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The Fuji 5 Lakes area consists of Lake Yamanaka, Lake Kawaguchi, Lake Sai, Lake Shoji, and Lake Motosu – forming an arch around the northern part of Mount Fuji in Yamanashi prefecture. Famous for hiking, mountain climbing, sailing, fishing, the Aokigahara Suicide Forest, Fujikyu Highland and local udon noodles, this recreational area two hours outside of Tokyo attracts about nine million visitors per year… and many of them enjoy a soak at an onsen in the evening. Of course not all of those public baths can be successful – bad for the owners, good for explorers like me and readers like you…
The Fuji Five Lakes Onsen is a surprisingly rare location and apparently virtually unknown to the Japanese urbex scene. It’s actually easier to find information about the time when it was open for business than about its current abandoned state; hence the rather vague fake name for it. The place was actually not just a day trip spa (charging 300 Yen for the time between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m.), it was also a ryokan, a Japanese inn for overnight guests. Located next to a river in a tiny mountain town, the Fuji Five Lakes Onsen turned out to be a hidden wooden gem, a glimpse at Japan’s simple past that is disappearing quickly.

At 7,000 to 10,000 Yen per person and night the FFLO wasn’t exactly a cheap place to stay at, especially considering that it closed about 10 years ago. I am sure back then it was easily possible to get a more luxurious accommodation for a lower price – but probably with a lot less character. The main building of the Fuji Five Lakes Onsen was a narrow, but rather long wooden construction – followed by small apartments in the backyard along the river. After ten years of abandonment rather wobbly and squeaky, the main hallway wasn’t for the faint of heart, especially with road construction going on right outside. If we were able to hear them scavenge the street, they were able to hear almost any noise we made. Luckily they weren’t aware of *Hamish* and I being there, so they didn’t pay attention; a huge advantage on our side and a late reward for us approaching the Fuji Five Lakes Onsen carefully, avoiding any noises getting in.
The tricky part was the upper floor with its tatami party room. Regular readers know what kind of place I mean – the big one with the stage and the karaoke machine and stuff like that. What was so tricky about it? Well, the upper part was actually on road level, so the construction workers were able to look inside through some of the windows… if they would have paid attention, which they didn’t. Good for me, as the party room held some interesting items to take pictures of, including some 60s or 70s music devices and a Konami Hyper Shot controller for use with the smash hit Hyper Sports.
Down on the main floor again I took some photos of the pretty run down onsen part, the gender-separated shared bath. Surprisingly small, it must have offered a nice view on the river a few decades prior. Now the huge windows were mostly overgrown from the outside and vandalized by penis graffiti from the inside – the whole room felt rather cold and inhospitable on this beautiful autumn day.
The half a dozen guest “houses” in the back looked a bit like an afterthought and some were already in quite questionable condition. The eclectic conglomerate was big enough for about 30 people, with each hut hosting a family or a carload full of friends. Been there, done that… and the light was disappearing quickly.
What made the Fuji Five Lakes Onsen such a memorable exploration was the simplicity of the place. No shiny modern kitchen, no ten-storey concrete building, no spa area the size of a football field, no arcade, no elevators – just plain wooden buildings, a handful of guest apartments and an almost underwhelming shared bath. The most modern item probably was that controller for said Konami game, every other item there most likely was from the 70s, 60s or even 50s.
The last couple of places I presented on *Abandoned Kansai* were not very Japanese at first sight, especially locations like the *Western Village* or the *Hachijo Royal Hotel*… but the Fuji Five Lakes Onsen is as Japanese as it gets!

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The Japanese love fishing – not just whales and dolphins, but in general. When I grew up, I saw short bits on TV about swimming pool like fishing ponds in Tokyo, right next to trains rattling by. Now that I live in Japan, I see anglers at almost all bodies of water, especially in the countryside – even in the mountains at 600 or 700 meters of elevation.
Karuizawa is a small town of about 18,000 people in Nagano prefecture, just two hours outside of Tokyo by car; or half that time when using a Shinkansen super express train. While never hosting Olympic games by itself, Karuizawa was host to the equestrian events of the 1964 Tokyo Summer Olympics and to the curling events of the 1998 Nagano Winter Olympics, making it the only place in the world hosting events for both Summer and Winter Olympics. But even without this little know fun fact Karuizawa is a really lovely town on the base of the active complex volcano Mount Asama, mostly consisting of small houses on surprisingly large parcels of land, surrounding a gorgeous small city center with lots of German, French and British influence; if there ever will be a Japanese remake of Groundhog Day, it should be filmed in Karuizawa!
Attracting predominantly Japanese tourists from Tokyo trying to escape the dreadful summer heat or looking for some skiing fun in winter, Karuizawa offers all kinds of outdoor activities.

