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Archive for the ‘Hyogo’ Category

Last weekend ten years ago I went on a short hike along an abandoned railroad track – I would not call it urban exploration, but it surely got things into motion…

People often ask me when I first got interested in urban exploration, and the more often I get asked, the further back in my life I tend to go. In the beginning I mentioned my first real exploration in Japan, the abandoned Mount Atago Cable Car, which I first hiked up on November 7th 2009. But in spring of 2009 I actually hiked along the nowadays quite popular old and now abandoned Fukuchiyama train line between Takedao and Namaze along the Mukogawa – even back then it was a known hiking trail and I met all kinds of people on it, from senior citizens to kindergarten (!) groups. Since then the trail was further developed, and a yearly art festival was established in the tunnels. (But my interest in abandonment actually reaches further back – as a university student I participated in a seminar that was held at the UNESCO World Heritage site Zollverein Coal Mine Industrial Complex, as an older child I spent several summers at the Lake Garda in Italy, where we found an old ship that was aground – somebody tied a rope to it, so we could climb up and explore it / use it as a platform to jump into the water. I also remember exploring an old abandoned farm house or two with my dad, eating ripe persimmons fresh from the tree. And I vividly remember exploring an old blown up shooting range dating back to WW2 in the forest I grew up next to as an elementary school student – the bullet trap allowing very, very short sled ride to both the main forest road and the dark remains of the blown up bunker area…)

So, yeah, the Old Fukuchiyama Line, a nice stroll in spring of 2009 – in early April it is supposed to be one of the best spots for hanami in all of Kansai, unfortunately I was a few weeks too early, so the area was still quite barren. I also was more than half a year away from getting my first DSLR – which I actually didn’t buy until a second visit in early October of 2009, a month before my first real exploration and a hike I had totally forgotten about until I looked for photos yesterday evening. So at both hike of the Old Fukuchiyama Line I only took a couple of quick photos with my old Fuji FinePix F30, which I bought upon my arrival in Japan, because I felt like I had to take some pictures of the one year I planned to spend here… Aside from a Polaroid camera as a child I never had anything to do with photography, neither before or behind the camera – and even the pictures I took with the F30 I took more for family and friends back home than for myself, because, you know, I’ve been here and daily life often seems so trivial and not photography worthy. An attitude still very present in *North Korea* for example, where photos are only taken on special occasions – which is one of the reasons why people there are suspicious of those “trigger happy” visitors. 99% of the photos I took made the local guides shake they heads in disbelief. And to some degree I can understand, because I had a similar attitude until the end of 2009, when I first hiked up the *Mount Atago Cable Car* track with my first DSLR (not knowing at all what I was doing as I received it the evening before!) to explore my first real abandoned place…

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Abandoned hotels barely ever excite me anymore – this one was different though. This one was an original find!

