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Archive for the ‘Kagawa’ Category

About four years ago there was a brief period of time in which there were three abandoned New Zealand themed parks in Japan; in Kagawa, Hiroshima and Yamaguchi – and to the best of my knowledge I am the only urban explorer to visit them all. One of them even twice…

There are many reasons to revisit abandoned places. At some I run out of time, so I come back to see more. At some mother nature prevents a full exploration with lavish vegetation in summer or snow in winter. Some I fell in love with and want to enjoy again. And then there are those nearby places I shoot several times in different seasons just because they are there and I have nothing better to do. The *Shikoku New Zealand Village* (in Kagawa prefecture) though I revisited for several reasons, despite the fact that I had been there just half a year prior: Different seasons (March vs. September), there was construction machinery parked nearby during my first visit, during summer I bought a toy drone that I wanted to try at a suitable place, and my friend Chris from New Zealand was interested in going – so we went.

Exploring a location a second time is equally different as exploring it with a friend. Exploring the Shikoku New Zealand Village a second time with a friend almost made me feel like coming home, showing him my old neighbourhood. (If you haven’t read the *article about my original exploration*, I recommend doing it now as I won’t repeat certain information in this article.) This time we entered straight away without scouting the perimeter, heading through a park like area straight to the barn – which was actually accessible this time. And people say there is no vandalism in Japan… Anyway, while I was still taking pictures inside, Chris headed towards the back of the barn where he found something I had overlooked the first time – a small museum like the one at the *Yamaguchi version* right next to what I assume was the sheep show; including information about different kinds of breeds. One of them was called “Romney”, which probably isn’t that funny anymore now, but 3.5 years ago, at the time of my visit, good old Mitt was running for president of the United States, so this made me chuckle at least a little bit.
From the small auditorium we continued to the little kart track and then deeper into the park, to the souvenir shop / restaurant called Oakland, with the landslide in front of it. (If you read the previous article, you know what I mean!) And to my total surprise… the landslide was gone! Right in front of the building was a brand-new road with a freshly secured slope, including a low fence. Now, why on earth would anybody repair a road at an abandoned themed park? We had no idea, so we continued to explore the park. Well, Chris explored, I just took some more pictures of the same old… and a video walkthrough of the Oakland House, which was accessible this time, too. Speaking of videos: Thanks to the nearby model plane airport I was able to fly my toy drone without making much extra noise, but the combination of me being a horrible pilot and the weather being overcast by the time I started filming created some barely watchable videos of which I chose the least eyesore one. It doesn’t have sound for obvious reasons… and the video is a bit choppy. But hey, what do you expect from a cheap five year told tech toy in this day and age? (Drones in general are not really urbex compatible, even modern ones with good or optional cameras – indoors they are hard to navigate and the rotors blow everything up / away, outdoors they tend to catch the attention of people passing by…)

And that’s pretty much it. Chris and I had a good time exploring the Shikoku New Zealand Village (again), and I was prepared to go back for a third round, but that never happened. Recent updates of the GoogleMaps satellite view though show that the construction work on the premises continued. All buildings except for the entrance and the Oakland House have been demolished, the pond has been drained, lots of vegetation has been removed, the ground levelled – the Shikoku New Zealand Village now is a huge solar farm… (And so is the nearby model plane airport!)

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Japan is a linguistically and culturally extremely homogenous country. Of its 127 million inhabitants about 98.5% are ethnic Japanese, 0.5% are Korean and 0.4 are Chinese – leaving a whopping 0.6% others; including yours truly. Those 0.6% “others” include about 210.000 Filipinos, mostly of Japanese descent, and 210.000 Brazilians, also mostly of Japanese descent – which means that only about 0.3% of Japan’s population are neither Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Filipino-Japanese nor Brazilian-Japanese.
I’m sure you’ve heard the term gaijin before (外 gai = outside, 人 jin = person), a short version of the term gaikokujin (外国gaikoku = foreign country, 人 jin = person). People are still arguing if it’s pejorative term, but personally I don’t like it very much, because it’s such a simple term, pushing everybody who is not Japanese to the outside – which is a precarious thing in a country where a group is still so much more important than an individual.

Integration?

