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Archive for the ‘Kanto’ Category

Converting love hotels into regular once in the wake of the tourism boom and ahead of the 2020 Olympics sounds like a reasonable idea, but is no guarantee for success – as proven by the Love Hotel Orleans.

Japan (as a whole) has a reputation for having unusual preferences when it comes to sex related things – pixilated porn involving tentacles, underage girls and rather “rapey” topics. While that stuff is comparatively underground as it isn’t shoved in your face like the Heian Shrine or the Tokyo Sky Tree, the love hotel industry is worth about 30something billion USD, twice as much as the anime and mange industry that is happily advertised everywhere and to everyone. Of course the current rather conservative government isn’t the biggest fan of those f#ck hotels, so in 2016 they began to encourage love hotels to convert into regular hotels… but not necessarily with much success. The love hotel industry is not exactly my expertise and I can’t quote studies and statistics, but from me living here for more than a dozen years I have the impression that the number of love hotels stayed about the same, just now some of them are listed on regular hotel booking sites. Not a lot of them, because close to nobody in that industry speaks English or Chinese – and who wants to deal with customers you can’t communicate with unless it’s a quick sell? So Abe, if you think a noteworthy amount of love hotels will turn into regular ones… think again!
Especially since the past showed that similar conversations are not a guarantee for success. First of all, there are plenty of bankrupt regular hotels, hundreds… thousands of them abandoned. And second, there are former love hotels that failed miserably as regular ones. Like the Love Hotel Orleans in Shiga. At least I thought that it was a converted love hotel… There is close to nothing about it on the internet, but the information on location implied that the accommodation started as a love hotel and ended as a regular one (not before 2010) – fading outdoor signs with the rather convoluted love hotel rates, indoor signs calling the place Business Hotel Orleans. The rooms also had both a love hotel vibe (colorful stained glass windows in most rooms, unusual bath tubs / bathrooms) and a regular hotel vibe (not a single kinky room…) – but overall it was surprisingly boring, despite the rather low amount of vandalism. But there was nothing memorable about the Love Hotel Orleans. No pool, no bar, no kinky rooms, no special item. Just one slightly vandalized room to the next. Basically the *Yakuza Love Hotel* without an exciting story…

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I’ve explored all kinds of abandoned hospitals in Japan – old and new, big and small, wooden and concrete, general and specialized, countryside and in the middle of cities, unfinished and fully equipped, private clinics run by a single practitioner and those with a dozen specialized doctors on staff. But hardly ever have I been to a vandalized, mouldy piece of haikyo crap like the Toyo Hospital…

Walking / driving up to a location is always exciting. Have I really found it? Is it still there? Is it accessible? What condition is it in? All those important questions are usually answered in a split-second – not fully, but 95%. My first impression seeing the Toyo Hospital? “Oh no… Damn!” It was still there and the waist high fence was not really an obstacle, but the vandalized entrance area lowered my expectations significantly. My second impression wasn’t any better than the first: Most of the ground floor of this rather modern hospital had been smashed to pieces – and the upper floors didn’t look that much better at all. Vandalism and mould, mould and vandalism. Here and there I found a couple of items left unharmed, lonely witnesses of former urbex glory, but overall vandalism was the dominating shroud hanging over everything. Yes, vandalism. In Japan! Shocking? A little bit. Vandalism always shocks me a little bit. Surprising? Not at all. Have you seen the photo of the dentist equipment I posted last Sunday on *Facebook*? I am pretty sure that clinic will look exactly like the Toyo Hospital in two years. While I was there, I actually met a handful of Japanese explorers, loud and obnoxious. I quickly made my presence known (to ask them to be quiet as I could hear people outside from time to time – meaning that people outside were able to hear noises from inside), which stopped the running and yelling, but I was really glad when they were gone 20 minutes later; I spent more than three hours exploring that place, although it was not even half the size of the Toyo Hospital!