A fishing park just outside of Karuizawa offered retreats for companies, universities and youth groups; adding tennis courts, a gateball court and a community center with pool billiard and karaoke to the list of recreational activities. Not much of it is left these days – a couple of rotting buildings as well as some left behind items.
What elevated this exploration and made it quite memorable was another encounter with wildlife; a fox this time, to be more specific. My exploration buddy Hamish and I were just entering the lower level of a barn like structure (see photo…) when we heard animal footsteps from the floor above. We took a couple of photos of the missing floor and the building in general when out of nowhere a fox came running down the broken wooden stairs and right at us. Not knowing what to do we just looked at each other, when the fox all of a sudden realized that he was not alone. In a 1960s cartoon like move he made a full break, turned around, sped up again and tried to escape through a window next to the flight of stairs… BOOM! The window was closed. Another try. Boom. And up the stairs he went, apparantly uninjured. Bursting into laughs about what just happened we continued to shoot for a while, when Hamish went out to the open again – seconds later the fox appeared, much more careful this time, seeing me and retreating again; it seems like he had been looking through a glass door and thought we left when he saw my buddy. Afterwards we left for good and never saw each other again… happy that it was such a shy creature and not some rabies ridden calf mangler!

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Nichitsu is a legend amongst Japanese urban explorers, a world-class ghost town that attracts visitors from all over the country and even overseas. In day trip range from Tokyo (but not from Osaka!), this mostly abandoned mining village in the mountains of Saitama prefecture is famous for its huge variety of abandoned structures crammed into a single valley – countless mining buildings (some still in use, even on the weekends!), several schools, a hospital, a gymnasium, a vast residential area and who knows what else.

After exploring a cute little regular ghost town on a sunny Sunday morning, my buddy *Hamish* and I arrived in Nichitsu to grey weather and low hanging clouds; at one o’clock, totally underestimating the vast amount of buildings to explore – though even a full day would barely be enough to see everything there, let alone document it properly. To make the best of the situation, we avoided the rather busy lower part of the valley (with company cars parked as well as a group of explorers arriving) and headed for a small parking area used by hikers. From there we wanted to find out what all the fuzz was all about… and it didn’t take us long!
Given the rather active area we passed through just minutes prior (feeding the rumors about security) as well as the fading light even rather early in the day, I decided to take a first video of what I thought was everything there was to see in that area – then we started to explore buildings on a sample basis as it was pretty clear that less than 4 hours of daylight remaining wouldn’t allow us to see everything anyway. From the very beginning it was close to impossible to take indoor photos without a tripod as exposure times quickly reached up to 30 seconds in darker areas of buildings.
A school, an office building, several private houses (ranging from completely empty to fully stocked and suitcases packed), a small fire station and some other structures later we reached the area at the end of the first video – only to realize that the really interesting buildings were still ahead of us and just seconds away; including a gymnasium and the now mostly collapsed hospital! Crazy…
With less than an hour of daylight left, we kept shooting and shooting and shooting, but even test shots to frame pictures properly took painfully long (as you might or might not know, I don’t even crop my photos). The last building we found was the hospital, of course, and despite the conditions we both managed to take a couple of decent shots – overall it was a bit disappointing though as it didn’t even come close to its reputation or similar places, like the *Tokushima Countryside Clinic*.
Overall the Nichitsu Ghost Town totally lived up to its reputation… and given that I didn’t even enter a mining related building means that another visit is in order – probably sometime in 2015 as I am pretty sure that Nichitsu will see some snow soon, rendering parts of the village inaccessible (then I will tell you more about Nichitsu’s complicated history, too…). The white stuff in some of the videos and pictures definitely wasn’t snow! Maybe some kind of gypsum? Solid when dry, it became viscous when in contact with water – I am sure during a typhoon you can watch it flowing down slopes and roads, slowly suffocating the lower parts of Nichitsu…

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No matter what you think of marriage in general – weddings in Japan tend to take it to a whole new level, in many regards…
I actually don’t even know where to begin. Maybe I should just shut up, describe the building and get out of here before I write things I might regret later. To be honest with you, I am not exactly the most qualified person to write about weddings as I am not married myself and had to turn down most invitations in both Germany and Japan as I was coincidentally in the other country when they happened. But damn, Japanese weddings are weird!

