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Archive for the ‘Kansai’ Category

This one is for the ladies – an abandoned bag shop, much of the merchandise still in its original packaging!

Every once in a while one of my non-urbex friends (or a very kind reader of this blog!) comes through and tells me about closed or abandoned places they found out about by chance – years ago my German friend Chris stumbled across the *Shodoshima Peackcock Garden* when he was cycling around the island with his girlfriend. And in spring my Canadian friend Jean-Yves showed me this bag shop / wholesaler / depository he found when he was scouting a new route for his jogging group…
Located in the outskirts of a rundown onsen town, the Bag Shop was partly overgrown even in spring – in summer and autumn it’s probably neither visible nor accessible unless you know where it is located. The history of the place? Unknown. I’m not even sure what it was exactly. All I know is what it is now – a building made from corrugated iron and wood, partly collapsed, covered by vines and foliage… and filled with hundreds of bags and probably some suitcases. School bags, hand bags, leather bags, plastic bags – some of them still in their original plastic wrappers, others even in the cardboard boxes they probably were delivered in decades ago. Judging by the way the “building” was put up, it was probably erected close to post-war. And judging by the amount of leaves and uncontrolled growth it was probably abandoned in the 1980s. No way to say so for sure as I couldn’t find any information about the Bag Shop inside the building or the internet.
Exploring the Bag Shop took me about an hour – it wasn’t a very big building and given that it was partly collapsed and smelled rather rotten, I didn’t venture inside deeply; especially since Jean-Yves moved on after 10 minutes or so to prepare the route he scouted when he found the Bag Shop. Overall an unspectacular exploration, but in a lovely area on a lovely day. My first exploration in weeks and a good way to start off the spring urbex season. I hope you’ll enjoy this little gem, too!

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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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Every once in a while I complain about all those rundown abandoned hotels in Japan, only to present yet another one that features an awesome pool, some arcade machines or spectacular brutalist architecture. But the Wakayama Mountain Hotel honestly was a real piece of shite! Well, except for the view and the unique saunas…

Mold, broken glass, mould, peeling paint and wallpapers, mold, rusty handrails, mould, dripping water, mold, endless staircases and hallways, mould, always the same looking rooms, mold, vandalism, mould, countless dark corners, mold – the list of reasons why to dislike abandoned hotels is seemingly endless. Luckily the Wakayama Mountain Hotel was located on a ridge and had seen more than its share of vandalism, so neither mold nor mould was a problem during this exploration thanks to generous ventilation. On the downside it meant that there was barely an intact window or door left at this rundown and severely vandalized accommodation and the next door onsen, probably run by the same people.
Exploring the Wakayama Mountain Hotel was rather unspectacular – especially after the Miffy plush with the cut throat in the lobby deeply rattled some of my one time co-explorers that day. Japanese women are so easily scared… Anyway. Lobby, bar, restaurant, banquet room, standard guest rooms – all a mix of vandalism and decay. The next door hot spring, most likely a combo deal for hotel guests, looked as unspectacular as the hotel at first. Luckily my all of a sudden utterly fearless friend Yoshiko followed me and made me aware of the cave or oven shaped saunas, that according to her were super special and the reason for a couple of newspaper articles on the walls of the dressing room. Unfortunately the lighting in there was far from perfect – inside the sauna it was almost as dark as a black steer’s tookus on a moonless prairie night; okay, I’m exaggerating a little bit for the sake of weaving a movie quote into this article. But the sauna shots were definitely the most challenging that day! And that’s pretty much it… The view from the hotel’s roof was pretty nice, too. Sadly we couldn’t find any access to the part with the water tower on top. That looked pretty neat, too… But overall the Wakayama Mountain Hotel was just an average abandoned hotel in Japan as you can find them a dime a dozen all over the country.