Exploring the Toyo Hospital took less than 1.5 hours – including the video walkthrough at the end. In the past I’ve spent more time documenting single hospital rooms! (For example at the *Tokushima Countryside Clinic*.) The greyish weather outside didn’t contribute to lighten up the atmosphere and gave the whole exploration a very gloomy undertone… and not necessarily in a good way. There are quite a few places I would love to revisit – the Toyo Hospital I wouldn’t give a second thought even if it would be five minutes down the road…

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Namegawa Island is quite a phenomenon. Every explorer in Japan seems to know about it, every explorer seems to have a high opinion of it… yet apparently nobody has ever been there, because this place is probably the most overrated in all of Japan.

Opened in 1964, this huge zoo and resort at the Pacific coast of Chiba prefecture was a mild success for about half a decade, peaking in 1970 at about 1.2 million visitors – probably thanks to a brand-new train station of the same name opening right across the street that very same year. Unfortunately for Namegawa Island a place called Kamogawa Seaworld also opened in 1970 just 12 kilometers down the road / train line – new facilities tend to beat old ones in Japan, and so the downfall of Namegawa Island began, resulting in its closure more than 30 years later; after the summer season of 2001. The resort featured several indoor and outdoor habitats for animals (including a monkey house and a center for tropical birds), a hotel, a mini water park, a BBQ area, an outdoor stage, several eateries, Polynesian dance shows from 1971 to 1996 for six months per year, and several animal shows with flamingos, penguins and seals. Three years after Namegawa Island was closed, an investor bought it for 42 million Yen; less than 400k USD at the time. Another three years later without any further development, a hot spring well was drilled on the premises, but never put to use – I guess it was around that time, 2007/2008, that all the buildings have been demolished. Interestingly enough I never found any inside photos of the abandoned state – only of the ticket booth outside the now heavily fortified, gated entrance tunnel; all the other ones were either pre-closing or post-demolition.

So why the larger than life image of Namegawa Island? I have no idea, probably because of said impassable massive gate. But over the last decade there must have been several dozen conversations like that:
“Hm… abandoned places in Chiba prefecture…”
“How about Namegawa Island?!”
“I’ve heard about it! It’s huge, isn’t it? But is it any good?”
“I don’t know! Let’s check it out – if we can past THE GATE!”
“Challenge accepted!”
I guess my old *haikyo* buddy *Mike* and I at one point had one of those conversations and put it on our schedule… in part due to lack of alternatives. After walking up to the big bad gate, I quickly decided that I wouldn’t be able to get past it, much to the frustration of Mike – a new iteration of the same old story; worse this time as we were actually pressed for time. It was mid-afternoon at the end of a three day weekend, leaving us with less than 90 minutes as I insisted to be back at the car at 5 to have some wiggle room on the way back to Tokyo. Usually the trip takes less than two hours, but we had to get the rental car back by 8 p.m. sharp and traffic is always a nightmare at the end of a long weekend, especially in the Tokyo area. I hate to be rushed as much as the next guy, but I played the role of the bad guy pushing us through the exploration – which was excellent in hindsight, because we were actually back at the car at 5 and only both made it home on time, because Mike generously dropped me off at a train station before returning the car by himself with about two minutes to spare. Kanto traffic is a nightmare!
Exploring an area of about 500 by 450 meters within one and a half hours is close to impossible, but somehow we made it… once we got past the other spiky gate guarding a slope fortified by barbed wire. Not an easy way in, but easier than the main gate. When I first approached it, I saw a guy in an overall behind it and went back to Mike to abort the mission – luckily this time he won the short conversation, so we gave it a second try and it turned out that the guy wasn’t security, but some kind of metal looter or waste dumper… the kind of people that give us explorers a bad name in Japan. Once we got up the mountain past Mr. Overall we had to pass through two narrow tunnels, one once blocked by a heavy metal grid. Then we had to walk down an overgrown path with a very steep drop to right before running into three bad surprises.
1.) An animal trap – for a large animal, maybe a bear?
2.) The trap and all the roads looked well maintained – signs of security?
3.) Only foundations left of first buildings we saw – neither of us was aware that Namegawa Island had been demolished about a decade prior…
Speaking of bears – the mountainous area was riddled with tunnel entrances big and small, most of them blocked, but every couple of hundred meters there was a cave that would have made a perfect bear’s den. Why all those holes in the mountains? Because, as I assumed on location and confirmed later, this area was used by the Imperial military in an effort to fortify the coastline to prevent an American invasion from the sea. A waste of resources as it turned out, but at least some niche explorers are having a great time now…

