Archive for the ‘Japan’ Category

The Thug Hotel has been a staple of urban exploration in Japan for many, many years – yet it was one of the strangest, shadiest (and sunniest!) places I’ve been to.

Located along one of many Skyline toll roads in Japan, the Thug Hotel once was part of a lively resort area, nowadays clearly past its prime – driving up there we passed vacant lots, rundown restaurants and other dilapidated structures. Most of the area around the Thug Hotel was fenced off, but fortunately there also was an opening that was unobstructed both times I went there. Two or three private houses to the left, the partly demolished hotel to the right, a shrine in the back – in-between dog kennels, so no doubt that somebody was living on the premises…

The first time I went to the Thug Hotel I went there with my buddy *Hamish* – and since we were not in the mood for trouble, we actually tried to make contact with whomever lived in the house right next to the kennel – nobody answered. So we started our exploration, always an eye on the house and the road leading up to it.
The Thug Hotel was built from 1969 on and opened in spring of 1970 – a massive concrete behemoth, still quite impressive, but probably 1000x more back in the days. And it wasn’t a cheap accommodation! According to one of the few intact signs a night at the Thug Hotel set you back between 13.000 and 30.000 Yen per person. Apparently everything went fine until 1990, when a food poisoning incident happened at the hotel, reducing the numbers of visitors significantly. The Thug Hotel consequently closed in 2003 and was severely damaged by a fire in 2007 – and that’s probably when the demolition of the Thug Hotel began, long before my first visit in March of 2014. Interestingly enough there weren’t any signs of recent progress visible, so demolition most likely was halted for whatever reason. Two and a half hours later the sun was setting and still nobody showed up, so Hamish and I called it quits and left the site (once famous for tight security, alarms and cameras) undetected.

Two years later I came back with two one-time co-explorers. We drove up behind the hotel like last time, only to see half a dozen cars parked in the back, as many muscle-packed, sweat suit and sneakers wearing mid-20s guys with grim faces standing there. The conversation after getting out of our car went something like that:
“What do you want?”
“Just to have a look around.”
“You better leave!”
“We just want to enjoy the view…”
“The owner of the house over there (pointing next to the kennels) is currently not here, but he will be back any minute. You don’t want to be here when he arrives…”
“Seriously – you better leave!”
“Sure thing…”
I didn’t get the finer details of this short conversation, but it seems like those guys were rather nice – as in “they politely asked us to leave”, while their whole appearance screamed “GET THE F#CK OUT OR WE’LL RIP YOU APART WITH OUR BARE HANDS AND YOUR BODIES WILL NEVER BE FOUND!”
Later it turned out that not only those guys weren’t really kosher, the shrine I mentioned before… apparently it is / was dedicated to Class C and Class B war criminals of World War 2 – only in Japan.

Anyway, as much as I enjoyed my first trip to the Thug Hotel as little did I enjoy the second one. Hamish > random people, warm day with beautiful sunset > rainy day, exploring undisturbed > being threatened by thugs. No surprise that all of the photos and both videos are from the first visit, right? Unfortunately reports about heavy machinery on the hotel’s premises have popped up since 2018 – and unless they demolished the houses, I guess it’s pretty likely that the Thug Hotel is no more as I write these words… another one bites the dust! Let’s hope the somewhat similar *Nakagusuku Hotel* will survive for quite a while…

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Dracula’s House? In Japan? We all know he lived in a castle and was about to buy a house in London! Did he really need another vacation home? In Japan, of all places? I bet it took him quite a few nights as a bat to get there!