The Rokkosan Hotel, named after the gorgeous Rokko mountain range that stretches from Tarumi (west of Kobe) 56 kilometers in northeastern direction all the way to Takarazuka (fun fact: There is no Mount Rokko, all the peaks have different names!), is one of the most famous pre-war hotels in all of Japan and has an almost 90 year long history that started in the late 1920s, when the stretch between Mount Maya and Ashiya (home to the most expensive apartments in all of Kansai!) was developed as a nearby recreational area. Designed by local architect Masaharu Furuzuka and opened in 1929 as an annex to the equally famous Takarazuka Hotel, the Rokkosan Hotel was served by the Rokko Ropeway (right across the street) from 1931 till 1944, when the latter one was closed to get metal for the last desperate war efforts. (*I explored the abandoned remains of the Rokko Ropeway back in 2010.*) After World War 2 the Rokko Mountains experienced another boom period and the 2-storey wood-frame hotel with its 25 rooms was expanded by a new and modern main building with 45 rooms. In 2007 the Rokkosan Hotel was awarded “Heritage of Industrial Modernization” status and in November of 2015 is was announced that the original and smaller part of the hotel would be closed a month later as the building didn’t meet the updated earthquake resistance standards. Half a year later yours truly showed up to explore a third building on the premises. Bored out of my mind one day I used the satellite view of GoogleMaps to look for abandoned buildings… and I had a hunch about that one – luckily I was right, though I am still not exactly sure what the building was, except that it belonged to the Rokkosan Hotel as you can see written on several signs in the photos. And to bring the story of the Rokkosan Hotel to an end: When the older building was closed in 2015, business continued in the newer building. In 2016 the complex was sold to a car importer in Osaka who closed the last remaining operating building at the end of 2017 to start renovation and the construction of a new annex, both to be (re-)opened in 2019, 90 years after the Rokkosan Hotel first opened.
Now to the abandoned part of the Rokkosan Hotel I explored in 2016 – and I swear, I saw it by chance on GoogleMaps, marked it, checked it out some time later with my buddy Andrew; boom, jackpot! Never saw it on the internet before, never since then. It’s not visible from the street and the front is basically overgrown, though we could hear people talk all the time thanks to its proximity to the main building. Not only were we lucky that I found the building, we were also lucky that a door on the back was unlocked, so we entered, like so many other hotels, through the kitchen. From there the entrance area and the dining room were easily accessible. Due to the layout of the building without a formal front desk, I assume that it was either a low cost hostel type expansion of the main building – or maybe an accommodation for employees. From the looks of it, the building hasn’t been used for at least a decade or two; the vegetation in front was wild and blocked a lot of light. Oh, and the floor… Darn, it wasn’t in good condition anymore. The dining room floor was bending and the hallway next to it was so dark and soft that I decided to look for another way around. Fortunately the building featured two rather solid staircases, one on each end, so the second floor was easily accessible even for a tall heavyweight like I. Unfortunately the kitchen and the dining room were by far the most interesting part, the rest was just a rundown old accommodation, slightly trashed.

Was the third building of the Rokkosan Hotel a spectacular exploration? No. But I loved every second of it – because I found it. Other explorers I admire don’t go after the famous locations everybody can google in five minutes, they find places themselves and show me something I’ve never seen before. The only thing better, much better, than seeing an abandoned place for the first time on photos is seeing it for the first time yourself. True exploration, not knowing what’s behind the next corner, behind the next door, behind the next curtain. So whenever I am able to explore an original find I am having the time of my life, even if it’s just an average abandoned hotel – but things you’ll see in the gallery below you’ll probably never see anywhere else; not in the past, maybe not even in the future. It’s an original find – and as much as I hate to reveal locations, I’m proud to say: You saw it here first, on Abandoned Kansai!

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Arima Wanda Garden is a place of many names: Japanese people know it as Arima Wanwan Land – and Abandoned Kansai readers as *Doggy Land*. Let’s have a new look at a canine theme park that has gone to the dogs quickly…

