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Archive for the ‘Hyogo’ Category

Japanese people love euphemisms, especially English ones. Let’s check out another abandoned love hotel!

It has almost become kind of a Christmas tradition here at Abandoned Kansai to write about an abandoned love hotel (Merry XXX-Mas!) for Japan’s last Valentine’s Day of the year (after the original one and White Day), but the country is littered with them… and my explorations of them start to pile up, so I guess I have to throw in one or two at different times of the year.
The Kobe Love Hotel is actually my most recent love hotel exploration, the pictures are barely 72 hours old. Located in one of many love hotel districts in Hyogo’s capital Kobe, this abandoned fashion hotel was actually in surprisingly good condition, considering that it was closed in September 2008 – the last porn on demand menu in the rooms was from August 2008. Before that the Kobe Love Hotel underwent several name changes as the big neon signs outside didn’t match the name printed on the escape routes in the rooms. Of course this couples hotel has seen better days, too – some rooms were more vandalized than others, but overall they were still in decent condition, given that romance hotels are amongst the most vandalized type of abandoned places in Japan, at least in my experience. Since most of the parking lot was overgrown by thick thicket, I guess it prevented most casual vandals from getting access. Oh, and the giant, still active suzumebachi nest probably didn’t attract anybody either…
The layout of the Kobe Love Hotel, actually more of a love motel, was quite interesting – a long line of rooms, parking spots on the west side and a narrow non-public maintenance hallway on the east side; two external staircases allowed guests access to the second floor rooms. For access to the third floor rooms you had to go up an internal staircase past the lobby. Sadly those high up rooms were just regular rooms, without exotic features like an outdoor pool or at least a rooftop Jacuzzi.
The Kobe Love Hotel was a fun exploration, but as a location it was rather average – no kinky themes, no exotic interior, no unusual vending machines. Every room had a slightly different design, but overall the differences to a good hotel room were rather marginal. If you are new to the love hotel topic, I recommend reading my articles about the *Furuichi Love Hotel* and the *Love Hotel Gion*, as I write more about the history of those places there.

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The Nishiwaki Health Land Hotel is one of my all-tme favorite abandoned hotels. Not only was it barely known even amongst Japanese explorers, it also featured two large shared bath areas, an arcade with about a dozen machines, and (to the best of my knowledge) the only abandoned capsule hotel in the world! A truly unique place…

In Japan you have a large variety of accommodations and there often are no clear definitions what exactly the differences between those types of places are. Large hotels with beautiful shared baths for example often welcome day guests, some even offer additional wellness program. On the other hand you have rather big public baths (with or without restaurants and wellness areas), and some offer the opportunity to stay overnight, which can be anything from a very comfortable chair to real hotel rooms – you really have to do some research on each place individually what is offered and how much you have to pay for each element; down to whather or not towels are included or even available…

The Nishiwaki Health Land Hotel (NHLH) obviously was a large mix of health land and hotel, which means that you could have stayed there for a day or a week like at a regular hotel, but also that it expected a ton of day guests coming in for an hour or an afternoon enjoying the baths as well as the entertainment and wellness programs. Two things were quite peculiar about the Nishiwaki Health Land Hotel – first of all its location. Large investments like that are usually either put in the centers of large cities, if possible in walking distance of several train and subway stations, or along highways between large cities for easy access. The NHLH on the other hand was put in the outskirts of a mid-size town in the countryside of Hyogo prefecture – without a stunning view and away from major tourist attractions, but with at least 45 minutes of walking from the next train station, which made it difficult to access for spontaneous visits. The second major difference was the fact that the Nishiwaki Health Land Hotel not only was a health land and a hotel – it also was a capsule hotel for budget guests; and from August / September 2012 on the only abandoned capsule hotel in the world!
Upon arrival in late 2014 my friend Andrew and I were impressed by the size of Nishiwaki Health Land Hotel – up to eight storeys tall and on a 120 by 110 meters plot of land (including parking) it was by far the biggest building in the area and easy to spot from quite a distance away. It was located on a surprisingly busy road (thanks to nearby pachinko parlors) and right opposite of a koban (a small local police station), which made finding a way in quite a nerve-wrecking endeavor – it was literally the last door we checked on the back of the hotel that granted us access through one of the public baths. Since it was a rather unknown location (you’ll most likely never see photos on any other English urbex blog…) and featured rather big window areas in both the front and the back, exploring the NHLH was pretty intense in the first hour or two as we had no information about security or alarm. Luckily we didn’t run into any trouble during our four and a half hour long exploration. The public bath for women with its something like 5 meter tall ceilings and wooden tubs was so big, that it had its own map in the changing room. From there we moved on to the arcade featuring machines by Konami, Capcom, Sega, Taito, and Namco, before exploring the large restaurant and its surprisingly clean kitchen, some lockers of the staff still open and full of stuff. On the second floor (by Japanese counting) we found the first guest rooms, advertising for karaoke boxes, a relaxation room, two massage rooms… and the capsule hotel part, to me the by far most exciting and interesting area I’ve ever seen in an abandoned hotel. The lighting there was extremely difficult, but I knew that this was a unique opportunity, so I took my time and got it right. Sadly the main part of the hotel didn’t live up to the rest – slightly vandalized hallways, dull and similar looking rooms.
Overall it was a great pleasure and really exciting to explore the Nishiwaki Health Land Hotel, resulting in one of the longest hotel explorations I’ve ever done, probably only surpassed by the *Nakagusuku Hotel Ruin*. The gallery at the end of this article contains some of my all-time favorite photos, including the unique ones taken at the capsule hotel section. What made the whole exploration even better was the fact that I had to put small pieces of information together to find this rare gem – I earned this exploration, and my efforts were generously rewarded.