About three years ago, maybe in late 2015, I saw a screenshot of GoogleMaps on Twitter, showing a large brown structure on satellite view; a building the publisher called “Dracula’s House”. On the one hand I consider teases like that a dick move, on the other hand… on the other hand I love them, because I am excellent at finding stuff at GoogleMaps most people fail at as I’m tenacious and very lucky in that regard. Back then the 3D view of SatelliteView was rather new, so to see a screenshot like that was rather unusual. I looked on GoogleMaps… and looked… and kept looking… and looking… and about an hour later I found Dracula’s House. Muahahahahaha! Be careful what you tease with, you might give away more than you intend to! (Years prior I found the now demolished *Daikyo Driving School* under similar circumstances… 🙂 ) Fortunately Dracula’s House was only a medium train ride and a long walk away from the closest station, so I decided to explore this big unknown place solo…
… which was probably a good idea, because Dracula’s House looked much nicer on GoogleMaps and even from the outside than from inside – fellow explorers, especially those who don’t appreciate a rare find, probably wouldn’t have been too excited, especially five minutes into the actual exploration. At first look and from the outside Dracula’s House was awesome – a withered large, wooden barn-like structure; quite Western style. Upon closer look it became apparent that the place was almost completely gutted, only the exterior walls were still standing – pretty much all interior walls were gone and I started to wonder how Dracula’s House kept standing upright; of course being there on quite a windy day didn’t help. Neither did the fact that there was a mamushi (a.k.a. Japanese pit viper) warning sign. I’ve run into snakes before, luckily none of them were aggressive or even attacked, but as somebody who likes nature tamed or grilled I’d rather stay away from venomous creatures.

Even more than three years after exploring Dracula’s House this dilapidated location is still a rather rare one, though I seriously doubt that it is still standing. Too bad that there is not much else around worth exploring, otherwise a revisit would be in order. And I’ve heard rumors of barbed wire and people having an eye on it, so why risking trouble when I can spend my time explore previously undocumented abandoned places?

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It’s been a while since I last wrote about an abandoned ski resort – and this one offered some surprisingly interesting views!

There is a surprisingly large number of abandoned ski resorts in Japan… and even more deserted ski lifts, but a lot of them are a pain to explore as they tend to be in rather remote areas and / or halfway up a mountain – so when the road leading up there is in bad condition or blocked, you’re in for a hell of a hike. Fortunately the Kansai Ski Resort was located on a pretty busy road at a rather low elevation (between 350 and 500 meters) – good for explorers… and vandals, which explains the serious and very unfortunate amount of vandalism at this location.
The ski lift (1 ride = 200 Yen, 6 rides = 800 Yen, 12 rides = 1500 Yen, day pass 3500 Yen) was in rather bad condition by natural decay – after about 15 years of abandonment and no maintenance pretty much every element was rusted, some of the cables even split. The architectural quite memorable resort building with a large machine storage, equipment rental, restaurant, bar, and a few guest rooms on the other hand featured the whole vandalism menu: graffiti, smashed window, misplaced items, damaged ceilings, walls and floor – and as a result widespread water damage, everything from moss to mold. Usually I despise rundown buildings like that, but this one featured some interesting views, for example the moss covered desk, the fully stocked rental corner and the bar on the ground floor. It also helped that there was a good airflow in the building, so it didn’t feel like my airways were shutting down at any second…

Despite being a rather small location it took me almost two hours to explore and document the Kansai Ski Resort – it was a wonderful autumn afternoon, sunny, slightly windy; perfect for a location like that. At first sight it was just another rundown hellhole, but upon closer look it revealed a certain charisma you are either fascinated by or not. I was, and so I left very happy to finally have explored this place after knowing about it for almost a decade. If you are more into clean, gigantic locations, check out the recently reopened, but back in 2014 abandoned *Arai Mountain And Spa*.

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Short and sweet this week – an abandoned water park in the Japanese countryside, a small original find by yours truly and therefore probably new to the internet.

So, yeah… not much to write this week. A while ago I found this small water park in the middle of nowhere by chance, a bit later I took a couple of photos, and now here we are. I don’t know anything about its history – and even if I’d knew the name, I’d probably wouldn’t publish it for obvious reasons.
A quick and easy exploration, in an out in about 20 minutes. Hope you’ll enjoy the photos!

Oh, and if you want to see more abandoned water parks, you can click *here*, *here* or *here*.

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A blast from the past – another part of the incredibly popular Nara Dreamland hardly anybody cared to look for… the trains!

