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The most beautiful abandoned looking hotel I have never entered – this title goes to the Hachijo Royal Hotel, once the biggest hotel in all of Japan. I went there twice, at sunset and the next morning just after sunrise, both times I ran into several people, both times I had a feeling that this hotel wasn’t really abandoned… and I turned out to be right. Half a year after my visit several Japanese explorers changed their reports about the hotel, some of them apologizing – apparently they had been contacted by the current management…

In the past two years more and more allegedly abandoned hotels on *Hachijojima* popped-up on Japanese urbex blogs, and when I decided in early 2014 to have a look myself, I went there with one very specific picture in my mind: the front of the Hachijo Royal Hotel, the first photo of the gallery at the end of the article. Sadly none of those blogs did much research on the hotel’s history, so I had to dig a little bit deeper, like so many times before…
The Hachijo Royal Hotel was opened in 1963 – eight years after the former military airport on Hachijojima was turned over to civilian control and four years after the local tourist office was established. At the time the biggest hotel in all of Japan (according to one of the people I spoke with) the owning company celebrated their then-president Eiji Yasuda with a statue of himself in the vast park of the resort. Tourism on the Izu Islands was booming back then, especially on Hachijojima, since the government nicknamed it the “Hawaii of Japan” in an attempt to give the island a positive image and the population of Tokyo a warm place to visit. That couldn’t have sit very well with Okinawa back then as all they got were quite a few American military bases; something they are not really happy with till that very day. Nowadays Japanese people prefer to go to Okinawa or the real Hawaii. Most likely due to Hachijojima’s lack of sand beaches and spare time offers other hiking, surfing and diving – resulting in a steep decline of tourism on Hachijojima. In 1996 the Hachijo Royal Hotel reopened as the Pricia Resort Hachijo… as in Pricia Resort Yoron on one of the Okinawan islands. The Pricia Resort Hachijo closed in August 2003 and re-opened on June 1st 2004 as the Hachijo Oriental Resort, which is still written on the main entrance, the road sign and a car with license plates parked on the premises. In 2005 “Trick the Movie 2” was shot at the hotel, the sequel to a movie, based on a three season long Japanese comedy drama TV show. It seems like the hotel was closed again around that time, which is just proves how quickly places decay when they are refused any maintenance, especially on an island surrounded by saltwater.

I first arrived at the Hachijo Royal Hotel in the afternoon of a gorgeous spring day. This was one of the last big ticket items I really wanted to explore in Japan, so I was quite nervous when I approached. Thanks to Google Street View I knew that I would be able to get close to the hotel without jumping any fences, but I also knew that there would be a barber shop near the back, just across the street. To fill some of the blanks, I first approached the area that the Street View car couldn’t access – and of course the first thing I saw were two cars with license plates parked directly in front of the main entrance, a Suzuki Carry kei truck a little further in the back. Darn! Would my exploration end 30 seconds into it? Luckily it didn’t. I kept myself together and walked up to the cars, prepared for some small talk with an owner, security guard or some construction workers. Turns out the whole thing was a false alarm – all cars had flat tires, some were rusty beyond repair… and the kei truck was labelled Blues Mobile; very funny! I had a look around and it seems like the Hachijo Royal Hotel consisted of two parts. The main building with its amazing back towards the waterfront – and a White House style annex building opposite the main entrance. Following a couple of dozen photos, I started the obligatory video tour, when suddenly a huge roar was thundering down the coastal road, apparently a couple of bikers, also enjoying this warm spring day. Okay, second attempt, starting next to the White House annex. A minute or two into it, I just arrived at the main entrance, an old guy walking his cat size lap dog showed up in the background, so I stopped filming and approached him with a smile, again ready for some small talk. Sadly the guy seemed to be in a very bad mood (no surprise, I would be embarrassed, too, being seen in public with a dog like that…) and literally tried to shoo me away; which actually pissed me off quite a bit, because Senior McLapdog obviously had about as many rights to be there as I had; at least I tried to be a friendly person. Long story short, I pretended to go away, but ran into him again as I need to go back to take the video I wanted to take. After a while he finally left, but I wouldn’t have been the first vengeful person to call the police, so for the next hour or so I made sure to stay on public ground; after I took the video, of course.
The back of the hotel with its amazing gigantic and partly overgrown pool area as well as a huge park was mind-blowingly beautiful and all I hoped it would be – strangely enough it faced the main road, so the back of the hotel was the front… or vice versa. Anyway, I took some shots and after I was pretty confident that the police wouldn’t show up any time soon… I was approached by another elderly on his bike, telling me about the history of the hotel. 10 minutes later, the guy was finally out of sight, I walked up to the hotel. Up there were some outdoor showers, another (small) pool, a few European style statues, at one point in time probably water fountains, and a back entrance, blocked from the inside with a large rusty sickle! When you think you’ve seen it all… It was getting dark pretty quickly and I didn’t bring my tripod, so went for a stroll along the coast and for dinner at a sushi restaurant, serving flying fish, amongst other local delicacies.
Right after I woke up the next morning I went back to the Hachijo Royal Hotel. Different light from a different direction… but pretty much the same amount of people passing by. Heck, nobody was getting in or out, but the area was as busy as a beehive! After a friendly morning talk with a female dog walker I took some photos as the seriously damaged tennis courts before heading back to the “backfront”, to finally grab the photo I really wanted to take. A conversation with another biker later I finally descended to the partly overgrown pool area. One of the two changing areas looked like somebody was squatting there for a while (and what better place for that than an island so warm that it offers a free camping site all year long?), but other than that it looked as abandoned as the rest of the hotel – so signs of maintenance, no signs of any ownership, except for years old, trampled down ropes here and there. In its heydays the gigantic pool must have been amazing, at the time of my visit it was barely accessible – especially the concrete pathway with steps towards the backfront with the smaller pool and all the statues was completely overgrown and barely visible.
Even without entering the Hachijo Royal Hotel, it was a great experience exploring this wonderful resort and its absolutely stunning seaside front. It’s quite a big photo gallery this time, so make sure to not miss the hidden gems, like the picture on which the sun is setting behind Mount Hachijo-Fuji while a plane is just leaving for Tokyo’s Haneda airport. The four videos I publish show most of the resort’s exterior and I hope they will give you a better impression of how gorgeous the place really was. If there really still is an owner, I really hope he will act quickly and spend some money to save this modern classic – it’s one of those places that would really deserve to be saved!