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What goes up must come down? In this case it was a rather close call…

Back in 2009, when I picked up urban exploration as a hobby, I was an avid hiker – spending most of the weekends in the mountains of Kansai; this blog could as well have become KansaiHiking instead of AbandonedKansai, but I quickly found exploring abandoned buildings much more interesting than being sent in the wrong direction by poorly marked hiking trails. A lot of my *early explorations* actually combined Japanese ruins, *haikyo* and hiking – and the Hira Lift was one of those haikyo hiking trips in mid-May of 2011; one of the last of those, for reasons soon to be obvious.
The Hira Lift was opened in 1960 along with a skiing area on the slopes of Mount Bunagatake, one of the most famous peaks in Kansai. In 1961 the Hira Gondola followed to connect the top station of the lift with the skiing slopes. Things were good for several decades, but the rather remote and not easy to access slopes started to suffer from lack of snow – and after a couple of bad seasons the skiing area shut down in 2004; and with it the lift and the gondola. Sadly there was little to nothing known about their status in 2011, so when my buddy Luis and I checked out the transportation up the mountain, it turned out that the valley station of the lift had been abandoned and the lift itself demolished. We arrived at the abandoned lift station reasonably early, at around 10 a.m., with light equipment and the intention to be back at the train station at around 3 p.m. for a trip to Costco – as foreigners living in Japan the happiest place on earth, at least to us. We took a couple of photos and then decided to hike up the mountain to have a look at the top station of the lift, and to find out what was left of the gondola. A nice hike on a warm, sunny spring day, but along some narrow paths with steep slopes; one of the more demanding hikes I did. Sadly the gondola station had been demolished, too, leaving just lots of concrete behind. We were still good on time, so we decided to get to the top of Bunagatake at a height of 1200 meters. The good old days, when I was young and in shape…
At the top of the mountain Luis and I made a crucial mistake. Instead of getting down the mountain the way we came up, we decided to look for another way down. Down, down, down… Soon we followed a runlet down the mountain, which grew bigger and bigger. The path started to disappear and we foolishly followed the small river clinging to the mountain slope until we finally reached the top of a waterfall, about three meters tall. No possibility of climbing down – at that point the sun was already Setting, we hadn’t eaten in hours and didn’t bring any food, and only small amounts of (drinking) water. We were probably at a height of 400 meters, rather close to the bottom of the mountain, so Luis had the brilliant idea to jump. Which I refused to, carrying my photo equipment and NOT KNOWING how deep the water was down there. The ice cold water, because in the shadowy areas, there were still patches of snow! It took me a while, but I was able to convince Luis to backtrack and return up the mountain to a plateau at about 1000 meters – to save time, we waded through the ice cold and at points more than knee deep river several times; me almost slipping once or twice… By the time we reached the plateau it was pizza time and dark, about 7 p.m.  – but we were far away from Costco; without flashlights, hungry, thirsty, alone, tired, pissed off, but with a great view at Lake Biwa on a mountain range… Luis suggested to stay the night at the concrete shell of an abandoned viewing point we found earlier, but me being hungry and wet, I was able to convince him again to move on. It took us a while, but we finally found the narrow, neck-breaking path we came up, first using the screens of our mobile phones, then the focusing light of my camera to poorly light the way down. By the time we finally got back to the train station we caught the second to last train back to civilization at something like 10:30 p.m. … instead of 3 p.m.

What did I take away from that day? Not much about urbex, that’s for sure, as pretty much everything of interest had been demolished between 2004 and 2011. But I learned to really respect the mountains, because even popular and populated hiking trails on sunny days can bring you in danger, if you stray from them carelessly and without proper gear / provisions. Overall just a horrible, horrible experience! But in hindsight a pretty good story, though I could have done without the cramps in both legs for two days – especially at night…