Anyway, despite the possible bear and security threats, the exploration of Namegawa Island was rather uneventful und a series of disappointments, as almost all the buildings were gone – if it wouldn’t have been for the hotel’s pool at the coast, the lush autumn vegetation and an amazing sunset, this whole exploration would have been a rushed disaster. Yet strangely enough I can’t say that I hated the experience, despite the time pressure and the lack of structures. There was something special about this demolished resort… something quite assuasive, probably thanks to the calming waves and the beautiful light. Spending three of four hours there to have a look at every cave and concrete platform would have been an unforgivable waste of time, so maybe the unfortunate terms of this exploration turned out to be a blessing in disguise… though overall it didn’t come even close to amazing afternoon explorations like *Kejonuma Leisure Land* or the *Katashima Suicide Attack Training School*.

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Aaaahhh. On some days, there is nothing like a good soak after endless hours of hiking and / or photography. One of the few things that Japan is known for worldwide and that really lives up to the expectations, even long-term, is the bathing culture – but you gotta do it right: Not every onsen (hot spring) or sento (public bath house, which can be fed by an onsen) is a memorable experience! Especially sento can be rather dull places in suburbs or along highways… like the Health Land Yutopi.

The Health Land Yutopi was clearly missing quite a few things. Most of all financial success, obviously. But also an “a” at the end of its name, making it not only a failed business, but also a failed play on words… interestingly enough one of the most common ones in the Japanese language, as yu means water – I guess you get it now: yu, yutopi, yutopia, utopia. Well, the Yutopi turned into a dystopia…
Built in 1996, this public bath charged a 2000 Yen entrance fee, which is quite steep for a sento, given that even well-known onsen with nice views and gorgeous wooden tubs are more in 1000 Yen range. Optional food courses raised the price up to 5800 Yen… which wouldn’t be much of a surprise in an established onsen town, but in a rather generic looking building in the Ibarari inaka? (Inaka means “countryside”!)
Abandoned for at least five years, this location was dead as a dodo. Getting in an out was easy, not just for us, but for the metal thieves who stole all valuables a long time ago, too. While the tiled baths were quite dirty, but in decent condition, the changing rooms both suffered from mold, especially the one for women. Both areas featured a small outdoor area each, quite overgrown now, as well as a sauna and a beauty corner for further upsells; like an oil massage for 4500 Yen. On the upper floor was a bar, a rest room to relax, a “karaoke salon” and the restaurant area – all pretty much emptied out and of little interest.

Overall the Health Land Yutopi was just another abandoned run-of-the-mill sento. In fact, I have been to abandoned hotels with much more interesting baths… and of course to abandoned sento that were bigger and more interesting, for example the *Meihan Health Land*; in that article you can also read more about Japanese bathing culture, if you are interested…