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Sex museums in Japan are dying out. Once there were dozens of them all over Japan, now there are only two remaining: The Atami Sex Museum and the Kinugawa Sex Museum in Nikko; the latter one will close its doors for the last time in a week, December 31st 2014 at 5 p.m. JST, so let’s send it off with a farewell article!

In spring I went on a *road trip to Tohoku* with my buddies *Mike* and *Ben* – and on the way back we passed through Kinugawa Onsen, a small spa town in the mountains of Nikko, famous for the UNESCO World Heritage Toshogu Shrine, dedicated to Tokugawa Ieyasu, the historical model for James Clavell’s Lord Toranaga in his most famous novel, Shogun. Rather rundown, like so many onsen resorts these days, the town of the Angry Demon River offered a very special attraction, one of two remaining sex museums open for business in all of Japan. We were short on time, nevertheless we managed to squeeze in a one hour stop at this special location.
Opened in 1981, the museum focused on the depiction of the sexual culture in the Edo period a.k.a. Tokugawa period (1603-1868). Artful carvings, colorful paintings, beautiful shrines and several sex acts re-staged with dolls, for example the rape of noble women in a forest or a woman peeping on a couple having sex in an onsen. The last part of the museum was a bit more modern and included a blue movie theater with a tinge of green, a Marilyn Monroe doll on a red couch, several mannequins, a sex shop and a handful of those Ufo Catcher crane machines you might know from regular arcades – but instead of plush dolls you could win toys to make your girlfriend blush.
Usually it is not allowed to take photos or even videos in those sex museums, but I guess it was a combination of its certain demise and the fact that Michael had been there before for scientific reasons with one of his former professors – so we actually got permission to take Pictures and do a video tour. Given the extremely limited amount of time on our hands I filmed a walkthrough right away without having seen anything in advance, which was quite tricky due to countless mirrors and mirroring exhibition cases as well as the uncertainty of what would be ahead of me – luckily no other visitors, so I finished the virtual tour without any unjoyful incidents. Ten minutes later I was back at the entrance and started taking pictures with up to nerve-wrecking 30 seconds exposure time. After exploring two abandoned sex museums in *Yamaguchi* and *Hokkaido* it was extremely interesting so finally see one open for business and I really wish I would have had more time to enjoy the experience – but sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do… and we had a rental car to return in Shinagawa, about three hours away without traffic jams, which were rather likely at the end of Golden Week.
Access to the museum was strictly forbidden to minors (you had to be 18 year or older!), given mostly the artful yet graphic depictions of genitals and sexual acts. Interestingly enough all movies and photos were censored with the pixilation Japan is famous for, yet most of the dolls were anatomically correct – so I had to censor one of the photos I took myself, just in case. The rest of them are graphic, too, but in an artistic and / or educational way that didn’t cause any problems with WordPress or YouTube when I wrote about the two abandoned sex museums… and I hope it will be the same this time, too (though YouTube already forced an age restriction on the video, requiring you to log into your Youtube account to watch the video). While not pornographic in nature, the following photos are not safe for work – and if you are easily offended by images like that, I recommend skipping the photo gallery this time, even when you read this article in the privacy of your home. I do not intend to offend anybody, but you can’t write an article about a sex museum without showing some of the exhibits… 🙂

Merry XXX-mas, everyone!

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The skiing season in Japan started just recently – time to present one of three rather big abandoned ski resorts I visited this year!