First of all – getting legally married in Japan is the most unspectacular thing ever. It just takes a few minutes and involves the almighty seals (hanko) of both partners, but not necessarily their presence; one is enough as long as you have the correct documents to stamp. The way more important and spectacular part is the religious ceremony and the party afterwards; or rather parties – three or four (in a row!) are considered rather common.
At a time that Christian nuts are taking over the States and Muslim nuts are taking over the Middle East, the Japanese are very relaxed when it comes to religion. 85% are considered Buddhists, 90% are considered Shintoists, and 1% are considered Christians. “But… Florian, that doesn’t add up properly!” you might say – and you’d be correct! But that’s just part of the craziness, because according to statistics, 53% of Japanese couples marry in a Christian ceremony, 32% in a Shintoist ceremony and less than 1% in a Buddhist ceremony – the rest choose to marry in a secular or other way. Most men couldn’t care less, but Japanese women are basically like: “They nailed that Jesus guy to a cross? Funny, that’s what we did in Japan with Christians for most of the 17th, 18th and 19th century… But whatever! I want that white dress and I am getting that white dress!” (That’s actually not true. Most people in Japan aren’t even aware that their government persecuted Christians for centuries. But it’s only logical when the leader of the country legitimizes his power via their own religion, Shinto.) Most marriages end in ignorance and selfishness, why shouldn’t they start with it?
In Germany you still have to jump through quite a few hoops before being able to getting married in a church – like having several meetings with the local priest, convincing him that you are a dedicated Christian; and of course you better be a registered member and pay church tax! None of that in Japan, of course… most Japanese Christian weddings don’t even take place in real churches!
Since most Japanese live in tiny apartments not suitable for huge parties, most weddings take place at big hotels or specialized places; like the Ibaraki Wedding Palace. There they have decorated rooms for the most common ceremonies; like a love hotel has rooms for whatever turns you on… Comparatively small rooms, as only close family and a few best friends are attending those “religious” ceremonies, then everybody else joins for a rather big party; instead of choosing a considerate gift you pay an “entrance fee” that’s usually between 8000 and 10000 Yen – the couple will let you know in advance… Since Japanese weddings cost about 4 million Yen in average (though common ones are rather half that price!), that first party can be huge. 80 to 100 people are nothing, I’ve heard of friends inviting up to 250 people. And I’ve been invited to weddings of people I barely knew, in one case I actually never met the wife before! With all the fakeness surrounding Japanese weddings one can only hope that the couple’s love is real…

Anyway, the Ibaraki Wedding Palace… was one of those specialized wedding places – but unlike the *shangri-la* it didn’t come with hotel rooms and a pool, it was just a wedding and party venue. In the early 2000s it must have been quite a sight, with tons of tableware and items like fake plastic wedding cakes left behind. Since then it became a victim of arson and several clean-up operations, so when Y. told J. and I that this would be our next location after visiting the gorgeous *Japanese Vintage Pornographer’s House* I couldn’t believe what I heard. That piece of crap? After one of the most gorgeous locations in all of Kanto? Of course I didn’t say anything as I didn’t want to be impolite – and I am glad that I didn’t, because despite the Heian Wedding Palace being a rundown, burned down pile of garbage, it also offered an amazing amount of details; textures, to be more specific. Bent metal beams, charred window frames, tacky colored glass panes, cheap plastic chandeliers. Hardly anything that would deserve the label “beautiful”, but interesting enough to keep me busy for half an hour – then we continued to the third and last location of the day…

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Like many other countries, Japan struggled with religion and its negative attending ills many times. In 794 the capital was moved from Nara to Heian-kyo, modern day Kyoto, when Buddhist clergy became too powerful and the Imperial household decided to break free from its influence. In the early 17th century Tokugawa Hidetada and Tokugawa Iemitsu struggled with Christian merchants and missionaries so much, that the Sakoku Edict of 1639 turned pre-modern Japan into North Korea 0.9 – more than 200 years later, religious freedom was restored, the total power of an absolute leader was abolished and the country opened again for modernization, trade and travelling. Since World War 2 a more moderate country in many ways, Japan had to dispel only two religious groups for criminal activities in the past 70 years: Aum Shinrikyu after their sarin gas attack at the Tokyo subway in 1995… and Ibaraki’s Myokaku temple for financial fraud – welcome to the Japanese Gold Cult!