Becoming a foreigner in Japan is actually an achievement by itself. Japan isn’t eager to let many people in and therefore the requirements to get a long-term visa are rather high – usually you have to have either a Bachelor’s degree or several years of work experience; in both cases an employer has to vouch for you. Other possibilities are investor visas or some kind of artist visa, but there quite a bit of cash is involved; and so is with the spousal visa… 😉
Once in the country the Japanese government couldn’t care less about you as long as you renew your visa when it expires and pay your taxes – and those are usually handled by the company you work for anyway. While there are long and public discussions about integration in European countries there is zip in Japan. Language classes and tests? Bah, humbug! On the other hand you shouldn’t expect anybody to be able to speak English anywhere, despite the huge English school industry in Japan; especially at the immigration office, where you can address the staff in English as much as you want – they’ll always reply in Japanese, even though most of the time they obviously understood what you’ve said…
But Japan in general isn’t set up for integration, probably because of the educational system. You have your childhood friends, you have your high school friends, you have your university friends and you have your work friends – usually four different groups that keep you busy for the rest of your life; with no need to make additional friends at any point; or many opportunities for that matter, like community colleges or sports clubs, both extremely popular in Germany, especially after moving to a new area. (With the result that many foreigners in Japan stick with each other, too – I don’t think I know any foreigner here who has more Japanese than foreign friends; and by that I mean friends, not Facebook acquaintances…)

Xenophobia?

With that few foreigners in the country and that strong of a national identity I am still not sure if Japan is an above average racist country or not. People are definitely more polite in general than let’s say in my home country Germany (sorry guys, but certain things really are better in Zipangu…), especially in everyday service situations like shopping, but I experienced some of the weirdest behavior here, probably because hardly any Japanese school kid has foreign co-pupils, while I went to school with people of Italian, Austrian, Indian, Pakistani, Turkish, Japanese, British, Polish and Bavarian descent – and because the average Japanese person doesn’t think that you can understand what they say.
Sometimes they most likely mean no evil (like that one time when I had a dinner date with a Japanese girl at an Indian restaurant and all of a sudden all the tables around us talked about their oversea vacations, their foreign alibi friends and how great it would be to be able to be fluent in English…), sometimes I’m not sure (remember me *not getting a hotel room after the clerk found out that I’m a foreigner*?) – and sometimes they actually do mean harm. For example that young Japanese couple and their two friends who have beaten a Nepali restaurant owner to death in January 2012; one of them were quoted afterwards “I thought the foreigner had shoved me, so I got angry and kicked him many times.” (Note the use of “foreigner”? I’m sure it was “gaijin” in the original… Not “the man”, or “the Nepali” – “the foreigner”…)

Discrimination

It’s just a completely different mindset regarding foreigners and discrimination in general – and most people don’t even question it, because to them it’s normal. Like most countries Japan has a long history of discrimination. It even went through a time when a social class system with all its downsides was officially established; during the Edo period (1603 to 1868). Back then the burakumin (a.k.a. eta, “an abundance of filth”) were the outcasts and usually connected to jobs dealing with public sanitation or death (butchers, tanners, …), but when the class system was abolished the discrimination didn’t end. More than 100 years later, in 1975, there was a huge scandal when an anti-discrimination organization found out that a company in Osaka sold copies of a handwritten 330-page book listing names and locations of former burakumin settlements. Companies bought that book to compare the listed locations with the addresses of applicants – to prevent them from hiring descendants of burakumin; some famous firms like Daihatsu, Honda, Nissan and Toyota were among those companies… Two generations later the issue finally is no more, instead the average Japanese “discriminist“ focuses on foreigners – and I am so tired of and annoyed by comments about “those dog eating Koreans” or “those Chinese comfort women who try to screw the Japanese state”… (“Comfort women” is a Japanese euphemism for the sex slaves of the Imperial Japanese military in World War 2. While some (Japanese) historians like Ikuhiko Hata claim that there were 20.000 volunteer prostitutes, others found that up to 400.000 women were hired under false pretenses or even kidnapped into “comfort stations” all over Asia; but even the “few” volunteers made a bad choice as about 75% of the comfort women died during the war due to mistreatment and diseases. Shinzo Abe, the current Japanese prime minister, claimed during his first term in 2007 that the Japanese military didn’t keep sex slaves during WW2, although the government admitted to the fact in 1993 after decades of denial!)

