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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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In Japan “skylines” often describe scenic toll roads on top of beautiful mountain ridges – a lot of them feature rest stops with restaurants and souvenir shops, some even have a funicular line for people without cars… or had, like in this case.

When you are used to German highways, the world famous Autobahn, Japanese highways are a disgrace and barely tolerable. First of all: They are not even real highways – the majorities of Japanese highways, the National Routes, are country roads at best; most of them even are regular (inner city) streets with no by-pass function whatsoever. If you want to go fast and past inner cities, you have to use the so-called expressways – a nationwide network of roads that look the like Autobahn at first sight, but is not nearly as good; initially built and financed by the State, but later split into three main areas and privatized in 2005. First of all: Unlike the German Autobahn, Japanese expressways are not free. They are toll roads that currently cost 24.6 Yen per kilometer / 39.36 Yen per mile for a regular passenger car! You take a ticket when you drive on and pay, rounded to the nearest 50 Yen, when you get off. It doesn’t sound like that much at first sight, but it adds up – a day trip can easily include 400 to 500 kilometers of driving, which means more than 100 bucks just for highway fees! But that’s not all! While more than half of the Autobahn network only has an advisory speed limit (i.e. you can drive as fast as your car and common sense allows), the speedlimit on Japanese expressways is… 100 km/h. If you are lucky. Even without road works it’s often lowered to 80 km/h. And while an Autobahn has at least two lanes (in each direction, sometimes up to four!), two is the standard in Japan. Sometimes three, but more often one.
Long story short: Japanese highways are not bad, but they are expensive and often mind-numbingly slow – especially when you are trying to return to a big city like Osaka or Tokyo at the end of a long weekend. Bumper to bumper to bumper to…
In addition to “fast” toll roads, you also have “beautiful” toll roads – sometimes they can be used as a short cut (like the Arima Driveway between Kobe and the old onsen town of Arima), sometimes they are their own tourist destination; for example the Ibuki Driveway up Mount Ibuki in northern Shiga prefecture.

The Skyline in Mie was a little bit of both. Kind of a shortcut, though you probably lost quite some time driving up and down the curvy road instead of staying on a flat one, and at the same it offered quite a few viewing points with gorgeous lookouts at both the mountains and the sea. The reason I wanted to have a look up there were a deserted rest stop and an abandoned cable car…
The Mount Asama Cable Car (not related to the also abandoned *Asama Volcano Museum* in Nagano prefecture!) was opened in 1925, but closed in 1944 as a non-essential line, because the Japanese military needed every piece of metal it could get. While the power lines remained, the cable car wasn’t restored / reopened after World War 2 and officially abandoned in 1962. Due to natural decay in the following decades, the upper terminus turned more and more into a deathtrap and therefore was secured with barbed wire (!) and fenced off with a regular black metal fence in 2006. (What’s with Japan and “securing” stuff with barbed wire? I’ve been hiking a lot a few years ago and came across trails that were “secured” with barbed wire, so if you slipped, your fall were at least temporarily stopped… before you bled to death three days later…) Luckily they didn’t combine the fence and the barbed wire, so it was rather easy to have a look at the upper terminus, which was little more than a concrete shell with holes 70 years after it closed for good. But the roof offered a nice view at the area below with the beautiful Mie coast line. A coast line I mistook for another one about 300 kilometers away, when I first tried to locate the cable car four years prior – interestingly enough I found an abandoned gondola station thanks to this mix-up, but that’s a story for another time… What I will remember the most about the Mount Asama Cable Car is the fact how cold it was up there. Since there is no real winter in Osaka (it snows only every other year and never strong enough to stick on the ground for longer than a few hours – in addition to that most buildings are overheated) I am not used to low temperatures anymore – and in combination with the hard wind I was freezing like hardly ever before anywhere in Japan.

The sun was already setting, so we moved on to what once was a rest stop along the skyline – large parking lot, large concrete complex with large windows. While the toilet area and a couple of separate souvenir were still open for business, the main building once housing a large restaurant had been closed, but in decent condition. The combination of toll road, remote location and regular visitors prevented 99% of the possible vandalism the place could have suffered if it wouldn’t have been for those protective factors. And while the view at the cable car was limited in northeastern direction, the rest stop area offered an almost 360° view – absolutely gorgeous!

Overall the The Ruins Of The Skyline were a nice way to end a day trip to the countryside. It took me a while to find the cable car station… and even longer to get there – and there’s always something special to cross an old entry off the list… 🙂

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An abandoned school in the mountains of Kyoto hardly anybody of the usual suspects has ever visited before? Count me in!