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Themed parks were one of the outdoor entertainment trends of the 1980s / 1990s in Japan. “They are called theme parks!”, you might say now, but don’ you worry, I know what I am writing about – I really mean “themed parks”. So, what’s the difference? Well, theme parks are those big amusement parks with tons of high tech rides, loosely connected by a common theme – like Disney, Universal Studios or roller coasters. Themed parks on the other hand are focusing on a certain topic, not so much on the rides, which usually are rather low tech – they consist of huge scenic parks with picnic areas, bike rentals, small attractions like merry-go-rounds, go-kart tracks and slides as well as tons of informational / educational facilities like museums, exhibitions, artisan stations and the sale of products made on location, like butter or bread.
Sadly there is little to nothing known about the Japanese Agriculture Museum – except for that one tag line above the real name on a now mostly overgrown sign next to the cheesy looking entrance; darn, I have seen fake playground castles that looked better than that on public ground back home in Germany! The park is surprisingly little covered by Japanese explorers, probably because overall it’s not very spectacular; especially the shots taken from outside or near the entrance, dating back as far as 2007 on blogs with miscellaneous content. Next to the cheap looking entrance with an even cheaper looker ticket booth (700 Yen for adults, 400 for children; opening hours from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. except on Mondays, rainy days and from November till April) *Mike* and I found a green house… and further down the path were the rather well-known bird peddle boats you can even see on GoogleMaps; white swans, black swans and pink flamingos in rather faded colors. Huge, strong spider webs with arachnids as big as the palm of your hands slowed down our progress even in this early stage and our general disappointment didn’t disappear when we realize that there was a huge stretch of land past the peddle boats with nothing on it – the park had been demolished, probably years prior to our visit, that’s why those other blogs only showed the entrance, the greenhouse and the swans. Or so we thought. Nevertheless I insisted to go further, deeper into the park… and after a couple of minutes we found more. A small river with a now rotten wooden bridge to the left, a grove of fruit trees with ladder looking wooden contraptions to the right – and in front of us? The remains of the Garden Restaurant, a decaying eatery more tent than actual building, the brick print wallpaper peeling off. Not that bad after all, though the spiders and their webs everywhere kept making moving around a bit tricky. Upon entering the restaurant I had to remove a spider web as it was covering most of the door frame, but I made sure our mosquito catching friend left alive – only to find the same frame mostly covered again when coming back an hour later to shoot the video walkthrough. In case you wonder why I didn’t fully enter the room: blocked again by the same friggin spider! Behind the Garden Restaurant we found the usual array of minor attractions you’d expect to find at a themed park, some kind of trampoline and a slide on a slope, both overgrown now.
Overall the Japanese Agriculture Museum wasn’t a great exploration, but a nice way to spend a couple of hours outside on a sunny morning. I wish there would have been more left to see and to take photos of, but sometimes you gotta roll with the punches and play the cards that you are dealt. No regrets – though exploring similar themed parks like the *Tenkaen* and the *Shikoku New Zealand Village* was a lot more fun!

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Burning people has a very, very long tradition of about 20000 years – luckily most of them were already dead when it happened to them…
Little known fact: Japan currently has the highest rate of cremation in the world (99.9%), after practicing it for about 1400 years; minus 2 years when it was illegal. At a time when burning dead bodies basically disappeared in Europe, as it was fought by the early Christians, it became increasingly popular in Asia due to the rise of Buddhism. In 700 AD the famous monk Dosho died, three years later Empress Jito followed. Dosho apparently was the first person ever in Japan to be cremated at his own request, while Jito was the first (ex-)ruler to be cremated, setting a trend that lasted almost 1000 years. During the Heian period (794-1185) cremation became closely associated with Buddhism and their teachings that everything is impermanent and that the fire has cleansing and dispersing effects. Nevertheless it wasn’t until the Kamakura period (1185-1333) that cremation became the standard for the general populace, not just the country’s clergy and nobility. In the centuries to come, Confucianism became more and more influential in Japan. Their scholars considered cremation unnatural and disrespectful to the dead, and so in 1654 Emperor Gokomyo became the first influential aristocrat to be buried in almost a millennium. During the Meiji Restauration (starting in 1868) cremation was first officially banned (in 1873), then unbanned (in 1875), and finally, in a weird twist of fate, actively promoted by the government (from 1897 on) – when it became law that everybody dying from a communicable disease HAD to be cremated, once again citing the cleansing effects of fire… And so cremation became the standard thing to do in Japan, its rate rising from 40% in the 1890s to 50% in the 1930s to more than 90% in 1980. Nowadays virtually every human body dying in Japan gets cremated (99.9%), the exceptions probably being some hardcore Christians and Confucians.