New Zealand Village

Despite their share of xenophobia the average Japanese seems to love to travel and is actually interested in experiencing foreign countries; especially non-Asian countries… They barely ever jump all in, backpacking all by themselves – more like group vacations with Japanese speaking travel guides. Or an even safer version: themed parks in Japan! Recently I wrote a vastly popular article about the *Chinese themed park Tenkaen*, but in spring I was able to visit the rather unknown *New Zealand Farm in Hiroshima* and the *New Zealand Village in Yamaguchi*. Even less known, and after more than a thousand words of introduction we finally get to it, is the Shikoku New Zealand Village. It was actually the first of the three I visited, but due to certain circumstances I never got to write about it. (If you missed the articles about the other two New Zealand parks I recommend reading them first for background information…)
I don’t remember how I found out about the Shikoku New Zealand Village, but I’m sure it wasn’t an urbex article, because to the best of my knowledge till that very day nobody has ever written about the place. I remember seeing a photo of the entrance to the parking lot though, with heavy machinery in the background. That was on a Thursday – worried that the place was in the process of being demolished I went there two days later, despite the facts that the weather forecast wasn’t favorable and it took me about 4 hours to get there. And except for the photo and the name I didn’t know anything about the park – not what it was, not when it was closed, not if there was security, not how to get in. You know, the risky kind of exploration…
I saw the first surprise when walking up to the parking lot – there was a rather big house right next to it, with wet laundry in the garden. The parking lot was blocked by barricades, entering via a muddy road to the side was difficult due to rusty barbed wire and lots of vegetation. After getting a decent grasp of the situation I decided to jump the blockade at the parking lot and walk right in, my heart pounding like mad. At the time I had more than 150 explorations under my belt, nevertheless I was and still am nervous exploring new and unchartered territory. As soon as I entered the place I heard motor noises… Not a big car motor, probably some gardening tool? Well, after a couple of seconds I realized that it was a model aircraft – and as soon as one landed another one started for almost all of the two and a half hours I spent at the Shikoku New Zealand Village.
Now that you’ve already seen the Tenkaen and the other two New Zealand villages the Shikoku one might not seem that exciting or spectacular, but to me it was the first themed park I ever visited, and I was all by myself, so to me it was extremely adventurous. Cautiously I progressed – first the sheep race track and the archery station, then a barn I wasn’t able to enter. From there I reached a bike race track before I walked back to the main street leading to the Oakland House; basically a restaurant and a souvenir shop. When I walked around the corner I stumbled across surprise number 2: the road in front of me was gone – a landslide washed it away! Now that’s something you don’t see every day… The rest of the park was less spectacular though. Two more barns, a long slide on a slope, a pond, a bakery and a BBQ area.
What was absolutely fantastic about the Shikoku New Zealand Village was the almost complete lack of vandalism. No broken windows, no kicked in doors, no graffiti. Sure, I wasn’t able to enter all the buildings, but that didn’t matter to me, because nothing was bolted up or destroyed – unlike at *Nara Dreamland* for example. Natural decay at its best…

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Addendum 2016-01-13: A while after my first exploration of the Shikoku New Zealand Village I revisited this awesome location. *Here is what happened since then.*

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Quite a while ago I wrote about my experiences exploring the *lower terminus of the Yashima Cable Car* – and after I was done I took the bus up the mountain. Usually I would have taken the hiking trail up there (or would have walked along the abandoned track like I did several times at the *Mount Atago Cable Car*), but since I lost quite some time in the morning thanks to a Shinkansen standstill (thanks, JR – the extra fee for the bullet train was really worth the money… grumble…) I took the easy way up. It was also a good way to check out the cable car’s competition, which made me wonder if the bus was already running when the cable car was still operating. Sure, the trip took about 10 minutes instead of 5, but it ended right next to Yashima Shrine (not a kilometer away) and the price was ridiculously low in comparison: 100 Yen each way!
The upper terminus of the Yashima Cable Car (屋島山上駅, yashima sanjo eki, Yashima Mountaintop Station) was as locked up and untouched as the lower terminus – but the building itself was much more beautiful. Rather small, like most cable car stations, it totally reminded me of the *Maya Hotel* in Kobe. I think I’m a sucker for that art deco style of the 1920s and 30s. At the time of my visit the area was used by construction workers of the nearby Yashima Castle reconstruction site – there were parked cars everywhere and their container office almost blocked the access to the cable car track. Luckily none of the workers were in sight when I arrived, so I was able to sneak to the back and took some pictures: car #2 was already waiting for me as I expected, sadly slightly vandalized by some spray paint on the windows of the right side. Similar to the lower terminus the amount of decay was just perfect – the car, the handrails, the building itself. A perfect abandoned beauty, worthy the cover of a book or a magazine.