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“Holy s#it, what a f*ing disappointment!”, I thought to myself when I first arrived at the Kobe Hospital, a mid-sized construction ruin of an unfinished clinic somewhere in the mountains of Japan’s most famous beef providing city. But… I was wrong!

There is little known about the Kobe Hospital and for years Japanese explorers have been very careful with photos or information about it, making it close to impossible to locate for an independent like myself – but like so often, patience and perseverance paid off big time. People never showed surrounding buildings, but after a while I knew it was in Kobe, I knew it was on a slope with lots of trees… and I knew it could not be too remote, because nobody would go to a hospital in the middle of nowhere in a densely populated area like Hyogo Prefecture’s capital. So a year or two after I saw the first pictures I finally pieced everything together, took a train or two, hiked for a while… and then… there it was indeed, the Kobe Hospital. Or what was supposed to be a hospital in Kobe. From the looks of it and what is out there as rumors, this place was under construction when the Great Hanshin earthquake hit Kobe on January 17th 1995 – and the damages were so serious, that construction was stopped… only to be replaced by a new project just down the road! Whether or not that story is true I can’t say for sure, but it sounds pretty interesting and plausible.
At first sight the Kobe Hospital is probably one of the worst abandoned places in the history of modern ruins – a couple of unfinished, cracked walls with openings for windows and a half-finished (at best!) second floor that’s covered by leaves all year round; a borderline depressing site to see, even on a sunny day. Convinced I’d be out of there in 20 to 30 minutes I started to document the place – 2.5 hours later I finally left!
I don’t know why, but the more time I spent at the Kobe Hospital, the more interesting it appeared to me. The half-finished hallways, bent metal sticking out everywhere, the ever-changing light, the one wall that looked like a tank crashed through, the vast size of the place… It was just strangely fascinating – despite being kind of the opposite of the *Hokkaido Hospital*.

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I genuinely care about the places I explore – not just when I am there by following the “Take nothing but photos, leave nothing but footprints” rule (I actually try to avoid leaving footprints…), but also afterwards. That’s why I tend to keep an eye on more or less all of the locations I’ve been to. Most of the time it ends with them being demolished, but the story of the *Shuuhen Temple* took a different route…