Opened in December of 1990 (according to a commemorative stone attached to the spotless bright white building with its turquoise window frames) the Gunma Ski Resort was partly shut down in 2004 and closed in early 2006 – during those years, parts of the property were turned into a soccer camp (in addition to the regular camping site from June till October).
Originally the resort offered four courses for beginners and advanced skiers. A 100 meter long Family Hill, a 1800 meter long Easy Rider Path, a 1000 meter long Challenger Path and a 6000 meter long Heli Ski Course – yeah, those were the good old days of the Japanese asset price bubble; only the best was good enough! Four lifts (and at least one helicopter…) transported guests up the mountain, the main one with a capacity of 2400 passengers per hour. The lifts were 3800 Yen per day (or 300 Yen per ride), the helicopter charged 7000 Yen per person and ride. The rental shop was equipped with 500 sets of skis and 150 snowboards, charging 3000 Yen or 4000 Yen per day respectively – skiwear rental was an additional 3000 Yen.
Interestingly enough the resort didn’t feature any private hotel rooms – just a few large bunk bed halls called Rest Rooms, charging 2000 Yen per night and small bed; at first I thought they were for children napping, but it seems like they were for all skiing guests small enough to fit, available from 9 p.m. till 10 a.m.
At the base lodge there were two restaurants on the second floor. The buffet style Grille Buffalo and the cafeteria style Café U.S.A – yes, no third dot! Strangely enough the latter one sold predominantly stuff like ramen, udon and soba. Both restaurants had separate kitchens that were connected in the back… and both restaurants suffered quite a bit from vandalism and airsoft matches.

Overall the Gunma Ski Resort was still in surprisingly good condition at the time of my visit, considering that it was closed and subsequently abandoned almost a decade ago.
The main floor with the ski rental, ski school and gift shop suffered from some severe vandalism as windows and doors were smashed (I guess it didn’t look *haikyo* enough to some people…), things were thrown around and stolen, mold started to take over one room or the other. At the end of one hallway there was the wooden silhouette of a person against a window, in a position that clearly indicated “dead” – and if you had a closer look at the window you could see a bullet hole there. Spooky!
The restaurant floor was nice overall – some minor vandalism, especially in the kitchens, countless airsoft bullets and a few barricades. Unspectacular (my personal favorite: the cracked open tea machine), but nice. The rest room floor suffered again from a couple of broken windows, resulting in slightly moldy sheets, walls and carpets. Personally I would have preferred to see it in spotless condition, but I guess you could say that the green banana has ripened, if vandalism is what you are looking for in abandoned places. Luckily the elevator control room on the roof gave me what I wanted as it was basically pristine. But the general rule of thumb was: the closer you got to the entrance, the more noticeable the stench of mold and spilled gasoline became. Actually to a point that I was worried about potential health issues, that’s why I didn’t film the lowest floor when I did the video tour at the end of the exploration. I only had a quick look, following my fellow explorer friend *Hamish* – and actually something good came out of it. In one of the office rooms, Hamish heard kind of a rattling metal noise, coming from a trash can under a window. It turned out that a rodent caused it, desperately trying to escape the fatal trap – another rodent already dead next to it. They must have fallen from a window sill, unlikely as it seemed, because that was the only way to get even close to the opening of the trash can. Strange little fella, like a mouse, but with a much longer nose – please have a look at the last video, maybe you can identify it? Of course we did the right thing, so Hamish carried the trash can outside and toppled it over to free the little fella. After the *hedgehog at the abandoned shipyard* the second animal life I was part of saving this year. “Abandoned Kansai – exploring since 2009, saving lives since 2014!”

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The Japanese love fishing – not just whales and dolphins, but in general. When I grew up, I saw short bits on TV about swimming pool like fishing ponds in Tokyo, right next to trains rattling by. Now that I live in Japan, I see anglers at almost all bodies of water, especially in the countryside – even in the mountains at 600 or 700 meters of elevation.
Karuizawa is a small town of about 18,000 people in Nagano prefecture, just two hours outside of Tokyo by car; or half that time when using a Shinkansen super express train. While never hosting Olympic games by itself, Karuizawa was host to the equestrian events of the 1964 Tokyo Summer Olympics and to the curling events of the 1998 Nagano Winter Olympics, making it the only place in the world hosting events for both Summer and Winter Olympics. But even without this little know fun fact Karuizawa is a really lovely town on the base of the active complex volcano Mount Asama, mostly consisting of small houses on surprisingly large parcels of land, surrounding a gorgeous small city center with lots of German, French and British influence; if there ever will be a Japanese remake of Groundhog Day, it should be filmed in Karuizawa!
Attracting predominantly Japanese tourists from Tokyo trying to escape the dreadful summer heat or looking for some skiing fun in winter, Karuizawa offers all kinds of outdoor activities.

A fishing park just outside of Karuizawa offered retreats for companies, universities and youth groups; adding tennis courts, a gateball court and a community center with pool billiard and karaoke to the list of recreational activities. Not much of it is left these days – a couple of rotting buildings as well as some left behind items.
What elevated this exploration and made it quite memorable was another encounter with wildlife; a fox this time, to be more specific. My exploration buddy Hamish and I were just entering the lower level of a barn like structure (see photo…) when we heard animal footsteps from the floor above. We took a couple of photos of the missing floor and the building in general when out of nowhere a fox came running down the broken wooden stairs and right at us. Not knowing what to do we just looked at each other, when the fox all of a sudden realized that he was not alone. In a 1960s cartoon like move he made a full break, turned around, sped up again and tried to escape through a window next to the flight of stairs… BOOM! The window was closed. Another try. Boom. And up the stairs he went, apparantly uninjured. Bursting into laughs about what just happened we continued to shoot for a while, when Hamish went out to the open again – seconds later the fox appeared, much more careful this time, seeing me and retreating again; it seems like he had been looking through a glass door and thought we left when he saw my buddy. Afterwards we left for good and never saw each other again… happy that it was such a shy creature and not some rabies ridden calf mangler!

