outside of the hotel with the beautiful landscape as the background, all facing the hotel except for the photographer. The process took a while and when I was about to relax again, I looked to the left, where all of a sudden this huge western dude wearing a black trench coat appeared out of nowhere. My pulse went from “resting” to “leaving a high speed corkscrew rollercoaster” in the fraction of a second, and for a crippling moment I felt paralyzed – that’s when I realized that I was standing next to a huge mirror covering the whole wall! (And of course then I also remembered seeing the mirror before, reminding myself that it was there so I would not get the shock of my life… obviously I failed.)

Overall the Jingoro Hotel was an average exploration. Some vandalism, some decay, some nice areas, some nasty smells, some positive surprises, some negative surprises. I’ve been to worse places, but also to many that were a lot more interesting – like I said, it’s been three and a half years since I explored the Jingoro Hotel without mentioning it anywhere on Abandoned Kansai, so obviously I wasn’t in a hurry to write about it. Nevertheless I hope you enjoyed the little stories and some of the photos. In the end the package turned out to be much more interesting than I expected… just like the exploration itself.

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Japan and Germany are both famous for their castles – the ones in Japan are either tourist attractions or (in very rare cases) abandoned. In Germany there is a third kind, the ones that were turned into accommodations. Youth hostels, hotels or private homes; usually located in a very beautiful landscape on top of a mountain. To the best of my knowledge all “castle hotels” in Japan are hotels NEAR famous castles, not former castles themselves. Until a few years ago there was one sort-of exception, a huge hotel that kind of looked like a pre-modern fortress, but was a post-war concrete construction – similar to the tourist trap called Osaka Castle… 😉
Then the Great Tohoku Earthquake a.k.a. 3/11 hit the northern half of Japan in 2011, and while the hotel was spared the flood, it suffered some damages from the earthquake and its aftershocks. Even worse: tourists avoided the area between Tokyo and Hokkaido like the plague… or an earthquake-ridden nuclear wasteland… and so the Japanese Castle Hotel had to close its doors.
In 2013 I saw a video on Youtube (now offline…), taken at the then closed / abandoned hotel – everything was in almost pristine condition, I couldn’t believe my eyes. It looked like the best abandoned hotel ever! I had to find it somehow, yet I failed for months. In early 2014 I was talking with my urbex buddy Rory about (finding) new locations and I sent him a link to the then still working video. A few days later he got back to me: his wife watched the video, too, and based on that she not only found the hotel’s location, but its Twitter account and blog, too. In moments like that I wish my Japanese was better…
Almost a year had gone by since I first watched the (edited) walkthrough, but I still considered it one of the most amazing and rarest abandoned places in Japan – so I got a plane ticket to the north and headed there a couple of months later. Upon arrival at the hotel disappointment set in quickly: it wasn’t abandoned… not even closed – it was under renovation! This was only the third time I’ve heard that a once abandoned place was under renovation. The first was a windmill restaurant, the second a regular hotel. Now this…

But well, what can you do – you gotta roll with the punches. My two fellow explorers though seemed to be of different opinion. Judging by their faces, they would have called it a day and went straight to dinner instead, but I took a plane to explore this very location… and an open door and the noise of construction work in the background wouldn’t prevent me from doing so!
We carefully progressed through the building, trying to avoid making any noise, but sooner or later the inevitable happened – we ran into a construction worker. Luckily my friends agreed to my strategy, so instead of trying to bolt, we approached the guy and explained to him what we were doing. He clearly thought we were crazy, but didn’t mind that we were hanging around taking photos… and from that point on it was easy going.
Now you might ask yourself the question whether or not exploring a hotel under renovation belongs on a blog about urban exploration. Personally I prefer 100% abandoned places, but that’s the ideal. Most of the interesting locations, especially in Europe and the States, are patrolled by security, so technically they are not abandoned either; and who could imagine urbex in Japan without *Nara Dreamland*? So this was kind of a special exploration and very interesting in its own way, as the renovation work wasn’t limited to roofing and a new layer of paint for the building. While some of the rooms were in surprisingly bad condition considering that only three years had passed since 3/11, others just had been renovated, still looking and smelling brand-new. That before / after experience is almost as rare as castle shaped hotels in Japan… and I truly enjoyed it, almost as much as the gorgeous weather and the beautiful architecture, including shots of the damaged roof with its shachihoko, a Japanese folklore creature with the head of a tiger and the body of a carp.
Sadly once again time was of the essence, so in the end I had to squeeze an exploration that should have taken at least three hours into less than one – nevertheless I am happy that I was able to see the Japanese Castle Hotel at the beginning of its renovation. I have to admit that it was not as spectacular as I hoped it would be (not nearly as impressive as the *Hachijo Royal Hotel*!), but it still was one of those unique places you long to see as an urban explorer, as there are hundreds of other abandoned hotels all over the country – but none of them looks like a Japanese castle…

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