So far I’ve explored eight abandoned / closed / repurposed schools just in Japan this year, which means that I have to write about a deserted Japanese school about every two months to avoid that they pile up – more often actually, especially since the urbex year is far from being over. The last time I presented a closed school in the land of the Rising Sun was in August. So… ready or not, here comes another one!
The Kyoto Elementary School was located along a tiny road somewhere in the mountains of Kyoto prefecture – not in a town, but between several now abandoned hamlets, similar to the amazing *Shizuoka Countryside School*, which was located on top of a mountain and accessible from at least two valleys. It was closed 25 years ago, 23 years before my visit, and little to nothing is known about it, except for its real name and the fact that it was an elementary school. Walking up to the school I saw an open area and some markings on the wall of the remaining building – signs that at least parts of the school have been demolished. Whether those parts were another building or just a shed with toilets I don’t know, but it seems like the other structure was either just one storey tall or connected by a lower hallway.
A lot of the abandoned schools I’ve visited recently either impressed with tons of items left behind, from musical instruments to taxidermy animals, or they stood out thanks to their unusual looks – decaying wooden structures / swallowed by fog / … The Kyoto Elementary School offered hardly any of that. An announcement speaker here, a record player there. Tatami mats in some of the rooms (which is rather unusual for a school), a couple of organ or pianos. Nothing I hadn’t seen better several times at other places. Even the building itself was rather unspectacular. Maybe 1950s or 60s? At least it was still in good condition, so we didn’t have to worry about crashing through a floor, which is often the case at old wooden schools that haven’t had any maintenance in years. Overall an unspectacular exploration saved by the fact that this was a rather rare school – and that we found an abandoned factory on the way there. But that’s a story for another time… 🙂

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The Tuberculosis Clinic For Children was one of the first abandoned places I’ve ever been to – and the first I failed at as I wasn’t able to get in… *the first time I went there in 2009*. The *second visit three years later* was much more successful. In 2014 the demolition of the Tuberculosis Clinic For Children began – and I went there just in time for a final exploration.

For many years this abandoned hospital in Kaizuka, just a few kilometers away from Osaka’s Kansai Airport, had been a top secret, remote location only a handful of urban explorers knew about – which is kind of surprising, because even during my second visit the buildings had been in a severely vandalized state. Surrounded by a small forest and next to some fields, the closest inhabited house were a few hundred meters away, so local up to no goods didn’t have to worry too much getting caught when causing some noise. Previously accessible without having to climb over gates or even passing “Do not enter!” signs, the hospital had been turned into a fenced-off construction site during my third visit, and I almost didn’t make it inside. Past the fence, between the two buildings connected by a roofed bridge, there were several construction vehicles – and while demolition hadn’t started yet, preparations were in full swing. After years of abandonment, the area surrounding the hospital was completely overgrown, nature actually started to swallow parts of the building. At that point about a quarter of the jungle like exterior had been removed to make it easier for the demolition crew to do their work. Inside not that much had changed. Quite a bit more vandalism, quite a few items missing – but the boxes with the patient files were still there. Knowing that this would be my last time to explore the Tuberculosis Clinic For Children, I took about two hours to take pictures and another walkthrough video.

Now, another two years later, it seems like the Tuberculosis Clinic For Children has been replaced by a riding hall and an affiliated Italian restaurant called “mori no komichi”, which means “small forest path”; a nice nod to the location of this new business. On the one hand it’s sad to see this unique place gone, on the other it’s comforting to know that a place where children once suffered has been turned into a place that kids can and will enjoy.

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When I wrote about *my first visit to the Kyoto Dam* two years ago, it turned out to be one of the most popular articles on *Abandoned Kansai* – let’s have a look what the place looks like in winter!

In spring of 2010 I found this cute little abandoned dam / power plant nestled in the mountains of Kyoto prefecture on a Japanese hiking blog – and in summer of 2010, just weeks after the series finale of Lost, I finally had the chance to have a look myself. Except from the heat and the insane humidity it was an awesome experience, because this location looked like a lost Lost set with its massive concrete constructions, the fragile little hut… and some instruments inside still working, getting power from who knew where. My timing was just awesome, everything came together perfectly… 🙂
About half a year later I went back to this amazing abandoned place – again with “awesome” timing: Saturday, March 12 2011. Less than 24 hours prior a devastating earthquake had hit the Japanese Tohoku region, the following tsunami seriously damaged the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, causing only the second Level 7 incident on the International Nuclear Event Scale – thought at that time most likely nobody knew how serious the disaster really was.

To be honest, more than five and a half years later I don’t remember many details of this visit, except that I had a great time and experienced a completely different atmosphere. During my first visit nature was buzzing, water was both on the ground and in the air, the dam was half overgrown and only partly accessible – during my second visit nature was dormant, there was hardly any water on the ground and even less in the air, the atmosphere was extremely peaceful. The Lost atmosphere of the first visit was a bit unnerving, this time I enjoyed more freedom of movement, a better sight, and overall felt more comfortable; though the significantly lower humidity was probably the most important factor. I also took more time to take everything in: The first time I stay about 1.5 hours, this time I stayed 2.5 hours. I actually liked it so much that I came back a week later with a flyjin friend of mine, who had left Kanto to get some distance between himself and the unstable reactor, but only a handful photos of that set made it to this article.

It’s hard to believe that it’s been more than six years since my first visit to the Kyoto Dam – and that it is still a location that barely ever pops up on urbex blogs; because I really love the location. It’s a bit off the beaten tracks, which is why I don’t go there very often, but so far it has always been worth taking the trip…
Now the question is: *summer* or winter? Which one did you like better?

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