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Japanese love their onsen hotels, accommodations with natural hot springs – they are popular all over the country and of course Hachijojima was no exception… until this hotel had to close for a quite bizarre reason!

I’ve written about Japanese bathing culture on Abandoned Kansai several times before, for example in my article about the *Meihan Spa Land* – usually not in a very flattering way as my first and for years last visit wasn’t a very pleasant one. The day that changed everything was April 28th 2014, when I first visited the abandoned Hachijo Spa Hotel… and then Mirahashi No Yu in the tiny village of Sueyoshi. Both visits I enjoyed surprisingly much in hindsight, despite or maybe because of my low expectations in both cases.

I wasn’t off to a good start when I got off the bus pretty much right next to a *koban*, one of those small neighborhood police stations you can find everywhere in Japan. It wasn’t so much that the first thing I saw was a koban – it was the sign in the window stating “on patrol” that worried me a little bit. But hey, what can you do? The show must go on… and it did. Walking up and down several different roads on Hachijojima’s steep slopes in search of the Hachijo Spa Hotel I got lost several times (GoogleMaps being rather useless in that specific area due to many additional roads big and small) – and when I finally found my way… I got passed by that friggin police car maybe 200 meters away from the hotel! Despite being a big tall foreigner far away from anything even remotely touristy, the cops ignored me, but of course my confidence was ruined when I finally arrived at the wooden fence that separated me from the abandoned hotel; even more so when I realized that said fence featured a brand-new chain and lock, which meant that someone checked on the place at least every once in a while and was invested enough to invest in basic security equipment like that.
Obviously I finally made it in somehow, otherwise there wouldn’t be any photos at the end of the article, but my first impressions of the Hachijo Spa Hotel confirmed the concerns I had before my visit – that it would be another rotten, rotting piece of moldy trash that was really boring and exhausting to explore. Even the gorgeous view from the lobby and the small arcade right next to it couldn’t cheer me up; not really a surprise after I explored the amazing *Arcade Machine Hotel* the day before. I tried to lighten up a bit, so I used the big mirror pillars in the lobby for some more creative photos before I headed outside and down the slope, where I found another part of the hotel as well as several tiny apartment buildings. While the latter were locked up, the hotel building hosted a big dining room, but everything was moldy and rotting, so I left after a few quick shots – the whole building was one big decaying health risk. Outside most of the roads and trails leading to more small buildings were overgrown, everything made of metal was rusting at a mind-blowing speed. I almost had given up when I saw steps leading underground somewhere, so I grabbed my flashlight to make up for the rather cowardly start.
To my surprise this rather short tunnel was the access point to one of the hotel’s pools / spa areas – and it was gorgeous! Back in the days it was an indoor area, but like I said, metal was rusting quickly and anything made of glass had been broken a long time ago, so this area surrounded by thick vegetation was its own little rundown paradise and definitely the highlight of the Hachijo Spa Hotel!
Which reminds me, I never mentioned why this hot spring hotel had to close its doors. Guess! Okay, you don’t have to guess. You would have been wrong anyway if you would have said “lack of customers”. The main reason this hot spring hotel had to close was… because the hot spring dried out!
No hot spring, no hot spring hotel…

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Nichitsu is a legend amongst Japanese urban explorers, a world-class ghost town that attracts visitors from all over the country and even overseas. In day trip range from Tokyo (but not from Osaka!), this mostly abandoned mining village in the mountains of Saitama prefecture is famous for its huge variety of abandoned structures crammed into a single valley – countless mining buildings (some still in use, even on the weekends!), several schools, a hospital, a gymnasium, a vast residential area and who knows what else.

After exploring a cute little regular ghost town on a sunny Sunday morning, my buddy *Hamish* and I arrived in Nichitsu to grey weather and low hanging clouds; at one o’clock, totally underestimating the vast amount of buildings to explore – though even a full day would barely be enough to see everything there, let alone document it properly. To make the best of the situation, we avoided the rather busy lower part of the valley (with company cars parked as well as a group of explorers arriving) and headed for a small parking area used by hikers. From there we wanted to find out what all the fuzz was all about… and it didn’t take us long!
Given the rather active area we passed through just minutes prior (feeding the rumors about security) as well as the fading light even rather early in the day, I decided to take a first video of what I thought was everything there was to see in that area – then we started to explore buildings on a sample basis as it was pretty clear that less than 4 hours of daylight remaining wouldn’t allow us to see everything anyway. From the very beginning it was close to impossible to take indoor photos without a tripod as exposure times quickly reached up to 30 seconds in darker areas of buildings.
A school, an office building, several private houses (ranging from completely empty to fully stocked and suitcases packed), a small fire station and some other structures later we reached the area at the end of the first video – only to realize that the really interesting buildings were still ahead of us and just seconds away; including a gymnasium and the now mostly collapsed hospital! Crazy…
With less than an hour of daylight left, we kept shooting and shooting and shooting, but even test shots to frame pictures properly took painfully long (as you might or might not know, I don’t even crop my photos). The last building we found was the hospital, of course, and despite the conditions we both managed to take a couple of decent shots – overall it was a bit disappointing though as it didn’t even come close to its reputation or similar places, like the *Tokushima Countryside Clinic*.
Overall the Nichitsu Ghost Town totally lived up to its reputation… and given that I didn’t even enter a mining related building means that another visit is in order – probably sometime in 2015 as I am pretty sure that Nichitsu will see some snow soon, rendering parts of the village inaccessible (then I will tell you more about Nichitsu’s complicated history, too…). The white stuff in some of the videos and pictures definitely wasn’t snow! Maybe some kind of gypsum? Solid when dry, it became viscous when in contact with water – I am sure during a typhoon you can watch it flowing down slopes and roads, slowly suffocating the lower parts of Nichitsu…