The whole story started back in 1984, at the same time when Aum Shinrikyu was founded. The superintendent priest of the Myokaku Temple in Chiba prefecture established a company that sold aborted fetus bodhisattva. In 1987 he established a religious enterprise called Hongaku Temple and started to sell all over Kanto, before becoming an independent temple in 1988. Soon after, the Consumer Affairs Agency started to receive complaints and temporarily shut down business. Unimpressed, the gold cult bought the Myokaku Temple on Mount Koya in Wakayama prefecture to expand its business to Kansai – which at that point included spiritual consultations for 3000 Yen and performing memorial services for 1 million Yen (back then and currently more than 9000 USD!) as well as selling overpriced item like marble vases and items made from gold. Center of the scam were the ihai, spirit tablets believed to hold the souls of deceased people – the cult took care of thousands of them and placed them in two special buildings at the Myokaku temple; but obviously they didn’t take of them in a proper way, hence the fraud accusations. In December 1999 a Wakayama district court finally followed the Agency for Cultural Affairs request to dissolve Myokaku / Hongaku Temple – the organization subsequently lost a legal battle for survival in front of the Supreme Court.
Sadly and surprisingly I couldn’t find anything about the case in English or German, so I had to piece together above information from various very complicated Japanese sources; please feel free to correct me if I misunderstood something! (My knowledge about Buddhism is limited, so I tried to avoid specialized terminology when possible… and I still don’t know what happened to Mount Koya’s Myokaku temple.)

After hiking through the mountainous Japanese countryside for about an hour on a hot, sunny spring day I finally reached the headquarters of the former Japanese Gold Cult:  a cluster of about half a dozen buildings – and after climbing a rather long and steep flight of stairs I reached a regular looking building that probably was used for meetings and as living quarters. To the right, past a pond and a collapsed gate, there was a comparatively small storage house – nothing of interest. Up another small flight of stairs I found the main hall, which was hard to miss at it was by far the biggest building. Almost as good as new, with lots of dark corners and significantly colder than the outside, it felt kind of strange being there. Solo explorations are always a lot more nerve-wrecking than group explorations… but this location had a spiritual / religious component to it, obviously. I don’t believe in ghosts and I am not religious at all, nevertheless there is some awe-inspiring element to a lot of those institutions – graveyards like the Okunoin, cathedrals like the Kölner Dom… and abandoned fake temples like this one.
The main reason though why explorers from all over Japan travel to the middle of nowhere are two small buildings behind the main hall, in which the Japanese Cold Cult stored all the ihai – and the bling-bling of gold and black lacquer was indeed quite impressive and worth the long trip from Kansai!
I just had entered an official looking, administrative building, probably the one where visitors were welcomed, when I saw somebody outside through a window – so I left through the back without taking any video material or interesting photos. The parts I saw were small offices and a main room full of boxes and random items, not of interest.
The last building looked like a big, chaotic family home and was probably used for meditation. Since it was pretty much busted open, nature was taking over again and parts of the floor were rather soft and brittle. Again, items were scattered all over the place, as if somebody was looking for valuables without finding anything.

Three hours after my arrival I left with a heavy heart as I had an afternoon flight to catch. Exploring the headquarters of the Japanese Gold Cult was a weird and unique experience. On the one hand I felt a bit uneasy as I was exploring a crime scene solo, and the garden there wasn’t out of control (which means that somebody still had an eye on it), on the other hand it was such a tranquil and beautiful place, the peaceful atmosphere disrupted only once in a while by farmers tilling their nearby fields. The Japanese Gold Cult had been kept a secret for about a year or two – now that Japanese explorers gave away too many hints and its exact location kind of became common knowledge, I really hope that people will keep respecting it. Not because it’s a (fake) sacred site, but because it’s a beautiful and unique abandoned place that deserves respect!

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Old family pictures, dry plate negatives, books with titles like “Avoidances From Sexual Temptation”, a wooden wall telephone that looked like straight out of “Boardwalk Empire”… and somewhere there had to be 90 year old porn photos – my head was spinning!