At the height of its popularity in 2016 the abandoned Nara Dreamland was visited by dozens of people every day, from babies carried by their mothers (all of them foreigners, at least the ones I saw…) to groups of Japanese senior citizens – but hardly anybody really explored that amazing location. Most of those thrill-seeking, bored adventure tourists (including those who call themselves urban explorers) came in through the tunnels underneath the train station, walked past the shops of Fake Street USA to the castle, had a look at the rollercoasters and disappeared again – a few put in some extra effort to check out the water park and / or the rides in the back, but most of them left with a selfie in front of a rollercoaster or the castle to cross off another item on their FOMO hipster list. Hundreds, probably thousands of people came to Nara Dreamland in 2015 and 2016, pretty much everybody saw the train station that dominated the entrance and was even visible from outside the park – yet pictures of the Nara Dreamland trains are super rare, despite the fact that one of the iron horses was waiting for the things to come in an open shed pretty much right next to Aska, the stunning wooden rollercoaster. (The other one was parked on the track in an artificial tunnel in the southeast “corner” of the park, overgrown most of the year…) On the other hand it was probably a blessing for those trains that they only had a handful of visitors in total instead of a handful of visitors per day – they were (mostly) spared the serious amount of vandalism that the monorail and other parts of the park had to suffer through; not to mention all of *Western Village* up in Kanto, which went to hell in a handbasket as soon as it became famous, thanks to a nearby train station and some assholes who can’t behave (pardon my French…).
The pictures in the gallery at the end of this article are mostly of the train in the shed, because it was easy to find, easy to access and easy to take photos of, though it was also next to a surprisingly busy side road and you really couldn’t say if the noise from a scooter was coming from outside or from a security guard on the premises (not counting the one year or so without any security at all, of course – during that time it was pretty clear…).
What happened to the Nara Dreamland trains? I have no idea. The last owner of Nara Dreamland blocked any attempts to make contact, so unless one or both of them show up somewhere in the future (three, if you count the monorail), I guess they’ve been sold for scrap – which would be a shame, because according to the builder’s plate on the train in the shed the locomotive was built by Vulcan Foundry in Newton-le-Willows in 1871. I’m not a train expert, so I have no idea how authentic the train and the worksplate were, but at least there was indeed a Vulcan Foundry Company building steam locomotives in Newton-le-Willows, England, at that time… (According to a Youtube comment by user SJ, who googled the engine gauge “1871 #614 2-4-0, 3’6”, this might have been the first train to ever run in Japan – which makes me hope even more that it was donated to a museum and not scrapped, but Nara Dreamland was bought for profit and I don’t think the new owner cared much about anything… Addendum 2019-02-12: According to Youtube user YannickGB the train at Nara Dreamland most likely was a replica as the original is in the Saitama Railway Museum.)

Hindsight is 20/20 and even I wish I would have spent more time documenting the locomotives of Nara Dreamland, but at least I can say that I’ve seen them both and have been on one of them. Unfortunately the general interest in Nara Dreamland died as quickly as it was demolished, but I hope the Abandoned Kansai audience is a little bit more hardcore than the average Instagram hipster out there and appreciates both the photos and the videos of this article. And if you have never seen the Nara Dreamland shrine, you might want to *check out part I of this series*.

(For all your *Nara Dreamland* needs please have a look at the *Nara Dreamland Special**Like Abandoned Kansai on Facebook* if you don’t want to miss the latest articles and exclusive content – and subscribe to the *video channel on Youtube* to receive a message right after a new video is online…)

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Outside castle, inside tatami – this abandoned house between the cultures withstood a short hype phase, yet it’s its questionable structurally soundness that makes its survival a miracle.