It was a beautiful autumn day in November of 2011 when I first headed out to the Shuuhen Temple in the countryside of Hyogo prefecture. Abandoned temples are rather rare, even in a country like Japan, where you can barely throw a stone without hitting one. But this historic site dating back to the year 651 fell into disrepair after the local monk left his house (whether on foot or on a stretcher is unknown), and it apparently got even worse when a landslide damaged the road leading up to the temple. I on the other hand enjoyed a gorgeous, serene afternoon during the height of momijigari, the little brother of looking at cherry blossoms – looking at the changing colors of the maple leaves.
About four years later I found out that the Shuuhen Temple had been under renovation or reconstruction, without getting to know any specifics. I have to admit that revisits are not really high on my priority list as I rather explore locations I haven’t been to before (especially since nothing had changed according to GoogleMaps), but during Golden Week of 2016 I finally had the opportunity to go back to this rather unique location.
To get to the Shuuhen Temple, it’s about about a 45 to 60 minute walk from the next train station – a local one, with about one connection in each direction per hour. The last stretch is up a hill. Not too steep, but a total height difference of about 160 meters. The first major change to 4.5 years prior? A brandnew sign at the main road, so this abandoned place has become *a tourist attraction*! The second major difference? About a dozen warning signs making you aware that the place is now under camera surveillance – and there was indeed a solar-powered, motion-activated camera along the road! Of course they repaired and improved the dirt road once leading up the hill… but that was not all! The rough rocks on the mostly overgrown slope leading up the final meters to Shuuhen Temple were replaced by real stairs made from cut stone, the whole area was gardened, and a new entrance was created, including a slightly rewritten info sign – as neither were part of the *previous article*, I added a 2011 flashback photo. The temple area itself underwent quite a few changes, too. First of all: The monk’s house has been demolished and is nothing more than a gravel covered piece of land now. The bell tower has been rebuilt and the gorgeous split tree trunk used to clang the bell is a brand-new piece of wood now. Everything has been cleaned up and a new rest house has been placed on the edge of the slope – the view was still gorgeous, but the new wood and concrete construction felt completely out of place. The mix of old and new was strangely odd. Although I had the place all to myself again, the atmosphere was totally different than before. I tremendously enjoyed *my first visit to the Shuuhen Temple*, but this second trip… was missing the serenity – and when a religious place feels like the magic has gone, it was probably not a good idea to have the area renovated. Some places are just destined to fade away – and I feel like the Shuuhen Temple was one of them. (Hopefully the place will recover over time. If I am still in Japan in 10 years, I’ll let you know!)

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The *Mount Maya Tourist Hotel* is one of the most famous and most popular abandoned places in all of Japan – and it features one of the most gorgeous exteriors ever. What most visitors are not aware of is the little known fact that the hotel wasn’t the only accommodation on that seaside slope with the gorgeous view. On the other side of the cable car tracks was a small bungalow village! Unlike the massive art deco hotel, the little huts were not able to withstand the ravages of time – but if you look closely, you will find some interesting remains and a network of paths, now mostly covered by half a century of foliage…

While the history of Mount Maya and the tourist hotel is documented quite well (*click here* if you missed it the first time), there is little known about the bungalow village. I’ve seen it on a handful of maps / leaflets from the 1960s – one of them featuring a small print ad for a Isuzu Florian, a 4 door sedan introduced in the late 60s. I kid you not! Is life friggin weird sometimes or what? (Until yesterday, when I did some research about the bungalow village specifically, I didn’t even know that there was a Isuzu Florian! There even is an English Wikipedia entry…) According to a Japanese source, the bungalow village was built in 1957, at a time when the Maya Hotel was closed due to damages from World War II – and according to a leaflet about the Maya area, the 14 bungalows cost between 600 and 2500 Yen per night, housed between 2 and 12 people, and were available between July 1st and August 31st. That’s it for historical facts. Nothing about when it closed, nothing about the one remaining house you’ll see on the photos… Nevertheless this is infinitely more information in English than was available before this article.
The Mount Maya Bungalow Village I visited in early 2012 with a nice young fella from Nigeria living in New York, Bukola. We took the cable car half way up the mountain and descended a bit along a hiking trail to reach the bungalow village behind a partly collapsed house along a rather steep slope. It was early January and rather cold. Cold enough to snow every once in a while – not heavily, not strong enough to stay on the ground… but every flake is sacred along Osaka Bay, where half of the people dress like Reinhold Messner during his Himalayan adventures as soon as temperatures hit 10°C (50°F). Sadly there wasn’t that much to see. I am quite familiar with the history of Mount Maya and the layout of its elements, so I loved the flattened, leaves covered huts, the concrete foundations and the occasional leftover item – especially the large Bireley’s cooler! (Bireley’s is a soft drink brand and belongs to the Asahi Beer Company via Asahi Soft Drinks.) 50 years ago this part of Mount Maya must have looked quite different – I assume one had a gorgeous view at Kobe and the coastline, but in half a century trees grew so big and thick that there was little to see even in the midst of winter.
The one remaining house was definitely not a bungalow, it rather looked like a rich / important man’s home. Sadly it was also a dilapidated, vandalized death trap, probably thanks to the hiking trail leading right past by. From the back we were able to enter both floors separately, but of course there was also an internal wooden staircase in less than trustworthy condition. At the time of its construction, the house must have offered some of the best views in all of Kobe, at the time of my visit most of the living room had already crashed down to what I assume was a study / library. With a little bit of imagination you could still see the former glory – and that another major earthquake might send the whole construction down the slope, so we spent as little time inside as necessary to take a few quick shots.