3 years prior to that slightly overwhelming spring day, I went on a *second trip to Kyushu*. It was my first long-distance solo exploration trip and included amazing locations like the now demolished *Kawaminami Shipyard*, the also demolished amusement park *Navelland* and the wonderful *Ikeshima*.
3 months prior to that slightly overwhelming spring day, my urbex buddy Rory and his wife had helped me locating an amazing abandoned hotel I deemed worthy dumping 25.000 Yen travel costs on, so I spontaneously booked a flight from Kobe to Ibaraki Airport… I had 28 hours in the Kanto countryside and I was eager to make the best of it.
3 days prior to that slightly overwhelming spring day, I sent a message to a Japanese dude I made friends with some years ago on Facebook. Back then he contacted me referring to a girl from Tokyo we both kinda knew. Usually I am very hesitant adding complete strangers to my private Facebook account, but I added him anyway after we exchanged messages for a couple of weeks. I thought he was living in Tokyo, but just before my trip I found out that he was living in the city where I booked my hotel, so I asked him if he was available for a chat on short notice. First he told me that he had to work… and before I was able to answer he wrote that he would really like to explore with me – so he changed his working schedule and offered to pick me up at the airport with a friend of his. Positively surprised by the kindness of that stranger I told him about the locations I intended to visit, but that I’d be happy to be guided, too, as he knew the area a lot better than I did.
When I arrived at Ibaraki Airport, Y. welcomed me like an old friend (“Long time no see?!” Heck, we never met!) and his buddy J. was super nice, too. We went to his car and Y. started driving, so we did the obvious, chatting about urbex. He had great stories, I had great stories and all of a sudden he was like: “First stop: red villa!” And I was just thinking: “The old photographer’s house? The guy who had amateur porn on glass plates? THE 2013 urbex hot spot? A place people didn’t even hint about on the internet for a very, very long time?” Since Y. kept insisting that we met before, I just had to break it to him, as I didn’t want to take advantage of the situation: “Dude, I am terribly sorry, but we never met before! You added me on Facebook a while ago, we chatted about urbex because we have that common acquaintance I haven’t even met in person, but I’m afraid that’s it…” Instead of driving me back to the airport he said:
Y: ”You’ve been to Kyushu, right?”
F: ”Yes, I went there three years ago!”
Y: “Me too!”
F: “Oh, that’s great! Where did you go to?”
Y: “The Kawaminami Shipyard!”
F: “Amazing place, wasn’t it? Too bad they demolished it…”
Y: “Yeah, we met there!”
F: “I met people there…”
Y: “That was me and my friend Ben!”
F: “Wait a minute! I remember meeting a Japanese dude and his friend Ben!”
Y: “That was me!”
F: *blush*
Check out my article about the *Kawaminami Shipyard* from three years ago! I even wrote the following line: “The guys turned out to be Ben, an English teacher from Otsu in Shiga (close to my current home), and his Japanese friend from Kanto.“
Have I ever mentioned that I am bad with both names and faces? A truly horrible combination – but Y., J. and I had one of the best laughs ever… on our way to the amateur pornographer’s house! 🙂

Upon arrival, Y. indicated that we should keep a low profile. We were as countryside as it can get in Japan – and we stuck out like a sore thumb anyway, so no need to attract extra attention by being noisy. We walked past small houses and fields until we reached a bamboo grove. The path lead down a gentle slope… and there it was, the photographer’s house. Or rather estate. In addition to the main building, there were two or three side buildings, all of them about 100 years old according to the word on the street. Y. had been here before several times, but for J. and I it was the first visit. Since parts of the main building had already collapsed and the rest was in questionable condition, Y. guided us a bit. The first floor alone could have kept me busy for hours, with all the old photos, dolls, books, furniture and exposed parts of century old construction, but after around 20 minutes Y. called me upstairs; where I had another 30 minutes to take photos of a mind-blowingly gorgeous balcony, old magazines and newspapers, books and dry plates – Y. was kind enough to play hand model.

This was actually my first time in the 4.5 years that I do urban exploration to explore with a fellow Japanese explorer (not just say Hi at places when I coincidentally meet them…) and it seems like they are in more of a rush than I usually am. Nevertheless it was a great experience to explore the Japanese Vintage Pornographer’s House, though we didn’t even try to enter any of the other buildings and the closest we came to find porn was a printed nude drawing in a newspaper. In spring of 2014 the place already had severely suffered from vandalism (despite the obviously pretended secrecy) and it seems like somebody either thoroughly hid or even stole the porn dry plates – and after the really rainy summer this year I am sure the condition of the building hasn’t become better, considering the holes in roof and subsequently in the the ceiling. As great as the place still was, it was sad to see how much it suffered from spray paint, aggression, staging and most likely theft. In the past couple of years Japan had been an urbex sanctuary, but the Japanese Vintage Pornographer’s House is a prime example that the current trend goes to European and American conditions – where you have to rush to new discoveries as quickly as possible, before hordes of people from all over the world trample through and damage or even destroy the atmosphere…

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Life is friggin weird sometimes: Not only is there a rather small city on Kyushu called Usa – it’s also home to several Japanese military ruins from World War 2!