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No matter what you think of marriage in general – weddings in Japan tend to take it to a whole new level, in many regards…
I actually don’t even know where to begin. Maybe I should just shut up, describe the building and get out of here before I write things I might regret later. To be honest with you, I am not exactly the most qualified person to write about weddings as I am not married myself and had to turn down most invitations in both Germany and Japan as I was coincidentally in the other country when they happened. But damn, Japanese weddings are weird!

First of all – getting legally married in Japan is the most unspectacular thing ever. It just takes a few minutes and involves the almighty seals (hanko) of both partners, but not necessarily their presence; one is enough as long as you have the correct documents to stamp. The way more important and spectacular part is the religious ceremony and the party afterwards; or rather parties – three or four (in a row!) are considered rather common.
At a time that Christian nuts are taking over the States and Muslim nuts are taking over the Middle East, the Japanese are very relaxed when it comes to religion. 85% are considered Buddhists, 90% are considered Shintoists, and 1% are considered Christians. “But… Florian, that doesn’t add up properly!” you might say – and you’d be correct! But that’s just part of the craziness, because according to statistics, 53% of Japanese couples marry in a Christian ceremony, 32% in a Shintoist ceremony and less than 1% in a Buddhist ceremony – the rest choose to marry in a secular or other way. Most men couldn’t care less, but Japanese women are basically like: “They nailed that Jesus guy to a cross? Funny, that’s what we did in Japan with Christians for most of the 17th, 18th and 19th century… But whatever! I want that white dress and I am getting that white dress!” (That’s actually not true. Most people in Japan aren’t even aware that their government persecuted Christians for centuries. But it’s only logical when the leader of the country legitimizes his power via their own religion, Shinto.) Most marriages end in ignorance and selfishness, why shouldn’t they start with it?
In Germany you still have to jump through quite a few hoops before being able to getting married in a church – like having several meetings with the local priest, convincing him that you are a dedicated Christian; and of course you better be a registered member and pay church tax! None of that in Japan, of course… most Japanese Christian weddings don’t even take place in real churches!
Since most Japanese live in tiny apartments not suitable for huge parties, most weddings take place at big hotels or specialized places; like the Ibaraki Wedding Palace. There they have decorated rooms for the most common ceremonies; like a love hotel has rooms for whatever turns you on… Comparatively small rooms, as only close family and a few best friends are attending those “religious” ceremonies, then everybody else joins for a rather big party; instead of choosing a considerate gift you pay an “entrance fee” that’s usually between 8000 and 10000 Yen – the couple will let you know in advance… Since Japanese weddings cost about 4 million Yen in average (though common ones are rather half that price!), that first party can be huge. 80 to 100 people are nothing, I’ve heard of friends inviting up to 250 people. And I’ve been invited to weddings of people I barely knew, in one case I actually never met the wife before! With all the fakeness surrounding Japanese weddings one can only hope that the couple’s love is real…

Anyway, the Ibaraki Wedding Palace… was one of those specialized wedding places – but unlike the *shangri-la* it didn’t come with hotel rooms and a pool, it was just a wedding and party venue. In the early 2000s it must have been quite a sight, with tons of tableware and items like fake plastic wedding cakes left behind. Since then it became a victim of arson and several clean-up operations, so when Y. told J. and I that this would be our next location after visiting the gorgeous *Japanese Vintage Pornographer’s House* I couldn’t believe what I heard. That piece of crap? After one of the most gorgeous locations in all of Kanto? Of course I didn’t say anything as I didn’t want to be impolite – and I am glad that I didn’t, because despite the Heian Wedding Palace being a rundown, burned down pile of garbage, it also offered an amazing amount of details; textures, to be more specific. Bent metal beams, charred window frames, tacky colored glass panes, cheap plastic chandeliers. Hardly anything that would deserve the label “beautiful”, but interesting enough to keep me busy for half an hour – then we continued to the third and last location of the day…

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You would think that after eight years in Japan surprises and weird situations should become rather rare, yet Hachijojima was full of them – good and bad…

In early 2014 a bunch of interesting looking abandoned hotels popped up on Japanese urbex blogs, with one thing in common: they all were located on an island I hadn’t even heard of before, Hachijojima. Turns out that it is right next to Aogashima, a hard to reach volcanic island that is often part of those “the most remote places in the world” lists that are so popular on Facebook and other social media sites. When you are living in Kansai, basically one big city of 22 million people (plus 0.7 million spread across the countryside), “the most remote place in the world” sounds wonderful, at least to me – so I decided to do a combined Hachijojima / Aogashima trip during the first half of Golden Week. Long story short: I was able to locate three gigantic abandoned hotels on Hachijojima, but I failed to organize the side trip to Aogashima due to unpredictable weather, high risk of boats getting cancelled and the season I was travelling in; *Golden Week can be a real pain* as even the biggest Japanese couch potatoes think that they should travel, because everybody else is. So I stayed on Hachijojima for 3.5 days – part relaxing vacation, part urbex trip.

