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Archive for the ‘Kansai’ 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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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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Just outside of Kyoto lies an often overlooked little gem called Uji, famous within Japan for green tea and the Phoenix Hall of the Byodo-in, which is depicted on the 10 Yen coin. Its origins date back to the 4th century, when a son of legendary Emperor Ojin (as in: what is known about him is based on legends, not verifiable historical facts) had a palace built in Uji. In the early years of the 11th century The Tale of Genji was written by Murasaki Shikibu; the final chapters of this classic being set it Uji, it still attracts people to the city till this very day. In 1052 the already mentioned Byodo-in, a Buddhist Temple, was established along the Uji River – actually the converted villa of a high-ranking minister. A year later the Phoenix Hall was finished. In 1160 the Tsuen tea shop opened its doors, nowadays widely considered the oldest tea shop in the world, run in the 24th generation and still a family business. Surprisingly little has changed since then, especially in the area around Tachibanajima Island in the Uji River, where countless temples, shrines, restaurants, shops, and ryokan are located. And while the neighboring tourist towns of Kyoto and Nara are slowing caving in to followîng the almighty Dollar, Euro, Won, and Yuan, Uji seems to stand strong and still feels like traveling in time; well, if you ignore the massive construction in the Uji River…

The Uji River starts as Seta River in Shiga prefecture and is an outlet of Lake Biwa. After flowing through Uji City it merges with the Kizu River and Katsura River near Yamazaki – famous for the Battle of Yamazaki, where Toyotomi Hideyoshi defeated Akechi Mitsuhide and therefore avenged his former Lord Oda Nobunaga. (If you are not a Japanese history nerd and those names sound familiar, you probably played the video game Onimusha: Warlords, which brilliantly tells the story of an alternative timeline based on historical facts and will soon be re-released as a remastered version.)

Anyway, somewhere along the Uji River lie the remains of the Uji River Ryokan – or rather the leftover of the remains, as most of the ryokan has been demolished at least a decade ago. Only the below the road half-basement floor is left… and not in good condition. Back in March 2011, just days after the Tohoku Earthquake and the Fukushima Disaster a university friend then living in Tokyo was visiting me in Kansai to get some distance from everything; including a back then still possible core meltdown. (At least he stayed in the country and didn’t take the next plane out, like so many flyjin called gaijin. I thought the term was kinda funny, but I remember several friends being really upset about it… while being back home in Germany or the States.) I showed him around Uji and we ended up heading out to the Uji River Ryokan, which was kind of an exciting exploration at the time – these days it would probably a backup location for backup locations and something I’d only explore if there was nothing else to see or do, including touristy stuff or B Spots. Like I said, pretty much everything on or above street level had been demolished years prior, but even the semi-basement, featuring a large tatami room and the shared baths, was in rather bad condition due to arson, earthquakes and missing protection from the building that was once above.

The Uji River Ryokan is one of the oldest yet unpublished locations I have in my archive and while I’m not exactly proud of this set, I have to say that I’ve been to more disappointing places with fewer photo opportunities this year. Some locations are spectacular, some are a pile of debris – and some are just “meh”. This one was “meh”. Next week’s article will be much more interesting…

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The Kansai Fun Land was probably one of the lesser known theme parks that fell victim to the almighty Universal Studios Japan…

Japan is the country of abandoned theme parks and themed parks, though they keep disappearing at a frustrating rate. The Kansai Fun Land was a little know countryside water and amusement park that was virtually unknown three years ago, at the time of my visit, but gained a bit of popularity recently when some Japanese explorers apparently found out about it.
The first things my buddy *Hamish* and I saw of the Kansai Fun Land was a large fortified gate with a big parking lot behind it and a UFO like building in the background – not exactly great hints that we were close to an abandoned theme park. Since both of our free running skills are limited we had to find another way in, which wasn’t exactly easy and almost failed thanks to some nearby construction. Once out of sight (and sound) exploring was as easy and relaxing as it can get, except for the fact that the UFO building was inaccessible, which didn’t bother me at all at the time as I was way to eager to see the water park part of the Kansai Fun Land. It was probably nice for young families in the 80s, but in comparison other abandoned water parks I’ve been rather underwhelming – 2 pools, 1 tiny slide for kids, but plenty of space for beach chairs… Right next to the summer fun part was a go-kart race track and Cycle UFO, an elevated cycle ride that looked more like a torture contraption than a theme park attraction. (Gosh, Andy Cohen would be so proud!) Also nearby: An almost completely overgrown playground / jungle gym. A bit further away on a mostly overgrown road up a slope within the Kansai Fun Land was an abandoned summer toboggan run, basically completely reclaimed by nature – just ten years after the fun at Fun Land ended. Only a few photos and a quick video from up there as large spiders and aggressive insects made exploring not fun at all…

The Kansai Fun Land was an entertaining outdoor exploration, but going there in late summer made the whole experience unnecessarily complicated – getting in, getting out, navigating within the park, sweating like a pig in 30 degree humid weather, tons of insects and other critters. No regrets though as I love *abandoned theme parks*, I just wish I would have come five years earlier or three months later. Also, strangely the place looked much bigger on GoogleMaps than in reality, so I kinda expected more, I wanted more… and it was so off the beaten track that it was basically the only exploration of the day. Nevertheless a good one… 🙂

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Some of you might have heard about Typhoon #21 a.k.a. Jebi – the fourth natural disaster to hit Kansai in little more than three months; not including the usual summer heat and humidity that tend to make this time of the year a real nuisance, also much worse than in the past few years. Jebi came with a paid day off for me as JR (Japan Railways) announced on Monday that they planned to shut down all services at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, which made it more than likely that other train companies / modes of transportation would follow. Unfortunately this day off also came with a more than ten hour long daytime blackout – no AC, no water, no internet. As a result I wasn’t able to write an article this week… and the work that didn’t get done I have to catch up with. Will there be an article this week? I can’t say for sure yet. Maybe tomorrow, maybe on Friday – maybe I’ll have to skip it and return to the regular schedule next Tuesday.
Other than being uncomfortable for eleven hours I luckily wasn’t affected very much by Jebi, but according to the latest media reports nine people lost their lives – my condolences to their families and friends.
Also: Hey, America! Stop sitting on your thumbs and finally put some real effort into getting Puerto Rico back on its feet! Japan is a filthy rich country and most of the damages done yesterday won’t last more than a couple of days, but come on guys… it’s been almost a year since Hurricane Maria!
(Oh, and whoever at The Economist thought that Osaka is the third most livable city in the world… think again!)

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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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