At first sight there was nothing special about this old airplane bunker in the middle of rice fields somewhere in the Japanese countryside on Kyushu. It’s pretty much as rural as it can get and train stations were rather rare in this beautiful area, just a few hundred meters away from the coast.
I got off the train at a station called Buzenzenkoji on a gorgeous spring afternoon and got on again several hours later after dark at another one called Yanagigaura. Stories that the area was bustling with military 70 years prior intrigued me, but reports on the internet said that barely anything was left to see. The stories were about bases and bunkers, often kilometers apart, not visible on GoogleMaps, most of them even destroyed. Information about locations was vague, but what did I have to lose? Walking through the Japanese countryside on a sunny, warm spring afternoon was a treat by itself; always has been, always will be.
When I reached what I hoped would be the quarters of a naval aviation unit… I saw nothing. Nothing but some concrete foundations as well as gardens and fields at the edge of a small town. The Moriyama Emplacement and its moat probably had been levelled decades ago to help growing food for the hungry Japanese post-WW2 population.
So I continued along the road in hope to find the Shiroi Combat Group of the Usa Naval Aviation. I am actually not sure if I really found it, but I definitely found said airplane bunker. It was located right next to a house and it seemed like the owners were still using it – not to protect an airplane, but as a storage. I took a couple of quick photos and a short video before continuing my way as the sun started to set.
This time I was looking for Usa Naval Aviation’s motor workshop a few kilometers northeast on the way to the train station… and I found it after looking for a while in a rather new residential area, surrounded and broken up by fields. The workshop was in miserable condition, nevertheless it looked like it was still used by locals as storage space. I quickly took a handful of photos (most of them against the light…) and barely reached the Yanagigaura train station before it got dark – but not before stopping at a fourth location, a small wooden and completely boarded-up house that looked like it was from the late 19th, early 20th century.

To me this little stroll was barely more than enjoying a relaxing Friday afternoon on my way to some serious explorations (including *Shidaka Utopia*, but if you are into World War 2 history and do some research in advance, I am sure you can find some pretty interesting stuff in the area. To me even the airplane bunker was just an airplane bunker and the main reason this afternoon walk turned into a full article was… because after I returned home I realized that those World War 2 ruins were located in a town called Usa – exactly my kind of humor, I find that extremely funny… 🙂

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The Landslide Mining Apartments have been a challenge from the beginning till the end. They were difficult to locate, they were difficult to access, they were difficult to document and they were difficult to write about!

I remember how fascinated I was when I first saw those two massive concrete yet delapidated buildings on a Japanese blog years ago… and how I assumed that they would become the next Japanese urbex sensation. Most of the modern ruins in Japan have been abandoned in the past 20 years or so, but the Landslide Mining Apartments clearly had a longer history. Much like the incredible *Matsuo Mine Apartment Buildings* the LMAs were built after World War 2 and abandoned in the late 1960s, but unlike their famous counterparts, the Landslide Mining Apartments fell into obscurity during abandonment. And that’s where they still are, which is good for them… and good for the safety of countless potential visitors that would otherwise risk their necks going there. Japanese blogs usually name their articles after the original mine’s name, despite there’s close to nothing of it left – and most likely because they visited before the buildings’ current signature feature rolled through: a huge landslide that damaged several apartments; some more, some less, some not at all.
So, is it smart to visit abandoned concrete apartment buildings from the 40s or 50s that were built on a steep slope in the middle of nowhere and abandoned in the 60s, which rather recently have been hit by a landslide? Hell no! But it’s terribly interesting, at least to me… 🙂

Like I said, the Landslide Mining Apartments were rather difficult to locate. Most of the time I had to wait for months to receive another part of the puzzle, for example a prefecture name or a photo of the surroundings, but after a while I was able to piece everything together. Or so I thought. Since the LMAs are located in a very countryside area rather well-known for its tea, the GoogleMaps satellite view turned out to be a massive greenish / slightly brownish blur, countless narrow streets leading up and down the mountains – one wrong turn and you are lost forever. Luckily I spent another 30 minutes to figure out details before heading over there, because it turned out that my first pin-down was a couple of hundred meters off; too much in a mountainous area for buildings that can’t be seen from regular streets.

When I first saw the Landslide Mining Apartments with my own eyes I was heading towards one of those tea fields, probably not an abandoned one – and my heart sank a bit when I realized that there was no way I could climb the slope as it was completely overgrown. And by that I mean COMPLETELY overgrown. In March. Crazy! But if there was a way to get to the lower end of the buildings… maybe there was one to get to the upper end… somehow. After trying several roads and paths, ending up too high / too low / too far north / too far south, the buildings finally came into reach. Well, the northern building (in the background of the first photo, since my safe return the wallpaper of my computer) came into reach, the southern one appeared to be protected by nature from all sides. And even Building 1 (yes, they were numbered…) was difficult to access as you know from the introduction. There were no steps leading down, but I spotted a partly overgrown path leading from where I assumed the entrance was to… pretty much nowhere. A fainting rut in the slope indicated where previous explorers made their way down there, so I followed their example, reaching another area with thick vegetation. Only a few meters away from the upper staircase (each building had two, with apartments on each of the four floors IIRC) I just pushed for it and finally made it through – realizing that I forgot my tripod in the car…