For the first night I booked a small minshuku on the east coast, just five minutes away from one of the abandoned hotels. Sadly the place turned out to be in a very remote area with hardly anything around… and even worse, it was terribly overpriced due to Golden Week. So instead of extending my stay, I took a taxi to the local tourist information the next morning – and the super friendly staff managed to get me a cute little hut at a local lodge with breakfast, bathroom and internet for the same price as the basic tatami room with shared bath / toilet and without food or internet, a.k.a. the night before. They even drove to my new accommodation to introduce me to the owners of the family business as they barely spoke any English – a pleasant surprise after the cold reception at a local sushi restaurant the previous night; upon entering the chef, smoking outside, was asking his wife who just came in… and she answered “a foreigner”, using the slightly derogative term “gaijin”. Thanks a lot for the warm welcome! Luckily my new hosts were the exact opposite, some of the friendliest and nicest people I ever had the pleasure to meet. Should you ever go to Hachijojima and don’t mind a little bit of a language barrier, try the *pension Daikichimaru*!

I continued Day 2 by exploring the second big hotel on the island before climbing the most famous local mountain, Mount Nishi (literally “West Mountain” – guess where it is located…), better known as Hachijo-Fuji, thanks to its resemblance to Japan’s most famous mountain. 854 meters tall and of volcanic origin, Hachijo-Fuji turned out to be quite an exhausting and steep climb, especially on the last few hundred meters – but the view up there was amazing; one of the most rewarding hikes I ever did. (You can actually see the hiking trail on the first photo I took from the plane during landing approach.) If you are free from giddiness you can even walk along a sometimes just foot-wide path along the crater, but from where I started it looked like a rather risky walk, so I opted to descent to the green hell of Mount Nishi’s caldera; 400 meters wide and 50 meters deep it is home to lavish vegetation and even a shrine!
On the way down from Hachijo-Fuji I made a quick stop at the Hachijo-Fuji Fureai-Farm, a dairy products selling petting farm, which offers a great view at the plain between Hachijojima’s two mountain ranges. Upon arrival at the base of the mountain, near the airport, I came across a local guy and his dog. Despite being on a leash, the pooch ran towards me at full speed, barking like a mad dog (not a spaniel!) without any Englishmen; stopped by the slightly mental grinning owner maybe 20 centimeters from my ankles. Luckily it was one of those field goal dogs and not a German Shepherd or a British Bulldog, so I wasn’t too worried, but still… what a weirdo!
Almost as weird as my visit to a local supermarket the night before. After the sushi snack I had (made from local varieties like flying fish), I thought it would be nice to get some local products, so I entered a mom-and-pop store, the owner at the cash register talking to a customer. I grabbed a couple of things and when I was about to pay I saw the other customer leaving – and the owner told me that the shop was closed. So I asked if I could pay for the items I already grabbed. No! So I put the stuff back, which probably took longer than paying for it, and left empty handed… literally. Really strange 24 hours!

Day 3 was a lot more unspectacular. I took a bus to the southern part of Hachijojima and explored the third gigantic abandoned hotel after passing a police car basically in sight of it. Then I continued by bus to the Nankoku Onsen Hotel – which turned out to be a vandalized, boarded up piece of garbage with a neighboring house just 10 meters across the street. So instead of wasting any time I enjoyed a soak at a really, really nice onsen (without a hotel).

My last day on the island I spent mostly walking – to the Kurosuna sand hill and then along the coast back to the second abandoned hotel and then to the pension, from where I got a free ride to the airport.

Spending a couple of days on Hachijojima was one of the best things I did in all of 2014 – it’s just such a surreal and yet neat place! The main roads on the island for example look brand-new and very expensive. Given the massive drop in tourist numbers one wonders how a place like that can survive financially. Sure, three planes and a ferry per day bring quite a few tourists, but at the same time the three biggest hotels on the island and a few smaller ones are abandoned. Back in the 1950s and 60s Hachijojima was known as “Japan’s Hawaii” as it is much closer to Tokyo, Yokohama, Nagoya and Osaka than Okinawa, but those days are long gone and I doubt that fishing and some local farm products can pay to keep the island as neat as it is today.
Some of the islanders were just plain weird… and others were quite the opposite, the most helpful and welcoming people you could dream up. While mainland Japan became somewhat predictable to me over the years, Hachijojima gave me that “first visit feeling” back, where you just roll with the punches and expect the unexpected at all times. The nature on Hachijojima was absolutely stunning, the food was amazing (especially at the *izakaya Daikichimaru*, same owners as the pension; the best sushi I ever had!) and I even enjoyed the onsen visit… though usually I don’t like onsen at all – but the entrance fee was part of the bus ticket, so I gave it another try and liked it tremendously.
*Facebook followers of Abandoned Kansai* might remember two photos I posted to the “Brand-new and Facebook exclusive!” album in late April this year – those will show up in future articles as I will start the Hachijojima series with the most unspectacular of the three hotels on Thursday, two days from now; though unspectacular is relative, especially if you are into abandoned arcade machines…