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Hatsumode, the first shrine visit of the year, is one of the few religious traditions in Japan that is still going strong – though, much like going to church on Christmas, for most people it’s more of a social event… and it’s also big business!
Unless you are a sales person in a large chain store or work in public transportation, chances are good that you are off work from December 29th till January 3rd if employed in Japan. It’s the time of the year(s) when apartments are cleaned and debts are paid – and shrines are visited. Getting drunk senseless while hurting yourself with fireworks is just a New Years Eve tradition in Western countries only – Japanese people do that in summer! Here the turn of the year is more like our Christmas – family, maybe friends, maybe doing something “religious”.
Hatsumode either happens on New Year’s Eve around midnight with family or friends – or before going back to work on January 4th. On those three days a single shrine can have up to 3.5 million visitors (!), which is great for them in many ways. Unlike most Buddhist temples, the vast majority of Shinto shrines don’t charge entry fees, so hatsumode is THE opportunity to cash in by selling tons of protective charms (omamori), oracles (omikuji), and all kinds of other superstitious merchandise. A lot of the shrines have their grounds lined with the usual array of food / entertainment stalls you find at major festivals, so if you have an appetite for baby castella or want to catch small fishes with wet paper, hatsumode is the thing to do on January 1st, 2nd, or 3rd!
Unless you are anything like me. My hatsumode on January 1st 2016 was without food stalls, omikuji or millions of other visitors. Heck, during my visit of the Shiga Shrine on this beautiful winter day I was the only person there. Probably because the shrine had been abandoned for many, many years. How long exactly? I don’t know. Probably decades by the looks of it. The heavy stone steps were in bad conditions, half the structures collapsed, the ground covered by a thick layer of foliage. Nevertheless the Shiga Shrine offered some neat photo opportunities I happily took advantage of.
I’ve done hatsumode with family, I’ve done hatsumode with friends, I’ve done hatsumode with colleagues – I’ve done it at midnight and on the following days. Yet the most beautiful fake religious experience was spending one and a half hours of quiet time at the peaceful Shiga Shrine… 🙂
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Love Hotel, Japan’s favorite euphemism. A billion dollar industry, despite the country’s extremely low birth rate – and while Japanese girls pretend to hate them, foreign guys apparently are… intrigued.
Back in 2012 the abandoned *Furuichi Love Hotel* was one of the first original finds I made, spotted it from a train while on the way to another location. I wrote about it on Christmas Eve 2012, including a rather long and very subjective rant about relationships in Japan. *Check it out*, despite its age it’s still a fun piece to read!
If you have no clue what love hotels are and how big the business really is, you might want to check out my article about the *Love Hotel Gion* – it’s all in there, no need to repeat myself here…

After exploring the *Asuka Quarry* on a hot spring day (= hot day in spring, not a day enjoying hot springs…) the afternoon was still young, so my exploration buddy for the day Colin and I went on a nice long walk over to a lovel hotel area. Unlike most people having sex, love hotels barely ever come alone – and chances are good that at least one of them has been closed and abandoned when bigger and shinier ones opened as time passed. Having done some research beforehand, I was actually pretty sure in that case, so it took us not long to find the love hotel Guest House; a rather dull name for an establishment like that. Short time lovers paid 2500 Yen for the first hour and 600 Yen for every 30 minutes of overtime (per room, not per guest), overnight stays were 5800 Yen – obviously outdated rates as current ones are about 30 to 50 percent higher; at luxury establishments you can easily spend 20k per night…
Sadly the Guest House was not and never had been a luxury establishment – it looked more like your average run-of-the-mill love hotel; actually on the lower end when it comes to privacy. While most love hotels outside of big cities feature private access to the rooms directly from the car, the Guest House was built like a regular hotel, which means that there was a risk of meeting other couples in the lobby or the hallways. Soooo embarrassing in a society where pretending is more important than being… and probably one of the reasons why the Guest House went bankrupt.
As of now, the whole building is branded as “piichinakibun”; Peach Feeling; maybe more like “feeling peachy”? I actually only found out about the Guest House name, because somebody started peeling off adhesive foil on rate signs. The peachy approach was definitely more casual: offering free food (as known from a lot of manga cafés), advertising longer stays (like at regular hotels) and implying that pets are welcome. Sadly it was not much more successful. Probably because people who like regular hotels don’t want to spend their nights amidst a bunch of active love hotels next to a highway and away from all the amenities of a tourist destination. Since this deserted love hotel was located next to a baseball field, it had seen more than its share of vandalism – at the same time I had to be careful not to be seen or heard; which admittedly wasn’t exactly a task for Solid Snake or Sam Fisher…

Since I found this fruity location in a Japanese data base about love hotels, I am pretty sure it was still active in the 00s – the oldest photos of the abandoned place apparently were taken in 2012, so your guess is as good as mine when it closed exactly. The Guest House was an interesting exploration overall, thanks to the unusual architecture and the unusual type of deserted location, but I’ve been to more interesting abandoned love hotels in better condition before… Especially the *Furuichi Love Hotel* was quite a find.