… which was one of the reasons why I had some difficulties documenting the Landslide Mining Apartments. A lot of the rooms were actually not exactly well-lit in the afternoon, since the windows faced north and south, while the sun was setting in the west, disappearing way too fast behind a mountain. Even from below at the tea plantation it was pretty obvious that the LMAs would be a rather dangerous exploration, given their age and the condition the buildings were in, but I didn’t even have to go to a second apartment to see how risky maneuvering within the building would be as it was filled up to the ceiling with earth and debris – not too long ago a landslide must have hit Building 1, damaging some of the apartments. And most of the other ones weren’t exactly in great condition either. Mold and moss made the tatami and wood floors a lot more instable as they appear to be in perfect condition… and even the concrete didn’t look like I wanted to trust it with my life. And so the exploration turned out to be breathtaking in many ways, but also because there were quite a few items of daily life left behind. Games, clothing items, a toilet brush, alcohol bottles, newspapers, and the obligatory porn stash; this time a loose-leaf collection spread over a living room floor and a kitchen.

So why did I have a difficult time writing about the Landslide Mining Apartments? Well, mainly because I tremendously enjoyed the location. With all the difficulties on the way I felt that I really earned this exploration, which turned out to be an amazing place full of little surprises. The LMAs were far from being beautiful in a way most people would agree on, but their rough charm totally appealed to me. Despite being typically Japanese inside, wooden floors and tatami mats, the buildings oozed a goozebumpy Nineteen-Eighty-Four-esque atmosphere. It’s the kind of place I could stay at for hours without taking a photo, just enjoying its vibe and letting my thoughts getting carried away. And that is great at the time, but it also adds incredibly to the pressure whenever I write about one of those outstanding places… like in this case. Even now, more than 1000 words into the article, I am not sure if I was able to do the Landslide Mining Apartments justice… but I really hope I did!

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My summer vacation to Germany in 2013 felt a little bit like the weirdest USO tour ever as I was basically heading from one abandoned military base to the next – in the end I went to about a dozen of them, ranging from “demolished” to “dangerously decaying” to “in almost perfect condition”. And of course some of them turned out to be just closed and heavily guarded… but since urbex is one big grey area I’ll write about all of them sooner or later.
The Babenhausen Kaserne I remember vividly from back in the late 1990s, when I saw it every couple of weeks on my way from my hometown to my place of study – I was always impressed by the massive red stone wall and the surprisingly beautiful buildings, but I had no idea that its history dated back to the turn of the century (between the 19th and 20th century that is…).

After the necessary negotiations with the Reichstag and the war ministry in 1899 (pre-Orwell and therefore pre euphemisms like Ministry of Defense!), the construction of the Babenhausen Kaserne began in the following year, with a groundbreaking ceremony on July 3rd. 15 months later the construction of 21 buildings and a water tower were finished and the 2nd battalion of the 61st field artillery regiment of the Grand Duke of Hesse was the first unit to move in. Almost 13 years down the road, on August 7th 1914, the regiment was transferred to fight in World War I. Now empty, the Kaserne soon was used as a hospital during the war. Upon Imperial Germany’s defeat in November 1918 the regiment briefly returned and then was deactivated in December; three months later the hospital was closed. In the following 15 years the Kaserne had many tenants: a French infantry battalion, a Reichswehr regiment, the Hessian security police, the Hessian police school, a section of the University of Darmstadt, the SA, the 36th Field Artillery Regiment, a horse riding and driving school for the German cavalry, a flying school and development detachment, a maintenance company, a Flak unit and several other smaller groups – and for some time it was even completely empty.
On March 25th 1945 the 3rd infantry division of the US Army liberated Babenhausen, confiscated private houses and used the Kaserne as a camp for displaced persons and as a POW camp for up to 30.000 German soldiers – PWTE-A-20 was disbanded in October 1946…
In May 1947 the US Army officially took over the Kaserne for the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA), organizing refugee camps for Russians and Poles as well as shelter for displaced people from Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia.
From February 1951 on the Kaserne became a military purpose again. The US Army expanded the base and in August the 36th field artillery group moved in – followed by the 36th FA GP; 18th, 519th and 593rd field artillery battalions, the 41st field artillery group (later becoming the 41st field artillery brigade). In the early 1990s the HHB 41 Brigade, 1/27 FA, 4/77 FA, 77 Maintenance Co and the 72nd Ordnance Battalion supported Operation Desert Storm from Babenhausen.
The deactivation of the Babenhausen Kaserne began in 2005 and on July 9th 2007 more of 100 years of military history ended with a closing ceremony.