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Like many other countries, Japan struggled with religion and its negative attending ills many times. In 794 the capital was moved from Nara to Heian-kyo, modern day Kyoto, when Buddhist clergy became too powerful and the Imperial household decided to break free from its influence. In the early 17th century Tokugawa Hidetada and Tokugawa Iemitsu struggled with Christian merchants and missionaries so much, that the Sakoku Edict of 1639 turned pre-modern Japan into North Korea 0.9 – more than 200 years later, religious freedom was restored, the total power of an absolute leader was abolished and the country opened again for modernization, trade and travelling. Since World War 2 a more moderate country in many ways, Japan had to dispel only two religious groups for criminal activities in the past 70 years: Aum Shinrikyu after their sarin gas attack at the Tokyo subway in 1995… and Ibaraki’s Myokaku temple for financial fraud – welcome to the Japanese Gold Cult!

The whole story started back in 1984, at the same time when Aum Shinrikyu was founded. The superintendent priest of the Myokaku Temple in Chiba prefecture established a company that sold aborted fetus bodhisattva. In 1987 he established a religious enterprise called Hongaku Temple and started to sell all over Kanto, before becoming an independent temple in 1988. Soon after, the Consumer Affairs Agency started to receive complaints and temporarily shut down business. Unimpressed, the gold cult bought the Myokaku Temple on Mount Koya in Wakayama prefecture to expand its business to Kansai – which at that point included spiritual consultations for 3000 Yen and performing memorial services for 1 million Yen (back then and currently more than 9000 USD!) as well as selling overpriced item like marble vases and items made from gold. Center of the scam were the ihai, spirit tablets believed to hold the souls of deceased people – the cult took care of thousands of them and placed them in two special buildings at the Myokaku temple; but obviously they didn’t take of them in a proper way, hence the fraud accusations. In December 1999 a Wakayama district court finally followed the Agency for Cultural Affairs request to dissolve Myokaku / Hongaku Temple – the organization subsequently lost a legal battle for survival in front of the Supreme Court.
Sadly and surprisingly I couldn’t find anything about the case in English or German, so I had to piece together above information from various very complicated Japanese sources; please feel free to correct me if I misunderstood something! (My knowledge about Buddhism is limited, so I tried to avoid specialized terminology when possible… and I still don’t know what happened to Mount Koya’s Myokaku temple.)

After hiking through the mountainous Japanese countryside for about an hour on a hot, sunny spring day I finally reached the headquarters of the former Japanese Gold Cult:  a cluster of about half a dozen buildings – and after climbing a rather long and steep flight of stairs I reached a regular looking building that probably was used for meetings and as living quarters. To the right, past a pond and a collapsed gate, there was a comparatively small storage house – nothing of interest. Up another small flight of stairs I found the main hall, which was hard to miss at it was by far the biggest building. Almost as good as new, with lots of dark corners and significantly colder than the outside, it felt kind of strange being there. Solo explorations are always a lot more nerve-wrecking than group explorations… but this location had a spiritual / religious component to it, obviously. I don’t believe in ghosts and I am not religious at all, nevertheless there is some awe-inspiring element to a lot of those institutions – graveyards like the Okunoin, cathedrals like the Kölner Dom… and abandoned fake temples like this one.
The main reason though why explorers from all over Japan travel to the middle of nowhere are two small buildings behind the main hall, in which the Japanese Cold Cult stored all the ihai – and the bling-bling of gold and black lacquer was indeed quite impressive and worth the long trip from Kansai!
I just had entered an official looking, administrative building, probably the one where visitors were welcomed, when I saw somebody outside through a window – so I left through the back without taking any video material or interesting photos. The parts I saw were small offices and a main room full of boxes and random items, not of interest.
The last building looked like a big, chaotic family home and was probably used for meditation. Since it was pretty much busted open, nature was taking over again and parts of the floor were rather soft and brittle. Again, items were scattered all over the place, as if somebody was looking for valuables without finding anything.

Three hours after my arrival I left with a heavy heart as I had an afternoon flight to catch. Exploring the headquarters of the Japanese Gold Cult was a weird and unique experience. On the one hand I felt a bit uneasy as I was exploring a crime scene solo, and the garden there wasn’t out of control (which means that somebody still had an eye on it), on the other hand it was such a tranquil and beautiful place, the peaceful atmosphere disrupted only once in a while by farmers tilling their nearby fields. The Japanese Gold Cult had been kept a secret for about a year or two – now that Japanese explorers gave away too many hints and its exact location kind of became common knowledge, I really hope that people will keep respecting it. Not because it’s a (fake) sacred site, but because it’s a beautiful and unique abandoned place that deserves respect!