For some reason there is always a big fuzz about abandoned Western style houses in Japan. There was one near Tokyo, and it when it turned out that the previous owners were high society with ties to the Imperial family the property literally got trampled to the ground by the oh so careful and secret urbex scene in Japan, which is amazing, considering that it’s rather small in comparison to America and especially Europe; and that the average person is much smaller in Japan…
Anyway, when a similar house appeared in another part of Japan paranoia was big – several people published pictures at the same time and suddenly “the scene” became extremely suspicious about who had what information and would be able to take whom there. I was relying on help, too, so out of respect I waited several years with this article and won’t neither mention the area the house is in nor who made it possible for me to go there. Since the hype has died down significantly since this location first came up, I guess it’s “safe” to publish it now.
Sitting like a haunted mansion on a hill, access to the Japanese Western House turned out to be quite difficult for many reasons: fences, gates, steep slopes, at least one unchained dog, neighbours, construction, demolition – it felt like everything was going on at the same time and we somehow had to maneuver through the perimeter like a nightmarish real-life game of Frogger. At least there was no water involved. Wouldn’t have been the first (or the last!) time…

But hey, after some back and forth we finally made it into the surprisingly contorted house – and the entrance area kept the tension alive as it looked like somebody could show up any second to continue some long necessary renovation work. As learned at the *Deathtrap Hotel* we went to the lowest floor and made our way up, though it probably would have been easer for my nerves if we would have started upstairs as the semi-basement looked like it could have collapsed any minute and was only propped by a 4×4 timber or two – one low kick and probably the whole friggin house would have folded like Kevin Spacey should have. And we, being happy finally being inside, took the risk like a bunch of inexperienced schmocks. But hey, the upper floor with its western main room (thick sofas and couches) as well as the ground floor with the large tatami rooms that once must have featured jaw-dropping views offered some pretty decent photo opportunities that were clearly tainted by the overcast-rainy weather and the more than unfortunate circumstances (not knowing if the house was really, really abandoned while knowing for sure that the basement was one clumsy move away from letting tons of material sliding down the slope).

I never thought about it before, but exploring the Japanese Western House would probably easily make it onto my Top 5 list of most uncomfortable urbex experiences – and that list would include my run-ins with authorities, though not even all of them. I was out of so many comfort zones that at one point I stopped counting. But the hype beforehand dragged me in, the beauty of some rooms kept me… and some chances don’t come back – you gotta explore when you have the opportunity to do so, only a handful of locations look better in a couple of years; most look worse or will be gone. So, no regrets – and I hope you’ll enjoy the gallery below!

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Cat cafés, dog cafès, owl cafés, a rabbit island, several cat islands, the deers of Nara and Itsukushima – not to mention several snake stations, monkey parks and bear villages as well as countless regular zoos and aquariums. Japan is (almost) every animal lover’s dream… and the more adventurous ones are heading for the mountains of Miyagi prefecture to visit the Zao Fox Village!

The Miyagi Zao Fox Village (a.k.a. Kitsune Mura, which is Japanese for… well… fox village) is located on the foot of Mount Zao, a large and absolutely gorgeous onsen / skiing / hiking area on the border of Yamanashi and Miyagi prefectures, just an hour outside of Sendai. According to the surprisingly informative and well-made English homepage it features “rare 6 types and over 100 fluffy cute foxes”. Unfortunately public transportation in this area is not running as often as in central Tokyo, so you either go there on a Tuesday or Friday by bus from Shiroishi Station (not Shiro Ishii Station!) at 7:58 a.m. and return to said station with the second bus of the day that leaves nearby Kawarago Dam at 2:32 (which means that you are stuck there for about five and a half hours!) – or you don’t. There are no other connections, except for private means of transportation (a taxi ride takes about 20, 25 minutes according to GoogleMaps and should cost about 4000 Yen), so… welcome to the Japanese countryside!
After paying 1000 Yen and agreeing to a couple of rules (not leaving the concrete paths, not squatting down, …) you first reach a tree-housy area on a slope where some of the foxes, the beautiful and especially tame ones, are resting in rather large cages. There’s also a mini (petting) zoo with other animals, and the veterinarian’s office. From there you can reach the main area (where the foxes roam freely and the large breeding cages are) or either exit through the gift shop. This main part is basically an open forest area with concrete paths and some benches as well as installations for the foxes to hide and play – and a big sign reminding you not to squat down or the foxes might bite or pee on you. You are also advised not to pet those foxes… and after being there for a couple of minutes and seeing them (play?) fight, you sure don’t want to anyway – though there is an optional petting experience at certain times with the caged foxes.