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Being a mountainous country Japan has lots of cable cars and ropeways. And it seems like every single one of them was built in the late 1920s / early 1930s. A lot of them were demolished after just a couple of years in the 1940s to support the war efforts of Imperial Japan (every piece of metal counted…) – amongst others the *Mount Atago Cable Car* and the *Rokko Ropeway*. The Yashima Cable Car (YCC) had a bit more luck. Opened on April 21st 1929 it too was suspended as a nonessential line on February 11th 1944. But although some material was taken away (I’m not sure what exactly though…) it didn’t mean the end of the YCC: On April 16th 1950 the Yashima Cable Car opened again for business. And business was good thanks to the famous Yashima Shrine on top of Mount Yashima, about a kilometer away from the YCC terminal. I guess it got even better when some businessmen decided to make Mount Yashima a full-blown tourist attraction (*you can read all about it here*), but when the plan fell through the Yashima Cable Car was in trouble, too. On October 16th 2004 operations were suspended again, but it took almost a year (August 31st 2005) until the line was officially closed and abandoned.
According to a tourist guide book first published in the 1980s the cable car ran from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., charging 1160 Yen for the roundtrip. It seems like prices went up and service hours were cut down, so in 1999 the cable car ran every 20 minutes from 8 a.m. to 5.40 p.m., charging 700 Yen one way and 1300 Yen for a roundtrip.
At the time of my visit the lower terminus of the Yashima Cable Car (屋島登山口駅, yashima tozanguchi eki – Yashima Trailhead Station) stood locked-up and abandoned on the foot of Mount Yashima near the trailhead up the mountain. The road leading there was almost as abandoned – I could vividly imagine how good business must have been 20, 30 years ago for the now closed restaurants and souvenir shops. Right next to the station were a taxi stand and a metalworking company, making some noise and keeping an eye on the inaccessible station building. The 858 meter long cable car track was accessible though, with car #1 parked right at the platform. And it was beautiful! On the one hand it was hard to believe that the place had been abandoned just six years ago, on the other hand there were no signs of vandalism and everything had just the right amount of decay – and the beautiful weather on the day of my visit didn’t hurt the atmosphere either…

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Nippon No Haikyo, probably the most famous Japanese book about urban exploration / haikyo since it was recommended plenty of times by both Japanese and foreign blogs because of its huge amount of maps, recommended Yashima as one of the top abandoned places in West Japan. In my opinion Nippon No Haikyo is vastly overrated – while some maps are quite detailed others are completely useless. Even more so since an estimated 50% of the places (at least on the West Japan list) are either demolished or completely trashed by now. At the same time some of the best haikyo locations, like *Nara Dreamland*, are missing completely. But I guess you’ll get what you pay for: a 4 year old book about a topic that can change within a week or two. Especially in Japan, where old buildings are replaced by parking lots while you are on vacation. (It actually happened in my neighborhood…)
So whenever I visit a location described in Nippon No Haikyo I’m prepared for the worst, just in case. Which was a good thing in the case of Yashima – more than half of the buildings that were responsible for the praisal are gone now; four, to be specific. All that was left of them: 3 leveled building grounds, ready for new construction to begin. Construction that most likely won’t happen.
Yashima (屋島, roof island) has attracted people for centuries. The famous temple Yashima-ji on top of the mountain, founded as a Ritsu school temple in 754 by Ganjin (a.k.a. Jianzhen, 688–763), is the 84th stop of the Shikoku 88 temple pilgrimage. On March 22nd 1185 the Battle of Yashima took place in the waters around Yashima, resulting in one more defeat for the Taira, who owned a castle on top of the mountain. (Which is being reconstructed as I write these lines…) The whole story was later made popular in an epic poem called “The Tale of the Heike” (平家物語, Heike Monogatari).
A famous temple, stunning views of the Seto Inland Sea, a historical battle. What else do you need to attract tourists? Right, an aquarium! The Yashima Mountaintop Aquarium (屋島山上水族館, Yashima Sanjo Suizokukan) was opened in 1969 and reopened as the New Yashima Aquarium (新屋島水族館, Shin Yashima Suizokukan) in 2006. In-between some (not so) smart businessmen took advantage of the Japanese asset price bubble (1986 to 1991) to build some rather big hotels on Yashima, creating way more beds on the 300 meter high mountain than necessary. Because let’s be honest: Yashima is a daytrip location, not a place to stay overnight. (Heck, I made it a daytrip although I live in Osaka!) Around the turn of the millennium most of those new hotels were already forced to close, only a few smaller ryokan north of Yashima Temple survived. It seems like the closed hotels were still standing there when Nippon No Haikyo was written in 2007, maybe for two or three more years – when I visited in late 2011 most of them were gone… The Lost Ruins of Mount Yashima.
(I used this posting for a big update of my *Map of Demolished Places in Japan* – it’s really worth a look!)

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