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Old family pictures, dry plate negatives, books with titles like “Avoidances From Sexual Temptation”, a wooden wall telephone that looked like straight out of “Boardwalk Empire”… and somewhere there had to be 90 year old porn photos – my head was spinning!

3 years prior to that slightly overwhelming spring day, I went on a *second trip to Kyushu*. It was my first long-distance solo exploration trip and included amazing locations like the now demolished *Kawaminami Shipyard*, the also demolished amusement park *Navelland* and the wonderful *Ikeshima*.
3 months prior to that slightly overwhelming spring day, my urbex buddy Rory and his wife had helped me locating an amazing abandoned hotel I deemed worthy dumping 25.000 Yen travel costs on, so I spontaneously booked a flight from Kobe to Ibaraki Airport… I had 28 hours in the Kanto countryside and I was eager to make the best of it.
3 days prior to that slightly overwhelming spring day, I sent a message to a Japanese dude I made friends with some years ago on Facebook. Back then he contacted me referring to a girl from Tokyo we both kinda knew. Usually I am very hesitant adding complete strangers to my private Facebook account, but I added him anyway after we exchanged messages for a couple of weeks. I thought he was living in Tokyo, but just before my trip I found out that he was living in the city where I booked my hotel, so I asked him if he was available for a chat on short notice. First he told me that he had to work… and before I was able to answer he wrote that he would really like to explore with me – so he changed his working schedule and offered to pick me up at the airport with a friend of his. Positively surprised by the kindness of that stranger I told him about the locations I intended to visit, but that I’d be happy to be guided, too, as he knew the area a lot better than I did.
When I arrived at Ibaraki Airport, Y. welcomed me like an old friend (“Long time no see?!” Heck, we never met!) and his buddy J. was super nice, too. We went to his car and Y. started driving, so we did the obvious, chatting about urbex. He had great stories, I had great stories and all of a sudden he was like: “First stop: red villa!” And I was just thinking: “The old photographer’s house? The guy who had amateur porn on glass plates? THE 2013 urbex hot spot? A place people didn’t even hint about on the internet for a very, very long time?” Since Y. kept insisting that we met before, I just had to break it to him, as I didn’t want to take advantage of the situation: “Dude, I am terribly sorry, but we never met before! You added me on Facebook a while ago, we chatted about urbex because we have that common acquaintance I haven’t even met in person, but I’m afraid that’s it…” Instead of driving me back to the airport he said:
Y: ”You’ve been to Kyushu, right?”
F: ”Yes, I went there three years ago!”
Y: “Me too!”
F: “Oh, that’s great! Where did you go to?”
Y: “The Kawaminami Shipyard!”
F: “Amazing place, wasn’t it? Too bad they demolished it…”
Y: “Yeah, we met there!”
F: “I met people there…”
Y: “That was me and my friend Ben!”
F: “Wait a minute! I remember meeting a Japanese dude and his friend Ben!”
Y: “That was me!”
F: *blush*
Check out my article about the *Kawaminami Shipyard* from three years ago! I even wrote the following line: “The guys turned out to be Ben, an English teacher from Otsu in Shiga (close to my current home), and his Japanese friend from Kanto.“
Have I ever mentioned that I am bad with both names and faces? A truly horrible combination – but Y., J. and I had one of the best laughs ever… on our way to the amateur pornographer’s house! 🙂

Upon arrival, Y. indicated that we should keep a low profile. We were as countryside as it can get in Japan – and we stuck out like a sore thumb anyway, so no need to attract extra attention by being noisy. We walked past small houses and fields until we reached a bamboo grove. The path lead down a gentle slope… and there it was, the photographer’s house. Or rather estate. In addition to the main building, there were two or three side buildings, all of them about 100 years old according to the word on the street. Y. had been here before several times, but for J. and I it was the first visit. Since parts of the main building had already collapsed and the rest was in questionable condition, Y. guided us a bit. The first floor alone could have kept me busy for hours, with all the old photos, dolls, books, furniture and exposed parts of century old construction, but after around 20 minutes Y. called me upstairs; where I had another 30 minutes to take photos of a mind-blowingly gorgeous balcony, old magazines and newspapers, books and dry plates – Y. was kind enough to play hand model.

This was actually my first time in the 4.5 years that I do urban exploration to explore with a fellow Japanese explorer (not just say Hi at places when I coincidentally meet them…) and it seems like they are in more of a rush than I usually am. Nevertheless it was a great experience to explore the Japanese Vintage Pornographer’s House, though we didn’t even try to enter any of the other buildings and the closest we came to find porn was a printed nude drawing in a newspaper. In spring of 2014 the place already had severely suffered from vandalism (despite the obviously pretended secrecy) and it seems like somebody either thoroughly hid or even stole the porn dry plates – and after the really rainy summer this year I am sure the condition of the building hasn’t become better, considering the holes in roof and subsequently in the the ceiling. As great as the place still was, it was sad to see how much it suffered from spray paint, aggression, staging and most likely theft. In the past couple of years Japan had been an urbex sanctuary, but the Japanese Vintage Pornographer’s House is a prime example that the current trend goes to European and American conditions – where you have to rush to new discoveries as quickly as possible, before hordes of people from all over the world trample through and damage or even destroy the atmosphere…

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