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The demolition of Nara Dreamland has always been something I’ve been worried about ever since I first visited this wonderful place back in 2009 – and now it has begun…

The abandoned Dreamland, an originally barely touched and most recently quite vandalized deserted amusement park in Japan’s former capital Nara, had been a lost place too good to be true for most of its existence – well, except for security, which most likely was in fact the previous owner and his son, who had their offices in the blue City Hall building right next to the entrance and did occasional rides through the park to catch them some trespassers to hand them over to the police. Nobody seems to know exactly the line of ownership, but before the current owner SK Housing and the last operator, the supermarket chain Daiei, there was at least that father and son duo… and probably somebody else as over the years I saw variously labelled signs trying to scare urban explorers away, including LA Investment (エルエーインベストメント) and KK Dreamland (株式会社ドリームランド) – the latter being rather ridiculous as a kabushiki kaisha is a stock company, and I doubt that Nara Dreamland ever had been one.
But this is about the downfall of the abandoned Nara Dreamland and in my estimation that part began about two years ago, when the park was foreclosed and first put up for public auction – since then “security” sightings went down (guess why…), vandalism skyrocketed (guess why…) and everybody and their cousin went there to take selfies with phones smarter than themselves (though I have to admit that I met some nice people, too, especially recently). About a year ago Osaka based real estate company SK Housing bought the lot for 730 million Yen (I reported) and things went from bad to worse – whole groups of people strayed through the park and neither they themselves nor SK Housing apparently gave a damn about anything; young parents with their barely walking toddlers, teens screaming like little children while playing tag, twens grinding stunt bikes on benches and rails, barely walking senior citizens… In spring and summer of 2016 you could actually literally walk into the park without jumping a rope or a fence, or even passing a sign. Seriously, just watch the first video at the end of this article! And then the dormant SK Housing, claiming that they have no plans with Nara Dreamland upon being asked by Japanese friends of mine in late 2015, woke up!