Sadly I wasn’t able to find out a lot about the abandoned crematorium I explored barely a week ago. Heck, two weeks ago I didn’t even know it existed as my urbex buddy *Mike* was the one who found it and added it to our itinerary of my first dedicated Kanto road trip. I think it was opened in 1964 and closed in 2005, but I am not 100% sure – not even 99.9% sure…
What I know for sure, is that exploring an abandoned crematorium is something different, even on a bright and sunny day. The mostly wooden complex was one of the smallest abandoned places I ever visited, yet it took me two hours to shoot – and that didn’t even include the locked and mostly empty part I first saw when I walked up to the building on a surprisingly busy forest road. The already crumbling chimney in the back was connected to overgrown brick and metal machinery, so I headed past the abandoned jeep to the main room – a white wooden structure with a marble clad cremation furnace, its door open, a massive gurney still standing in the middle of the room. On the left a small door leading to the back room, where the furnace was actually located – a big metal box, with heavy bricks on top of a mechanism to hold the furnace door in the other room open. Interestingly enough the furnace wasn’t directly connected to the chimney and its machinery as you can see in the photos and especially in the video. I guess it would be interesting to look up the construction of 1960s cremation furnaces for more details, because what I saw didn’t look much like what I read about modern ones. I am not even sure what the thing was powered by – by the gasoline tank looking container inside the back room or by the gas bottle outside. The whole setup looked interesting for sure, and with the constantly changing light on an early afternoon, documenting the place was surprisingly time-consuming and challenging. Sometimes it took just a minute to get quite different results with nearly identical camera settings.
Exploring the abandoned Japanese Crematorium was a really unusual experience. Not as spooky as the *Japanese Mental Hospital*, not as scary as the *Sankei Hospital*, and not as spectacular as the *Tokushima Countryside Clinic* – but with a unique atmosphere and amazing light; and just for the fact that it was an abandoned crematorium. How often do you get the opportunity to explore one of those?

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Abandoned hospitals are always exciting to explore – especially when they haven’t been ransacked by vandals and feature a lot of the original interior plus some really cool natural decay. Finding those places can be extremely difficult, but sometimes all you need is luck and good people skills in Japanese…

The abandoned Kanto Hospital wasn’t even on the itinerary my old urbex buddy Michael and I had when we bumped into a bunch of young Japanese explorers at another location. Michael, who’s smooth talking got us into the *Hiroshima New Zealand Farm* years ago, chatted with the youngsters for a while and then suggested a change of plans – our new friends had volunteered a location Michael knew existed, but I didn’t even have a clue about; but I enjoy deserted clinics as much as the next guy, and we still had a few hours of daylight left… usually enough even for good / big locations.

The “problem” with little known locations is, that there usually is also hardly anything known about their history – and though this one is still on GoogleMaps with its real name, you won’t find anything about it on the internet; not even pictures, as explorers made up fake names. Well, you won’t find anything except for its location, phone number and basic details. The kind of information you don’t want to share about a rare destination on a blog…
Based on information gathered while exploring, the Kanto Hospital was probably built and opened in the late 1960s. Judging by the calendars in the 4-storey building, it was closed in 2008, most likely in October; a calendar for the next year already lying around in the main office on the ground floor.

As you can see in the video walkthrough, the two upper floors of the clinic were not really that interesting (if you are curious about or irritated by the unusual background music: outside was a local festival going on – I recorded the tour on purpose during the performance as I thought it contributed to the creepiness of the place). A few items here and there, surprisingly empty patient rooms, a cleared out laboratory and a small library on the top floor. The second floor featured the hospital’s signature room, the surgery with its two massive adjustable operating lights. The rather dark and gloomy ground floor though was where we spent the most time as there was so much to see. A doctor’s office with a massive safe, a storage with countless X-rays and boxes with Konica Minolta medical film, several treatment rooms with all kinds of machines and items, an office with dozens of different brands of medicine (including a whole box of Kremezin, used to treat chronic renal failure), …

Overall the Kanto Hospital was a good exploration that benefited quite a bit from the unsteady weather and the surprising turn of events that day. My favorite parts were the eerily decayed staircase (only in the videos), the info posters on the walls and the fact that the only messiness came from previous urbexers going through the drawers – no BB bullets, no graffiti, no pointless destruction and chaos for the sake of it.

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