Phew – researching and writing about the history of the Kaserne in Babenhausen actually took a lot longer than exploring it as the whole area was fenced off and guarded very well. Heck, when I got close to the main gate a watchdog started to bark and didn’t stop until I was very, very far away. Heading for the back of the area, now home to a small airfield, didn’t do much either – barbed wire metal fences, concrete blockades and massive gate made it impossible to infiltrate the base without getting hurt or caught by security.

Sadly the future of the Babenhausen Kaserne is still uncertain. Right after the barracks were closed several interest groups developed the Brundtland-Park concept, but a dedicated homepage in German hasn’t been updated since 2009. More recent news articles show that there has been lots of talking in the past years, but no decision making – and so the area is slowly decaying, heavily guarded…

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Spring is the perfect time for hanami haikyo – exploring abandoned places while the plum and cherry blossoms are in full bloom. The window of opportunity every year is small, especially during cold and rainy springs, but this year I was luckily to hit one of those perfect days early in the year…

A few years ago I saw the remains of what appeared to be a playground on some random Japanese blog. Another source called it an abandoned amusement park. And then some photos of a golden Buddha statue appeared. It took me a while to piece all those pieces together – and afterwards I knew as much about that mysterious place as before… plus its exact location on a small mountain in Gifu prefecture; very countryside, and so I explored in Gifu and passed through Gifu several times before I was finally able to visit the Golden Buddha Park myself – most likely not its original name, but the fake names Japanese blogs used make even less sense, so mine is as good as theirs.
In the Japanese countryside GoogleMaps often is little more than a general hint, especially when construction is going on, so Dan, Kyoto, Spencer and I (big group this time!) knew where we had to go, but didn’t exactly know how to get there. After several twists and turns we reached a strange area where about a dozen regular cars were parked on what appeared to be an abandoned road with small abandoned houses – and one active apartment building at the end, much too small to house everybody parking there. We turned back again and parked at pretty much the last available spot, next to a partly collapsed house and an overgrown and dried-out pond. The paved street had turned into a cobblestone road, the condition getting worse and worse, so we decided to walk. Soon even the cobblestones were missing and we hiked up what appeared to be a dirt road getting narrower and narrower, becoming more and more overgrown. But we were on the right track as I remember a mushroom shaped resting area I saw on photos years prior. At that point there was a rift about half a meter deep splitting the road / wide path we were on. A strange place and probably creepy as hell on a foggy day. After a couple of minutes we reached some kind of plateau with a metal beam cage – probably for bird or maybe a small feline predator. There was trash all over the nearby slope and a vandalized bus was rusting away, offering the first good photo opportunity of the day. Opposite of the bus and mostly overgrown were several flights of stairs, some handrails and other concrete leftovers – it seems like there had been a now mostly demolished solid building once, but what it was… your guess is as good as mine. Next to the construction ruin we found a massive flight of stairs leading up the mountain, one huge concrete elephant statue on each side, with the weirdest plastic eyes I have ever seen; also worth mentioning: since the trunk was crumbling away we could see that there was a hose inside, so those statues were probably able to spray water…
On top of the mountain / hill we finally saw the golden Buddha in its white dome, lined with cherry trees. What a sight! But it was also guarded by two statues that probably were supposed to be dogs or lions, but looked more aliens – or alions… The statues with their weird eyes formed an unnerving contrast to the tranquil atmosphere of the Buddha and the countryside beauty. Such a strange place!
Upon closer look the base of the interesting looking concrete construction must have been hollow as we found a door on the back. Since it was locked we rather climbed the socket and had a closer look at the statue. Most of it was actually undamaged, but the gold leaves of lowest part, even in reach of small people, needed some refoiling.
Sadly there we no sign or other hints what this could have been, so after a while we hiked back down the mountain to our car. There we had a closer look at the dried out pond and the neighboring building, probably a conference center or something like that. The front was already collapsed and the interior had seen much better days, too. With that, our motivation to go through another half a dozen abandoned houses dwindled and we decided to call it a day – if Japanese explorers were not able to figure out what this strange setup was, we figured it would be rather unlikely that we will. And it was a good decision, because later that day we found the most amazing *abandoned ski resort* ever. But that’s the story of another time…

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