When I picked up urban exploration as a hobby eight years ago it was still kind of an underground thing to do. Now you find articles with photo sets on pretty much every mainstream site, but back then it was tough to find any information at all about it (especially in Japan(ese)) as only a few people were familiar with the term… and rather tight-lipped about it. I never had the urge to break into those secret societies as I always had the feeling that the total freedom of exploring abandoned places strongly contradicts those groups, where a few or even a single person often dictates the behavior and knowledge of many – yet I happily followed two basic rules: “Take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints!” and “Do your own research – and if you find a place, don’t reveal its exact location!”
To this very day people send me message like “I envy you that you can explore that many abandoned places. Where I live there aren’t any!” – and I thought the same about Japan in general and especially the area that I live in, Kansai. For three long years I envied people in Kanto and Hokkaido, where the few famous abandoned places in Japan were. And then I started to do research myself. Not only was I able to locate the few already known places (like the incredible *Maya Hotel* and the mostly demolished *Koga Family Land*), I also found several places yet unknown to the internet – like the now super famous *Nara Dreamland*, the demolition in progress *Expoland* and a still underrated theme park named Arima Wanda Garden; all of which I explored in December of 2009 for the first time. By the time I wrote about Expoland it was completely gone – and by the time I wrote about Nara Dreamland I knew that it would be impossible to hide its location and real name; it was too big, the rides were too iconic, it was even visible from one of the most famous tourist attractions in all of Japan, the Todai Temple in Nara. Arima Wanda Garden on the other hand… Arima Wanda Garden was small enough to keep a secret, but interesting enough to present on Abandoned Kansai – so I gave it fake name (*Doggy Land*) and refrained from publishing revealing photos, like those of the entrance (showing the name) or of certain buildings, showing the logo of the park. And of course I withheld certain information, like the Arima part of the name, as it refers to Arima Onsen, where Doggy Land was and is located.
Much to my joy those efforts were rewarded – it took me until 2014 or 2015 till I first saw Doggy Land on other urbex blogs. And apparently it also contributed positively to my reputation within that urbex community I never considered myself part of. It wasn’t until 2016 that I started to have direct contact with Japanese explorers on a regular basis, but I’ve been told by common friends that I enjoy much respect amongst both foreign and Japanese explorers for the way that I treated Doggy Land and many places afterwards, for example the *Abandoned Dynamite Mine*, the *Japanese Sex Museum*, and the *Kyoto Dam*; just to name a few.

Sadly most visitors after me didn’t treat the Doggy Land with the same respect as I did and wrote about it mentioning either the official English or the official Japanese name – with the expected consequences, but that’s a story for another time. Now that the cat is out of the bag I can finally revisit my first two explorations of the Arima Wanda Garden from late December 2009 and early January 2010.
While the Japanese name Arima Wanwan Land makes kind of sense (wan is a Japanese onomatopoeia meaning woof, the barking sound of a dog), I always disliked the English name Arima Wanda Garden. Wanda… woof + is? Wonder? Wander? Probably a mix of all of those, resulting in a horrible, horrible play of words. (Oh, and if you ever expressed gratitude by writing 39: Shoot yourself in the head with a large caliber bullet!)

The story of the Wanwan Land is quickly told: Built as an additional tourist attraction in the outskirts of the traditional hot spring town Arima Onsen, the Wanda Garden opened in August of 2001, saw a drop in visitors from 2006 on, and closed in August of 2008. The concept of the park was a bit strange, even by Japanese standards – it was dog themed. You could ride a little dog themed train, you could rent dogs and take them for a walk (up to 15 bucks for 30 minutes!), you could mingle with other dog walkers, you could pet dogs, watch dog races – or get an education there: the Kobe Pet Academy offered a 2 year specialty course and a 3 year course for high school graduates from 2004 on. Oh, and there was the Wanda Theatre, an indoor stage for trained dog shows – not sure if it was related to the school… Aaaaaand that’s pretty much it. If you don’t count the two or three eateries, but who does? Why people would consider that eclectic collection of… things… a tourist attraction worth spending time and money on is beyond me… and probably beyond a lot of other people, given the place’s (lack of) success.
As horrible of a theme park Arima Wanda Garden must have been, as great was it to explore this original find with my Spanish buddy Enric – darn, it was actually fantastic. Just over a year into the abandonment we actually had to climb tall fences / gates to get inside, and the only signs of vandalism were some plastic balls from a few airsoft matches. Other than that the Wanda Garden was in almost pristine condition – which also meant that none of the buildings were accessible, including the large escalator bringing guests from the main area back to the entrance / parking lots at the top of the slope. Nevertheless a great experience – and with 2.5 hours we probably spent more time there than the average paying visitor.
When I first wrote about the Woofwoof Land back in early 2010 I had to hold back some photos for reasons already explained, so please enjoy the following mix of old and new pictures plus a never before seen walkthrough of the whole park…

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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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