And so it began…

First SK Housing placed a ton of scaffolding on the parking lot at the main entrance, probably in May 2016… and they protected them with two new solid construction fences. Then barely anything happened for another four months, they didn’t even care to close the open gate. How do I know? Because I was alarmed and curious, so I went to Nara Dreamland more often than ever before. Much more often. At first about once a month from May on, from September 3rd till October 23rd every weekend, except for that one in early October, when I caught up with my old friend and occasional co-explorer Hamish – and it was during those two months that things got interesting! VERY interesting…
During my first couple of visits I realized that the amount of stored scaffolding was changing, yet none of it appeared in the park. (What happened to it? I have no idea, they probably took it to another construction site.) So I used the time to document areas of Nara Dreamland I hadn’t been to before, some of them I haven’t even seen anywhere else on the internet. I climbed water slides, had a closer look at the castle, went inside fake Mount Matterhorn, and even found a whole new building nobody seems to know about.
On September 9th SK Housing started to become really active by putting up office containers and porter potties at the lower end of the parking lot, the large construction fence with the main gate. A week later I saw heavy machinery inside the park, yet it was still possible to walk right in – so I took the already mentioned last chance video. When I came back on September 24th, I realized that prep work had begun in the week of September 19th. The previously mentioned office in the City Hall was cleaned out, so were several other buildings of the fake Main Street USA. And while I was taking photos, I got yelled at and shooed away by an older Japanese dude wearing a pink shirt, who was showing the entrance area to a business woman in her early 30s. So I left as they were most likely there on official business… and got right back in after I watched them leaving – staying till it got dark, shooting a video on the way out. A week later I saw that the removal of the plants along the main road had begun and that the gutting of Main Street USA was almost completed. What really shocked me was the fact that they destroyed the iconic Dreamland entrance sign there, without removing the arch-like building though. It turned out that this was my last relaxed exploration of Nara Dreamland as I spent the next weekend catching up with said old friend.
Upon my return on October 15th I was stopped by a French guy just out of sight of Nara Dreamland – he told me that demolition had begun and that he already talked to security and a construction worker; no way inside! It turned out that demolition indeed had begun on the previous Monday, October 10th, a national holiday. And while the prep work was limited to regular work days (Monday to Friday), a crew with heavy machinery was really active on that Saturday, demolishing the Main Street USA (probably because of the national holiday that week?) – most of the vegetation along the road had been completely removed during my absence, too, so everybody could have a good look from the outside at what was happening… At the same time gates were fortified and holes in the fence were fixed. Even old ones that had been there for years! According to large new signs in Japanese AND English, SK Housing had finally taken full control over Nara Dreamland, threatening to sue every unauthorized person caught on the premises. A Japanese only sign also stated that the construction site would be there till December 2017, which sounded like a reasonable schedule to demolish a large amusement park the size of Nara Dreamland. Boy, was I wrong – in more than one way!
So the next weekend I returned on a Sunday, in hope of finding the demolition site unstaffed. I wasn’t that fortunate. Instead pretty much all of Main Street USA was gone – security on scooters guarding both gates, the one on the upper street and the one at the main entrance. In the background you could hear machines smashing the merry-go-rounds to pieces. Not only did the crew work seven days a week, it turned out that they moved much faster than I anticipated. Much, much faster. In the two weeks since October 23rd the demolition crew not only got rid of the massive metal Screw Coaster, they literally tore through the wooden Aska roller coaster. I was expecting that they would dismantle it, probably scaffolding it first. But no, they just ripped through and tore it apart. (In German we fittingly say “Kleinholz machen”, turning it into small pieces of wood / firewood.) Same with the monorail station – and before you ask: No, I have no idea what happened to the monorail train. Probably “Final destination: junkyard!”. If the crew keeps up that speed, there will be little to nothing left of Nara Dreamland by the end of the year – which means that I either misread the sign at the main gate, or SK Housing will finish construction of whatever they are planning to build on the former site of Nara Dreamland. What that will be? I have no idea. When my buddy Hamish made a call just before SK Housing started prep work (in early September), their answer was that they are not talking to anybody about anything. Not photographers, not urban explorers, not the media – not future plans, not schedules, not people involved; not to anybody, not about anything. (Later I heard stories that even NHK was so desperate that they ran up to people and tried to interview them on the street, when they were just leaving the park; before the demolition phase, when it was still possible to explore Nara Dreamland in late September / early October – the NHK people obviously couldn’t enter themselves for legal reasons…)

It ain’t over till the fat gentleman sings…

Believe me, nobody is more devastated about this demolition news than yours truly! I started exploring Nara Dreamland before I began writing this blog; actually before I even considered writing it. Nara Dreamland is amongst the first dozen locations I’ve ever explored, it had been with me my whole urbex career – it’s in the background of my avatar (in the form of Aska). I’ve been one of the first urban explorers to go there… and I’ve been one of the last ones to go there. But just because the world’s most famous abandoned  (closed? 😉 ) theme park is currently under demolition doesn’t mean that you’ve seen the last of it! As I mentioned previously in this article: I have tons of material for more blog entries. Material you haven’t seen anywhere else before and now for sure won’t see anywhere else… Even this rather long article feels kind of rushed and contains only a fraction of the photos and videos I took in September and October. So there will be more in-depth updates about the last weeks of Nara Dreamland, about the demolition preperations, about the demolition progress… and about whatever is going to happen on the premises in the future. Abandoned Kansai always has been and always will be your #1 source for all things Nara Dreamland!
(Speaking of which – if you use information from this or any other article on Abandoned Kansai for your own work, please have the decency to link back; thanks a lot!)
Last but not least I would like to use the opportunity to draw attention to a location that did get much less than its share when I first wrote about it a few months ago, so if you have another couple of minutes, please have a look at the ultra rare *Shodoshima Peacock Garden* – you won’t regret it!

(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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