As you probably have guessed by now, the Miyagi Zao Fox Village isn’t abandoned – and probably won’t be anytime soon. But as I travel all across Japan I often run into roadside attractions, so-called B-spots, that look quite intriguing… and then we push on, because it’s not abandoned or we don’t have time. I always felt sorry for all the tourist explorers who came all the way to Japan and “explored” the already photographed to death *Western Village* as well as the moldy, rundown spa hotels of Kinugawa Onsen, but didn’t take the time to have a look at the spectacular Toshogu Shrine in nearby Nikko – and yet here I was doing a similar thing on a (much!) smaller scale… so I decided to add some B-spots to the Abandoned Kansai mix. It’s actually nothing new, I’ve done it in the past (for example with my article about *Hachijojima* or the one about the *Okinawan themed parks*. And don’t worry, the vast majority of articles on Abandoned Kansai will still be about abandoned places – throwing a B-spot into the mix every two or three months won’t hurt the flow… and half of them will probably look abandoned anyway… 😉
But to wrap up the Zao Fox Village: I’m not a fan of any kind of animal prisons, especially dolphinariums and circuses, but much to my surprise the Zao Fox Village didn’t make a bad impression to me. We arrived there shortly after 3 p.m., two hours before the place closed, but it was a late autumn day, so the sun was already setting in the mountains and we were losing daylight quickly. It also meant that the foxes had been entertaining guests for six hours, so about half of them were already tired and just trying to keep warm by making themselves small in one of the few preferably sunny spots. About three or four dozen foxes though were still roaming around freely. Some of them were fighting occasionally – but only away from the concrete paths humans were not supposed to leave anyway. And while it was a really strange feeling to have one or two getting so close that you could easily touch them (or they could bite you without a warning…), it was also quite exciting to get so close to an animal you usually only can see from afar. Some of the foxes were especially tame, for example the one with the gorgeous white and black fur – that one actually sat down on a bench and patiently had its photo taken. So patiently that it was borderline annoying, because in today’s selfie culture some people seem to have lost awareness of their own selfishness completely. It took three Japanese girls a couple of minutes to take some selfies and group photos, which is totally fine, but then a… tourist from another Asian country… took like 10 minutes to take selfies and have her picture taken by her parents, over and over and over again, while a dozen people lined up to take photos – which was completely ignored by that… BTW, are female foxes called bitches, too? No, I just looked it up, they are called vixens – which is probably what that girl thought of herself, though she wasn’t; she was just narcissistic. Long story short, her photo session ended when even the monochrome fox had enough, got up and left; leaving quite a few disappointed people behind, including yours truly. Luckily the furry model just went for a walk and was back two minutes later, giving me the opportunity to take a couple of quick shots, before yet another line formed.

So… overall visiting the Zao Fox Village wasn’t as bad as I expected it to be. When you go to pages like Tripadvisor especially the English speaking reviews depict a nightmarish place that make South American prisons look like a spa vacation – and I kinda expected to see a rundown facility with a couple of visitors, but in reality they had a couple of parking lots and even close to closing something like 50, 60 visitors at any given time on the premises. In peak seasons like late spring and early autumn this place must be a money making machine. All the animals, not just the foxes, didn’t look like they were mistreated or malnourished. At least not to me, but then again – I’m not an experienced animal prison visitor and I went there in late autumn; what the situation is like at 35°C in summer I don’t know. But I’m pretty sure if those one star reviewers would see me in my small apartment in summer, they’d probably criticize the animal unworthy living situation I exist in, too… 😉 Of course *the rabbit island Okunoshima* is much more relaxed and all animals there are actually free, but if you take the Zao Fox Village for what it is (a commercial roadside attraction, not a wildlife haven for hand-tame predators) it’s a unusual, slightly quirky place to visit – and even some the haters couldn’t resist to take and publish selfies… Probably not worth traveling to, but definitely worth stopping at, if you are in the area anyway; I actually added it to my *map of demolished and touristy places*.

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