If the Mount Maya Bungalow Village would have been on the slope of any other mountain, it would have been 90% less interesting to explore – but the location made it part of the fascinating and somewhat tragic Maya history. Of course afterwards we continued to have another look at the *Maya hotel*, but that… you probably already guess it… is a story for another time…

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When I arrived at the Akenobe Mine and saw it demolished, I was devastated. Three years ago, this was supposed to be my first big exploration of an abandoned mine… They are rare in Kansai, and while the *Tatsuyama Mine* the year before was a good start, it couldn’t compete with the country’s greatest. But upon my arrival, the Akenobe Mine was mostly gone and the surrounding area brushed clean. A blessing in disguise, because three years and half a dozen barely touched abandoned mines later, it was very exciting to have a look at those “old” photos again, being able to see what a stripped mine looks like underneath all the rusty metal and brittle wood.

It was a sunny spring day when my buddy Dan and I headed deep into the mountains of Hyogo; an area that can be cold, but was unlikely to have snow that time of the year. After exploring another place or two, we finally arrived at the Akenobe Mine at around two o’clock. Just in time for a proper exploration as the sun is setting early in Japan; especially in the mountains, especially that time of the year. We easily found the road leading up the slope, blocked by a massive barbed wire gate. Getting by was a bit of a challenge, especially for me, but in the end it wasn’t much of an obstacle. So we followed the concrete street, littered with branches and small rocks, up the mountain, eager to find out what condition the Akenobe Mine was in. The hairpin curve leading into a dark tunnel must have been quite a thing when driving a loaded truck, but on foot it was rather enjoyable. Sadly our good mood turned into disappointment after the next turn – all the administrative buildings of the mine were gone, except for some concrete bases and stairs here and there on different levels of the mountain. The whole wooden superstructure above the massive concrete containers in the mountainside were gone; so, of course, was all the machinery. The former mine looked like it was prepared as some kind of development area, though nothing ever happened since then – no housing projects, no solar park. To get closer to the concrete leftovers, we had to get past a massive green fence, which turned out to be no obstacle at all. Sadly there wasn’t that much to see, despite us checking out several levels of the former construction. Some cables here, some canisters there… remains of a rail transportation system, of course… Not at all what we expected, but like I said, in hindsight a really good experience.

A far less good experience there had 296 prisoners of war a few decades earlier – a fact neither Dan nor I was aware of at the time. Mining for copper, zinc and tungsten (wolfram) in the Akenobe area dates back to the Heian era (794-1185), but was taken over by the new Meiji government in 1868 in an attempt to maximize the potential and progress with organized, documented mining. Like many of those highly profitable pilot projects, the Akenobe Mine was sold to Mitsubishi in 1898, together with the nearby Ikuno Silver Mine. In spring of 1945 the Akenobe Mine again received some state support in form of almost 300 POWs as forced workers – 28 Australians, 168 Brits; the rest Americans. According to Private First Class Claude R. Lewis of the U.S. Marine Corps the POWs had to work in the mines till August 13th, two days before Japan’s capitulation. Thanks to an affidavit by him, we know that he witnessed how countless boxes and cabinets with documents were transported into the mine and probably hidden in the undocumented early parts that date back hundreds of years – sadly I wasn’t able to find out if they were ever retrieved after the war. While it seems like none of the forced laborers died in Akenobe, many of them reported war crimes of staff and guards at previous camps… which probably explains an oppressive statement made by Japanese translator Kazuo Kobayashi, who worked mainly with the Ikuno prisoners: “Just the mention of Akenobe does strangely bring back tragic images of right after the end of the war when the prisoners were freed, when some of the camp military personnel and Japanese bosses working at the Akenobe mine site were beaten to a pulp.”
Mining continued after the war, but all the mines in the area became less and less profitable, so in 1987 the Akenobe Mine was closed. It seems like these days parts of the Akenobe Mine and some other remains (like a small closed station with a three car train) are actually considered “Heritage of Industrial Modernization” and therefore are open to the public for a fee of 1200 Yen, supported by an NPO. Sadly there is no English website, and the Japanese one is a text heavy read with 1990s web design… Well, not much of a tourist attraction for foreigners anyway – though now I am quite curious if they even mention the POWs there…

Darn, even writing about the Akenobe Mine was a constant up and down. Sunny day, place demolished, relaxed exploration, prisoners of war / guards getting killed in an act of revenge… I guess that’s life. And despite the fact that there was hardly anything left of the mine, it was strangely full of it. I still feel quite a bit conflicted about this place, nevertheless I hope you’ll enjoy the pictures and videos that follow. If you want to know what similar mines look like before demolition, please give my articles about the *Abandoned Dynamite Mine* (yes, it was that exciting!) or the *Taro Mine* a try.

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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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